Mistakes are a part of travel, no doubt. No matter how experienced a traveler, or miles and points player you are. The mistakes eventually come for us all, oh hi Rick! This is a first hand account of me acting like a complete greenhorn this past weekend when it comes to CLEAR renewal. It was a situation that was completely avoidable, if I would have been on ToP of my game (see what I did there!?). I share this story so you know that we all have been there making a dumb / lazy mistake at some point or another.
My mistake got compounded by a secondary one because of a very similar problem, me. If you take nothing else from this story, please remember that organization is key in this game. I have let mine fall off a cliff the last few years and need to turn this ship around.
What Is CLEAR?
You may not know what CLEAR is, which you need to in order to get this story. CLEAR is a program where you get to cut the TSA line essentially. Unlike TSA Precheck, you don't have to do much to get it. There are no interviews or background checks involved. You just pay a fee and fill out some forms online and they scan your eyes or take finger prints.
You use those scans in the future to quickly check into their checkpoints. They then look over your tickets, instead of TSA, and they walk you right up to the front of the line. They tell the TSA agent you are all set and all you need to do is show you have a boarding pass and the TSA agent waives you by. If you don't have TSA Precheck then you need to still do all of the normal TSA things like take off your shoes etc.
Normally the CLEAR line is non existent, outside of Atlanta at least, and this can be a huge time saver. That is especially true in airports like Denver or Orlando where TSA can be backed up and hour or more. It saved me and my buddy in Seattle big time this past fall.
Forgetting About My CLEAR Renewal This Past Weekend
In my opinion the CLEAR program is pretty great, but it does cost $189 a year. I never paid for it in the past because I didn't see the point most of the time. I finally gave it a test drive when American Express added it as a credit card perk to their Platinum cards. After that I was signing up everyone I know, I do have a lot of Amex Business Platinum cards after all! I really did it as a way to get Uber Eats credit when they had a sign up promo.
Because I was using my credits all over the place I made sure to turn off auto renew on all accounts. I did that on my CLEAR account too since I used a card to pay for it that I was likely going to close in the near future. And Amex will let renewal charges go through on closed accounts, you have been warned there.
Not Being Prepared At The Airport Cost Me
I knew that my renewal was coming up soon, but I didn't check my account before our trip to Orlando. I assumed I likely set a calendar alert for it, as I do with most things. Well, you know what assuming means, don't you…? I did not set and alert and that realization came to me when were checking in for our flight out of Detroit. My wife and kids went through CLEAR no problem, but my account said we need to go back to the sign up terminal. I declined to do so since the line at DTW was all of 5 people deep and I decided it wasn't worth the hassle.
At the very moment I knew that it was likely that my account needed to be renewed but figured I would work it out once we got to the hotel.
Not Being Prepared At The Hotel Cost Me Too
The next morning I checked my account and I was correct, my membership had lapsed. The only reason I cared was because Orlando (MCO) can be a real crap shoot at TSA. It can be a breeze or a complete cluster, you just don't know until you are there.
There was another problem now, I didn't have an Amex Platinum card with me to pay and get the credit. I didn't have the energy to attempt to pull off the Seattle miracle again either. The one thing I did do was ask Amex via chat if I could get a temporary card number or something to use for the CLEAR payment. They informed me that wasn't possible for security reasons. At that point I accepted defeat and decided to punt it until we got home. I should note that the card on my account was no longer active and CLEAR wouldn't even let me change it anyway. More on that later though.
My CLEAR Renewal Failure Didn't End Up Costing Us, At Least Not How I Thought It Would
Sunday came and it was time to fly home. I decided to get to the airport a bit earlier than I normally would just to be safe. My thinking was that worst case the wife and kids could go through CLEAR and I'd figure my own mess out. I should note at this time I don't have TSA Precheck either, mainly because I am lazy. Do you notice a theme here or is it just me?
Lucky for us the TSA line was pretty light and we got through in about 20 minutes or so. Unlucky for us, we got through security quickly and Orlando's airport is pretty terrible after security. There have about 35% of the seating that is needed at the gates, the restaurant options are limited with a few hours wait most of the time and the lounges are lame and dirty. So that meant we were stuck in misery longer than normal. I try to time my arrivals so we spend no more than 30 minutes past security. This time we were stuck with about two hours to burn.
My Other Stupid Snafu
I did warn about one mistake leading into another. Well, everything was pretty packed but there was a Priority Pass lounge in our terminal. The problem was I didn't have my Priority Pass membership card with me. I don't really care for their lounges so I mostly ignore them unless it is one of the few I will go out of my way for. This was one time that I could have used it even though the lounge is pretty bad at MCO. I pulled up the app on my phone but it had an old closed account attached to it so I couldn't go that route either. Not being organized cost me once again. I mean I only have like 42 cards that offer Priority Pass lounge membership…or something like that.
CLEAR's Weird Renewal Process
I hinted at this earlier when I said that CLEAR wouldn't let me change my payment method. I found this to be really weird and decided to mess around with it a bit more when I got home. Even then I still couldn't add a new card that had a CLEAR credit attached to pay for my membership. I fired up the CLEAR chat, and after finally getting past the bot and to an agent, they said they had to request for my payment selection to be removed. After a few minutes she had completed it and my account was good to go. That seems like a horrible set up to me but something to be aware of if you want to change payments on your CLEAR account.
CLEAR Renewal: ToP Thoughts
Hopefully you learned something from my mistakes, or at least got some tips on your next CLEAR renewal. If not that, I hope you at least had fun pointing and laughing at me. I have not been the most disciplined, or organized, traveler the last few years and I probably need to spend some time getting back on ToP of that (start with it and finish with it!). Had this been like Seattle late last year I would have likely missed my flight or had to pay $189 out of pocket for CLEAR.
What is a dumb travel mistake you've made lately? Let me know in our ToP Facebook Group.