Transport Airports

American Airlines Offers VIP Service At More Airports Than Any Other Airline


Feb 05, 2014 8:00 am

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Lufthansa’s Guide Service has an international flair that other VIP services don’t: It is offered in 51 languages at Frankfurt and 33 languages at Munich airports. That translates into very personalized service as the airline values some customers much more highly than others.

— Dennis Schaal

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American Airlines' 5 Star Service includes personal escorts through the airport, fast-track security screening, flight monitoring for rebookings, and access to Admirals Club lounges.

At a time when airlines such as Delta and United have devalued miles in their frequent flyer programs, making redemption of an award ticket more costly, 14 airlines around the world have rolled out VIP services for their most high-value customers, according to a report from IdeaWorks Company (pdf).

Taking top honors for the broadest rollout in terms of the 14 airports where the program is available, is American Airlines’ 5 Star Service, the report shows.

American now charges $250 for the first person at U.S. airports and $300 abroad in a  program that includes personal escorts for departures, connections and arrivals; priority check-in and streamlined security and immigration processing; assistance at the gate; help with rebookings; access to Admiral’s Clubs, and coordination of car services.

The program, launched several years ago at Miami, JFK and La Guardia airports to any American passenger at price of $125, American’s 5 Star Service has subsequently been restricted to first and business class passengers, and is available at Boston, Chicago O’Hare, DFW, LAX, Miami, JFK, La Guardia, San Francisco, Washington Reagan, Buenos Aires, London Heathrow, Mila, Tokyo Narita, and Sao Paulo airports, IdeaWorks says.

One key to booking the service is to do it early, at least a full day ahead of time in the U.S., and a minimum of 48 hours in advance at foreign airports, IdeaWorks says. Business and first-class flyers can call a toll-free number or email FiveStar.Service@aa.com to reserve the service.

Delta’s highest-touch service is called VIP Select, and is available in the U.S. only, at Atlanta, LAX, JFK, and San Francisco airports. The price tag varies, but is $125 for one person at JFK, SFO and LAX, and $200 for two people at these airports, the reports says.

Delta’s VIP Select service is very similar in its basics to American’s 5 Star Service. However, Delta’s program apparently isn’t restricted to first and business class passengers, and has at least one perk worth some bragging rights — “ramp level transfer to aircraft via Porsche automobile (or other vehicle),” according to IdeaWorks.

In addition to American and Delta, IdeaWorks also points to a variety of VIP services for high-value customers at nine other airlines, including Air Asia, Air France, Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Qatar, Virgin Atlantic.

Ryanair and Spirit probably have high-value customers, but apparently don’t cater to them in the manner that the 11 airlines cited above do.

For Ryanair, Spirit and any other airlines looking to woo big-spending passengers, IdeaWorks offers the following best practices:

  • Introduce services quietly to test concepts, pricing levels, and service capabilities.
  • Lavish high value customers with one-on-one service, privileged facility access, and confidentiality.
  • Don’t overwhelm the product offer with a multitude of packages and price points.
  • Simplicity of design ensures better customer comprehension and consistent service delivery.
  • Invest capital to create unique experiences and to justify a price premium.
  • Keep policies simple such as 7 day, 24-hour call center coverage, 24-hour advance booking requirement, and availability to all customers including economy class.
  • Provide online booking capabilities with a customer friendly user interface.
  • Hand pick agents at each airport location by seeking those who would qualify to be a hotel concierge.
  • Provide frequent flier program linkage with point accrual and reward redemption.

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