American Airlines Boarding Groups & Process – Everything You Need To Know

American Airlines HNL Departure Gate

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Update: Due to COVID-19, American Airlines has made some changes to its boarding process:
– All passengers over the age of 2 flying on American Airlines are required to wear face coverings onboard, though there are exemptions for those with a disability. If you do not wear a mask, you will not be permitted to fly.
– American Airlines is not limiting capacity or blocking middle seats on its flights.

Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, American Airlines has established itself as the largest airline in the world. Whether you are looking at the number of passengers carried, the number of planes, or the number of destinations served, American Airlines leads the way.

What does this mean for you? Well, it means that as you fly around the U.S. and the rest of the world, you are probably going to end up on an American Airlines plane at some point.

To make your travel smoother, we’re going to take a little time today to go over the details of the boarding procedures that American Airlines uses for its flights.

Like every other airline, American likes to do things its own way — and if you don’t understand the process ahead of time, it can lead to confusion and frustration right at the start of your trip.

We never want to have a frustrating travel day (and we’re guessing you don’t either), so let us clear up the confusion of boarding with American Airlines so you can move on with the rest of your trip.

American Airlines Boarding Groups

A few years ago, American Airlines restructured its boarding process. Instead of pre-boarding several different groups as it did in the past, it decided to assign each group a number.

The result is a boarding process with a whopping 9 different numbered groups!

If we want to look at the boarding process as a whole, we should point out that American Airlines really has 11 groups.

Even after this restructuring, ConciergeKey elite AAdvantage members have their own group to board before anyone else, and there are also still passengers who can request preboarding.

Here is a description of which passengers are eligible for each boarding group. As long as you have your AAdvantage Program number on your reservation, your boarding pass should show your correct elite or priority boarding group.

If it doesn’t, you can see an American Airlines agent before boarding to have it corrected.

Pre-boarding (Must Be Requested)

  • Passengers needing special assistance
  • Passengers traveling with children under 2 years old


  • ConciergeKey elite AAdvantage members

Group 1

Group 2

  • Oneworld Emerald members
  • Business class passengers (only on a 3-class plane)
  • Platinum Pro AAdvantage members

Group 3

  • Platinum AAdvantage members
  • Oneworld Sapphire members

Group 4

Group 5 (Preferred Boarding)

Group 6

  • Group 6 general boarding
  • Non-rev passengers and AA employees not flying in a premium cabin
  • All AAdvantage members, at a minimum (including Basic Economy)

Group 7

  • Group 7 general boarding

Group 8

  • Group 8 general boarding
  • Basic Economy class passengers to/from Europe

Group 9

  • Basic Economy class passengers within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean

Boarding Notes

American Airlines Credit Cards
Almost all of the co-branded American Airlines AAdvantage credit cards come with the benefit of preferred group 5 boarding on American Airlines flights. Image Credit: Jeffrey Brownson

For boarding group 5, eligible AAdvantage credit cards include the following:

Additionally, for eligible corporate travelers to boarding with group 5, they must be traveling for business and for an employer that has an active American Airlines Corporate Travel Agreement. Tickets must be booked through the Agency of Record for the company, and the passenger’s AAdvantage number must be included in the reservation. Passengers with Basic Economy tickets will not receive group 5 boarding even if they are otherwise eligible as corporate travelers.

Priority vs. Preferred Boarding

If you want to up your level in the American Airlines boarding hierarchy, there are a couple of things you can do to change your boarding group number.

Priority Boarding

Priority privileges are available for purchase during online check-in, at the airport during check-in, or through reservations prior to your flight.

Priority boarding is only one of the items that the priority privileges package comes with — it also includes priority lines at check-in counters and priority security lines when available at certain airports.

For boarding, priority boarding gives you access to group 4, which is not one of the first groups — there are still several groups of passengers who will be boarding ahead of or with you.

Hot Tip: Although the priority privileges package sounds good, remember that you already receive this priority treatment if you are flying in a premium cabin (business or first class), if you have elite status with AAdvantage or Oneworld, or if you carry the AAdvantage Executive World Elite card.

Preferred Boarding

Preferred boarding gets an entire group of its own in the American Airlines boarding process: boarding group 5.

You can’t purchase preferred boarding, but it is fairly easy to qualify for by simply holding one of the co-branded credit cards listed above.

Since the preferred boarding group 5 gets on the plane right after the priority boarding group 4, it makes little sense to purchase priority privileges unless you really want priority check-in for some reason.

Hot Tip: American Airlines flight attendants are notoriously bad at getting the benefits correct when doing their inflight credit card pitches. No matter what they say, you should remember that the cards they are talking about will only give you preferred group 5 boarding. They will not give you priority boarding in group 4 or let you board the plane first, as many flight attendants like to say. The only card that gives you group 4 boarding as a benefit is the AAdvantage Executive World Elite card, which is never the card that flight attendants are pitching during a flight.

Boarding Timing

According to American Airlines, most of its flights begin boarding between 30 to 50 minutes before departure, with the exact time depending on your destination and plane type.

Boarding doors will typically close 10 minutes prior to departure, and you will not be allowed to board if you arrive at the gate after that time.

Your flight’s boarding time will be listed on your boarding pass, but you cannot always believe the time that is shown.

Here are the official boarding times for American Airlines flights, from an internal American document, depending on the destination and aircraft. “D” refers to the departure time, so a “D-50” boarding time would mean that the flight boards 50 minutes prior to departure.

Departure TimeCustomer Boarding Times
D-50(IPO) International Premium Destinations:
Asia, Europe, Pacific, Deep South America: EZE, GIG, GRU, UM, MVD, SCL
D-45(NIPD) Non-International Premium Destinations:
Caribbean (includes SJU and U.S. Virgin Islands), Central America, Hawaii, Mexico, Northern Rim South America and LPB, MAO
D-35Domestic on aircraft with less than 165 seats: A321, B737-MAX 8, B787, B777 within the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Canada.
D-30Domestic on aircraft with less than 165 seats: A319, A320, A321T, non-Republic E175, B737, CRJ-700, CRJ-900, EMB-140/145 within the 48 contiguous states. Alaska, Canada.
D-25Republic E175

In its endless quest to hit D-zero (zero minutes delayed), American Airlines gate agents sometimes get a bit ahead of themselves. It is not unusual to arrive at the gate 5 minutes before scheduled boarding and find them already on group 6.

Because of this, when flying American Airlines, it’s in your best interest to spend a little less time in the lounge and get to the gate a few minutes earlier than you would with other airlines.

That way you’ll beat the overly ambitious gate agents, and still be able to get on the plane with your scheduled boarding group.

In addition to beginning boarding early, not all American Airlines gate agents respect all 9 boarding groups. Especially on flights from smaller airports or on smaller planes, you will often hear gate agents combine a few of the boarding groups together.

This means you need to pay attention! Just because you are in boarding group 6, that doesn’t mean there will be 5 separate groups ahead of you (it might only be 2 or 3).

Hot Tip: For more info on all things American Airlines, check out our in-depth review of the airline

How To Build Up Your American Airlines Miles Balance

If you spend a lot of time taking paid flights on American Airlines, you will naturally see your AAdvantage mileage balance grow. However, if you fly a mix of award flights and inexpensive connecting flights, you won’t be earning very many miles.

Luckily, there are other ways to earn lots of miles for your American Airlines AAdvantage account.

American Airlines is unique in that it offers a selection of co-branded credit cards from not just 1, but 2 different banks (this is a result of residual contracts left over from the merger of US Airways and American Airlines several years ago).

What it means for you is twice as many opportunities for sign-up bonuses, spending bonuses, and credit card benefits with American Airlines.

Final Thoughts

With ~10 domestic hubs and thousands of flights worldwide each day, it’s only a matter of time until you find yourself standing at an airport gate waiting to get on an American Airlines plane.

At first glance, its boarding process looks overly detailed — but even with 9 numbered groups, the boarding process is usually pretty easy.

Sure, you will still get plenty of people from groups 8 or 9 standing right in front of the boarding lines when you’re trying to get on the plane with group 3… but that happens with every airline.

By holding the right credit card and paying attention during boarding, it is fairly easy to ensure you have plenty of time to get on the plane and get settled, and you will always have overhead space for your carry-on bag.

Since the American Airlines boarding process is standardized throughout its network worldwide, you’ll know what to expect and can start your trip outright. Maybe we’ll even see you on board!

The information regarding the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®, AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®, AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, and AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Business Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

Frequently asked questions

How many boarding groups are there on American?

American Airlines has 9 numbered boarding groups. There are also certain passengers who are allowed to preboard, including ConciergeKey elite AAdvantage members, those needing special assistance, and those traveling with children under 2 years of age.

Are American Airlines flights assigned seating?

Yes, American Airlines flights have assigned seating. You can choose your seat at any time between when you book and when you check in for your flight. Gate agents can assist with seating assignments or changes after check-in.

Who is in group 1 on American?

Boarding group 1 on American Airlines includes first class passengers, Executive Platinum members, active-duty U.S. military members with military I.D., and business class passengers when the flight is on a 2-class international plane.

Who is in group 2 on American?

Boarding group 2 on American Airlines includes Platinum Pro AAdvantage members, Oneworld Emerald members, and business class passengers (on a 3-class plane).

Who is in group 3 on American?

Boarding group 3 on American Airlines includes Platinum AAdvantage members and Oneworld Sapphire members.

Who is in group 4 on American?

Boarding group 4 on American Airlines includes Gold AAdvantage members, Oneworld Ruby members, AirPass members, premium economy passengers, AAdvantage Executive World Elite cardmembers, and passengers who have purchased priority boarding. Group 4 is also known as priority boarding.

Who is in group 5 on American?

Boarding group 5 on American Airlines includes Main Cabin Extra passengers (excluding Basic Economy tickets), eligible AAdvantage credit cardmembers, and eligible corporate travelers. Group 5 is also known as preferred boarding.

Who is in group 6 on American?

Boarding group 6 on American Airlines includes general boarding for passengers who do not hold any elite status with AAdvantage or Oneworld, and do not carry any of the eligible co-branded American Airlines credit cards. Non-rev passengers and AA employees not flying in a premium cabin also board with group 6. All AAdvantage members, at a minimum (including Basic Economy), may also board.

Who is in group 7 on American?

Boarding group 7 on American Airlines includes general boarding for passengers who do not hold any elite status with AAdvantage or Oneworld and do not carry any of the eligible co-branded American Airlines credit cards.

Who is in group 8 on American?

Boarding group 8 on American Airlines includes general boarding for passengers who do not hold any elite status with AAdvantage or Oneworld, and do not carry any of the eligible co-branded American Airlines credit cards. Group 8 also includes Basic Economy class passengers traveling to and from Europe.

Who is in group 9 on American?

Boarding group 9 includes Basic Economy class passengers traveling within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Who is allowed to preboard on American?

Passengers needing special assistance and passengers traveling with children under 2 years old are allowed to preboard on American Airlines. In addition, ConciergeKey elite AAdvantage members are allowed to board prior to the numbered boarding groups.

Jeff Brownson

About Jeff Brownson

Since discovering miles and points in 2010, Jeff has traveled to over 35 countries, flying in first class, business class, and sometimes even in coach. Whether he’s staying in a hostel dorm, or in a luxury suite at a 5 star hotel, Jeff is constantly looking for the best deal to make travel as close to free as possible.

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  1. Nonrevs/AA employees get group 6 (unless in a premium cabin then its group 1-4).


  2. Miles Newton July 5, 2019

    I purchase my AA tickets through the website using a Citibank AA AAdvantage Gold card and I am virtually always group 7. On the back of my AA Gold MasterCard, it says “world elite” (whatever that means).

    It is odd that people with no affiliation at all with AA get Group 6–not according to your article but according to conversations in line. But my AAdvantage Gold Card only gets me group 7.


    • Hi Miles,

      The Citi Bank AAdvantage Gold card does not offer priority boarding. For priority boarding benefits, I would consider opening or upgrading your Gold card to the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, which allows passengers to board in group 5.


  3. Miles Newton July 5, 2019

    Thanks, Jarrod. I Understand.

    My point still stands. Why are passengers who don’t even have a minimal affiliation with AA consistently put in a group above me? They don’t fit any of the criteria in the article; they are just random passengers. My wife got group 6 by redeeming miles, but I pay with an AA card and get group 7.

    I’m just saying their “policies” don’t make sense. Effectively, group 7 is the lowest group. Rarely do I see group 8 or 9 passengers. What are groups 8 & 9? – carriers of infectious disease? (sarcasm)


    • I understand your frustration, Miles. I can’t speak to why passengers with no affiliation are receiving higher boarding position. Generally, boarding group 8 and 9 are for basic economy passengers, whereas group 6 and 7 are general boarding.


  4. We priority boarded a flight today and were turned away because my husband was retired duty US military, not active duty. But my AA CARD GAVE ME PRIORITY GROUP 5.
    Anyone else feel it’s a little backwards that my shopping is valued more than his service to our country???? On an airline titled AMERICAN??? WHAT A JOKE!


    • Wow….you just went full dependa . Settle down. It clearly says “active duty” not retirees. I’m prior military myself but wouldn’t dare try to cut in line on that basis.


  5. Useful info but I’ve got a question though. We’re flying in to the US on Premium Economy and then transferring to an internal US flight for our final destination that will then be seated in the main cabin (Ticket bought as a through PE ticket though). Do we still get Group 4 boarding for the internal flight sector?


  6. It should be Active Duty Military and Retirees in the group 1 boarding. Soon as you are discharged after 20 plus years of service you are sent to group 8! Nice job AA!


  7. I have the Aadvantage by Barclay MC and get group 5 boarding. I just made gold status finally, woohoo. I fly once a week 700 miles on usually an internet special or basic fare. It has taker a full year to get there! Is there a payback calculator to see if it’s ever worth buying miles or paying extra for a main cabin fare? Sometimes I would upgrade to MCE for 40 bucks witha basic which seems line a better value than getting main cabin tickets.


    • Hi Allen,

      As far as I know, a payback calculator to help determine this does not exist. You can always do that math on your own though by comparing and contrasting the cost of purchasing miles or paying extra for main cabin fare against what value you place on flying in Main Cabin Extra.

      Thanks for reading!


  8. I am a platinum Pro flyer and traveled recently with my children. When I booked the flight for all of us at the same time, I also upgraded to preferred seating for all of us. I had group 2 and my kids had group 4. I told them to board with me since we were all traveling together. Leaving PHL was no problem, as they boarded with me. On the way back from BZN, the gate agent said that my kids had to wait for group 4 to board. I thought that people traveling together could board with the “best” group number person. Did they change the “rules” or was what I heard an urban legend?


    • Hi Kent,

      I suspect that you might have just been dealing with a grump gate agent, as most gate agents would not have a problem with your kids boarding along with you.


Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

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