In March 2017, American Airlines switched to a new boarding process with a whopping nine boarding groups. American has stuck with this boarding process ever since, despite the occasional sighs and eye rolls from passengers who feel their boarding group may never be called.
Having so many American Airlines boarding groups can be confusing, but you can use this convoluted process 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 there are officially nine boarding groups, there's actually one more: preboarding.
Preboarding is mainly reserved for travelers needing special assistance and passengers with a child under 2 years old. Members of the airline's invitation-only, top-tier ConciergeKey elite status also get to board before Group 1 boarding starts.
After preboarding come the following groups:
Business class passengers (three-class aircraft)
All other AAdvantage members
Group 6 passengers
Group 7 passengers
Basic economy passengers within North and Central America
These 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 getting to skip 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.
» 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 relegated to Group 9. However, a passenger who booked a basic economy ticket will get Group 4 if they have AAdvantage Gold elite status.
Likewise, a Platinum elite will be assigned to Group 3 if flying in economy. But if their first class upgrade 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 priority boarding on American Airlines
There are several ways American Airlines passengers can get priority privileges — from elite status to holding a particular credit card. Here are all of the ways to get priority boarding.
Fly in a premium cabin
All passengers flying in a premium cabin get priority boarding. But the group you’ll get 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 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 you’re flying on a three-class aircraft. This is the case on American’s Airbus A321T and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
Premium economy passengers also get priority boarding. If you book a premium economy ticket on one of their internationally configured aircraft, you’ll get to board in Group 4 — unless you qualify for a higher tier through another method.
Hold AAdvantage or Oneworld elite status
Most of the early American Airlines boarding groups are reserved for American Airlines and Oneworld elite members. No matter what tier of AAdvantage or Oneworld elite status you have, you’ll get to board the flight during priority boarding — even if you’re flying in economy.
Top-tier elite members (American Airlines Executive Platinum and Oneworld Emerald) board no later than Group 2. Mid-tier elites (American Airlines Platinum Pro and Platinum and Oneworld Sapphire) get at least Group 3. And the lowest-tier elites (American Airlines Gold and Oneworld Ruby) 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 Group 1 (or 2) if your upgrade 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 to honor 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.
Participate in AirPass or fly for business
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. While the elite status that comes with AirPass is enough to get priority boarding, 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 can get bumped up to Group 4 by purchasing a priority boarding add-on. Travelers 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.
As of Oct. 1, 2020, even passengers who bought a basic economy fare have the option to purchase priority boarding.
The bottom line
American Airlines’ boarding process has several boarding groups, not including preboarding. It may seem convoluted, but American is using these boarding groups to incentivize travelers to take actions that make the airline more money — from flying enough to get elite status to getting a credit card or upgrading to a premium cabin. If any of these make sense for your travels, American is happy to reward you with priority privileges.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card