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Priority Boarding with a Delta American Express Card: What Is it and How Valuable is the Perk?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Nearly all of the co-branded Delta American Express cards offer various travel benefits. One of them is “Priority Boarding.”

The perk can be quite valuable to some people for those with elite status. It’s even more beneficial for folks without elite status and who fly on Basic Economy tickets.

Some folks think “Priority Boarding” means “Sky Priority” (it doesn’t).

So let’s examine the benefit in a little more detail — especially because of the Delta Amex welcome offers expiring soon.

Which Delta American Express Cards Offer “Priority” Boarding?

The six “primary” Delta American Express cards (because we really don’t count the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card card in these situations) each give Main Cabin 1 boarding to the primary cardholder and up to eight passengers on his/her confirmation number/PNR .

These cards are:

The first Delta Amex I had was the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (this is so long ago, I think the card’s name has changed a few times!). I didn’t have any Delta status for about the first nine months I held the card — but I loved the “priority” boarding (I think it was called “Zone 1” back then). I prefer boarding the plane, getting settled, and relaxing. If that’s important to you, too, and you don’t hold Delta status, consider a Delta Amex whose color isn’t blue.

Which Boarding “Zone” or Category Do the Delta Amexes Get Me?

Main Cabin 1.

Again: this is not Sky Priority. You can’t really fault people for being confused by that. It’s similar to how there are so many “Platinum” titles in the Delta lexicon.

I must say, though, Delta and Amex do a decent job of selling the benefit. I know occasional leisure travelers who brag about the priority boarding their Delta Amex card affords them.

Someone once said to me, “I have priority on Delta.”

“That’s great!” I said. “Which status are you?”

“I dunno,” she said. Then she told me she has a Delta Gold Amex — although I figured it out pretty quickly. After all, if someone holds airline status, they generally volunteer that fact. 😉

How Do I Add This Perk?

Simple. Just add your Delta American Express card number to your “My Wallet” on Delta.com or the Fly Delta app.

How Much of a “Priority” Position is Main Cabin 1?

This page displays the official list of Delta boarding zones.

In reality, though, it’s more like this:

  1. Passengers needing extra time
  2. Active duty military members with ID
  3. Families (though this group sometimes is called after first class)
  4. (If applicable) Delta One and Diamond Medallion members
  5. First Class (not applicable on CRJ-200s) or Premium Select cabin. And, of course, Diamond Medallion members
  6. Comfort+
  7. Sky Priority (Platinum and Gold Medallions)
  8. Main Cabin 1 (Delta Amex cardholders and Silver Medallions)
  9. Main Cabin 2
  10. Main Cabin 3 — customers with T, X, and V fares
  11. Basic Economy


So, yes, while Main Cabin 1 “priority” boarding can be the seventh or eighth group called, it can be a big-time perk for those without Delta status.

Here’s an example:

Great for People Who Carry On

My friend Rick and his wife enjoyed a Delta trip pre-pandemic (and saved good money, thanks to the welcome bonus on his Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card).

He didn’t check his Travelpro Maxlite 4 rollaboard but was booked on an “X” fare — meaning he’d normally fall into the Main Cabin 3 boarding group.

But because he holds a Delta Amex card, he received Main Cabin 1 boarding.

“If I didn’t have the Main Cabin 1 boarding,” he said, “There wouldn’t have been any space in the overboard bins by the time I boarded. I would have had to check my bag.”

Granted, that wouldn’t have been a tragedy. And he could’ve checked the bag for free because his Delta Platinum Business Amex allows the cardholder’s first bag to be checked free.

But he had tight connections, didn’t want to risk his bags not being transferred, and (most of all) just wanted all his stuff with him. So the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card was worth its weight in gold. (Or platinum, in case?)

Low Fare Classes — Including Basic Economy

Main Cabin 3 and Basic Economy boarding can feel like a walk of shame. Especially if the plane door is about to close and you’re scrambling to find overhead bin space.

No matter your boarding class — even Basic Economy — you’ll still receive Main Cabin 1 boarding. (Although, who knows these days? You may end up upgraded to first class…)

So even if you’re a business traveler with no Delta status and your company books you into Basic Economy, a Delta Amex will stills score you Main Cabin 1 boarding.

Do Additional Cardholders Get This Benefit On Their Own?

No. Only the primary cardholder and up to eight others on his or her PNR receive the benefit.

What If I’m Gold, Platinum, or Diamond? Does This Benefit Apply to Me?

Sure. But you receive Sky Priority boarding. (Or first class/Delta One boarding if you’re a Diamond.)

Questions?

Ask away in the Comments section below!

–Chris

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured above, please visit the following links:

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


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5 Comments

  1. Larry Menter Reply

    Hi,
    Recently when I traveled they still boarded by row starting from the back of the aircraft while first-class could board anytime during the process. Have they gone back to zones? Thanks!
    –Larry

  2. Hi,

    Do you know if you have to purchase the flight with the card? or just being a cardholder is suffcient to be eligible for zone 1/priority 1 boarding?

    • As long as your Delta Amex card number is one of your payment methods in your Delta profile, you’re fine. I’ve taken hundreds of Delta trips purchased with other Amex cards and even some Visa cards. Never had a problem.

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