American Airlines Expands 5 Star Service

(Updated October 2011)

American has expanded where it offers Five Star service to nine domestic cities and five overseas.  The mystery surrounding Five Star is now gone, and almost of the details of the service, including how to book, are published on AA.com.

The service is not inexpensive - but can really ease things when traveling with young children!  I have used the service at least a dozen times.

Within the United States, the fee is $125 for one adult, or $200 for two adults.  Children under 18 are included free.  I find the service to be very valuable for departures, and less so for connections or arrivals (except, perhaps, international arrivals).

The way the service works for departures is that a few (4-6) hours before your departure time, or even a day before, a 'host' will call you to confirm your details.  If you are arriving via a car service, give Five Star your car service details, they'll coordinate directly with your driver.  If you are driving yourself, or taking a taxi (or Airtrain?), give them your approximate arrival time.  Your host will give you his/her mobile phone number (save this in your phone's memory) and ask how many bags you will be checking (if any).  If a trolley is needed for your bags, let them know at this time.

Then, give your host a call (or have your car service driver call) on their mobile when you are about ten minutes out from the airport, and the host will tell you exactly where he/she will be and you tell them what type and color of car you are in.  (We have a lime green Volvo...finding us is easy.)  Usually, they stand near the door closest to the First Class check-in.  At JFK, for example, it is the last door when you are driving up to departures.  At LAX, it is the first door at T4. (October 2011: AA is reconfiguring the LAX doors.)

Your host will be clearly visible - an airline employee in a suit uniform.  Most of the time, they will have your boarding passes ready, and bag tags printed for you (if needed).  The host, or the sky cap with the host, will take care of your bags - you won't ever have to lift them.  Sometimes, they bring you to the check-in area to drop off the bags, other times it seems they just leave things in the sky cap's hands.  If they don't have your BPs, they will take you to the First Class check in area and get them printed.  They will typically jump the queue if there is a wait.

The host will then take you to security.  At JFK and SFO, they will take you into the employee security queue.  At LAX, they will simply 'jump the queue' and bring you to the front of the premium security queue.  I've waited in excess of 30 minutes at the JFK premium security line without Five Star service a few times (though other times its just a few minutes).  Either way, the employee lines are usually completely empty - so you are essentially assured of no waits.

Five Star service includes lounge access, so they will bring you into the Admiral's Club.  I've had the hosts 'liberally' apply the rules for Flagship Lounge access, and will typically bring you in there if you ask nicely.  (The Flagship lounge is a more premium lounge, with all drinks and food served gratis.  In the US they have them at JFK, LAX, MIA and ORD.)  Again, no queuing to show your club credentials - they just walk you right in.  Before the host leaves, they will ask if you if you would like to board first, or last, and the host will set a time that they will pick you up from the club and escort you to your gate.  At your gate, you will either pre-board before anyone else (once for me even before the Federal Sky Marshalls), or bring you to the front of the queue towards the end of the boarding process.  If you wish to board last, they assure you if you go last that the flight won't leave without you.

AA has recently stepped up 'sizing' bags at the gate and has been forcing bags that might be a bit large for the sizer, but would comfortably fit in the bins/lockers, to be checked.  I've been escorted by my host with clearly oversized bags (that still fit in the bins, but would fail the sizer) while others were getting challenged by the gate agents.  I suspect the FAs on board would put your bags in the closet if there was no more overhead space if you boarded last (though I don't have specific experience with this).

Once you're seated, your host will thank you and perhaps linger for a tip.  I tip most of the time - but not always.  About half the time the hosts refuse, but upon a second offer from me, most of the time they take it.  Once or twice they have flatly refused, saying it is against the rules.  I ususally tip $20 when I do tip.  The one or two times when I didn't typically involved getting to the gate late (after boarding began, despite my requests to go first) or otherwise not being engaging.  This is the exception, and nearly all of the hosts have been very nice to my family and to me.

When we travel as a family, I usually drive our small SUV to the airport.  The way I use Five Star is to pull up curb side, drop off the bags, my wife and my daughter with the host, and take my son with me to park the car.  I make arrangements to meet them in the First Class check in area (which at JFK has a private seating area).  Once my son and I return, then we all head to the employee security line.  This divide and conquer approach - with assistance, of course! - has really made departure much, much easier.

For arrivals or transfers, the host will meet you on the jetway with a sign with your name on it.  (On departures, they don't use a sign when they wait curbside.)  If you are departing, they will walk you to baggage claim (and carry your hand luggage to baggage claim).  If you are connecting, they will bring you the lounge, and then pick you up per the departures program described above.  I have used the service for arrivals, but really don't find it valuable to merely get someone to walk with me to baggage claim, as the main benefit I find is avoiding all the queues and help with checked luggage.  I have used the service for connections once or twice, which has been helpful (I'll post more on this another time).

I have not used the service for international arrivals, though I did arrange it for a friend arriving once.  He said they brought him to the front of the passport queue at JFK - though I'm not sure exactly how many lines they avoided.  The next time I arrive internationally at JFK, I will try the service to see.

Periodically, HSBC offers free Five Star service to their high-balance customers.  They've offered it over the last two Christmas holidays, usually for a two or three month period.  They mail customers a 'code' to give when booking the service.  This is incredibly valuable to me, and I use it all the time when travelling and it is free.  I also think very nice thoughts about HSBC Bank when I'm getting the free service.  (I may write in to American Express and suggest they offer it as a benefit for Platinum cardmembers.  Who knows?  October 2011: You could also use your Amex Platinum $200 airline nuisance fee credit for AA 5-star service.)

AA has also expanded the number of fields that offer the service.  What began at JFK and LAX, and then expanded to MIA, now also includes SFO, LGA, ORD, DFW, BOS, SFO and DCA domestically.  It has also been introduced in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, London (Heathrow), Milan and Tokyo (Narita), though the prices are higher outside of the US.

It is important to book Five Star service as far in advance as possible.  I've tried booking on one or two day's notice, and sometimes bookings are available, but more often than not, at least at JFK, they are fully committed.  Bookings are pre-paid, but are fully refundable up to within 4 hours of your appointment - so there is little risk to pre-reserve well in advance and then cancel if your travel plans change.  I am now in the habit of booking the Five Star service as soon as I book my flights, if I plan to use the service.  When you call Five Star, have your record locator (the 6 character confirmation code) handy.

More details can be found on AA's website: http://www.aa.com/i18n/urls/fivestarservice.jsp?anchorLocation=DirectURL&title=fivestarservice  To call Five Star to enquire further, or make a booking, call +1 877 578 2702. You can also email them at [email protected], though I would recommend calling versus emailing.

This is a great service which takes away almost all airport-related stress.  I know how to get through the airport - I am a high-status flyer on all three alliances - but I find having someone to look after me at the airport is great.  I don't use the service when I'm travelling solo (except at the time of year when HSBC is paying), but with the kids, it is a real value and I use it every time I depart when I'm with the kids.  I encourage you to try it, too.

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