Just Joining American AAdvantage Now Gets Better Boarding Privileges

Starting Wednesday, December 16th, American Airlines will offer ‘Group 6’ boarding to AAdvantage members.

Elite members will still get their priority boarding, and co-brand credit card customers will still receive their boarding privileges. What’s new is that simply being a member of the AAdvantage program will allow a traveler to avoid being the last to board. They’ll board ahead of Groups 7, 8, and 9 (which is basic economy boarding on domestic flights).

Even basic economy customers will receive Group 6 boarding when a member of AAdvantage. As a spokesperson explains,

[S]tarting today as customers check-in for flights tomorrow, they’ll see Group 6 on their boarding pass and there will be a special announcement at the gate welcoming them on board. It’s one more way we’re thanking our members for their loyalty and gives new members a benefit they can use on day one when enrolling in the AAdvantage program.

From the statement you can tell this is about encouraging enrollment in the AAdvantage program. During the Covid era a disproportionate number of flyers are younger, inexperienced leisure travelers. The proportion of customers with elite status is much lower than in normal times, since elites are heavily business travelers – who have been staying home for work, and also in many cases for discretionary trips as well. Even the percentage of passengers on major airlines who are members of the airline’s loyalty program has fallen.

American eliminated mileage redeposit fees for all members and eliminated telephone award booking fees, too, for redemptions that could be made on their website. That makes the program more accessible and rewarding for new members, who are the customers that are flying today.

This push to get travelers to join the program is important, because it helps develop a permission-based marketing relationship that can lead to future business and allow the program to help shift future wallet share. What’s missing, though, is making it easy to join the program. Several airlines prompt you to join in the booking path, allowing you to opt into the program while buying a ticket on their website. You can’t currently just check a box while booking a ticket “I’m not currently a member of the AAdvantage program, please sign me up.”

The airline should also be pushing people to join via inflight wifi. A video announcement about the benefits of the program would help, bolstered by this new boarding benefit. Of course the airline is removing seat back entertainment screens, making it harder to advertise to customers inflight. Of course I’ve American should fund customer improvements by better monetizing the inflight product.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Right out of college I used to take Boltbus between Philly and New York City often. At the time, simply being a member of their rewards program got you group A boarding. I’d show up 2 minutes before the boarding time, get in group A, and even if there are 40 people waiting in the other lines I’d still be one of the first few on.

    It amazed me how so few people used the rewards program simply for the early boarding aspect, let alone an occasional free trip.

    I actually took it a year ago, and now they changed it so their “elites” get first dibs, but there were still very few people in the rewards line.

  2. @Ben – many passengers even frequent travelers don’t care. In college I waited in endless lines for TSA at MDW airport, always jealous of the empty “Fly By” lines for Southwest elites. Often the person waiting in front of me had an A-List boarding pass, and sometimes the TSA agent would even say “did you know you could use the fast line?” To which the A-lister would say “oh really I didn’t know that” in a nonchalant manner indicating, even after learning about the perk, it didn’t register as all that appealing or important.

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