Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
INSIDER SECRET: Many airline credit cards come with a free checked bag. Even if you’ve just got a carry-on, you can check it for no charge, and walk through the airport hands free. It’s a liberating experience.
I’ve made some pretty childish mistakes in my travel career. My crowning achievement was the time I sat waiting at my gate in Dallas, thoroughly engrossed in a Hulu show with headphones on, and looked up to realize I’d missed my flight.
I made another silly mistake last week flying American Airlines out of New York – LaGuardia. Thanks to the handy priority boarding perk that comes with my airline credit card, I was first to scan my boarding pass, but the last one on the plane. If I’d been paying any attention at all, I could have prevented this!
Know When to Skip Priority Boarding (My American Airlines Example)
Lots of airlines offer their own credit cards that come with benefits for travelers who frequently fly that particular airline. One of these benefits is often priority (or preferred) boarding. It exists so you can board the plane before most passengers, and you’ll have plenty of time to find bin space for your carry-on and settle into your seat before the frenzied reprobates stampede aboard.
This is a great benefit! Most of the time.
As you well know, there are plenty of gates at plenty of airports that forego the jet bridge and shuttle you to your plane. This was the case for me last week. If you’ve got priority boarding, this turns your world upside down.
Paying no attention, I was one of the first to scan my boarding pass. I headed outside, sauntered toward the shuttle, and pretty immediately realized this was going to be a last-in-first-out situation. I walked to the back of the bus, and waited as the last Group 9 passenger squeezed aboard at the very front.
It was a bit worrisome because I had a fair-sized bag with me. I’d have checked it at the gate if I’d known I would be boarding last. The plane was small, and the flight was full.
Common-Sense Action Tips
If you know you’ll be shuttled to your plane (a quick look around your gate should be indication enough, especially if you’re on the ground floor), skip the priority boarding and scan your boarding pass dead last. You’ll be first out the shuttle, and first in the plane!
Meghan does this all the time when she travels. She’s got a toddler, and always ignores the “families with small children” boarding group if she knows she’s going to be shuttled.
And of course, if you find yourself boarding last, you can always ask the airline staff to check your carry-on, even when you’re entering the plane. Everybody’s got those bag tags.
Pro Tip: Many airline credit cards offer a free checked bag for domestic flights as a perk. I’ll occasionally check my bag, even if it’s just a carry-on, so I can walk the airport hands free (also convenient when you’re at an airport bar or restaurant).
I’d love to hear any newbie airport mistakes you’ve made during your travels! And subscribe to our newsletter for all things travel delivered to your inbox once per day.