7 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.

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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.

Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard

Along with the Citi® card, the Barclays card is one of two American Airlines credit cards on this list. The Red card will put you in group 5, one group ahead of regular AAdvantage members. That’s not bad for a travel credit card with a $99 fee, especially since it includes other perks, like a 25% in-flight discount.

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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.

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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. There are other ways to board earlier though, such as with Delta One or Sky Priority. The card has no annual fee for the first year, then its $99.

Free Spirit World Elite Mastercard

The Free Spirit World Elite Mastercard issued by Bank of America lets Spirit passengers board a little bit earlier. The card has no fee for the first year, and a $79 fee after that. It lets cardholders board in zone 2, which is technically Spirit’s third boarding group, after zone 1 and pre-boarding. Still, with six total zones, that’s not bad for a card with a $79 annual fee (and no fee in your first year).

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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. The card comes with other perks too, such as a $100 annual travel voucher and 3x points on purchases at restaurants.

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.

The card includes other benefits too, such as a $75 annual Southwest travel credit and 25% off in-flight purchases. The Rapid Rewards card has an annual fee of $149.

United Explorer Card

Another credit card from Chase, this card allows United passengers to board a bit earlier. United has six boarding zones: pre-boarding followed by groups 1-5. Those with the Explorer card can board with group 2, or the third group if you include pre-boarding. Notably, Explorer card members board in the same group as those holding pricier cards, such as the $525 United Club Infinite Card.

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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.

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About the Author

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer who specializes in topics such as investing, banking and credit cards. He left his day job in 2019 to pursue his passion for helping people get out of debt and build wealth. You can find his work at outlets such as Business Insider, Forbes Advisor and SoFi.
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