Every time we make it to airport security or are re-entering the country, I second guess whether we should have TSA Precheck, Global Entry or Clear to simplify the process. My past research has left me feeling confused at each’s value as our kids get older and then I completely put this on hold during the pandemic, not knowing what travel would look like. I have revisited this issue and will tell you what you need to know for your family and what I have decided to do for mine.

Clear with Kids

What is Clear Plus? Clear is an airport membership that allow you quick access through the documentation checking by scanning your eye or fingerprint rather than your identification. Think of Clear as getting you to the conveyor belt portion of security quickly.

How To Apply: You can begin your application online here or at a Clear Airport location, but have to complete it at an airport. The current Clear annual membership is $189.

How Clear Works for Families: Family members under 18 may join the Clear member in any Clear line for free.  Account holders may add up to three people (18 and over) to their account for $60 each. Each of these members can use Clear when traveling with or without the initial member.

Important to Know: There are special discounts for a Clear Plus membership if you have certain American Express cards, United and Delta members. Another bonus of Clear is that it is being used at stadiums and arenas to expedite entrance. All of these locations are within the United States and its territories.

TSA Precheck with Kids

What is TSA PreCheck? TSA PreCheck is a United State government run program specifically relating to the security screening process. An approved PreCheck passenger does not have to remove shoes, belts, liquids, light jackets or laptops. At most airports, PreCheck passengers enter a shorter line prior to the physical documentation inspection at security as well. In December of 2022, PreCheck passengers are reported to have waited less than five minutes getting through the physical security line. TSA PreCheck is available at over 200 airports across the United States and its territories. PreCheck is available around the clock at the largest airports and passengers can present their boarding pass with TSA PreCheck status for expedited service when visiting a smaller airport at off hours (for example, middle of the night).

How to Apply? Travelers can begin the process online here and then schedule an appointment at an enrollment which includes a background check. You can find the nearest enrollment center here. The cost of enrollment is current $78 with a $70 renewal fee every year.

How PreCheck works for Families: Each family member 18 and older much have their own Known Traveler number by being approved for PreCheck. Children 12 and under may travel on the same reservation with a guardian who has PreCheck status without membership. Children 13 to 17 years may also travel for free on the same reservation as an approved PreCheck guardian, but may still be subject to random checks that require them to use standard security lines (indicated on their boarding pass).

Important to Know: Many credit card and loyalty programs will cover the cost of a TSA PreCheck application.

Global Entry with Kids

What is Global Entry? Global Entry is a program provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows travelers to move more quickly through the re-entry process upon arrival in the United States and other select locations found here. Global Entry approval also makes traveler TSA PreCheck eligible. Global Entry travelers skip the traditionally long re-entry lines and can expect short wait times to pass through Global Entry lines.

How to Apply: Much like Clear, Enrollment Centers are located in airports in larger cities with some additional options. In advance of your appointment, you can complete your online application here to see if you are “conditionally approved”. Once you fit this category, your visit to the Enrollment Center is for the purpose of collecting your biometrics (facial scan, fingerprints), scanning your passport, and having a short interview .You can also Enroll on Arrival (EoA) back into the United States and quickly follow the same process as making an appointment at an Enrollment Center. If you Enroll on Arrival, you will need to be previously conditionally approved, have a valid passport and another proof of residency (such as drivers license, mortgage statement, etc.). Minors do not require the proof of residency. At the time of this article, the wait time for approval is 4-6 months.

How Global Entry Works for Families: Unlike PreCheck, Global Entry requires people of all ages to pass on their own. Parents cannot get Global Entry status and then expect to take children through the expedited lines until the children also have the Global Entry status. Although the approval is also for five years, this makes Global Entry more expensive for families, but also insures all family members will be both PreCheck and Global Entry eligible.

Important to Know: Several credit cards and loyalty programs offers a credit for Global Entry application.

Is it Worth It for You?

We can break these three programs down as followings: Clear takes the traveler through the documentation part of security quickly. TSA PreCheck takes the traveler through the physical security check quickly. Global Entry makes returning to your the United States much quicker than the traditional re-entry.

Is Clear Plus Worth It? Since Clear locations are primarily large airports that may have long lines before you make it through security, Clear could be worth it for you IF you live near one of these airports to expedite applying and regular use the large airports. ‘Clear also makes sense for people who have to travel at busy times of day meaning long lines.

For me, I could get a discounted Clear annual membership (about $70 off through United Mileage Plus membership) and then pay the $60 for my husband, making our entire family Clear eligible for about $180. However, I have to drive about three hours to complete application. I don’t always leave from a major airport, sometimes we originate at our regional airport which would negate the use of Clear.

So, for me, Clear doesn’t make sense for our family at this time.

Is TSA PreCheck Worth It? I think the cost of PreCheck can be pretty easily justified since it works for five years. We would not have to pay for it, so the process of getting approved would be the only barrier. I also have some concerns about the TSA’s ability to separate 13-17 years old for the traditional security line since they are potentially more likely to make a mistake in packing and would not be traveling through the airport alone if they were unaccompanied.

PreCheck could make sense for our family.

Is Global Entry Worth It? Like Clear, it’s somewhat annoying to have to drive a couple hours to complete the process and I would choose to do Entry on Arrival to avoid that effort. I like that my children would all have both PreCheck and Global Entry status. For older kids, this may be useful if they travel abroad after school as well. The cost would be reduced by some travel credit cards I carry as well.

Global Entry feels like the best value for my value.

I will be sure to follow up with our experience in applying and utilizing Global Entry! I would love to hear about your first hand experiences with these services and how “worth it” they feel to you!