My Experiences As An American Airlines ConciergeKey Member So Far

Since the summer I’ve had American Airlines ConciergeKey status, the ‘top secret’ status with the airline that they rarely talk about, meant for their highest spending customers and top corporate travel influencers. It was an unintended extra benefit of earning 7 million miles from American’s way-too-generous year-end SimplyMiles promotion. Here’s the welcome kit I received.

My first use of ConciergeKey benefits was redeeming 15,000 miles for a confirmed domestic upgrade without cash co-pay. Waiving the cash portion saved me $75 and probably tipped me over the edge for confirming the upgrade. I might have cleared anyway but it was a four hour flight on a plane with just 12 first class seats traveling on a Thursday. It was nice not to have to worry about it. My upgrades have certainly gone better than as an Executive Platinum, such as receiving the only upgrade on a recent Dallas – Fort Worth to Washington Dulles flight at the gate.

On my first trip as a ConciergeKey I was traveling with my wife and daughter and connecting from a B gate in Dallas – Fort Worth to one of the new stinger gates at the very end of D. I was met on arrival by a staff member with a golf cart, though it was a long enough connection I had them drop us off at the Flagship Lounge in D rather than heading all the way to the gate. (In fact, as Flagship Lounge staff agree, the Capital One lounge immediately next door is nicer and that’s where we spent the layover – but I didn’t ask to be taken to the Capital One lounge, I kept that part my little secret.)

When my flights have delayed I’ve generally gotten text messages or voicemails. I’ve sometimes gotten text messages in advance of flights that were on time. And I’ve occasionally been met at my departure gate. That’s usually been when there are other ConciergeKey members traveling on the flight, too. The only exception – met at the gate as the only “CK” or “Key” on the flight was earlier in the month departing Washington National. It was an especially slow Saturday morning, and fortunate because I’d hurt my foot (aggravated an old injury and made the mistake of working out on it). They noticed, and proactively had me met by a golf cart for my connection in Dallas.

But I just had my first opportunity to experience ConciergeKey in action during irregular operations, where I needed rebooking assistance, so I thought I’d pass along what that looked like.

On Thursday I was flying Austin – Miami. The flight had just begun boarding, and I was standing on the jet bridge about to get on the aircraft when we were cancelled. Miami was a mess with storms, and flights were delaying and cancelling right and left on all airlines, regardless of where they were coming from.

However something odd happened. No one contacted me. I wasn’t rebooked. Instead I received an email as though I had voluntarily cancelled my trip.

I walked straight back to the Admirals Club. The staff there do incredible things. My cancelled flight had been completely sold out, and so was every other option. So I called the ConciergeKey line.

Perhaps the ConciergeKey benefit that appeals to me most is the Next Flight Guarantee where they’re supposed to overbook a flight to get you where you’re going if your flight is cancelled or delayed by three hours. That, to me, is the single best benefit – knowing that you are going to get where you are going nearly every single time. This is something that they do better than United’s Global Services.

  • I actually wanted to take a connecting flight through Dallas. With everything delaying or cancelling I figured I’d have more flight options – to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach – than staying in Austin and taking the next available flight.

  • In other words, I was looking to heed Tiffany Funk‘s advice to treat irregular options like the zombie apocalypse: you keep moving or die. It would be better to get to Dallas than sit tight for the next flight in Austin.

  • But they weren’t able to oversell flights from Dallas to Florida, and could only overbook me onto the next Austin – Miami flight. That’s what I accepted, knowing also that there was an additional Austin – Miami after that one if needed.

  • In the end, shortly before departure, one seat opened up for sale on the flight. No one had to be bumped to accommodate me. But it was nice to get the flight booked five hours earlier and go on with my day rather than scrambling.

I believe that I was the only one who made it off of my cancelled Austin – Miami flight onto the next one. ConciergeKey came through. It meant sitting in the back row of a legacy American Airlines Airbus A319, but I got where I was going on the same day. That’s huge.

The flight attendant in the back galley immediately recognized me as a ConciergeKey in the last row of coach. He offered me a bottle of water, which I accepted. During the flight he went to first class, and brought me back a ramekin of nuts. And the first class flight attendant came back to offer me an extra meal that they had up front, if I’d come enjoy it discretely in the forward galley. I declined, since I was heading straight to a dinner when I landed in Miami.

This was actually the first time I was recognized on board as a ConciergeKey. It may have helped that I was smiling and happy to be in the last row of coach, and that I actually switched seats with someone in the row to accommodate two passengers who wanted to sit together (it just meant moving from my aisle seat to the aisle seat across the row). But it made the flight even better.

On the way back I took the opportunity to use Flagship Check-in for the first time as a ConciergeKey. I’d used it in Los Angeles a couple of times years ago. In Miami though there’s no designated terminal entrance into a private room, it’s just a cordoned off check-in area. And you’re escorted to the front of regular security (where they’ll give you an expedited screening card if Pre-Check eligible) and not TSA PreCheck.

Then I headed to the Miami Flagship lounge before my flight – it was busy but never felt crowded during my visit, and far superior to waiting in line to get into the Centurion lounge that was located farther away from my gate.

I absolutely love ConciergeKey. I’m hoping that since it was granted over the summer, expiring March 2023, that it will be renewed for one more year – that when granted it’s for a ‘minimum of 12 months’ – because I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to qualify again. I’ll never be in the league of those spending $50,000 – $60,000 on high yield tickets, and without a twice in a lifetime type of promotion like last December’s deal was I’m unlikely to ever generate 5 million AAdvantage miles in a year again either. I never thought I’d have this status, and I’ll miss it once it’s gone.

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. CK today reminds me of the very early days of EXP. The service and perks – not to mention the favors and waivers – were outstanding. We may not have had cart or tarmac transfers, but we could confirm an SWU without inventory restrictions…and we got 8 every year! We did have to earn and burn upgrade stickers (remember stickers, ha!), but it was really rare not to get the upgrade. But bottom line, AA really treated us as someone special and that was nice.

    Really happy you’re getting some glory days service again, enjoy it!

  2. @ Gary — So, you got stuck in the back row of coach because American’s operations suck. Doesn’t really sound like a good outcome if you think about it. Perhaps being mid-level status on a more reliable airline would have yielded a better outcome.

  3. Global Services will (and has, multiple times for me) oversell the next available flight if needed to get you home during IRROPS. They’re very strict about only doing it for pax on your PNR and not companions on separate records.

  4. @Gene – every airline was facing cancellations into MIami due to weather, this wasn’t an AA-specific ops issue. And by the way Southwest, my other non-stop option from Austin, was having issues with South Florida too.

    @Gennady – cost was ~ $0.004 per mile.

  5. UA Global Services has watered down its next flight guarantee so as to make it almost worthless

  6. Just flew BA (SFO/LHR/FCO) where connecting arrival flight cancelled from LHR to FCO. Being EP/BA Gold/Emerald – they rebooked me proactively for the next flight. My husband, on separate record/w-out status was rebooked on a flight the next day (our records were “linked” on BA but that didn’t matter). Took lots of pushing w various BA peps to get it fixed. Yes, it pays off in spades to have airline status when flights go off the GRID! Thanks for the article.

  7. Yes just sucks to be EXP now because AA is selling status rather than making you earn it. Sucks for the people that actually fly all the time and get no benefit or recognition for their loyalty. Just convinced me to drop all Airline loyalty.

  8. While riding on the Concierge Elite golf cart to the American Airlines Flagship Lounge in terminal D, the photo shows you passing by the world-famous restaurant McDonald’s. Savvy travelers know you can’t order a Happy Meal in the Flagship Lounge.

  9. @Gary & @Jack – agree. When I lived in Brazil a decade ago, bring EP was truly a personalized experience.

    International upgrades, seat blocked next to you if no upgrade, personalized checkin area with bags just d isappearimg and escorts to the club and prebording.

    Now. As EP, I just hope to get on the upgrade list.

  10. “No one had to be bumped to accommodate me”. This could have turned into a Dr Lao deal a few years ago in ORD. Other confirmed passengers may also have important business in MIA!

  11. EXP used to be very good. Was one for over a decade. Nowadays if you aren’t CK you might as well be another plebe. I far prefer 1K to EXP. Never been CK or GS so no point of reference. But 1K wins hands down over EXP. At least that’s my experience and why I left AA

  12. @DKG – You are about to find out that the only thing worse than having a downgraded status experience is having no status at all. I never got to experience the “good old days”, but trust me, status today is way better than no status today.

  13. @Gary I am glad you are enjoying your Key status. I must tell you though, it ain’t what it used to be pre-COVID. I don’t know if that’s because there are more Keys, cost-cutting, general downward trajectory of AA service levels, but while it’s really really nice, it used to be better.
    I must also give a top o’ the hat to AA too though, since they are also getting value from your CK status. The frequency and stridency of your complaints about AA have fallen off a cliff since you received CK.

  14. I’ve spent a minimum of $35k per year on AA flights for the last 5 years and am lucky to get an occasional upgrade, a warm bottle of water, and a Biscoff carrot wafer. All I get from American is grief and cancellations. I can’t even hit Platinum Pro anymore let alone EP. American has become a 3rd world carrier that I’m stuck traveling for business because their direct routes correspond with my work.

  15. Thanks for the update on this Gary. We are living vicariously through your experience 🙂

  16. @AA is a joke – I’m going to call BS. Your quote:

    “I’ve spent a minimum of $35k per year on AA flights for the last 5 years and am lucky to get an occasional upgrade, a warm bottle of water, and a Biscoff carrot wafer. All I get from American is grief and cancellations. I can’t even hit Platinum Pro anymore let alone EP.”

    Let’s do this the easy way – you fly seven times a year, $5000 a ticket. You start with no status. (Doubtful, but we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.) You don’t put your spending on an AA card, you (or your travel agent) book all flights through AA, so no bonus for flying on partners. Yes, taxes don’t generate points, but you’re going to far exceed what you need, so don’t quibble.

    Flight 1 – You generate 25,000 points. Still at Member status.
    Flight 2 – You generate 25,000 points. Now Gold. Your total is now 50,000 LP. (You would actually generate Gold halfway through your trip, but again, we’ll worst case scenario it..)
    Flight 3 – You generate 35,000 points. Now Platinum. Your total is now 85,000 LP.
    Flight 4 – You generate 40,000 points. Now Platinum Pro. Your total is now 125,000 LP.
    Flight 5 – You generate 45,000 points. Still Platinum Pro. Your total is now 170,000 LP
    Flight 6 – You generate 45,000 points. Now Executive Platinum. Your total is now 215,000 LP.
    Flight 7 – You generate 55,000 points. Still Executive Platinum. Your total is now 270,000 LP

    Let’s see if you can somehow run up against the 75,000 point maximum per flight by spending $11,666 per ticket and flying three times per year.

    Flight 1 – You generate 58,330 points. You make Gold.
    Flight 2 – You generate the maximum 75,000 points. You make Platinum Pro. Your total is 133,330 LP
    Flight 3 – You generate the maximum 75,000 points. You make Executive Platinum. Your total is 208,330 LP

    Complete, and total utter BS.

  17. Wishing your foot a speedy permanent recovery, so you don’t need those powered airport carts to shuttle you around even after CK is gone there.

    A foot injury really does get in the way of doing the more typical aerobic exercises that are commonly familiar, but hopefully you’ve found alternatives to get in your aerobic workout without exacerbating the foot problem.

  18. @GUWonder – foot is better, thanks. Did a lot of seated exercises, and wore a boot, in the meantime. But seem to be fully recovered.

  19. Maybe if you offered to write favorable articles on AA, they could work something out with your CK status 😉

  20. I’ve been a CK out of Miami for around 6 years now. I agree it is an absolutely fantastic program. I’ll likely lose it this year as well, as our business travel has been cut in half. I disagree with the response that CK service has gone down post Covid…I’ve actually found it to be better than ever. I haven’t had the car transfer at DFW lately, which used to be a great experience, but all other services are better than pre Covid. It’s been great while it lasted!

  21. No guilt on potentially bumping the poor scrub in Coach with no status late to his grandma’s funeral?

  22. I just had a very impressive CK experience with AA. Flying from LAX to IST via LHR on AA/BA and then on a second ticket from IST-AYT on TK. The first flight (AA metal) was delayed because of ATC getting into LHR so I was going to miss my connection on BA to IST. When we landed late in LHR, AA had already secured me a J class seat a Turkish Airlines flight from LHR to IST which would allow me to make my IST connection. I also had a private escort from the AA gate in T-3 all the way to the Turkish gate in T-2.

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