How Did I Drop From Boarding Group 1 to Group 5 on American?

Mar 24, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

American Airlines has changed its boarding groups and TPG reader Dave seems to be getting the short end of it, as his Facebook message relates…

I just received word that my Citi AAdvantage credit card benefits have changed — I now get Group 5 boarding instead of Group 1 boarding. Can you provide some direction in this matter?

TPG Reader Dave


On March 1, American switched from an already long 9 boarding groups to a now seemingly endless 10 groups (when you include Concierge Key members). Of course, neither version of the boarding procedure prevents everyone from crowding the gate the moment the boarding door opens. At the very least, you can safely assume that regardless of your group, when you’re called to board you’ll have to politely ask at least two people to move so you can actually get on the plane.

But if you have the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, up until this point you’ve enjoyed Group 1 boarding privileges. That’s no longer the case, as Citibank informed cardholders like Dave and myself in a recent email…

Now, you might very well be wondering how Citi can claim we’re going from Group 1 to Group 5 but somehow not changing the order in which we board? Is this a stealth devaluation in which an airline or bank is trying to spin a negative as a positive?

While that’s usually a valid concern, in this case Citibank is correct. Because what many folks don’t realize is that the old “Group 1” wasn’t actually the first group on the plane. In fact, there were many people who were previously invited to board ahead of Group 1 — they just didn’t have a group name or number. This included first-class passengers, those with elite status, active military, holders of the high-end Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and those who had purchased priority boarding.

In fact, so many customers were allowed to board before Group 1 that Group 1 was effectively the fifth group called to board. So American finally decided to call this what it really is and add group numbers to the non-numbered passengers, which means the previous Group 1 is now called Group 5, even though it hasn’t actually moved down in order.

Here’s American’s comparison chart of the old boarding groups versus the new groups, with eligible Citi AAdvantage credit card holders circled in both procedures…

This chart shows 9 groups, but Concierge Key members board ahead of everyone, making 10 total groups.

So, Dave, while it may seem like we’re getting shafted, we’re actually just being renumbered. Hope this helps and thanks for the question. If you’re a TPG reader with a question you’d like answered, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or send an email to

Featured image courtesy of John Gress/Getty Images.

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