For an extra fee, some airlines will let you get on the plane earlier than other passengers, giving you a better chance of finding space in the overhead bin among other benefits. Here's a roundup of what's available on various airlines throughout the world.
||What it's called
||What you get
||$10 and up
||You board before anyone else and can grab any seat in the Hot Seat zones (typically the first few rows and the exit rows).||While Air Asia automatically assigns seats at check-in time reducing the stress of boarding first to get a good seat, many passengers find that selecting their own seat in these premium rows is worth the upcharge given how cheap Air Asia tickets can be to begin with.|
||You'll board in Zone 2 – behind the Business Class passengers.||This is something you buy at check-in; and probably only worth it if the flight is super full. Rather unexciting. As AirTran gets fully absorbed into Southwest, this will go away.|
||You'll be the first to board.||You can buy this in advance; on an airline like this with mostly slow moving leisure travelers, $5 isn't bad to hurtle ahead of all of them.|
||Group 1 Boarding||$9
||A bundle of ancillary services that can include Group 1 Boarding, free checked bag, same day flight change flexibility, Admirals Club access is also now being sold||Congratulations to AA on another smooth revenue generating move – getting rid of back-to-front boarding means they may sell more of this option. For those who want just early boarding, $9 is not bad, but the bundled options provide great value. The highest option Choice Plus includes a premium beverage, 50% bonus miles, and no change fees.|
||Slide into the SkyPriority line with the premium cabin passengers and elite level customers||Delta offers add-ons at time of purchase, and priority boarding can also be purchased as part of a package that includes onboard Wifi (available on all Delta aircraft except select international planes and the smallest CRJ-200 regional jets).|
||Even More Space
||$20 and up
||Breeze through security, be the first to board. Sold as part of the Even More Space option for now; the airline says it may go a la carte later on.||Basically, the Even More Space seats are even more valuable now. Check, though. Not all airports offer the security line jump although priority boarding is a given. Even More Speed customers only get expedited security screening despite the name implying faster boarding.|
||Priority Boarding||5 euros (roughly $7)||Like Southwest, Ryanair is a free-for-all when boarding starts so being in the first group called to board has its perks.||Four rows are still reserved in advance though and cannot be chosen for free (typically bulkhead and exit rows).|
||Early Bird Check In||$10 or $40 at the gate||Automatically checks you in as soon as check-in opens for the flight and assigns a boarding position that allows you to be one of the first people on the plane.||Don't get excited – they don't guarantee A Group. It can happen, but may not, if lots of people bought Business Select fares. Southwest is now selling this feature at the boarding gate for $40 as well if there are still positions available in the early group.|
||Premier Access||$9 and up||
Gets you through check-in, security and boarding faster. Also offered in bundles with other services, such as guaranteed Economy Plus Seating, for a higher price.
Love it! Particularly at places like Chicago O'Hare, where we've avoided missing flights by buying this service at the kiosk before rushing to security.
||Preferred Access||$10 and up
||This option gets travelers into the Preferred boarding lane with first class and elite level travelers. Some airports also feature priority security lanes and special ticket counters.||The price varies depending upon the airport, but can be worth it at busy places like Washington Reagan National or Charlotte.|
||Main Cabin Express
||Be among the first passengers to board and the first to deplane since these seats are always the first few rows of the main cabin.||Besides getting first dibs at the overhead bins, you are more likely to have an empty seat next to you since not all passengers pay extra for the privilege (seats are assigned anyway). Elite members with the Elevate frequent flyer program receive access to these seats, however, without charge.|