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Priority boarding with United credit cards – how it really works

by on Tue July 16, 2013 • 72 Comments
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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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72 thoughts on Priority boarding with United credit cards – how it really works

  1. Angela Giannetta

    I have a Mileage Plus Explorer card and should get priority boarding, but I also noticed an option to purchase Premier Access at approx. $15 extra per person. What is the difference between Mileage Plus w/Priority Boarding privileges vs. Premier Access? They seem identical. Is there an advantage to paying for Premier Access when I already have Priority boarding w/the Mileage Plus Explorer Card?

    Reply
  2. Ches

    Do you need to pay for the flight using the Mileage Plus Explorer Card to get priority boarding? When I travel on business I have to purchase the flights with my Corp AmEx.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Ches – You don’t need to pay with the card to get the priority boarding. Just put your MileagePlus number in the reservation.

      Reply
  3. Angela

    I just was approved for the Explorer card but it matches my drivers license with my married name added. We would like to purchase an international package on united vacations, but my passport only carries my maiden name. Will we still be able to get 2 free checked bags?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Angela – Tough to say – it’s by MileagePlus number, but if you enter your maiden name in the reservation it might not take your MileagePlus number. Best to call MileagePlus about it on 1-800-421-4655.

      Reply
  4. Aaron

    Hi-

    I have the Mileage Plus card and now have Priority Boarding printed at the top. Am I able to bring a co-worker with me in Group 2 if he is in group 5?

    Thanks! Aaron

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Aaron- Officially, you need to be in the same reservation. Unofficially you might find a nice gate agent, but don’t count on it. His boarding pass will beep with an alert if it’s scanned during Group 2 boarding.

      Reply
  5. Tom Jones

    My 90 year old father and I are flying round trip to Rome from IAD on October 12. We both have disabilities although will not use a wheelchair. Will we be able to take advantage of pre-boarding even though we will not have documentation (medical records) of our disabilities?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Tom – Nothing formal, it’s up to the gate agent, but they should if you genuinely need extra time. Though based on experience waiting to board at the very end is often more peaceful than trying to be the very first.

      Reply
  6. Sharon vance

    I have a mileage plus card. I gave my sky miles number when I booked my flight. I should have gotten priority boarding but did not. What good is having this card when it is not honored by United staff. I also chose a seat next to my partner which also was not honored and my seat was switched. Maybe I should get another card with Delta.

    Reply
    1. Lisa

      Same issue here! All of a sudden they are sticking me in Group 3. Turns out they are now requiring the flight booking be done on the card to get all the benefits … So when I travel for work and put my travel on my company’s corporate Amex (which my company requires) I get stuck in the general pile of travelers with no upgrades or bag allowance anything. This is a new policy and makes me really dissatisfied with the card.

      Reply
    2. Randy B.

      Did you mean Mileage Plus number instead of sky miles number? I booked my United flight using CapitalOne miles and I still received priority boarding. My United card was not charged a single cent. All I provided was my Mileage Plus number.

      Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Zoe – Not by design. Priority security access is granted when your boarding pass says “Premier Access” on it.

      Reply
  7. Marcia

    I have not been getting priority boarding with my explorer card. Today I got group 5! Am thinking this card is a waste of money.

    Reply
    1. EJ

      Same thing has happened a few times. Book my flight full price with my explorer card and I’ve received group
      3. What is going on?

      Reply
      1. MileCards.com

        @EJ – Are you sure the MileagePlus number associated with your Explorer card is the same as the one you’re using in your reservation? Sometimes when people open cards a new number is generated if a number isn’t entered in the main application form.

        Reply
        1. Kaitlin

          i called them today and they said you would not get the boarding unless you booked and paid with your chase united milelageplus card… i called twice and got two different people (unfortunately outside the u.s.) so part of me doesnt know if its they just dont understand what im asking (the first guy didnt).

          Reply
          1. MileCards.com

            @Kaitlin – The only requirement stated is “To receive priority boarding, the primary Cardmember must include their MileagePlus® number in their reservation,” so you should be fine. It takes about 2 weeks after getting the card for the feature to activate.

  8. Ed R.

    So let me ask you this, let’s say i book a flight through Chase UR on united and pay with the sapphire preferred and I also have the explorer card and I enter my membership number in the reservation, would i get zone 2 boarding?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Ed R. – You should since it’s tied to your MileagePlus number. You won’t get the free first checked bag though as you have to pay for the ticket with your Explorer card for that.

      Reply
  9. Joel Z

    I use my Chase Mileage Plus Explorer Card when booking travel and Group 2 boarding always prints on my boarding pass, but when they scan it for me to get on the plane in error alert goes off saying I should be in a higher group. Not a big deal but I hate people thinking I’m cutting in line when I’m not. The people at the gate have no idea why it does this.

    Reply
    1. Jodi Doane

      Happens to us all the time. The printed version says group 3 but the electronic version says group 2.
      How do we know if we don’t print it,?

      Reply
  10. Mike

    If you are a D.O.D employee and have your D.O.D number attached to your ticket do you get priority boarding?

    Reply
  11. Ester Casado

    My boss gets a Star Gold card (SAS Eurobonus Gold card). He has an Economy plus aisle seat and the boarding card shows Group 5. He should be boarding in Group 2, Why Group 5?

    Reply
    1. Paul

      If I book a flight with my MileagePlus account, check in, then before boarding change to another airline’s frequent flyer account will my boarding group be downgraded?

      Reply
      1. MileCards.com

        @Paul – Yes that’s possible. Also, the scanners at the gate will pick up the change if you still have an old pass with the old boarding group.

        Reply
  12. mi

    Am i eligilible for miles on united if I traveled half way with copa?
    Does priority boarding work with copa too?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @mi – You can earn miles flying Copa, but you will only get priority boarding on the United flights.

      Reply
  13. mi

    Does the priority boarding work for copa airlines too?
    are my miles added if I used half of the way thru Copa?

    Reply
  14. 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.

    Reply
      1. Michael

        Sorry to seek clarification, i have the same issue. If I am traveling on a Mileage Plus award ticket and pay the associated fees for my ticket (award + fees) with my Explorer card, will all the benefits kick in? 1st checked bag? Group 2 boarding? Assuming I make sure the right Mileage Plus number is associated?

        Or must the full price ticket have been purchased on the Explorer card? Sorry for the repeated question, just need to clarify.

        Reply
  15. 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!

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @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.

      Reply
      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?

        Reply
        1. MileCards.com

          @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.

          Reply
  16. 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.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

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

      Reply
      1. Michael

        Thanks, but the last time we flew United as a family with window, middle, aisle and across the aisle we were all Zone 5. Is that because as head of household I was on the aisle? When booking, should I place myself on the window to try to get Zone 3?

        Reply
        1. MileCards.com

          @Michael – Possibly – though it might default to the fact that anyone is in the aisle, so maybe book the aisle passenger separately. Going forward, Zone 5 will be just Basic Economy fares, so if you book a fare above Basic Economy (which are the very cheapest fares on certain routes) you’ll be in Zone 3 or 4.

          Reply
  17. 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?
    Thanks.
    -JC

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
      1. MileCards.com

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

        Reply
      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.

        Reply
        1. MileCards.com

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

          Reply
          1. Lynn

            Hi, if my husband purchases Premier Access for our flight but I don’t, will I be able to board with him in Group 2? It’s $78pp for a one-way trip (2 flights), which is very expensive. Thanks!

  18. Sheila

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

    Reply
      1. Angela Giannetta

        If I’ve misplaced my free club passes, how can I get replacements with the least amount of hassle? I’ve been on hold with United for 35 minutes to speak to someone. Is there a link on their website where I can request that they are resent?

        Reply
  19. 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?

    Reply
    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.

      Reply

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