Best reward cards for priority boarding on flights
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
fly maybe once a month for business. I carry on one bag and my purse. And I
care about one perk and one perk only: I want to get on the plane early. Which
card/cards can I get that has decent points, but gets me and my one carry-on
aboard first so I can claim my overhead space, settle in and zone out for the
flight? -- Early Boyd
Dear Early Boyd,
airlines reserve the earliest boarding for the highest-paying or most loyal
customers, which means first- and business-class passengers and higher level elite status fliers.
that in mind when you review perks for reward cards. Many of them list "priority
boarding" as a perk, but that may not mean what you think. That is, you will
board after premium seat holders and elites, but before the masses. Points
awarded by airline cards and annual fees are also pretty much the same.
a MileagePlus Explorer card, for example, lets you board with Group 2, United's
designation for after high-level elites and premium seat holders, but before
general boarding. In January 2013, United reduced its boarding groups from seven to
five. The Explorer card still gets you onboard before the final three groups,
usually before mobs clog the aisles and with time to stash your carry-on while
there's plenty of overhead bin space. The United Club Card allows you to board
with Group 1, but that card comes with a $395 annual fee (minus a $95 statement
credit after your first purchase), as opposed to Explorer's $95 annual fee (waived the
recently, I would have recommended the AAdvantage card to someone looking
primarily for boarding perks. American Airlines was the one major airline that
boarded cardholders at the same time as first-class seat holders. But as of
mid-November 2012, tickets purchased with that card are now marked "Group 1,"
equivalent to the boarding status of most co-branded airline cards. You
can purchase upgrades at airport check-in kiosks for your particular
American Express cards offer "Zone 1 boarding," but beware: that does not mean
"first to board." Delta still boards premium seat holders and elites before
their co-branded cardholders.
Airways MasterCard ($89 annual fee) comes with Zone 2 boarding. You can
also pay for Preferred Access during the check-in process starting at $10 per
person, but first-class passengers and elites will still board before you. How
this card and its benefits will change with the recent merger of US Airways and
American remains to be seen.
the boarding status that comes with a standard co-branded airline card puts you
onboard early enough to avoid gate-checking your bags. Later-boarding passengers
often get stuck checking carry-on bags at the gate because overhead bins have
filled up by the time they board. You're not charged for this, but it means you
have to wait for
your bag with the rest of the hordes at baggage claim instead of heading out of the airport
from the gate.
you can see, if your goal is simply to get onto a plane before general
boarding begins, most co-branded cards will get you that. There is no clear
advantage any more. All offer 2 points per dollar spent on the airline and 1
point per dollar on everything else. They also get you a free checked bag (if
you ever decide to expand beyond that carry-on). For a $95 annual fee (waived
the first year), Gold Delta SkyMiles card from American Express, Citi Platinum
Select/AAdvantage and United MileagePlus Explorer offer similar boarding
if those are your only concerns, I would go with the airline you fly most
frequently and build loyalty there. If you can get to mid-level elite status on
an airline, you begin to get the premium boarding treatment. Cardholders tend
to get the boarding status of a base-level elite member.
See related: Cards carry rewards other than points, miles, American Airlines clarifies elite boarding perk, American, US Airways merger could launch credit card battle
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Published: February 26, 2013
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