Pay-to-Play VIP Treatment on Delta and American, but not United

Scott Mayerowitz has a piece out today on how three of the legacies are offering extra special VIP treatment for select guests, namely "true" VIPs and those willing to slap down some cash.

American Airlines built a private check-in lobby in Los Angeles for VIPs who are greeted by name, given preprinted boarding passes and then whisked by elevator to the front of the security line.

Once past security, the VIPs aren't left to fend for themselves in crowded terminals. Instead, Delta's new Sky Club in New York includes a hidden lounge-within-a-lounge with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline. And in Atlanta, Delta will drive some VIPs from one plane to another in a Porsche. There is no need to ever enter the terminal.

The special treatment continues at boarding.

Most passengers jockey to get on the plane first to find a spot for their carry-on luggage. But celebrities like to be the last in their seats to avoid passengers asking for autographs as they trek through first class on the way to rear of the plane. Airlines make sure that last-second boarding is as smooth as possible.

"We even do things like reserve overhead bin space for them," says RanjanGoswami, who oversees West Coast sales for Delta Air Lines.

This special treatment is nothing new--with all the miles I've flown and being based in LA I've run into my fair share of celebrities and politicians being whisked through airport lines or escorted onboard aircraft after everyone else has boarded and the door is about to close. That's only reasonable--there is little solace in regular "first class" check-in and screening lines or packed airport lounges anymore.

But now you too can buy into this--and the pricing is not even all that outrageous:

American's program — called Five Star Service — costs between $125 and $275 for the first passenger, depending on the airport. Each additional adult is $75; children are $50 extra. Delta's VIP Select, only available through the airline's corporate sales department or travel agents in the know, costs $125 for the first person, $75 for the second and $125 for each additional person, regardless of age.

aa-five-star-serviceI cannot justify dropping that much money to avoid a five minute wait in the security line or to be able to board last and still have overhead bin space, but I'll say this--a handful of my clients think nothing of dropping thousands of dollars (or hundreds of thousands of extra miles) to avoid a bit of hassle and I doubt that is an anomaly. Quite the contrary, this sounds like a lucrative service for airlines willing to invest in it.

American's Five Star Service is detailed here, complete with price list. Make reservations via e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 877-5STAR-02.

Delta's VIP Select is more secretive. You can always call Delta Reservations at 800-212-1212 and ask about it after you enjoy the hold music for 48 minutes if you don't have Diamond status.

And then there's United Airlines.

United Airlines has a program but limits it to VIPs. Spokesman Rahsaan Johnson refused to detail it, saying "the individuals who enjoy the service we are providing understand what it is."

I like this approach too. Sure, UA sacrifices some revenue from the rich who are not famous, but I can just imagine AA's LAX VIP lobby filling up with families with children willing to fork out a few hundred bucks while others wait impatiently to be served. While it would be nice if "everyone was treated like a VIP" (and that should still be the goal of each airline employee, of course) there's a difference between offering line cuts and special lounge for convenience and offering these perks so a public figure does not get hounded relentlessly by the public.

Scott writes, "It's as close as a passenger can come to a private jet, without shelling out $30,000." That is a stretch...but certainly VIP treatment is nice and something many of us could quickly get used to.


I'm pretty sure that AA reserves the right to "capacity control" the offering, too, so they can stop selling it if to many get involved.

PK April 12, 2013 at 10:33 am

Here's a funny article about Prince Charles enduring Business Class:

"He says he found himself and his staff "on the top deck in what is normally club class. It took me some time to realise that this was not first class (!) although it puzzled me as to why the seat seemed so uncomfortable.""

I had the wicked thought when I read that to put a pea under a first class seat and see if anyone noticed...

Drew11 December 10, 2015 at 11:24 pm

I've used Delta's "VIP Select" service. Nothing compares to it. I was told by my "VIP Select" driver that they are actually tighting up who can use the service. Also, the prices in the post are out dated. It's much more expensive. But worth it if they allow you to use it and you don't mind paying.

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