Priority boarding with United credit cards – how it really works

by on Tue July 16, 2013 • 21 Comments

Info-Graphic-Jan-BoardingGroups-Vertical-finalUnited likes to show off the Priority Boarding feature of its credit cards in its prolific ‘You’re In’  TV ads and descriptions of benefits.

However be aware United recently changed its boarding procedures and as a result we’ve been getting a lot of questions from people with the United and Continental credit cards on how their priority boarding works. The reality is you’re not going to be the very first to board the plane, but will have the ability to board before most flyers.

United now uses 6 zones for boarding flights and the United MileagePlus® Explorer, United MileagePlus® Club, Presidential Plus, and United Awards card holders board in Group 2.

Here are the details of how these Zones fit in the grand scheme of boarding…

  • Pre-Boarding: Customers with disabilities, then Global Services and uniformed military personnel
  • Group 1: Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum, premium cabins
  • Group 2: Premier Gold, Star Gold, Premier Silver, Star Silver, MileagePlus Presidential Plus and Club cardholders, MileagePlus Explorer and Awards cardholders
  • Groups 3-5: General boarding – Window seats (Group 3), Middle seats (Group 4), Aisle seats (Group 5).

So, when you’re at the gate, wait patiently for your Group number, in Group 2 there should be plenty of overhead bin space available unless it’s a very, very business traveler heavy flight.

Also remember — you need to input your MileagePlus® frequent flyer number when making your reservation for the benefit to show up. Waving your credit card at the gate agent isn’t going to help. The only way they can verify it’s valid is to have the Group number printed on the boarding pass.

If it’s not showing up on your boarding pass properly, please contact Chase to get the right folks at United involved. There were glitches in United’s computer system that were showing the wrong boarding zone, but those have mostly been resolved.


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21 thoughts on Priority boarding with United credit cards – how it really works

  1. Patrick

    How does the boarding work if I am traveling on a Mileage Plus award ticket? I have just general member status with Mileage Plus and I have the Explorer card which I used to pay the fee when booking and I purchased Economy Plus seating.

  2. Ej

    Do need to purchase the ticket thru United to get this benefit or can I buy it thru an OTA? Same question but on free first checked bag. Thanks!


      @Ej – For the boarding you just need your MileagePlus number in the reservation. For the free bag you need to buy the ticket with your card, though as long as it’s a United ticket number you should be fine with an OTA. Basically it will look at your transaction record for your ticket number and match that up with your MileagePlus record to say ‘yes you should get a free back.’ So if the OTA is labeling the flights as United Airlines flight numbers you should be good.

      1. Sonali

        What is an OTA? I have a flight coming up, but purchased my ticket prior to getting the United credit card. How can I an ensure that I’m eligible to receive priority boarding and a free checked bag?


          @Sonali – An ‘OTA’ is an ‘online travel agency.’ Unfortunately you won’t get the free bag as you have to buy your ticket with the card to get that.

          But you can get the priority boarding. Just make sure your MileagePlus number is in your reservation.

  3. amy

    This is off the credit card topic but what about families with small children (I have 3 kids, ages 6, 8, 9 – we’re a circus)? Googling gives me mixed information. And if families with small kids aren’t boarding early-ish, then do we all board with the earliest zone of the group, e.g. if my son has a window seat, we all board with the window seat passengers, even if the rest of us are aisle and middle? Thanks.


      @Amy – United no longer offers early boarding for families with small children. Just board with the lowest zone in your group.

  4. jc

    I’m confused… How is my United Mileage Plus # linked to my Chase United Card?
    Basically, how does United know I’m a Chase Mileage Plus Explorer Card holder if I use other payments outside of that card?

    1. DT

      I’d love an answer to this, too. If I use a different credit card for booking, how does the system know I have a Chase Mileage Plus Explorer Card?


        @DT – It uses your MileagePlus frequent flyer number to tie the benefit. So as long as that’s in the reservation you’re good.

      1. Tally C.

        What about purchasing Premier Access? Would that include boarding in Group2? How do the gate keepers know a person has purchased Premier Access? Thank you for your time and answer help.


          @Tally C – Yes that would get you Group 2. When you purchase Premier Access, your boarding pass will say Group 2 on it.

  5. Sheila

    Does the Mileage Plus Explorer Card allow priority boarding on partner airlines, such as Lufthansa?

  6. Steven C.

    With priority boarding I used to be able to get to check in on the shorter line at security… today I was informed that priority check-in was reserved for premier access only. Did this policy change? Or has TSA been getting it wrong for 3 years?

    1. MileCards

      @Steven – Unfortunately you used to get the Priority Access due to a glitch in United’s system that had the boarding benefit tied to the Priority Access designation on the boarding pass. But looks like they’ve fixed that.


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