I have an American Airlines credit card — and one of my favorite benefits keeps getting stripped away

Sep 13, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Citi is a TPG advertising partner.

I wouldn’t bring this up, except that it’s now happened multiple times.

One of the less prominent benefits of cobranded airline credit cards like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® is that you get preferred boarding, which means you get to board the flight before lots of other passengers. I have an American Airlines credit card that gives me Group 5 preferred boarding, allowing me to hop on the plane before most other flyers.

But gate agents have rendered this perk almost useless several times now, and it makes me reconsider whether it’s worth carrying a cobranded airline credit card anymore.

New to The Points Guy? Want to learn more about credit card points and miles? Sign up for our daily newsletter.

American Airlines has let me down with preferred boarding a few times now. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/The Points Guy)


American Airlines doesn’t enforce preferred boarding

Like on other carriers, the sheer number of boarding groups is staggering on American Airlines, making the process of getting customers onto planes more complex than ever. Here’s how this intricate operation now plays out:

  • Preboarding: Passengers needing special assistance, such as families traveling with small children
  • ConciergeKey members
  • Group 1: First class, active-duty U.S. military with ID and business class on two-class international planes, AAdvantage Executive Platinum elites
  • Group 2: AAdvantage Platinum Pro, Oneworld Emerald and business class on a three-class plane
  • Group 3:  Platinum elites and Oneworld Sapphire
  • Group 4: AAdvantage Gold elites, Oneworld Ruby, AirPass members, Premium Economy passengers, travelers who bought priority boarding and Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® cardholders
  • Group 5 (Preferred boarding): Main Cabin Extra and other AAdvantage credit cardholders
  • Group 6: All other AAdvantage members
  • Group 7: Non-AAdvantage economy passengers
  • Group 8: Group 8 passengers and those in basic economy to/from Europe and South America
  • Group 9: Basic economy within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean

So most American Airlines cobranded cardholders can jump in line for the sixth boarding group out of all 11 groups. Eligible cards include:

*No longer available for new applicants

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Red, Silver and Business cards, as well as the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Visa, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Amex, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard, and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum select has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

With my card, I was able to board in Group 5. I used to love this benefit because it gave me the opportunity to get on the plane while there was still plenty of overhead bin space for carry-on luggage. Passengers in the last boarding group may need to either check their bag at the gate or spend an uncomfortable amount of time exploring the plane for space.

(Photo by izusek/Getty Images)

But even with preferred boarding, I sometimes find myself near the end of the boarding line these days. A perfect example of this occurred during the boarding process for one of my recent American Airlines flights.

After carefully and methodically boarding groups 1 to 4 (active duty military, passengers with American Airlines elite status etc.), the gate agent blazed through groups 5 to 9 with extraordinary speed. Despite being at the gate early and ready to board when my group was called, I found myself standing behind plenty of group 6 passengers. And while I did manage to find enough overhead bin space in proximity to my seat, there was very little space left. If I’d boarded any later, that space would certainly have been gone.

It occurred to me that gate agents perhaps don’t know that Group 5 is considered a perk and should be set apart from the later groups. After all, Groups 6 through 9 are assigned to non-elite passengers who simply buy inexpensive tickets. If you’re assigned a group lower than 6, you’ve made some kind of effort to get grouped there by buying one of the airline’s cheapest fares (and hey, that’s great for a lot of folks who simply want to get from point A to point B).

Boarding in Group 5 with my American Airlines credit card used to practically guarantee that I’d find overhead bin space for my bag. But with gate agents announcing group 5 in the same breath as groups 6 and 7, I now stand near the boarding lane and position my feet on Olympic starting blocks just to make sure I’m one of the first 60 passengers aboard.

To be clear, this doesn’t happen every time and boarding in Group 5 can still be very convenient. But if gate agents gave AAdvantage cardholders even an extra 30 seconds to get in line to board before simply announcing a free-for-all, this issue would be solved.

Bottom Line

It’s understandable that, with tight turnaround times and gates getting ever more crowded, American Airlines representatives might not pause too long to let the airline’s cobranded cardholders stake out a place in line. But given that it’s an advertised perk of many of American’s cards, I’m sure other cardholders are bound to be disappointed as I have been during recent trips.

Hopefully the airline won’t allow other perks, such as free checked bags and inflight purchase discounts, to be devalued as well. If that happens, it will make my decision about whether to carry or cancel my American Airlines credit card that much easier in the future.

Featured photo by © Santiago Urquijo/Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below 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.