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

Sep 13, 2021

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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.

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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.

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