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.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
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.
- Unaccompanied minors
- Customers with disabilities
- Uniformed members of the U.S. military
- Families traveling with children age 2 and younger
- United Global Services® members
- Premier® 1K® members
- Premier Platinum members
- Premier Gold members
- Star Alliance™ Gold members
- Premium cabin passengers
- United Polaris®
- United First®
- United Business®
- 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
- 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
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.
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 $150 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 comes with a large 80,000 sign up bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This bonus is worth $1,000 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.
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.