Board Your Flight Before the Schmucks

Boarding early is one of the most attractive benefits of elite status. There’s always room for your carry-on, you’re not relegated to taking 1 step per minute down the jet-bridge, and you don’t have to squeeze through dozens of people to make it to seat 46B. However, elite status isn’t the only way to board early. Here are some other options to avoid the cattle drive onto the plane.

Avoid these crowds and breeze right by them.

1. Get an Airline Credit Card
The Citi AAdvantage card isn’t the only card that gives you early boarding rights. The Delta SkyMiles credit card from AmEx and United’s Mileage Plus card from JPMorgan Chase offer the same privilege on those airlines. Other airlines probably offer the same perk. You won’t board with the super elite groups, but you’ll be included in the final frequent flyer group: Gold for AA, Silver for Delta, etc.

Also, remember that these cards give you a multitude of other great benefits like bonus miles, free checked baggage, discounts on in-flight spending and others. If you’re even a semi-frequent traveler, these cards are worth having.

Sneaky solution: None. Get the card.

2. Take Grandma Along
While some airlines still allow parents and small children to board early, many are now removing that privilege. The elderly are, and always will be, allowed plenty of extra time before normal boarding begins. If a member of your group is in a wheel chair or elderly (or just looks old), you can board with them to “assist”. Just don’t ditch grandma when you dash out of the plane to get in line for the plane-side checked baggage. Airlines frown on that.

Sneaky solution: Befriend Betty White in the gate area and offer to help with her bags.

3. Wear Your Camo
Ever been in the military? Even if you’re off-duty or retired, wear your fatigues. You’ll board with the first group on most airlines including: American, United and Frontier. As most self-respecting Americans would agree, our soldiers have earned more status than your typical frequent flyer has ever dreamed of.

All you really need is a military backpack. If you have one on, people will welcome you to board early.

If you want to be a jerk, you can borrow one or buy one at a military surplus store. No one is really going to challenge someone with a military backpack about the rules of early military boarding. Just know you’re being pretty sleazy while doing so.

4. Buy Your Way Onboard
American, Southwest, United and other airlines are now letting you buy early boarding. For $10-$20 per direction of travel, you can board in Group 1 regardless of your seat assignment.

Note that many airlines prioritize boarding by zone, so you may be in Group 1 automatically. To learn more about zones, check out this chart by

Sneaky solution: None. It’s $10 cheapskate. Dish it out or get in line.

Example of American Airline’s zone boarding map. Image courtesy of TripAdvisor (linked).

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20 Responses to Board Your Flight Before the Schmucks

  1. The Citi Bank card is fantastic. I already owned the card when they decided to add the priority boarding access feature. PRIORITY ACCESS just appeared on my boarding pass the next week. At the same time I received 30 or 40 thousand bonus miles on my AA account without any spending requirements. This is (or at least was) a new signup perk for the card. Mr. Author – quit borrowing your friends military bags to board early!

  2. You don’t even need to borrow fatigues or backpacks. Just go to an army-navy surplus. I get all my luggage there anyway.

  3. Katelin says:

    As far as the military goes, I never travel in fatigues (the Air Force frowns upon it unless returning from deployment), Just pull out your military ID when you hand off your boarding pass and they don’t say a thing.

    • Forrest says:

      I agree with Katelin. Don’t travel in fatigues. You stick out like a sore thumb, which is never good when traveling. Also, as most former military would agree, there’s a certain level of inappropriate-ness to wearing your utility uniform if you don’t have to.

  4. jkozarsky says:

    I acknowledge your points when it comes to boarding early, but my favorite thing is to board late! Why pay for the privilege of sitting in your tiny seat on that flying tube of recirculated air for a second longer than you have to? I prefer to grab a drink and a snack, then rush the gate when the door is just about to close. Take-off is just minutes away.

    • I agree @jkozarsky, the last thing I want to do is end up in the plane for longer than necessary. I laugh every time I see people lining up nervously at the gate.

      • Anon Guest says:

        I’ve always preferred being the last to board as well. I usually check my bag, so I don’t worry about carry-ons. (I know this makes some people nervous about lost luggage, but I’ve found that as long as my baggage is marked and ID’d properly and in good condition, I don’t ever lose it). I chill out at a cafe as close to the gate as I can be for as long as possible, then head over when I hear the final boarding call. Trick is to keep your ears perked and not stray too far – otherwise it’s easy to get caught up and miss the flight entirely. (This has happened to my mother several times who is also a notorious late-boarder).
        However, after reading this, I can definitely see the advantage to boarding early. Now that I’ve earned my first elite status, I think I’ll try it out. Especially if I’ve been lucky enough to get upgraded, I’m sure I’d love to get on early and start enjoying those free drinks. 🙂

    • Joe Jackson says:

      I’m also in this camp. I don’t want to sit on that plane a second longer than I have to. Your seat will be still be there, don’t worry. I’ll let all the chumps stand in line to get on, then I’ll board.

  5. Josh D says:

    Please don’t condone wearing a uniform if you are not in the military, or even borrowing a friend’s pack and pretending that you are. It’s very disrespectful.

  6. Great tips. I am going to get a camo backpack and befriend every old lady I see.

  7. ryan says:

    The insruction may say different uniforms for different types of travel blah, blah, blah… Don’t wear uniforms when you’re travelling. If you are a member of the US military it is unethical to accept benefits on airlines because of your uniform and you should also be practicing OPSEC. Don’t do it unless you have to.

  8. rexngail says:

    I am retired Military, when certain airlines offer early boarding to military I just show my ID Card with my ticket and board early, it always works.

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  11. Jesh M says:

    I am a veteran, a few years ago I travelled with an active duty military chaplain coming home from a church conference. He told us that they had been advised not to travel in uniform at all, and not even in clerical dress, as it immediately designated you as a target for a terrorist.

  12. Billy Bonk says:

    Who wants to board early????? I prefer to be the last one on…the very last. Flight attendants grab my carry on, stow it and make sure I am taken care of and make a big show to everyone who is already in thier sears, how nice they are. Loosers board first.

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