If you have flown with US carriers, you might be familiar with boarding groups deciding when you get to board the aircraft. American has no less than nine boarding groups, along with pre-boarding for a select few. Here's your guide to the system and how to board first to avoid being asked to switch flights, struggle to find overhead space, or gate-check your bag.

Elite status is everything

American Airlines only allows pre-boarding for one group: ConciergeKey members. This unpublished tier of the AAdvantage is invite-only and goes to the highest spenders, corporate contract holders, and celebrities. From there onward, the nine groups of passengers start, split into Priority and Main:

Priority (Groups 1 to 4):

  • Group 1: Passengers in domestic first class and international business class, AAdvantage Executive Platinum status holders, and active duty US military personnel.
  • Group 2: AAdvantage Platinum Pro and oneworld Emerald status holders
  • Group 3: AAdvantage Platinum and oneworld Sapphire status holders
  • Group 4: Passengers in Premium economy and paying for priority access, AAdvantage Gold, oneworld Ruby status holders, Citi/AAdvantage Executive cardholders, and select corporate travelers.
At a boarding gate for an American Airlines Flight.
Photo: JW_PNW / Shutterstock

American splits boarding into the Priority and Main cabin lanes, so if you arrive late, you can skip the general queue and walk through the other lane. However, even in general boarding, there are clear queues:

  • Group 5 (Preferred Boarding): Passengers in Main Cabin Extra seats (not on Basic Economy tickets), AAdvantage members who accrue 15,000 Loyalty Points (milestone benefit), and select AAdvantage co-brand card holders
  • Group 6: General AAdvantage status holders
  • Group 7/8: Main cabin fare passengers and Basic Economy passengers from Europe, Asia, or South America (Group 8)
  • Group 9: Basic economy passengers on domestic, North American, Central American, and Caribbean flights.

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Groups 7 through 9 are the most susceptible to getting their bags gate-checked. Unlike United, American allows all passengers to take a carry-on, even in Basic fares. While this is a massive positive for passengers, the smaller bins on many (not all) aircraft cannot accommodate 160+ carry-ons. While the carrier has been upgrading cabins to add compartments that allow four suitcases, they are not on every aircraft yet.

The easiest (and free) way to upgrade is to simply sign up for AAdvantage online. This catapults you into Group 6 and could potentially prevent a gate check. The next choice is to purchase a Main Cabin extra seat (front rows and the emergency exit) if you aren't in Basic Economy, since this will almost surely prevent a chance of gate-checking your bag.

Inside the main cabin of an American Airlines aircraft.
Photo: EQRoy | Shutterstock

However, the guaranteed way is to sign up for one American's six personal credit cards (excluding the Citi Executive card, which includes Group 4 access). The carrier has partnered with American Express, CitiBank, and Barclays US to offer several solutions, and all annual fee cards have access to preferred Main cabin boarding. These are a great way to earn thousands of AAdvantage miles from sign-up bonuses and enjoy the full carry-on experience.

For non-US residents, oneworld status is a great way to get free Main Cabin Extra seats, one checked bag, and priority boarding, even with Ruby (lowest tier).

What do you think about American's group boarding system? Let us know in the comments.

  • AAdvantage Tall - Logo Center-1
    Participating Airlines:
    American Airlines
    American Airlines
    North America
    United States
    Established Date:
  • American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner From Above
    American Airlines has not had the slam dunk it was hoping for as Bangalore's first connection to the US in 2020. Photo: Vincenzo Pace - Simple Flying
    American Airlines
    IATA/ICAO Code:
    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier
    Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Miami International Airport, New York JFK Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
    Year Founded:
    Robert Isom
    United States