There’s a frequent flier—let’s call him Greg—who is based in New York and flies United all the time. Like, 250,000 miles a year all the time. Last summer, he was at Newark Airport waiting for his flight to London to begin boarding when a massive storm rolled in. By the time the rain passed and the skies cleared, his flight and every other United one to London that day had been canceled. Hundreds of travelers were rebooked for the following days. But up in the United Club, the customer service agent personally assisting Greg bought him a confirmed business-class ticket on the last remaining Virgin Atlantic flight out that night, and he arrived in London (almost) as planned.
Why did Greg receive such special treatment while other travelers were left stranded? He is a member of United Global Services, the secretive top tier of the United Airlines MileagePlus elite status program. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, there’s a reason you might not have heard of it.
When it comes to normal levels of elite status, airlines are very clear about just how much you have to fly and spend to qualify. For instance, you have to take at least 12 flights and spend over $4,000 in a calendar year to hit United Premier Silver status—the airline’s lowest elite tier.
But there are no published qualification rules for Global Services. It is extended by invitation only to a tiny percentage of the airline’s highest-spending fliers. And if you are lucky enough to get the nod, you can expect perks that go well beyond the free checked bags and priority boarding that most elites receive.
American Airlines and Delta have their own clandestine super-elite programs, too. Tellingly, the airlines and most ultra-elite fliers refuse to divulge details about these programs on the record. But we were able to contact a few members about what you need to do to be invited and the over-the-top benefits you can expect if you are.
American Airlines ConciergeKey
There are thought to be just 10,000 to 12,000 members with American Airlines ConciergeKey status, including high-profile celebrities and corporate travelers. One Dallas-based ConciergeKey member we spoke to has spent between $65,000 to $85,000 and flown anywhere from 275,000 to 350,000 miles each year he has been invited. Other folks who got the call for 2020 shared their flight and spending figures on a thread in a frequent flier forum with averages of well over 200,000 miles and $50,000 in spending.
ConciergeKey members enjoy automatic Executive Platinum status, which is the airline’s highest published tier, and usually requires flying 100,000 miles and spending $15,000 on airfare in a calendar year. Regardless of what cabin they’re flying in, they can also access the airline’s private Flagship First check-in facilities at certain airports, including personal escorts through expedited security lines, as well as American’s exclusive Flagship First lounges.
The member we spoke with said that the benefit he considers to be the most valuable is the fact that ConciergeKey members have their flight plans actively monitored. When something goes wrong, they are among the first to be rebooked. On one recent trip where his flight had a serious mechanical delay and ended up leaving a full day late, he was not only rebooked onto another earlier flight to his destination, but he was also upgraded to first class, all automatically. He also said he enjoys the private Cadillac transfers between gates at certain hubs like New York JFK and London Heathrow.
You can usually spot ConciergeKey members at the airport because of the snazzy bag tags American Airlines sends them that are made from metal salvaged from decommissioned jets like MD-80s and Boeing 767s.
“An invitation into Delta 360° is based on your overall investment with Delta,” according to a Delta spokesperson. “If you’re selected to join, we’ll contact you directly.” In other words, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” One two-time Delta 360° member we spoke to flew 330,000 miles last year and spent $79,000 with the airline, while the year before, she flew slightly less than that, but spent $93,000 with the airline.
The welcome gift she received this year included a cordless charger and a Hartmann Metropolitan Slimline backpack that retails for around $200. In past years, the airline has been known to send out Tiffany champagne flutes along with bottles of Louis Roederer Champagne.
Aside from getting the highest priority for upgrades, the member said the best benefit of Delta 360° status was the dedicated customer service desk “that will bend over backwards to make sure that they’ve taken care of you if anything goes wrong, like weather or maintenance issues.” The perk she still hasn’t been able to take advantage of? Porsche transfers between gates during tight connections.
Among the other incentives Delta 360° members receive is Delta Sky Club Executive Membership, which normally costs $845 or 84,500 SkyMiles per year, and means they can get two guests in for free when traveling. Members also get fancy bag tags so everyone at the airport will know they’re VIPs.
United Global Services
The flashiest Global Services perk is probably Mercedes-Benz transfers for flight connections at the airline’s hub airports like San Francisco International and Chicago O’Hare. Who needs to weave through a crowded concourse when you’ve got your own chauffeur waiting on the tarmac?
In terms of flight benefits, Global Services members get the first shot at upgrades a full 24 hours before other frequent fliers. Dedicated customer service agents have even been known to open up award seats that are not available to other members of the MileagePlus program (even those with the public top tier of Premier 1K status) for Global Services passengers, and members who purchase a business-class ticket can get a companion award on the same flight at the saver mileage level.
Does all that sound nice? You just have to fly around 250,000 miles and spend at least $50,000 in a year even to be considered, with many Global Services members hitting numbers well above those. And keep in mind, these figures are for travel mostly on United’s own flights, so don’t go thinking you can snag an invite by flying on partners like Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.
If you are considering switching your loyalty to an international airline, several of them also offer invitation-only programs for their most frequent fliers.
Emirates has a top-secret tier called Emirates iO whose members reportedly spend upward of $1 million per year with the carrier and receive an enrollment card hand-delivered by one of the airline’s senior sales managers. The benefits include fancy swag like a monogrammed Montblanc wallet, chauffeur service to and from the airport, the ability to skip cabins in upgrades (for instance, going from economy to first), and the right to confer Gold-level elite status in Emirates’ Skywards mileage program upon a friend or family member.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has to personally sign off on each and every member of the airline’s vaunted Chairman’s Lounge. The club supposedly has around 1,000 members at any given time, many of whom are senior government officials, C-suite executives at major Australian firms, and celebrities of other stripes. Along with the highest priority upgrades and access to blocked seating assignments, members can enter Qantas’s kitted-out First Class lounges and book free spa treatments up to 24 hours in advance. They can also hang out in specially designated (but unmarked) clubs within the airline’s airport lounges to dine à la carte, work with colleagues in private suites, and take advantage of a priority escort to and from flights.
Air New Zealand has a similar club called Priority One with VIP rooms within the airline’s flagship lounges in Auckland, Los Angeles, and Sydney, and sends out bespoke gifts like matching bag tags and wallets.
Nordic nomads who spend a fortune on Scandinavian airline SAS might receive a personal invitation to join the airline’s Pandion Club (estimated membership: 1,500), which bestows perks like high-priority upgrades, guaranteed seats even on sold-out flights, elite status with partner hotels and car rental agencies, and luxe gifts like a Swims overnight bag.
In 2017, Air France-KLM launched a new illustrious top tier called Platinum Ultimate and inaugurated just 140 customers (now the honor roll is closer to 1,000) who spend between 100,000-200,000 Euros ($109,000-$218,000) and fly over 200,000 miles per year. Customers can expect personal travel assistants available 24/7, and enjoy access to Air France-KLM lounges and partner facilities as well as Sky Priority services when traveling.
Finally, if you’re a frequent Singapore Airlines passenger, you can earn the airline’s revered PPS Club Solitaire status by spending $50,000 SGD ($36,000) each year with the airline. Doing so will ensure access to a special check-in area at Singapore Changi and the first-class sections of Singapore’s SilverKris lounges, as well as priority award mileage redemptions. Members can also score upgrade vouchers by hitting $60,000 SGD ($43,200), and $75,000 SGD ($54,000) in annual spend.
Details about British Airways Executive Club Premier status are scant, but the perks are said to include access to all the airline’s clubs, even when not flying BA, plus entry to its tony Concorde Rooms at London Heathrow and New York JFK. Members can gift Gold elite status to someone else, snag seats on sold-out flights, and receive an annual voucher good for upgrading two people. The airline has even been said to hold entire flights for Executive Club Premier members with tight connections and transferred them from plane to plane in a fleet of Jaguars. Estimates put the membership at under 1,000 total, and suggest that they need to be major public figures or those with annual travel budgets of over £2 million ($2.59 million).
No wonder airlines try to appease these ultra-elite fliers with perks and gifts: For them, it’s just good business.
Source: Conde Nast Traveler