8 Best Travel Credit Cards for Upgraded or Preferred Boarding

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If you are like most people, there’s a good chance you find traveling to be a stressful experience. Whether it’s making it to the airport on time, trudging through security, or scrambling to find your gate, the whole thing can be overwhelming.

All that stress and anxiety can come to a crescendo by boarding time, so the last thing you want is to be one of the last people to board the plane. Not only does that mean more waiting around while your anxiety festers — it also means you may not have room for your bags in the overhead bins.

The good news is that credit card issuers know your pain, and many of them include preferred boarding privileges as a perk of being cardholder. You may not be the very first to board, but you won’t be the last, either.

These travel credit cards include upgraded or preferred boarding, so you’ll have time to make it to your seat — and a place for your bags.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature

Pay for your travel with your Alaska Airlines Signature Visa card and you’ll receive priority boarding – along with up to six people booked on your same reservation. Priority boarding is available on flights operated by Alaska Airlines, Horizon Airlines, or SkyWest and allows you to board before general boarding, but after passengers traveling with first class or premium class tickets or mileage plan members with elite status.

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You and those six others also won’t pay fees for your first checked bag, and that makes the $95 annual fee for the card, backed by Bank of America, a great deal. Alaska charges $30 per bag to each destination, so if a family of four checked four bags, that’s a savings of $240 round-trip.

Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard

The Red Mastercard is just one out of a line of cards tailored to American Airlines travelers, all with different costs and benefits to meet individual needs. The Red Mastercard, especially, is worth the $99 annual fee when you consider what you get: special boarding and a free checked bag, to start. Up to four companions traveling on the same itinerary can board in group 5, which falls after priority boarding but before economy boarding.

Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

It’s immediately apparent based on the name of this American Airlines card that it’s an upgrade over the Red card. Indeed, the card has a $450 annual fee and includes upgraded perks. One of those is to board with group 4 instead of group 5, a full group ahead of Red cardholders.

You also get the VIP treatment with this card; other perks include Admirals Club access and TSA PreCheck/Global Entry reimbursement. Cardholders and up to eight people on the same reservation can check their first bag for free, too. The first bag costs $30 per person on a domestic American flight.

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Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

If Delta is your preferred airline, you can upgrade your boarding experience with the SkyMiles Gold Card from American Express. Delta doesn’t treat cardholders quite as favorably as some airlines, so holding the Gold Card will still have you boarding with main cabin 1. The card has no annual fee for the first year, then it’s $99.

Your first checked bag is free, at least.

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

This card from Barclays will let you gain a slight edge if you fly Frontier. The card has an $89 annual fee and will let you board in zone 2. That’s a slight upgrade, as zone 2 comes before general boarding. But only the named cardholder – and not the rest of the traveling party – can take advantage of the benefit. The card comes with other perks too, such as a $100 annual travel voucher, provided you’ve spent $2,500 on the card in the previous year.

JetBlue Business Card

Issued by Barclays Bank, the JetBlue Business Card entitles you to Group-A boarding on all JetBlue-operated flights. The card provides cost-saving benefits, such as one free checked bag for the primary cardmember and up to three traveling partners booked on the same reservation. Those savings pay for the $99 annual fee.

Cardholders also receive six points for each dollar spent on eligible JetBlue purchases, allowing rewards to add up quickly.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

This credit card from Chase is a great choice for anyone who regularly flies Southwest. It’s an all-around great card for the Southwest faithful, and it includes four upgraded boardings per year for cardholders. For Southwest, that means you get to board in position A1 – A15, which, according to Southwest, costs at least $30 per flight segment normally.

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The card includes other benefits too, such as a $75 annual Southwest travel credit – provided you’ve made a Southwest purchase in the year — and 25% off in-flight purchases. The Rapid Rewards card has an annual fee of $149.

United Explorer Card

Issued by Chase, this card allows United passengers to board a bit earlier – just before general boarding. The annual fee for the Explorer card is $0 the first year, then $95. This is also one of the best options for free checked bags, as both you and your travel companion can check your first bag free. On a round-trip flight, that’s a savings of $140 for two.

As a bonus, you also will receive two United Club one-use passes per year. That’s a perk worth more than $100 value per year, according to the card’s list of benefits.

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Bob Haegle contributed to this article.


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