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Frequent flyers know that getting to board a plane first makes a world of difference when traveling. You’ll have unlimited access to overhead storage and you won’t have to wait in yet another line. However, paying for priority boarding can become costly over time. A great way to cut the cost is to find a top airline credit card that includes priority boarding as one of its main benefits. If you’re looking to save time on your next flight, consider opening one of the cards below.
Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard: Best for American Airlines travelers
Why we picked it: The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® is packed with a lot of benefits for frequent travelers. If your job makes you feel like you spend as much time on a plane as off, then this card is worth checking out. Not only is it one of the best credit cards for airline priority boarding, but it also offers priority check-in and screening for you and your companions.
The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers 2X AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1X AAdvantage miles on all other purchases. For a limited time, earn a total of 4 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases through December 31, 2022. After that, earn 2 miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases.
Plus, you can earn an impressive sign-up bonus of 80,000 miles when you spend $5,500 within the first three months of opening your account.
Another perk that really bumps up this card’s value (and annual fee) is its access to the Admirals Club. Here, you’ll have access to travel assistance, snacks, a business center and more — a value of up to $650.
- Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (every five years)
- First checked bag free on domestic itineraries for you and up to eight travel companions on the same reservation
- Access to American AAdvantage dining program
- Admirals Club membership
- High annual fee of $450
- Only earn boosted rewards on American Airlines travel
Who should apply: If you’re a frequent traveler who wants to make traveling as easy and smooth as possible, you should consider the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard card, especially if you’re partial to American Airlines. Priority boarding makes traveling much smoother, and the Admirals Club membership alone offsets the high annual fee. If you’re booking flights often, you’ll be able to earn rewards on those purchases as well, and the intro bonus will be easy to meet, effectively paying for one domestic, round-trip flight.
Who should skip: Casual travelers should opt for a card with a more general rewards structure. Not only is this card’s annual fee hard to offset for infrequent travelers, but most of the card’s benefits are geared toward those spending a lot of time in airports and on American Airlines flights.
Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card: Best for frequent Delta flyers
Why we picked it: There’s no denying that the airport can be stressful. But with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, you’ll be able to make traveling smoother thanks to the card’s priority boarding benefit and Delta Sky Club access (for you and up to two guests; $39 per person).
Along with this, you’ll earn 3X miles on Delta flights, Delta Vacations purchases and transactions made directly with hotels. You’ll also earn 2X miles at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants (including delivery and takeout in the U.S.) and 1X miles on all other purchases. This is a great way to maximize spending outside of travel, and you can rack up rewards fast.
Another reason we picked this card is because of its generous welcome offer: You can earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 within the first six months of account opening.
- First checked bag free
- 20 percent back on in-flight purchases of beverages, food and audio headsets when paid with your card
- Easier access to Medallion status: After you spend $25,000 in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs (up to two times per year)
- Up to $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion ticket each year after you renew your card
- $250 annual fee
- Limited flexibility for those not dedicated to Delta
Who should apply: Frequent Delta flyers who prioritize comfort and ease when traveling should opt for this card if they’ll be able to utilize enough benefits to offset the annual fee.
Who should skip: If most of your expenses are not related to travel, and if you’re not particularly dedicated to one airline, you would be better off getting a general rewards card that saves you money on purchases you make frequently.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Best for Southwest loyalists
Why we picked it: If Southwest is your go-to airline, then the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card will likely benefit you next time you’re at the airport. For up to four times per year, you’ll be able to upgrade your boarding at no cost (depending on availability), providing another level of ease to your next flight.
Plus, you’ll earn 3X points on Southwest purchases; 2X points on Southwest Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners; 2X points on local transit, commuting (including rideshares) and internet, cable, phone and select streaming services; and 1X points on all other purchases. You can also earn 75,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening, making this card a great addition to your wallet if you have an upcoming Southwest trip to plan.
- Four upgraded boardings a year (depending on availability)
- Up to $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- $75 travel credit per year (automatically applied after purchasing eligible travel through the airline)
- 25 percent back on in-flight purchases
- 7,500 points on each account anniversary
- High annual fee of $149
Who should apply: This card is for you if you’re loyal to Southwest, looking to gain elite status or trying to earn enough points for the Companion Pass.
Who should skip: If you’re not a frequent traveler, or if you don’t want to be tied down to Southwest, look for a general travel or rewards card that will allow you to earn more flexible travel rewards or rewards outside of travel expenses.
United Explorer Card: Best for United travelers
Why we picked it: The United℠ Explorer Card is packed with many impressive benefits. For the first year of holding it, you’ll pay no annual fee (then $95 after). Considering that this card offers priority boarding and a free first checked bag, it’ll pay for itself in the first year of holding it.
Further, you’ll earn 2X miles on dining, hotel stays and United purchases and 1X miles on all other purchases. Even better, this card offers a terrific sign-up bonus: You can earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- Receive two one-time passes for the United Club when you open your account and on your account anniversary
- 25 percent discount on select in-flight purchases
- $95 annual fee after the first year
- Limited redemption options
Who should apply: The United Explorer Card has many great benefits geared toward dedicated United travelers. If you find yourself traveling with United more than any other airline, or if you’re already a United MileagePlus member, this card is a good choice for you.
Who should skip: If it doesn’t matter which airline you fly with, then a general travel card could be a better fit. In other words, if you’d rather look for the best rates on flights — regardless of airline — then it would be a good idea to choose a card with more flexible travel redemption options. However, since the annual fee is waived the first year, there’s no harm in trying this card out to see if it’s a good fit for you.
How to choose a card for priority boarding
With so many travel cards on the market, it can be hard to immediately know which one is best for you. Here’s what you should consider when looking for your next travel card.
- Welcome bonus. If you hope to earn a lot of rewards in a short time frame, look for a card with a sign-up bonus. This is especially a good idea if you plan on booking an expensive vacation and spending a lot of money. You’ll be able to maximize your rewards rate and earn on those initial purchases, and more than likely, you’ll offset the annual fee as well.
- Rewards rate. Being able to earn rewards — whether in the form of miles, points or cash back — is a big deal to most cardholders. Take a look at which categories you spend the most in each month to determine which card will bring you the most value.
- Transfer partners. Some credit cards allow you to transfer your rewards to airline and hotel partners. Note that many airline cards don’t allow you to transfer points/miles, so if this is important to you, choose a general travel card that allows transfers to other rewards programs.
- Card benefits. What other benefits does the card offer? Some cards provide a free first checked bag, lounge access, travel credits and many other benefits. Decide which benefits pertain most to your lifestyle and choose a card from there.
- Annual fee. While you may be drawn to a card’s numerous perks, the annual fee could be a barrier to applying. Do the math to see how much value you’ll get out of a card and whether or not the benefits you’ll use will offset the annual fee.
The bottom line
Overall, having priority boarding when traveling can save you a lot of time and take some of the stress out of flying. Instead of paying to improve your boarding class each time, utilizing one of the best credit cards for priority boarding could be beneficial if you’re seeking even more ease at the airport. Many airline cards offer this feature, so compare the above and see which works best for you.
*The information about the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and United℠ Explorer Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.