Hate boarding last on a plane? Try these 4 (free) early-boarding hacks

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If you’re like me, you probably hate boarding last on a flight. There are many ways you can avoid it and get early and/or priority boarding for your next flight, even if you’re not an elite member for an airline. Best of all, you can get early boarding for free!

For almost a decade, I rarely had the problem of last boarding group because I was an elite member with Skyteam, Star Alliance and OneWorld. It was awesome. I had to pull the brakes on traveling for the past two years, so I didn’t fly as much as I normally would. If I did travel, I would simply upgrade to first class using miles, or find first-class tickets for cheap. This isn’t always possible with airlines like Southwest and JetBlue, so I would stick to legacy carriers like Delta and American and their partners.

However, when I did fly coach, I still didn’t have to wait long to board.

Here are four easy hacks for not boarding last on your next flight without spending any money on priority access. It doesn’t matter if you’re booked in economy or basic economy – this hack works for any passenger.

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4 Easy Tips to Board Free and Fast On Your Next Flight! 

1. Volunteer to give up your seat.

If you read my story on the flight upgrade tip that doesn’t work, you’ll know one thing that *does* work is volunteering your seat. You can do this at check-in if the flight is oversold, or at the boarding gate. Usually, the gate agent will get on the intercom and ask for volunteers. If you hear this cry for help, ANSWER YES!

Not only will you be compensated handsomely with cash money (or a voucher for a future flight), the chances of them putting you in first class, business class or premium economy on your next flight is very, very high. It’s a courtesy upgrade, a token of appreciation since you got them out of a hard place.

Volunteer to give up your seat for a later flight.

As you know, if you fly first, business or premium economy, you are among the first passengers to board, meaning this is an easy way to get priority boarding. So if your travel schedule is extremely flexible, and you don’t mind flying later (even if it’s the next day), know that you’ll be taken care of if you volunteer your seat.

Also, a lot of people don’t know that you can *negotiate* terms for your new flight. If the gate agent asks for volunteers, and you’re offering, you can tell the gate agent that one of your requests is to board first on the next flight. They will do whatever they can to make sure this is possible, whether upgrading you to a premium class or allowing you to board early.

2. Consider an airline credit card. 

I have a Delta American Express Platinum Credit Card. One of the benefits of having the card is priority boarding. I’ll be honest: It’s not great, but it gets your boarded faster.

If you look at this chart, you’ll see that Delta / American Express cardmembers get priority boarding over only two boarding groups (you can click the image to enlarge). Essentially, if you have this card, you’re the third to last to board.

Delta boarding chart.

Also, the card has a $195 annual fee, so you’re essentially paying for priority boarding. Now, before you say “well, technically, that’s not free for your tips!,” let me add that if you sign up for a credit card, you typically get your first year’s annual fee waived, so you can use this card for the first year.

It’s also common that people who have American Express Platinum cards can afford to buy first, business or Delta Comfort seats, so people don’t get these sort of credit cards just for faster boarding access. Now, if you’re looking to board early *and* receive other benefits like earning bonus miles, double miles, free checked bags and discounts on in-flight purchases, it could be worth it.

Check the policy on the airline you fly most, because they greatly vary. For instance, United cardmembers board before economy and economy plus, unlike Delta.

3. Fly Southwest.

Southwest is the only U.S. airline with very different rules about early boarding, and if you’re flying Southwest, you can board super early if you do two things that other airlines do not offer.

Raleigh Durham airport flight information.

One: Southwest is the only airline that lets travelers with an emotional support animal (ESA) pre-board early. I was on the fence about writing this because these passengers generally get the meanest of glares from passengers who actually paid for early boarding with EarlyBird Check-In.

I honestly don’t believe passengers with ESAs need early boarding. Even though I travel with my pup Ruby all the time, we board when it’s our turn. Sure, it takes a little longer to settle in my seat when I have her, but literally five more seconds.

Anyway, that’s one way to board early with Southwest.

Two: Southwest is the only airline that allows you earlier boarding the earlier you check in. The fine print: “Available boarding positions will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis upon check in. The earlier you check in, beginning 24 hours before your departure, the lower your boarding group and position will be.”

So, as long as you check-in on the early side, like right when you receive the notification to check-in online, you’ll be fine.

4. Smaller plane = faster boarding. 

Here’s the big tip nobody writes about, and it’s *so easy.*

If you’re really anxious about being among the last to board, just fly a smaller plane to your destination. That’s right. You’ll be sitting on the plane in no time.

For example: From New York City, there are dozens of daily flights to Atlanta (where my parents live). Delta has the most routes since the airline is based out of Atlanta (14 daily flights out of Laguardia!), and the plane it flies, the A321, is pretty huge. It carries 192 passengers.

Delta Airbus A321

On the other hand, if you fly American Airlines, which only has 5 daily direct routes out of Laguardia, you’ll be on a smaller plane, including an Embraer RJ-190, which only has 99 seats.

Do the math. If you’re literally the last person to board, you’ll get on the plane faster because you won’t have to wait for an extra 100 people to board before you, which could take up to 20 more minutes.

Aboard American Airlines Embraer RJ-190.

So while you won’t board any faster than if you were flying first class, you will not wait as long to board.

From my experience, these flights on smaller planes are cheaper. The reason airlines use these smaller planes for short-hauls is because there is less demand for seats, otherwise, they’d be flying bigger planes.

American Embraer RJ-190. Small plane!

Do you have any faster boarding tips you want to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!

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Happy travels!

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and has flown a million airmiles. He lives in New York City.

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