Is Priority Boarding Worth The Price?

In today's modern world of airline travel, unbundled airfare means you'll get exactly what you pay for. In the past, airfare commonly included seat selection and maybe even a checked bag, but those days are largely long gone. So, if you're now paying for your airfare, luggage, and preferred seat, why would you add another cost to your travels?

Priority boarding is one of these add-on perks that airlines frequently offer. While priority boarding may be modus operandi for some travelers, such as first-class passengers and elite-status members, economy passengers commonly board the plane in accordance with their boarding group. If you choose to skip paying up for seat selection, you're at the whim of the airline as far as your boarding group and when you board. Although the thought of paying another fee to fly can make your purse strings curl, there may be times when paying for priority boarding makes sense.

The price of priority boarding

Before considering if priority boarding is worth it or not, you need to first perform a quick cost-benefit analysis. While the cost of priority boarding will differ among airlines and flights, you'll typically pay between $10-$30 to board the plane before your group. And we should emphasize "before your group," as your priority boarding doesn't out-prioritize many others.

For example, if you're flying United, you'll board after pre-boarding passengers, which includes active military, passengers with disabilities, and families with young children, as well as after Group 1, which includes premium cabin passengers and Premier Gold and Platinum members. Passengers who purchased a priority boarding upgrade will board the plane with Group 2.

So, if you're only reason to purchase priority boarding is to avoid waiting in line at the gate, then cool, but you'll still be waiting for a sec. However, the benefit of priority boarding is rarely about the 10 extra minutes of standing.

Priority boarding guarantees overhead bin space

Priority boarding is typically a good idea if your flight is full, and you really can't risk checking your carry-on bag. If your seat is toward the back of the plane on a full flight, there's a high risk that you won't have any overhead compartment space for your carry-on bag by the time you board. If you need your carry-on bag during a long layover or prefer not to wait at a late-night baggage claim after a long day of flying, then purchasing a priority boarding upgrade may be well worth it.

In essence, purchasing priority boarding is staking claim to readily accessible overhead bin space. That said, priority boarding isn't the only way to guarantee your overhead space. You could also ensure your space by spending up to select a seat toward the front of the economy cabin. By comparing the cost of the two add-on benefits, you can simply choose the cheaper option. However, if there are no available seats in the front or middle, then priority boarding can likely ensure your carry-on bag travels with you.