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American Airlines has a boarding process with a whopping nine boarding groups. And despite the occasional sighs and eye rolls from passengers who feel their boarding group may never be called, everyone does eventually get on the airplane.
Having so many American Airlines boarding groups can be confusing, but you can use the sheer quantity of boarding groups to your advantage. Simply learn how these groups are assigned, and you can figure out how to score priority boarding for your next flight.
The 9 American Airlines boarding groups
While officially there are nine boarding groups, in reality there's a 10th — preboarding — which happens before groups 1-9.
Preboarding is reserved mainly for travelers needing special assistance and passengers with a child under age 2. Members of the airline's invitation-only, top-tier ConciergeKey elite status also get to preboard.
After preboarding, the nine official boarding groups board in order.
For this guide, we’re going to focus on Groups 5 and lower (considered priority and preferred) since boarding in any of these groups comes with interesting upsides.
Group 5 (Preferred boarding)
Group 7 passengers.
Basic economy passengers within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico and Caribbean.
Priority boarding (Groups 1 - 4)
The groups are split into two boarding lanes. Groups 1 through 4 board through the priority lane, while Groups 5 through 9 board through the main lane.
One benefit of priority boarding (Groups 1 through 4) is skipping the line if you arrive at the gate in the midst of boarding. Just walk up the priority lane, and the gate agent will hold the main boarding group lane to admit you to your flight.
You'll also be eligible to board with Group 4 by holding the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®. This card has an annual fee of $450) and is currently offering a welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® Bonus Miles after spending $5,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Preferred Boarding (Group 5)
American Airlines preferred boarding (Group 5) includes Main Cabin Extra passengers and certain American Airlines credit cardholders.
Main Cabin Extra passengers are those sitting in economy who have paid for a slightly upgraded experience, which includes seats with extra legroom, complimentary snacks and drinks (including alcoholic drinks), and free movies and TV shows. Depending on the destination, an upgrade to a Main Cabin Extra seat starts at $20.
Holding an eligible American Airlines credit card offers another way to board in Group 5. There are two current credit cards that offer Group 5 boarding privileges. These are their annual fees and current welcome offers:
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® (annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $99): Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® (annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $99): Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.
» Learn more: Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?
How are American Airlines boarding groups assigned?
American passengers are put in the highest group for which they qualify. For example, basic economy passengers are typically assigned to Group 9. However, if a passenger with AAdvantage Gold elite status books a basic economy ticket, they will get upgraded to Group 4.
Similarly, a basic economy passenger with Platinum elite status will be upgraded to Group 3. And if a passenger requests a first-class upgrade and it clears, their boarding group will be elevated to Group 1.
That means there are a number of ways to upgrade your boarding position.
How to get preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
Right after passengers holding tickets with priority boarding (Groups 1 through 4) get on the plane, Group 5 (preferred boarding) goes next. To board in Group 5, you either need to purchase a main cabin extra upgrade or hold an eligible American Airlines credit card.
If you have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®, you will board with all Group 5 passengers.
How to get priority boarding on American Airlines
Priority boarding on American Airlines includes Groups 1-4. There are several ways you can get priority privileges — from having elite status to holding certain credit cards. Here are all of your options.
Fly in a premium cabin
All passengers flying in a premium cabin get priority boarding. But the group you’ll be assigned to depends on which class of service you’re flying.
Passengers in the front cabin board with Group 1. This includes any cabin labeled first class — from first class on domestic flights to Flagship First Class on long-haul international flights. Group 1 also includes business class on international flights that don’t have a first-class cabin. You’ll find this on the Airbus A330-200 and on American’s Boeing 777-200 and 787 aircraft.
Group 2 is mostly reserved for elite members. However, Flagship Business class passengers board during Group 2 if they’re flying on a three-class aircraft. This is the case on American’s Airbus A321T and its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
Premium economy passengers also get priority boarding. If you book a premium economy ticket on one of American's internationally configured aircraft, you’ll get to board in Group 4 — unless you qualify for a higher tier through another method.
Hold AAdvantage, Oneworld or JetBlue elite status
Most of the early American Airlines boarding groups are reserved for American Airlines, JetBlue and Oneworld elite members. No matter what tier of elite status you have, you’ll get to board the flight during priority boarding — even if you’re flying in economy.
Executive Platinum members can board in Group 1, while Platinum Pro (and Oneworld Emerald) members may board in Group 2. Mid-tier elites (American Airlines Platinum and Oneworld Sapphire) get at least Group 3.
And the lowest-tier elites (American Airlines Gold, Oneworld Ruby and JetBlue Mosaic) are assigned to Group 4.
However, this is the lowest boarding position you’ll get as an elite member. You’ll get to board in a higher group if you request an upgrade and it clears.
» Learn more: Guide to American Airlines elite status
Board as military
Members of the U.S. military who are on active duty and carrying a military ID can board in Group 1. This military boarding perk is the airline’s way of honoring those who serve.
Carry the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
One of the benefits of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® is priority boarding. Cardholders get at least Group 4 boarding — which is the last group of priority boarding. Still, this should get you on the plane early enough to find space in the overhead for your carry-on and not feel rushed by other economy passengers.
Join AirPass or fly for qualifying business trips
AirPass and corporate travelers get Group 4 priority boarding privileges. Anyone can sign up for AirPass. Well, at least anyone who can drop $5,000-plus to pre-purchase airfare.
As part of the AirPass program, members get fixed-rate airfare pricing, elite status, Admirals Club membership and more. AirPass members get at least Group 4 priority boarding.
Alternatively, you can get Group 4 priority boarding by being an “eligible corporate traveler,” meaning passengers traveling on company business for an employer with an American Airlines Corporate Travel Agreement. The ticket has to be booked and paid through the corporate travel portal to qualify.
Pay for it
If you’re unable to take advantage of any of the above ways, there’s one last way to get priority boarding: Pay for it. Economy passengers, including those with basic economy fares, can purchase a priority boarding add-on to enter the plane with Group 4.
You can’t purchase this upgrade during the initial booking process, so you’ll need to add it during check-in, online or at the airport.
American Airlines boarding groups, recapped
American Airlines’ boarding process has several boarding groups as well as preboarding. It may seem convoluted, but American is using these boarding groups to motivate travelers to take actions that make the airline more money — from flying enough to get elite status, to getting certain credit cards, to upgrading to a premium cabin.
If any of these make sense for your travels, American is happy to reward you with priority privileges.
The information related to CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
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