How American Airlines Duped One ConciergeKey Flyer Into Giving Up Their Status

ConciergeKey is the elusive American Airlines status that George Clooney held in the film Up In The Air. Given to approximately 11,000 of the airline’s best customers, they’re very top on the upgrade list, are welcome into international business class lounges when flying domestically, but most importantly are well taken care of when things go wrong. Not only do they have a special phone number and even email address for service, agents call and text proactively when they’re traveling, and the airline will overbook a plane and bump someone else if their flight cancels.

One customer who had ConciergeKey status for 10 years with American Airlines lost their status this year – but it’s not the usual story. They were essentially duped out of it by the airline.

Traditionally it’s taken around $50,000 to $60,000 in annual spending on airline tickets to be awarded ConciergeKey status. (Significant travel influences, such as the head of travel for a company like Facebook, would be awarded the status as well.) Now they take into account other activity with American, like credit card spending and transfers of points into AAdvantage from hotel programs as well.

This customer described their 2022 activity with American,

  • American Airlines ticket spend of $57,400 all for business class
  • Consisting of 5 international business class trips with the balance in domestic first
  • 746,000 loyalty points earned
  • They’re based in “a small outstation” not a city like Dallas (historically larger hubs were harder to earn Key since they had so much business)

They’ve had an ‘AAirpass’ for 9 years. The AAirpass program allowed customers to prepay for travel at flat rates and receive extra benefits – like no changes or cancel fees; premium seating; Admirals Club access; and even ConciergeKey status with larger purchases. Prepaying $50,000+ through AAirpass would normally come with ConciergeKey.

Worried that they might be on the bubble for re-upping their status, they called to renew AAirpass on November 28:

Fearing the usual apprehension of not being renewed, I reached out to AAirPass customer service on Nov 28 and asked about buying a new AAirPass which would come with automatic CK. Quoted $60K, which I expected.

The CSR then said, “Why would you buy a new AAirPass now; just wait until the new year, see if you’re going to be renewed, and then buy it if you need it”. Following her advice, I topped my existing AAirPass off with a $15K buy (it expires at the end of April).

I received a very nice eMail from them (with my receipt) later that day reiterating our conversation and her advice.

American Airlines told them don’t buy the AAirpass with ConciergeKey status right away – wait to see if their status gets renewed, and buy it if it isn’t. But two days later American Airlines eliminated the AAirpass program. And their ConciergeKey status wasn’t renewed either.

Since they had the chance to buy ConciergeKey status and were told to wait, they asked American for reconsideration. American told them to pound sand.

Said in my note that I could accept not qualifying and not being renewed as others had been. But that these circumstances were a bit different as AA talked me out of it. Got a call back from Exec offices. Very sympathetic, she understood I acted on some bad advice. But she said she submitted it for reconsideration and was declined. Her advice: “just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll review things periodically. Hopefully you’ll make it on the next round”.

They refunded two tickets they’d paid $32,000 for and they’re moving their business to United. United, by the way, still bundles its Global Services status with PassPlus which is their AAirpass equivalent product.

Throughout the pandemic, American Airlines extended ConciergeKey status to anyone that had been awarded it in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 through March 31, 2023. Many people were dropped back down to whatever status they’d otherwise earned at the start of this month.

I was a ConciergeKey member for 8 months and learned just what kind of hospitality American Airlines can offer – personalized and welcoming service, with agents meeting me at the gate just to say hello and thanks – at a time when overall the company is trying to move to a “100% digital experience” in the words of Chief Commercial Officer Vasu Raja.

I never expected to have the status, and assumed I would lose it just as soon as American realized what they’d done, but I certainly feel this member’s loss.

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. I would have told this passenger to pound sand as well. They were a low value customer who was exploiting a shortcut to HVC treatment. My sympathies to UA who now has to deal with this pax.

  2. No guarantee the agent he spoke with knew the program would be discontinued (in fact that info was likely not shared beyond a small group prior to announcing it).

    Bad timing in his part but don’t think he was “duped”

  3. Well off topic I fell short of elite status with Alaska by 2000 flight miles and they threw me to the curb demanding 20k flight miles in 90 days.Simple solution buh bye!

  4. Feel terrible for this person, companies no longer care if agents give false or misleading information. At some point these company needs to swallow the cost of what was relayed during a transaction.

  5. Count me as agreeing with AC–I find it very unlikely that a low level person would be told about such a forthcoming change. Telling all their people would no doubt result in it leaking.

    This is just bad luck, although AA should have handled it better.

  6. Takes 5 international trips in a year with some domestic travel and get CK… the AA advantage program has totally strayed away from what Thomas g placket began in 1981.. the frequent flyer that does like 200 flights segments a year and spends 50k is probably a better real customer to AA…

  7. In terms of bottom line, the 5 flights at $10k each customer is a MUCH better customer for AA than the 200 segments a year customer.

  8. On the one hand, it’s part and parcel with how notoriously capricious the CK selection process is, but on the other hand, the brazen bad faith is something I’d expect from DL before I’d expect it from AA.

  9. Wooow. Really?. Ppl can b so mean on these platforms. Its jus some ones opinion. Like all the name callin is jus crazy. Like prick. O mean were all qasults here rt. Atleast it looks to b that way, and because a person feels a different way, ppl jus go ham on some one. Ppl need help.

  10. “They refunded two tickets they’d paid $32,000 for and they’re moving their business to United.”

    Who is They? The third They is the AA passenger. Is the first They AA?

  11. Relying on a phone rep for advice on anything important is risky. Hard lesson to learn though.

  12. @US GS SFO… If you think $60k spend is a low-value customer, you are too rich to be commenting here. If I were you, I’d take a serious look at how I was spending my life. Don’t you have an assistant who can troll for you?

  13. UA GS @ SFO, I am not siding with this guy but I would say that a customer who’s dropping north of $60k per year in revenue seats for 10 years straight is not a low value customer.

    Lilone, to understand why this is, you just need to scan the headlines on VFTW. You quickly learn that VFTW is not about the travel and points hobby. It’s a tabloid gossip column that highlights the worst in people who are involved in travel. That highlights some issue that is calculated to inflame someone . . . anyone . . . who will say something that will inflame someone else . . . and it’s off to the races. VFTW attracts a certain type of reader who seems to be itching for a fight.

    Your comment suggests to me that you are a decent person. And, if you are a decent person, why are you reading this blog? Occasionally, VFTW will have a value-add article, which has occasionally pulled me in. But, the negativity has really come to a point at which any good/value is extinguished.

  14. The world’s largest airline does not care about some entitled customer. Plus, the CSA who gave this person the advice is probably in a worse situation because the AAirpass team got laid off from what I’ve heard. I wish United luck in dealing with this pompous prick.
    Also @doug, stfu, if you are not here for an intelligent, mature discussion get your bitch ass out of this website. If you disagree with someone, express it, but there is absolutely no need for personal attacks. That is the behavior of a teenager.

  15. I’m not sure why there’s so much anger here. I read the post from this guy which was in the link. He never says he was “duped”. The headline of VFTW says that. He just says he followed AA’s advice and it turned out to be wrong. I agree with some of the others in that I’m sure the AA people he spoke with had no idea they were going to be out of jobs. And it seems like he isn’t blaming the folks he spoke to? But it sounds like he is a customer AA would want to keep.. So he appeals and gets nowhere. Too bad. Sounds like they could have handled it better. But he made a decision and now he has to live with it. So now he’s going to take his business somewhere else. Why does that make him a prick? I think many of us would react the same way.

  16. What do you expect? Today’s AA is the old America West in disguise. Another factor is that they are losing money and have high debt. I would expect they will be cutting left and right but this will unlikely to help their stock prices.

  17. The pax you mention will he happier at UA. Due to schedule changes and travel patterns I have flown mostly AA this year and already requalified for ExPlat. I also have 1K status. While I cannot speak for other flyers my experience has been far better as UA 1K. I cannot recall the last time someone at AA acknowledged my status. However, on a DFW-YUL flight I was castigated by the gate agent when I had my passport in the wrong hand! AA is an utterly shambolic outfit and I deeply regret flying on them. Unfortunately UA’s schedule doesn’t work very well for me nowadays. Otherwise I’d fly them exclusively. So your description of the AA’s handling of the pax CK situation does not surprise me in the least.

  18. The Concierge Key program has always been frustratingly mysterious. I have never been invited, and there are no published requirements. But every time I read a report on what it typically takes to qualify, I note that I am consistently above that. And I wouldn’t care too much, except that I do regularly fly routes – especially LAX-MIA – where there tend to be a lot of CK’s edging me out even as an extremely-high-loyalty-point EP.

  19. A special airline rep who comes to the gate just to say hi to you sounds really weird and creepy., tbh. Hard pass on that.

  20. @Gary: I know you write posts in good faith but I have to say there is something not entirely Kosher about this person’s assertions.
    I was both Key and an Airpass customer (unrelated ) at the time this customer was asking about his Airpass renewal. In fact, I was waiting on a refund of my Airpass balance in late Nov/early Dec 2022 (which took me complaining to the legal dept at AA to obtain but that’s a story for another day). But — AA had made public then that Airpass wasn’t being renewed, that they were NOT accepting additional deposits into the program, and that you would be given your balance back if any was remaining. To me, it beggars belief that this customer and the folk he talked to at AA did not know that.
    So when he says he spoke to someone in *Airpass Customer Service* about renewal on 11/28/22 and they did not tell him the program was being discontinued, I’m sorry, 2+2 isn’t making 4. The Airpass dept. wasn’t large, so it’s not like getting lost in a huge department.
    Long story short, I think someone’s telling Pork Pies here.
    Like the complainant and you, I lost my Key status this year after quite a few years. Not unexpected but I mourn it all the same. But I’m not up to fibbing to get it back.

  21. Not wishing to comment on whether I take the story at face value or not, the fact that this is even a subject of discussion emphasizes the dangers of a “secret” program with no published rules for entry. I can absolutely understand the desire to implement a super-elite level for the most profitable fliers. However, to serve as an actual incentive to drive business to the airline, there must be clarity on how one gets in or out of the club. There will always be some animosity from a customer who is downgraded to a lower elite status. How an airline handles this situation determines whether the individual tries harder to regain that status or chooses not be a customer any more. Surely a passenger spending this much on international business class has enough eagles to warrants a more sympathetic touch?

  22. @Woofie: I remember adding funds to my account on Nov 29 while returning from Thanksgiving. I did it online while waiting in the Admirals Club. I didn’t find out about the cancellation until I read about it here a few days later. I CAN tell you I was kicking myself for not adding more $ at the time.
    Having said that I’m concerned to hear that it was a hassle getting a refund. My plan ends in June and I’ll have money left over. I’m hoping my experience is easier than yours.

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