Q. Can you tell us how the group numbers for boarding are assigned?  We purchased tickets several months in advance and do an on-line check-in as soon as allowed, and we still get put in the last boarding group.  Is there any way around this without having to pay for the privilege of boarding early?

A. This will depend upon who you're flying, as boarding procedures will vary by airline. For example, aside from being an A-List member or Business Select, your only chance at dodging Southwest's first come first served approach is to check in online as early as possible or shell out the $10 each-way for EarlyBird Boarding, neither of which will guarantee a seat in the A section.

As for how other carriers determine who sits in which zone, we suggest you check out SeatGuru's excellent Guide to Airline Boarding Procedures. Although in general, after being elite status or seated in business, the best thing you can do to try for spot at boarding early is check in online as soon as your carrier allows. And you already do that, soooo....

If you really have your heart set on early boarding, many airlines do offer reasonable last minute upgrades to business when checking in online or at a kiosk. For example, AirTran upgrades can cost as little as $69. See? Not bad.

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