American Airlines Is Threatening to Boot Concierge Key Elites If They Don't Spend Even More
For years, American Airlines didn't officially acknowledge that it had a secret elite status. But, despite the lack of mention in published AAdvantage materials, frequent travelers knew there was a secret society called "Concierge Key" reserved for the airline's top customers, business leaders and influential public figures. Unlike with other AAdvantage elite status levels, there have never been published criteria for Concierge Key. Instead, if American Airlines deems you important enough, you'll receive an invitation.
Once you're in the club, there' are some serious perks. "CKs" get to use Flagship First Check-In; are invited to be the first to board flights; get private car transfers at some airports, top upgrade priority and free Admirals Club membership, plus softer benefits like being proactively re-booked when something goes wrong — without having to call.
Concierge Key elites even get to visit American Airlines' Flagship Lounges — with their immediate family or two guests — anytime they fly AA or a Oneworld alliance airline, even if they are on a short hop in economy. In December 2017, some CKs got the chance to gift Executive Platinum elite status to a friend or family member.
Recently, American Airlines began officially acknowledging Concierge Key — including listing "Concierge Key" status by name on its upgrade priority list and announcing over the intercom at boarding when Concierge Key members are able to pre-board a flight.
However, as American Airlines formally recognizes this program, I've heard that the secretive elite status has become both harder to obtain and less valuable. Concierge Key elites who spoke with me for this article, requesting to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, mentioned a sharp dropoff in proactive communication and protective flight bookings during delays and cancellations. And, I have seen from my frequent travels on AA that Concierge Keys rarely get much time to pre-board before Group 1 boarding is called.
Now, it seems that the world's largest airline is getting greedy with at least some of its most valuable customers. A four-year Concierge Key forwarded to TPG this week an email he received from AA. Despite having already spent nearly 50,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) and flown over 200,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) on American Airlines in 2018, the email said that "based on your 2018 travel so far, you're not on track to retain Concierge Key status after January 31, 2019."
However, he was given a challenge in order to maintain the status. He would have to do two things:
- Fly between November 12, 2018 and January 25, 2019
- Spend 14,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) on flights both marketed and operated by American Airlines during this time period. Codeshare flights aren't eligible.
While the additional 14,000 spend isn't likely to be an issue for this particular reader, he noted that the tone of the email and the requirement to fly only on AA-operated flights irked him. Although most of his travel has been on actual American Airlines metal, the frequent international traveler sometimes has to take partner airlines to get where he needs to go.
For reference, people on FlyerTalk forums reported that they have been invited to Concierge Key status in 2018 with EQDs of 41,500; 44,646; 53k; 53,709; 55k; 55k; 56k. So, spending just shy of 50,000 EQDs in 10 months would seem to keep this reader on track for re-earning Concierge Key status based on last year's data points. But this year it doesn't seem to be quite enough.
This could be a sign to would-be Concierge Key elites that the spending requirements this year will be closer to 60,000 EQDs. The potential good news is that this could thin the herd of Concierge Key elites, but abandoning some of its high-spending flyers could have negative repercussions for the airline. We have asked American Airlines for comment, but the airline wouldn't comment on the Concierge Key program.
As part of the research for this post, I spoke with an American Airlines flyer that shot for Concierge Key in 2017 but didn't receive an invitation. The last-minute full-fare international traveler loyally dedicated almost all of his flight spending in 2017 to AA. He easily topped the Elite Qualifying Dollar requirements that he believed were necessary from comparing his miles and spending with his Concierge Key co-workers. But since he missed out on the invite, he said he has become a "free agent" in 2018 — resulting in more than a $20,000 reduction in spending with AA year-over-year.
American Airlines has made large investments in its premium product, from solid business class products to excellent lounges. However, lagging operational performance, inconsistent service, poor communication during irregular operations and lack of appreciation of top-tier elites might affect how American is retaining its most valuable customers. In this situation, alienating current Concierge Key elites may not be a wise move.