Review: American Airlines ConciergeKey 'Five Star Service' concierge

By Chris Chamberlin, February 10 2016

Made famous by character Ryan Bingham in the 2009 film Up in the Air, American Airlines' invitation-only ConciergeKey program offers many exclusive benefits to its members, but aptly, none greater than its signature concierge assistance service to whisk you through the airport.

Yet for the rest of us, you don't need to be a ConciergeKey member to get the VVIP treatment – American also has a little-known Five Star Service program which gives business class and first class passengers many of the extra-special perks, but on an ad hoc basis.

Whether departing, connecting between flights or simply arriving, the service sells for US$250 (A$355) for one person at selected airports in the USA including Los Angeles and New York, or US$300 (A$425) overseas in places like London and Tokyo – although not Sydney.

With both simple niceties like check-in assistance and pre-boarding paired with tangible and time-saving benefits such as Admirals Club lounge access and proactive flight monitoring, we put American's concierge service to the test.

American Airlines concierge service: LA arrivals

It all starts when I touch down in Los Angeles and spot a staff member in the aerobridge with a sign bearing my name.

With the Sydney-LA flight arriving into Terminal 4 but Customs clearance completed in the adjacent Tom Bradley terminal, it's quite a walk to passport control so concierge Cynthia guides the path and makes small talk along the way.

Yet at the passport queue, you're simply dropped at the back of the line where you bid farewell – and as a US visa holder ineligible to use the automated passport lanes, that meant enduring the same hour-long wait as everybody else and saving no time whatsoever.

Without a checked bag for the concierge to retrieve for me, there proved little use for their assistance on this occasion and if I'd paid A$355 for what amounted to 10 minutes of polite chit-chat, I'd be wanting my money back.

American Airlines concierge service: LA departures

Fortunately, the concierge experience when departing LAX serves a much better purpose beginning with an email the day before travel with a phone number to call on arrival at the airport, which sees Jessica, my concierge for the morning, greeting my car as it pulls up.

From there it's straight through the kerbside entrance to Flagship Check-in – similar to Virgin Australia Premium Entry but normally reserved for first class passengers and ConciergeKey members – and then through an unmarked door which opens near the front of the TSA security queue.

That's great in the mornings when connecting to New York as the staff escort you to the very front of the line, but in the evenings when heading home to Sydney, the most convenient TSA doors are closed and you'll instead join the regular line.

In either case, this is where an extra pair of hands really proves useful: at the checkpoint, two security trays are already awaiting my liquids, shoes, jacket and laptop, all of which are guarded until I'm through the scanner.

Jessica then takes charge of my carry-on bag, keeping my hands free for texts and emails until we walk straight through the frosted glass doors and into the Flagship Lounge – do not pass reception, do not collect a door key and of course, there's no need to dig out your boarding pass.

After a quiet meal to myself, Jessica then returns, walks me to the gate and then onto the aircraft before boarding has even commenced: allowing me to store my bags, get settled and continue working without needing to side-step any other passengers.

American Airlines concierge service: New York JFK

Finding the concierge on the journey home from New York also proved an easy task with a phone call the morning of my flight to share where I could meet the team at JFK.

Staff member Rose came prepared with my boarding pass already printed, so with no checked bags it meant ditching the traditional check-in desks and waltzing straight to the front of the security queue – again with those obligatory plastic trays ready and waiting for me.

(If you do have luggage, Five Star Service gets you Flagship Check-in access...)

Also as in Los Angeles, my bag makes its own way to the Flagship Lounge where the staff manning the door offer a Bingham-esque "welcome back" as we glide through, rather than the usual request for a boarding pass or frequent flyer card.

Trumping all of that, however, is American's tarmac Cadillac service – normally used to help ConciergeKey members make tight connecting flights but also occasionally extended to Five Star Service customers under the same scenario.

Importantly though, it's not something that passengers can request in advance, instead running under more of a 'surprise and delight' basis pending availability and urgency.

American Airlines concierge service: the verdict

Whether you're a paying Five Star Service customer or are part of the ConciergeKey crowd, American Airlines' VIP service makes travelling as effortless as possible for seriously high flyers – on departure, at least.

On first glance it's certainly just somebody walking you (or driving you) through the airport – but it means not having to think about what you're doing, where you're going, where you're sitting, or even, where in the world you are that day.

Instead, somebody else deals with any stress while your hands remain free to deal with those all-important emails, phone calls and text messages after skipping even the priority queues at security while somebody else lugs your bags from one place to the next.

For upper-level executive travellers balancing heavy workloads with their often-challenging schedules, that extra time not wasted at airport security, finding the lounge or lining up to board could well prove productive enough to justify that US$250 price tag – except of course when arriving in the US, where lining up takes the same amount of time.

But for ConciergeKey members, well, it's sure to keep them on their quest for 10 million American Airlines AAdvantage miles...

For more information on Five Star Service, head to the American Airlines website.

Also read:

Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of American Airlines.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

ChrisCh
ChrisCh

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

sgb

sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 742

Nothing worse than paying a US$ fortune for these exclusive services offered in the USA, when the airline still operates single aisle aircaft and you get bumped and knocked into by the whords of overweight  travellers barging through with enormous carry ons to get past you in 1B that think row 25A is somewhere up the front.

vantage03

vantage03

13 Aug 2015

Total posts 39

Always good to know about something different Chris, thanks for the review

deanr

deanr

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 May 2015

Total posts 229

"and as a US visa holder ineligible to use the automated passport lanes, that meant enduring the same hour-long wait as everybody else and saving no time whatsoever"

Why can't you use ESTA and then the APC kiosks?

ChrisCh

ChrisCh

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2915

Journalists travelling on business can only enter the USA on a pre-arranged media visa (not ESTA/Visa Waiver) and have to be manually processed each time.

(Fortunately that visa is valid for five years and unlimited entries, so once you've gone through the process of obtaining one it's a while before you need to do it again.)

If the visit is purely a holiday or on non-journalism business, though, using ESTA is allowed.


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