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If you haven’t flown on United Airlines before, you may want to figure out how the United group boarding process works. It not only determines who gets on first, but who will get coveted overhead carry-on space.
So who gets to go first? How many groups are there? Will you be stuck boarding last and having to check your carry-on?
United boarding groups are determined by a number of factors including the cabin you’re traveling in, if you have elite status with the airline and whether you hold a qualifying United credit card that gets you priority boarding.
Here's a look at United's boarding groups, how they’re determined and a few ways you can improve your chances of snagging an earlier boarding group.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
United Airlines boarding groups
How many boarding groups does United have?
There are six boarding groups: Groups 1-5 as well as pre-boarding. While six boarding groups may seem like a lot, United has one of the more streamlined boarding processes when compared with other major U.S.-based airlines — Alaska Airlines has eight boarding groups, and American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have 10 boarding groups.
Below is a chart to help you quickly determine your United boarding group.
United Premier elite members
If you’re flying in basic economy, you’ll board last unless you’re a United Premier member, a Star Alliance Gold member or hold a qualifying United credit card, in which case you’ll still receive priority boarding based on the groups above.
» Learn more: The complete guide to United MileagePlus
United Airlines’ pre-boarding group includes those who may need extra time to board, including customers with disabilities, unaccompanied minors and families traveling with children 2 years old and younger, as well as active members of the military.
After pre-boarding, United boards Group 1, which includes those with United Premier Platinum and Gold status, passengers with Star Alliance Gold status and customers seated in the United Polaris, first and business class cabins.
Group 2 on United boards after pre-boarding and Group 1. This group includes passengers who hold United Premier Silver or Star Alliance Silver status, those who’ve purchased Premier Access or priority boarding and most United credit cardholders.
If you fly on United more than once or twice a year, and you don’t have elite status or otherwise qualify for priority boarding, getting a United credit card with Group 2 boarding privileges can ensure you get to board early.
This can be particularly helpful if you’re traveling with carry-on luggage only and want to secure overhead bin space.
Then, United boards Groups 3-5, which includes those seated in United Economy Plus, economy and basic economy.
Keep in mind that basic economy passengers board last, unless they are able to board in an earlier group due to holding elite status, a United credit card or otherwise qualifying for priority boarding.
How are United Airlines boarding groups assigned?
United passengers are put in the highest group for which they qualify. This means that if you book an economy ticket (normally Group 3-5) but are a United Premier Gold member (Group 1), you’ll board in Group 1.
If your United boarding pass doesn't show the highest boarding group that you qualify for, you should bring this to the attention of a gate or check-in agent prior to boarding. They may be able to update your boarding pass to the correct group.
How to get priority boarding on United Airlines flights
There are a number of ways to get priority boarding on United flights, but some will cost you more than others.
Travel in a premium cabin
One of our favorite ways to secure priority boarding with United is to fly in a premium cabin, whether that’s in United Polaris, first or business class. If you’re flying in a United premium cabin, you’ll always board with Group 1.
» Learn more: The guide to United Polaris business class
Hold United or Star Alliance elite status
You can secure priority boarding by holding United Premier or Star Alliance elite status.
United Global Services and Premier 1K members board in the pre-boarding group, while United Platinum, United Gold and Star Alliance Gold members board with Group 1. This is followed by United and Star Alliance Silver members who board with Group 2.
Although United and Star Alliance Silver members usually board with Group 2, if you’re in this group and receive an upgrade to a premium cabin, you’ll get to board with Group 1.
Carry an eligible United credit card
The following United credit cards include priority boarding as a benefit:
The only United credit card that doesn't come with priority boarding is the United Gateway℠ Card. Having a United credit card with priority boarding entitles you to board with Group 2.
» Learn more: Great ways to earn United MileagePlus Miles
Pay for priority boarding
If none of the above options work for you, United allows you to pay for priority boarding on certain flights — prices start at $15 per flight segment. If you pay for priority boarding, you’ll board with Group 2.
United Airlines boarding groups recapped
Now that we’ve reviewed the number of boarding groups on United, you'll be able to figure out your group.
Keep in mind you’ll be put in the highest boarding group that you qualify for — meaning that even if you book a basic economy ticket (which usually boards last), if you have elite status or a qualifying United credit card, you can board in an earlier group.
If boarding early is important to you, there are a number of ways you can secure early boarding. These include holding United Premier or Star Alliance status, carrying a qualifying United credit card, flying in a premium cabin or purchasing priority boarding on select flights.
(Top photo courtesy of United Airlines)
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