American Airlines Five Star Adds Blade Helicopters and LAX Private Suite Experience, Now Sells Flagship Lounge/Dining

There are premium airport departure, connection and arrival services that you can buy all over the world. Some are offered by airlines, others by airports, and some by third party services.

  • On arrival this can mean meeting you curbside, escorting you through security and it may include lounge access. You’ll be dropped off at the lounge and collected and escorted to your gate.

  • For connections you can be met on the jetway or at the gate and escorted to your connecting flight. With a long connection this may include lounge access, a shower, and then escort to your connecting gate.

  • On arrival this generally involves being collected at your arriving gate and escorted to immigration where you’ll often skip queues. In the most premium versions of this service it may even mean being met at the aircraft and taken by electric cart through the terminal — or even by car across the tarmac.

I’ve Used Special Services in Asia — Where It’s Cheap

I’ve used the JetQuay terminal in Singapore both on arrival and departure when my hotel was selling it at half the price of buying direct.

Jetquay Terminal, Singapore

In Bangkok I can do a premium arrival service for $21 or $44 where I’m met with an electric cart at current exchange rates.

Pricing for special airport services ranges tremendously, with tarmac transfers in Europe costing as much as $2000 while a simple meet and greet on arrival in Southeast Asia may be $20. I think it’s great at $20, not so much at $2000.

US Airlines All Offer Special Service Options

American Airlines offers “5 Star Service” in 16 airports.

Delta has VIP Select. (They once left John Legend’s luggage unattended and it was stolen.)

United Airlines puts its branding on the third party Global Airport Concierge service. Bear in mind it may be cheaper to book Global Airport Concierge with a Mastercard for 15% off.

And then there’s special treatment for politicians. Back in 2002 when US Airways filed bankruptcy (for the first time in the previous decade) their management layoffs included the two ‘special services’ VIP staff at Washington’s National airport. The late Senator Ted Kennedy, then a frequent beneficiary of the service (for the DC-Boston Shuttle), intervened by ringing up the President of the airline to make sure they kept the special accommodation. Kennedy at the time claimed his intervention wasn’t about his own personal benefit, but was to “save jobs” — the two jobs, of course, that provided him personal assistance at the airport.

American is Introducing New Features at LAX and New York JFK

As part of American’s premium services they’re going to be selling:

  • Blade helicopter transfers at both LAX and JFK

  • Access to the LAX Private Suite terminal, including tarmac transfers

Blade service is described as,

Customers in the Los Angeles or the New York areas can skip the traffic and get to the airport faster with a private helicopter transfer from Blade. When traveling with Blade, customers will be picked up in the city at a destination of their choice and flown to LAX or JFK where they’ll be greeted by an American Airlines team member and escorted via Cadillac to Flagship First Check-In. After clearing security, customers can spend their extra time relaxing or working in the Admirals Club, Flagship Lounge or Flagship First Dining before their flight. Blade service is also available for arriving customers.

Oddly American isn’t really making the Blade partnership seamless. You don’t ring up Five Star to book Blade. there’s also no way to book this through the American Airlines app. Instead you book your American connection through the Blade app.

And access to The Private Suite at LAX,

Premium cabin customers who value efficiency, luxury and privacy when traveling through LAX can choose to access The Private Suite’s private entrance to LAX, away from crowds and traffic. The exclusive, first-of-its-kind terminal offers customers with departing flights private, expedited security screening on site with Cadillac escort across the tarmac directly to their gate or to the Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining. Similarly, arriving customers can clear international customs in fewer than five minutes at The Private Suite’s own dedicated international arrivals hall.

The Private Suite access is booked via American Airlines Five Star and is only available to American Airlines premium cabin customers (standard criteria for booking Five Star service).

Airlines Selling Helicopter Connections is Hardly New

Two years ago Delta promoted their helicopter partnership with Blade as something innovative but New York helicopter-to-airport transfers have been around for over 40 years.

Continental Airlines used to offer free helicopter transfers with paid business tickets out of Newark and even let you redeem 10,000 extra miles for a helicopter transfer on business class awards.

I still remember as a young kid growing up in New York the New York Airways helicopter crash on top of the Pan Am Building (now Met Life Building). They offered airport service between late 1965 and early 1968 but gave up because of lack of customer interest. The service restarted in 1977, and just a few months in a helicopter preparing to depart for JFK fell on its side with rotors turning, breaking off a blade. Four passengers were killed, the blade fell to the ground and killed a pedestrian as well.

I suspect the incident made it tougher for helicopter services to succeed in New York — it was 38 years before I was willing to go up in one.

My own fear of helicopters aside the market is going to be limited largely to those who:

  1. work near a heliport

  2. aren’t transporting much luggage

  3. aren’t super price sensitive (though shared helicopters with spare seats aren’t much more than double a black car).

Currently Blade charges $195 for a one-way seat on a shared scheduled helicopter or $695 and up for your own helicopter without the American Five Star ground service integration.

American tells me that “prices vary, can start at $1,350. The $350 is for the American services. Which will be given to everyone in the charter.”

Bear in mind you also have to bank on the weather cooperating, because helicopters can easily delay and then you miss your international flight.

Copyright: mezzotint123rf / 123RF Stock Photo

It would be a real perk if it were a throw in with paid business class travel but they’re selling as an add-on something you can buy for yourself, though the ability to buy it in conjunction with Five Star in theory should make the handoff smoother.

Buy Access to The Private Suite at LAX as an Add-on to an American Premium Class Ticket

Like United American is integrating with The Private Suite at LAX which allows private security and immigration along with tarmac transfer to your plane. It’s a way to travel commercial yet still be discrete.

Credit: The Private Suite

Purchased directly annual membership with The Private Suite is $4500 and there’s member and non-member pricing. Members can pre-order meals, have their car cleaned while they’re gone, and receive complimentary spa services.

This will be another way that the Private Suite engages in price discrimination, selling access at a discount to cover their substantial fixed costs. American tells me that “he private suite add on starts at $1,200 for the first two customers, $250 add on per person after that.”

They’re Also Selling Access to Flagship Lounges and Flagship Dining

Here’s the piece that seems actually innovative. They’re introducing a new tier of Five Star service called Five Star Select that allows customers to purchase Flagship lounge access instead of merely being dumped off in an Admirals Club, and even to access Flagship Dining at airports that have it.

American’s Five Star service normally runs $350 (plus $100 for each additional passenger or $50 if they’re under 17). Five Star Select is $650 (plus $150 for each additional passenger or $75 if they’re under 17). A $300 upcharge to access premium lounges is about what I’d expect where Flagship Dining is available. I have a hard time imagining paying this where there’s only a Flagship lounge though.

American’s Flagship lounges are their international business class lounges, which oneworld partner mid-tier elites can access when flying American Airlines domestically and which oneworld and AAdvantage mid-tier elites can access when flying American Airlines internationally regardless of class of service. They’re nicer than Admirals Clubs (or United Clubs or Delta SkyClubs but not United Polaris lounges), offering a decent buffet and some freshly prepared items.

Flagship lounges can get quite crowded at peak times, since they serve not just business class customers but also many elites. While I don’t expect the demand for paid add-on to move the needle, it’s something to be aware of — but in terms of the value you’d get for the payment, and also that they’re marginally increasing crowding in these lounges with a new pay-in option via Five Star.

Flagship Dining is only at Los Angeles, New York JFK, and Miami so far with the ‘dining room inside the lounge’ concept expected to open at Dallas Fort-Worth in April. It’s available to three-cabin first class passengers on American Airlines only (and Cathay First passengers in New York).

Flagship First Dining New York JFK

In airports like Miami especially, with very few first class seats offered, the place is mostly empty. Which is why it makes sense that they invite ConciergeKey members to visit a couple of times a year.

Miami Corn Chowder With Corn Fritters

I’ve wondered for some time how these Dining facilities can remain open, and to the extent they’re offered I’ve been surprised not to see them monetized. Now we have the answer, they’re selling access to Flagship Dining via Five Star ‘Select’.

Hardly Anything to Complain About in These New Revenue Plays

More premium services on offer are better. It can be better to buy LAX private terminal access via American, in conjunction with a premium flight, than to buy it direct. On the other hand I think I like buying a single seat through Blade unless traveling as a family, and paying for Five Star separately if that were my plan.

Neither LAX private terminal nor Blade helicopter partnerships are new, American’s primary competitors have done one or the other in recent years.

The more innovative piece is monetizing access to their excellent lounge products, which is a nice perk for those interested in paying the freight. The only downside here is increased usage. What truly makes Flagship Dining special is how exclusive it is, how serene. Hopefully that won’t change.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In the early and mid ‘80s, I used to take the Pan Am helicopter service between JFK and the 34th St. Heliport on the East River. It was included in First and Clipper Class bookings.

    I was never late for a flight because I could easily see if there was a weather problem before I left for JFK.

  2. I received an email from American promoting these new services. The email indicates that Five Star Select includes Cadillac Ramp Transfers. However, the website does not include this language. Any idea which is correct?

  3. I received an email from American promoting these new services. The email indicated that Cadillac Ramp Transfers were included with the Five Star Select Service. However, the AA website does not include this language. Any idea which is accurate?

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