I recently covered ConciergeKey, the American Airlines elite status above Executive Platinum. This is the status that George Clooney had in Up in the Air. There’s no published criteria to earn it, but it’s based on spending and fairly predictable. Once you have it your upgrades clear first, you may be driven across the tarmac in a Cadillac if you have a tight connection, and there’s significant assistance when travel gets disrupted.
United, like many airlines, has long had special programs for high revenue customers. Their primary offering is Global Services. It was a relaunch of the airline’s old VIP program. Of course recognition though dates back much farther. Here’s how United’s status names have evolved over 20 years.
United’s Revenue-Based Top Tier Elite Status
When Global Services started it was separate from Mileage Plus. You could have Global Services members who were merely Premiers (Silver), and you could even have Global Services members who weren’t enrolled in United’s loyalty program. Now it’s integrated.
Global Services members get their upgrades ahead of 100,000 mile flyers. They don’t publish a criteria for earning Global Services status. It’s not based on mileage flown, but revenue for the most part. They give it not just based on your own revenue but also to significant travel influencers who drive the revenue of others (such as through major corporate contracts for which they’re the decision-maker).
The status is invitation only, except that United 4 million milers are granted lifetime Global Services status. In general flying over 100,000 miles and spending at least 30 cents per mile on United tickets is required. There are people known to have received Global Services status with ‘just’ $30,000 in spend. And there are folks who aren’t regular travelers but who influence significant travel spend that are granted Global Services. I was once offered Global Services in conjunction with $50,000 in prepaid travel (“Pass Plus”).
The benefits you receive as a Global Services member are impressive. (HT: >wxguy)
- Your calls to the airline are usually answered on the first ring. Your emails are responded to with more than a form answer and in a matter of hours. You can check in at special centers in certain hubs.
- You get better availability for upgrades when using a global or regional certificate (PN inventory instead of PZ). This also applies when you use your upgrades for others. Global services members can also upgrade award tickets using global certificates. And as long as there will still be 2 business class seats left, United will open up upgrade inventory to use a global upgrade within 72 hours of flight.
- Complimentary upgrades clear starting 120 hours prior to flight, a full day before 1K members. Waitlists are also ahead of other customers.
- Global Services agents can open up award space (economy if revenue T space is available, business if PZ is available). When buying a business class ticket on United they can redeem a saver award in the same class of service as long as 2 business class seats will be left for sale. (Similarly they can also upgrade a companion when flying on a premium cabin ticket even if upgrade space isn’t available and there will still be at least 2 business seats left for sale.)
- On tight connections you may get met on the jetway and taken across the tarmac by Mercedes. If you misconnect you’re guaranteed the next flight even if it is oversold.
- You can use United’s arrivals lounge in San Francisco when getting off an international flight, and the arrivals lounge at London Heathrow when getting off a United intercontinental flight. You can also use Lufthansa and Swiss arrivals lounges in Frankfurt and Zurich when coming off a United flight, and United’s former Global First lounges at Tokyo Narita, London Heathrow and Hong Kong when booked in United business class.
Polaris Business Class
In general United offers better award and upgrade benefits to their revenue-based top tier elites than American does (American lets ConciergeKey members upgrade with miles without a co-pay). However American’s ConciergeKey members get to access the airline’s Flagship Lounges when traveling domestically — and last year were even given two invitations to use their Flagship Dining facilities. In contrast United does not invited Global Services members to use Polaris lounges when not flying eligible business class itineraries.
Polaris Lounge Newark
Above Global Services: Chairman’s Circle
Chairman’s Circle is a program that comes from pre-merger Continental Airlines. Last I knew there were mere hundreds of people in this program, most nominated by the Senior Vice President of Sales. The program is for the heads of companies spending at least $5 million per year with the airline. The spouse of a Chairman’s Circle member gets Global Services. And if you fall out of the program you get a soft landing to 1K or Global Services. At least that’s how it worked three years ago.
Benefits of Chairman’s Circle include airport meet and greet, and a dedicated reservations team. There are also benefits that sound a lot like Global Services (such as upgrades clearing 120 hours out).