United Airlines Boarding Groups — Everything You Need to Know

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Update: Due to COVID-19, United is making a few changes to their standard boarding procedures.
– United will board customers from the back of the plane to the front in small groups to allow for better distancing and minimize crowding.
– Passengers will deplane the aircraft from front to back.
– United requires all passengers and crew to wear a mask throughout their flight. Masks will be provided at no cost if customers need them.
– United has not instituted capacity restrictions for their flights. However, if there are more than 70% of seats booked, passengers can move to another flight instead.

Nothing can start your trip off on the wrong foot quite like a confusing and frustrating boarding process before you even get on the plane. Airlines, however, don’t seem to recognize this issue. Either that, or it’s not a major priority!

Every airline has their own boarding process. They are all different, they sometimes make little sense…and if you don’t travel regularly, you may have trouble understanding what’s going on when it’s time to board your flight.

United Airlines has made several changes to their boarding process recently, and for the average flyer it has been a bit tough to follow. Luckily we’re here to help.

Below we’ll go through all the details of United’s boarding process. You can learn how many boarding groups they have, which passengers belong in which groups, and how to make getting from the gate onto the plane as easy and stress-free as possible.

United Boarding Groups

United uses 6 groups for boarding: Pre-Boarding and numbered Groups 1-5. Each passenger is assigned to one of these groups for boarding, and there are lines for each group set up at the gate.

If you qualify for certain pre-boarding or membership categories, you can board ahead of your assigned group. In all cases, you can board with the first group you qualify for.


Group 1

Group 2

  • Premier Silver members
  • Star Alliance™ Silver members
  • Customers who have purchased Premier Access® or Priority Boarding
  • United Explorer℠ Card, Club, Presidential Plus, and Awards Credit Card members

Group 3-5

  • Economy Plus® passengers
  • United Economy® passengers
  • Basic Economy passengers*

*Basic Economy passengers with elite status, Chase United credit card, or Star Alliance status board according to their regular group.

New Boarding Process

United New Boarding Testing
United’s new boarding procedure involves only 2 lanes instead of the old 5. Image Credit: United

The new United process reduces 5 lines to 2.

Group 1 and Group 2 line up to board.

Once they are onboard, Groups 3-5 are called to board through lane 2.

Priority Boarding

United Airlines has recently started selling Priority Boarding for some flights.

Priority Boarding is marketed to those passengers who do not have any other elite status or card membership, and it would allow them to board ahead of their assigned group. Passengers who purchase Priority Boarding will be able to board with Group 2.

United says that this is a good opportunity for passengers to make sure there will be a place for their carry-on bag, since space often runs out by the time they get to Group 4 and 5.

Critics say that this is a way for United to effectively charge for carry-on bags.

As it is a fairly new option, it remains to be seen how popular Priority Boarding will be and whether it will, in fact, make it more difficult to get your carry-on bag onboard if you don’t purchase the service.

Priority Boarding will start at $9, but pricing will be variable based on the flight booked, date, time of day, and day of the week. In other words, they can charge whatever they want for the service. Hopefully, pricing will remain rather low.

Hot Tip: For an overview of other add-ons and fees, check out our in-depth review of United Airlines

How to Build Up Your United Miles Balance

If you’re like us at Upgraded Points, you prefer to use miles and points to pay for your flights instead of cash. If you want to fly with United, you will want to earn some MileagePlus miles.

The quickest way to build up your United MileagePlus balance is with credit cards, either using huge sign-up bonuses or through your daily spending.

To get United miles, you can either earn them directly with one of the co-branded United cards from Chase (for example, the United Explorer℠ Card), or you can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points and transfer them 1:1 to United MileagePlus. The latter is certainly our preferred method, as Chase points are easy to earn and you can transfer them to many different partners, not just United.

Recommended Chase Cards (Personal)

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card - This is our favorite beginners travel rewards card which has a 60,000 point bonus (highest ever) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

This sign up bonus is worth $750 in travel purchases (flights, hotels, car rentals etc) when you redeem your points through Chase's travel portal, which works like Expedia. The bonus alone could get you multiple round-trip flights or hotel stays.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® - Consider this premium card if you want to get into a lot of airport lounges. The current sign up bonus is 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You'll also get a $300 travel credit per year which wipes away a big chunk of the $550 annual fee.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® - A simple, no annual fee card that earns you a $200 bonus after you spend $500 in your first 3 months. Earn 1.5% cash-back on all purchases, but you won't get any travel benefits or the ability to earn bonus points with this card.

Recommended Chase Cards (Business)

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card - This is our #1 recommended business card and right now comes with a 100,000 sign up bonus after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This bonus is worth $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel purchases (flights, hotels etc). Pay your cell phone bill with this card to receive up to $600 in cell phone insurance coverage per year.
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card - earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This no annual fee business card earns up to 5% cash back on a range of business expenses such as office supply stores, internet, cable, and phone services.

Remember that these cards are all issued by Chase, so they fall under the 5/24 Rule. You need to pay attention to that when you are planning to apply.

Final Thoughts

No matter how complex a boarding process is, it’s usually fairly easy to follow if you know what to expect before you get to the gate.

United Airlines has a detailed procedure that they use on almost all their flights all over the world. Knowing where you fit into that process can simplify your travel experience.

Even if you understand the current boarding process, however, the new boarding process in testing and the Priority Boarding available for purchase may change the boarding process for your specific flight or situation.

To best prepare for your flight, be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the possible procedures we’ve gone over here. That way, no matter what happens, you will be ready to go and be on the plane with ease.

Frequently asked questions

How many boarding groups are there on United?

United has 5 numbered boarding groups plus a group of passengers who are eligible to pre-board, for a total of 6 boarding groups.

How does United determine their boarding groups?

Pre-boarding is available to qualified passengers. Groups 1 and 2 are made up of passengers with elite status in MileagePlus and partner programs, as well as those passengers seated in premium cabins. Group 2 also includes United co-branded credit card members and passengers who have purchased Priority Boarding.

Group 3 includes passengers in window seats. Group 4 includes passengers in middle seats. Group 5 includes passengers in aisle seats and all Basic Economy passengers.

Are United Airlines flights assigned seating?

Yes, United Airlines flights are assigned seating. You can choose your seat when you book your flight or at any time up until check-in.

Who is Group 1 on United?

Group 1 on United includes Premier 1K® members, Premier® Platinum members, and Premium cabin passengers seated in United Polaris first class, United Polaris business class, United First®, or United Business®.

Who is Group 2 on United?

Group 2 on United includes Premier Gold members, Star Alliance Gold members, Premier Silver members, Star Alliance Silver members, customers who have purchased Premier Access, as well as United Explorer℠ Card, Club, Presidential Plus and Awards Credit Card members.

Who is Group 3 on United?

Group 3 on United includes passengers seated in a window seat in Economy Plus® or United Economy®.

Who is Group 4 on United?

Group 4 on United includes passengers seated in a middle seat in Economy Plus® or United Economy®.

Who is Group 5 on United?

Group 5 on United includes passengers seated in an aisle seat in Economy Plus® or United Economy®.

Who can pre-board on United?

Unaccompanied minors, customers with disabilities, uniformed members of the U.S. military, families traveling with children age 2 and younger, and United Global Services® members can pre-board on United.

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. So basically they are “inventing” the American Airlines boarding process where everyone just crowds the gate 🙂


  2. Scot Hudson June 24, 2018

    My wife and I annually travel to the US from the UK, more often or not with Unites Airlines. The boarding process can be a lottery, as witnessed with multiple trips in the last 2 weeks, where I observed customers from Group 4 consistently boarding in Group 3 by placing their thumb over the Grouping No. on their boarding pass. My wife and I were Group 4 and consistently found that there was little to no overhead storage available, annoying given we had paid for Economy Plus tickets.
    Also can I ask why UK customers cannot apply for the Mileage Plus Explorer Card? We hold the current Mileage Plus Card, as issued by MBNA within the UK, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that all United Customers qualify for all advantages when using the same airline given MBNA act as the airline credit card issuers within the United Kingdom.


  3. This is wrong, Platinum is still just group 2… Basically this garbage airline charges you a ton of money to give you the opportunity to get treated like crap on a delayed flight. Just hit Platinum and it legitimately comes with no useful perks that gold doesn’t have unless some reading you are booking the tickets for 8 additional people on your account… United is the worst, I hate that I am stuck flying with them so much.


    • Jeff Brownson September 5, 2018

      @brady Sorry you are unhappy with United and don’t have many other options. I’m not sure where you are getting the information that Platinum boards with Group 2. According to the official policy for United, Platinum is part of Group 1 boarding. This is not to say that every gate agent knows and follows the proper procedure. Unfortunately, you may have just had bad luck with your boarding agents.


  4. Hey Jeff, so I’m a pilot for Air Wisconsin, they are under United Express. We use our standby quite a bit but sometimes see tickets pop up when we are in our standby portal and just buy them at a fraction of the standard cost, for the first time my girlfriend tried basic economy and was placed in group 3, the lady that issued her ticket said that since she’s in group 3 she should be able to have a carry on, but she didn’t have one for the flight, she forgot to ask the gate agent to see if this was indeed accurate. From reading I saw that basic economy should board in group 5. Any idea why she was placed in 3 and if she is placed in 3 that she could have a carry on even though she’s basic economy? Also she was sitting in a middle seat.


    • Jeff Brownson January 22, 2019

      Hi David. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure what happened with this booking. United states that passengers who purchase Basic Economy tickets will be in the last boarding group, which would be Group 5. My only thought is that because you were booking through the employee portal, the boarding group may be improved. I don’t know for a fact that this is the case since I don’t have access to that portal, but I can’t think of another reason she would have ended up in Group 3.

      As far as the carry-on question, I will give you a solid maybe. Basic Economy tickets are not entitled to carry-on bags, no matter what group they board with. If her boarding pass still said Basic Economy, the gate agents could have stopped her if she tried to board with a bag. However, if Basic Economy was missing from her boarding pass when she was given Group 3 boarding, she probably would have been ok. Also, since Basic Economy passengers are usually in Group 5, it is quite possible that the gate agents would not have noticed if she took a carry-on with her in Group 3. Sorry that I couldn’t be more clear in my answers, but United doesn’t give me any access to their internal booking procedures (I wish they did!). Your best bet may be to contact your benefits office and ask how the booking and boarding process works for tickets booked through the portal.


  5. I am a frequent flyer and member of AA Conceirge Key. Flying 1st class from IAD to BOS. Surprised that there is no real early boarding for 1st Class. There were at least 50 people in Group 1. Hard to find space for my bag; why pay so much more?


    • Jeff Brownson January 29, 2019

      Hey Tim. I’m not sure what you mean with this comment. Were you flying AA or UA? Your status on AA wouldn’t have anything to do with a UA flight. If on UA, their Group 1 includes several passenger groups, but it would be surprising to see it be 50 people unless the gate agents combined Groups 1-2 or something like that. Also, can you clarify what you paid so much more for?


  6. If I’m traveling with 2 kids, what group will we board if we will have, window, middle and aisle seats? I can’t send them to board alone.


    • Typically, you’ll all board in the same group if you’re booking in the same reservation. Unless you booked tickets separately, you’ll all have the same boarding group.


  7. Hello Jeff.

    I am Platinum member so I board in group 1 but I always travel with companions that make different reservations and they are group 3 or 4. My question is can they board with me in group 1 and if they can how many passengers can board with me? Thank you for your time.


    • Stephen Au March 20, 2019

      Hey German,

      Unfortunately, this is not allowed. If you’d like companions to board with you, they’ll need to be booked on the same reservation. Thanks for reading!


  8. What if you use Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to purchase a ticket, but you’re a United Explorer card holder, do you still get Group 2 boarding?


    • Christine Krzyszton April 14, 2019

      Hi Tiffany. Yes, you should get Group 2 boarding. You need to make sure your frequent flyer number is on the reservation, however. Chase can add your frequent flyer number or you can use your United record locator number on the United web site to bring up your reservation and add your MileagePlus number.


  9. Mary Sullivan February 10, 2020

    So where does international premium economy board? They don’t seem to be included in any group discussed here.


Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

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