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One of the most stressful parts of traveling is boarding a plane only to find that there isn’t any overhead space. The next thing you know, you’re walking down the aisle in search for an overhead bin that’s away from your seat. Or even worse, you’re forced to check-in your carry-on. With airline status becoming harder to attain, it’s no mystery that passengers are looking for solutions. In this video/post, we’re going to explore how to get priority boarding on flights without status.

Why boarding a flight early saves you time

Many of us like to pack light to avoid checking-in a bag. Doing so means we not only save on baggage fees but also the waiting time at baggage claim. There are also occasions when you don’t want to risk losing your luggage on a flight. This is especially true if you’re going to a special event or an important work meeting. Though getting an overhead bin space can be a challenge, especially if you’re on a full flight. It also doesn’t help that passengers will often start putting all their bags and personal items in the overhead bins. These passengers don’t seem to consider that others might need the bin space. If you’re one of those people, make sure to wait until everyone is on-board before stuffing the bins with other personal items. Or use the space underneath the seat in front of you!

Travelon Wheeled Underseat Carry-On Bag on wood plank floor
Small carry-on bags like the Travelon Wheeled Underseat Carry-On Bag can save you time and money when flying

How people normally get to board early

The traditional way of getting into a priority boarding group is to have airline status. In fact, when I used to travel every week as a consultant, I earned United Gold status. Since I was spending a lot of time in planes, being able to board early and stow my baggage without any worries was convenient. And every once in awhile I’d get a generous bump into business class.

Unfortunately, I don’t travel as much for work nowadays. Therefore, getting priority boarding is more of a challenge. Though it’s still possible to get priority boarding on many airlines without status. I’ll focus on the options available for the following major US airlines:

Logos for American Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines

Priority boarding options for major airlines

American Airlines

You’ll notice when selecting your seat that American Airlines tries to steer you toward premium seats. These seats include the promise of early boarding and better access to overhead bins. However, you don’t have to purchase an expensive premium seat. You can buy a Priority Boarding upgrade when booking your ticket or after your booking is complete. The prices vary but start at $9 per way. Buying Priority Boarding gets you into Group 4, which is two groups ahead of the main boarding group. There are still a lot of boarding groups ahead of you, but I think you’re likely to find an overhead bin if you’re in any of the groups prior to group 6.

Boarding group list for American Airlines

Delta Airlines

You can purchase Priority Boarding for $15. This allows you to board during the Main Cabin 1 group. The Priority Boarding covers a flight, so you would need to purchase it for multiple legs if you don’t have a non-stop flight. The Main Cabin 1 Group is when some of the lower-tier status members are boarding, so it’s likely that you’ll find an overhead bin space.

Unfortunately, anyone seated in Basic Economy is likely to struggle finding any bin space. Priority Boarding is not an option if you’ve purchased a Basic Economy ticket.

Boarding group list for Delta Airlines

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue offers a service called Even More Space. It includes a larger seat, priority boarding, and access to special security lines. It costs between $30 to $90, depending on your flight. Being in the Even More Space boarding group should guarantee an overhead bin space.

Boarding group list for JetBlue Airways

Southwest Airlines

Southwest is a bit complicated. Southwest assigns your boarding position based on the time that you check-in to your flight. They allow you to check-in 24 hours before your flight. Though if you’re not quick to check-in, you’ll often end up in a later boarding group. Southwest passengers with A-List status or Business Select automatically get into the A boarding group.

The airline sells an Early-bird Check-In service for flights. For $15 to $25 dollars per flight segment, you can be automatically checked in. This usually means that you’re in the A group. There’s no guarantee, but you’ll be ahead of the general boarding group that manually checks in.

Boarding group list for Southwest Airlines

United Airlines

United offers a few options for Priority Boarding starting at $15. This gets you into Boarding Group 2, which is ahead of the general boarding groups. They also have a Premier Access service that lets you use special security lines. However, like Delta, these services are unavailable if you’re flying on a Basic Economy ticket. 

Boarding group list for United Airlines

Getting an airline credit card to board early

Those of you familiar with my the credit cards in my wallet know that I have the United Explorer card. This card not only gives me free check-in bags and additional award seat availability but also Priority Boarding. In fact, many of the airline cards offer some kind of priority boarding service.

Chase United Explorer credit card
The Chase United Explorer provides priority boarding to their cardmembers

American Airlines

The Citi AAdvantage Executive card gives you Priority Boarding. The personal and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select cards give you Preferred Boarding as part of your card membership. Priority Boarding puts you in group 4 and Preferred Boarding puts you in group 5. The general boarding starts at group 6, so the cards should alleviate the issue of finding overhead bin space.

Delta Airlines

The American Express Delta Reserve, Platinum Delta SkyMiles, and Gold Delta SkyMiles cards all offer Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding. This applies to both personal and business cards.

American Express Delta SkyMiles Gold credit card
The Amex Gold Delta SkyMiles card can help you get priority boarding on Delta flights. Learn how to apply!

JetBlue Airlines

Unfortunately, neither of the JetBlue cards from Barclaycard offer any sort of priority boarding perk or benefit.

Southwest Airlines

The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card and the Southwest Performance Business card offers four upgraded boardings per year.

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card
The Chase Southwest Priority card can help you get early boarding on four flights per year

United Airlines

Both the Chase United Explorer and United Explorer Business provide Priority Boarding, which is Group 2. The Chase United Club card offers Premier Access.

Chase United Explorer Business credit card
The Chase United Explorer Business card can help you beat the main crowds!

Premium travel cards are useful too!

There are several other credit cards that offer some form of travel credit or flight incidental credit. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 travel credit which can be applied to purchases related to travel. Both the American Express Platinum and Gold card have an airline fee credit. This credit can be applied to incidentals like baggage fees, lounge passes, or priority boarding upgrades. While buying airline gift cards used to work to trigger this credit, it no longer does. Consider getting a priority boarding pass if you need to use your airline fee credit on your Amex Gold or Platinum card.

The American Express Platinum offers a yearly flight incidental credit that can be used to purchase priority boarding. Learn how to apply!

Other tips and considerations

Below are some additional tips if you’re interested in priority boarding.

1. Priority boarding passes are usually non-refundable:

I know this to be the case since I have changed or canceled Southwest flights many times and lost the Earlybird Check-In that I purchased. These services are usually non-transferable. If you switch your flight, you’ll have to re-purchase the priority boarding upgade.

2. Consider getting Global Entry or TSA PreCheck:

Some of these priority or preferred boarding services allow you to skip into an expedited security line. However, it’s often the same line as TSA PreCheck. I personally think that Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are valuable services to get, especially if you have a credit card that will reimburse you for the enrollment fee.

Having these services really helps to reduce the stress of air travel by making it easier and faster to get through security. Also, if you happen to have multiple cards with the Global Entry or TSA Precheck reimbursement benefit, consider gifting it toward a family member or friend who travels.

Capital One Venture Rewards credit card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card reimburses card members for their Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment fee. Learn how to apply!

3. Consider an award status match:

If you happen to be a frequent flier on a specific airline but are traveling on another airline without any status, consider requesting a status match. It’s an easy way to gain status on another airline, which can often give you priority boarding.

4. Pack a collapsible bag:

Despite your best effort to travel without checking in your bag, there is always the possibility that you’ll have to do it. If you don’t have another personal item or bag, I recommend packing a collapsible bag. This will allow you to quickly transfer some items from your main bag in the event that you’re forced to check-in your carry-on luggage.

This happened to me when I used to travel for work. There was one week where I flew to a smaller airport to visit a data center in Texas, and the plane had smaller overhead compartments. Unfortunately, my carry-on bag did not fit! So always assume that you might have to check-in your bag, even if you plan otherwise.

Have any of you paid for a priority or preferred boarding upgrade? Or do you just use a credit card benefit to board early?

If you’re interested in applying for a credit card, we encourage you to compare credit offers. We do get a commission if you use our link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps us to continue building content for our site and channel.

Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. 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.

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