Advertiser Disclosure

When does ‘priority’ boarding via a credit card really board?

by on Fri January 20, 2017 • No Comment


Aside from a free first checked bag, one of the big perks of airline branded credit cards is priority boarding.

Priority boarding sounds great on paper and sounds like you’ll be among the very first to board.

But the reality is pretty jarring once you get to the airport.

That’s because while airlines assign numbers to boarding groups, like ‘Group 1,’ ‘Group 2,’ and so on, those numbers don’t match the actual order in the boarding announcements. Group 1 isn’t really the first group to board most of the time.

Instead,  all of the airlines with priority boarding for credit card holders have an un-numbered group ahead of the first numbered group, usually for the airline’s top tier of frequent fliers, that pushes groups further down the real boarding priority.

Here’s how priority boarding for credit card holders stacks up for American, Delta, and United:

American Airlines

Citi Executive AAdvantage

Cardholders board with Group 4 out of 9 numbered groups. There is an unnumbered ‘Concierge Key’ group that boards before Group 1, so Group 4 can be the 5th group to board. Boarding is in the same group as American’s 25,000 mile a year Gold elite level fliers.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select / Barclaycard Aviator Red and Silver

Cardholders board with Group 5 out of 9 numbered groups. There is an unnumbered ‘Concierge Key’ group that boards before Group 1, so Group 5 can be the 6th group to board. Boarding is in the same group as Premium Economy / extra legroom seat passengers.

Delta Air Lines

Delta SkyMiles American Express Gold, Platinum, Reserve

Zone 1 boarding out of 3 numbered groups. But Zone 1 is the 4th group to board, when you include Delta’s ‘Premium,’ ‘SkyPriority,’ and ‘Pre-Boarding’ groups, so credit card holders are in the 4th out of 6 groups to board.

Zone 1 includes Delta’s 25,000 mile a year Silver Medallion fliers and many partner elite fliers.

United Airlines

United MileagePlus Explorer, Club, Presidential Plus, and Awards

United’s card holders board in Group 2 out of 5 numbered groups. But there’s an unnumbered group for its Global Services level fliers, so Group 2 is really the third group to get announced for boarding.

Group 2 includes both United’s 50,000 mile level Premier Gold fliers, as well as its 25,000 mile a year Premier Silver fliers, so with United’s credit card priority boarding you have a shot to be further up the priority chain than with American or Delta’s credit cards.

Is there any value at all to priority boarding?

No credit card will give you the privilege to board any sooner than the 3rd group of passengers, and it can be as bad as the 6th group. Essentially what credit card priority boarding does is put you ahead of everyone in Economy class who doesn’t have some sort of other status or privilege with the airline.

That gives you at least a chance at getting your bags in the overhead bins before they’re full.

But there’s another advantage that’s going to be more important.

American and United are both adding restrictions to their very cheapest fares this year. These ‘Basic Economy‘ fares won’t let you bring a full sized carryon aboard.

But if you hold a credit card with boarding priority, you can still bring a full sized carryon, even when you’re on a Basic Economy fare.

It’s hardly an upgrade. They’re taking away something that was included for everyone in the cost of a ticket, and letting credit cardholders keep it. But if the alternative is paying a higher fare for the right to bring a full sized carryon, then holding a card with priority boarding is getting a little more useful, at least on American and United.

On Delta, if you’re flying on Basic Economy ticket you can still bring on a full sized carryon, but since you board in the last group, chances are slim there will be space for you bag by the time you get on the plane.

The following two tabs change content below.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
Learn more

Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $95

Annual Fee


Foreign Transaction Fee Waived

Yes - transfer to United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and more

Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

Still confused? Have a question?

Leave a comment below -- we'll reply shortly -- no need to use your real name. Or, use the email form at the top of the page for private advice.

"These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

X Email Alerts
Hear about new offers and tips