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Up in the Air about my concierge key

Up In The Air

I'm sure many of you have seen Up in the Air, the recent movie with George Clooney, which offers possibly the most accurate and detailed look at contemporary business travel ever presented. It's pretty hilarious. There are dozens of funny-but-true tips on how to negotiate security lines (i.e. don't stand behind old people because they don't seem to be aware of how little time they actually have left), manage hotel stays (i.e. make the most of the VIP status that comes after repeated visits to the chain), and assorted stuff like that. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it to road warriors for its instructive value alone.

One of the stars of the movie is American Airlines, which is portrayed as the apex of business comfort in the skies. This was very amusing to me for a variety of reasons, primary of which, probably, has something to do with the relationship between familiarity and contempt.

I was most tickled by the scene in which George Clooney seals a seduction by displaying his American Airlines Concierge Key Club card to his hot new companion, who turns to jelly upon sight of the simple black plastic emblem of extensive mileage. They both sit in awe of the card itself and all it represents. Not long after, the two happily fall into bed, with excellent results all the way around. Witness the power of customer retention programs!

I will now reveal to you that I, too, am a member of the exclusive, elite Concierge Key Club. I received word of it in a congratulatory letter about a year or so ago. I don't recall getting a card, but I probably have it somewhere. I was very happy to be inducted into this august group, and very curious about the new perks and privileges my newfound status would carry with it. I couldn't wait to find out. I am still waiting.

As far as I can tell, membership in this, the most elevated in the American Airlines frequent flyer cadre,  grants you the following:

  • An occasional greeting at the gate when you check in. One time, they paged me from the podium. I went up to find out what it was all about, fearing I had been bumped or something. No, there was an American Airlines representative with a clipboard at the little kiosk that scans the tickets. "Hello," she said. "I just wanted to tell you how happy we are that you are flying with us." I said thanks. She inquired whether I would like to board with the people in wheelchairs. I said not really. She said goodbye.
  • Now and then, this same sort of official actually boards the plane itself after we are seated, approaches me and once again expresses pleasure that I am with them. I say thank you. He or she says no problemo and inquires if there is anything they can do for me. One time, I asked, "Like what?"  The greeter said, "Well, nothing, really." Then we had a chuckle and that was that. Those were the good old days, too. In fact, this greeting phase has abated almost entirely now. The other day I was grieved to see another business type getting the schmooze while I sat by myself, unrecognized as a Key Club dignitary. This pissed me off a lot more than it should have.
  • No upgrades.
  • No priority in getting a reservation.
  • No actual, physical "Club" that one can visit.
  • No presents, not even the luggage tags that one is awarded each year as an Executive Platinum person.
  • Some limited help getting rebooked when your flight is cancelled, but only when you know the guys in the Admiral's Club, which remains a very nice entity which I appreciate every time I travel. Hi, Admiral's Club dudes! Keep up the good work!
  • The ability to impress random fellow-travelers with your Key Club card, resulting in passionate one-time hookups in moderately-priced chain motels.

Needless to say, I do not avail myself of the last perk, honest. So right now, I will tell you, I remain somewhat mystified by the entire Concierge Key Club phenomenon. I'm not the only one. The other day, after the deplorable incident in which my presence was not hailed with glee by the powers that be, I called American Airlines and inquired of a representative of the Key Club what my status really entailed. She didn't really know either. "It's just a nice thing," she said.

So in the end, unless I'm missing something, I'd have to say that the Concierge Key Club is just a somewhat cynical trick played by American Airlines to seduce individuals who are shallow and foolish enough to be impressed by membership in a Club whose only benefit seems to be that other people don't belong to it. Not that I want to be ejected, mind you.  I mean, when you get right down to it, the fact remains that I am Concierge Key, and most of you are not. That's something, I guess.

Now if you'll excuse me, they're calling my flight, and I get to board with the people in wheelchairs. Don't want to miss out on that.

34 Comments Add Comment

What I want is one of those cards that allow you to:

- Yammer loudly into my cell phone before takeoff, after landing, and while a flight attendant is urgently insisting I put away my cell phone.

- Let my kids kick the seats in front of them, scream, run up and down the aisle, scream, stand on the seat and stare at the folks in the row behind them, and, oh yes, scream.

- Delay the flight while trying to jam quarter-ton roll-ons into overhead compartments.

- Hold up the boarding of all the other passengers by blocking the aisle while doing the above.

- Elbow the window and aisle passengers while trying to use a laptop on the fold-down tray in a middle seat.

Gosh I'd like one of those cards! How do I qualify?

That's the nice thing about Hollywood, Bing. You get to create your own reality.

Thanks, Tim. But I'm in New York.

You crack me up, Bing.

Ooooh the power of the high and mighty...Concierge Key,,,a term most peasants like my self can hardly pronounce much less spell..

Impresses women does it,,,,I think I gotta get me one of those....I'm sure it would have more flash than my seniors Bus Pass....not too many gals been impressed by that..

Of course when it comes to impressing the ladies,,there is one sure fire trick that is better than a Concierge Key....get youself a bank book,,,make a few favorable entries of your own..not too large warren buffet stuff...just a nice healthy number..and leave the dam thing where miss snoopy can find it without you knowing....
I guarantee you will suddenly be more lucky...

Later you can explain how you lost it all in the market.....

Faster and more effective than a concierge key and you don't have to look like George Clooney.

If you're riding in the back of the bus (i.e. not in first class), the only perk worth anything these days is getting on a bit early so that you can stuff your two bags in the overhead bins before they fill up.

I know one bag is supposed to go under the seat in front of you, but that's where my feet go.

I bet the concierge key would get you a free beer when you're stuck in coach. Just casually leave it on the tray table when they roll the drink cart down the isle and smash everyone's elbows.

Funny but True. It is an elite club. I have not seen Up in the Air but I have travelled for business and I have seen those card carrying members

hilarious! well written!

with regards to airlines, I have such low expectations from them that I'm just thrilled of leaving and arriving somewhat on time in one piece. Right now I'm waiting for the day in which they will charge us for water ($3.00 for an 8oz water bottle, $4.00 for a can of soda) and a toilet flush ($2.00 a flush), mark my words: that day will come soon.

Bing: sorry to interrupt your column, this is troubling: US government bullying Toyota so GM (Government Motors)increases sales. Could it be possible??????

What's wrong with those airline idiots? Do they not realize that you are THE master of the Bing Blog?

That outranks their little club any day!


I believe Tim was alluding to your general industry. I remember a time when I was in charge of such shenanigans in my office. One executive did not fly very much but wanted the royal treatment. Unbeknownst to her, we would have to pay for the Admiral's Club ticket ahead of time so she would have access. This saved me the headache of hearing her bitch and moan. It was also hilarious to hear her talk about how great the club was and how important she was. I think it cost $45 a pop but worth hearing her story afterward and know how oblivious she was to her own status. To hear that you actually earned it and that there is no perks is sad and funny at the same time.

Well, you don't get much more than 4 SWUs and "10M" on your next status card and luggage tags when you cross ten million miles threshold, either; that is indeed Hollywood for you. Much better to hold Executive Platinum status and know what you're doing (flying defensively.)

Airline industry is in a such sorry state........I'm amazed they were not bailed out by big daddy

That was really funny!! Thanks for making me laugh. Even though your card gets you nothing, I hope you feel good that I am jealous of your status.

Well done, Bing. Every air travel tale you write further reinforces my decision to fly only when absolutely necessary....which is, thankfully, quite seldom these days. What was once an enjoyable experience has become a truly wretched curse. You have my sincere sympathies.

Aaah, poor Bing. I was getting all envious of Concierge Key Club members and their flashy cards after seeing Up in the Air. Our everlasting guru Bing should have gone with United instead of AA. I've been at UA's 1K level (100,000+ miles/year much of the past decade), and UA employees have been extremely helpful, friendly, and courteous. Literally dozens of complimentary upgrades on international flights (often even when not requested); rebooking swiftness in the event of cancelled or delayed flights; complimentary hotel and private car on one horrific Honolulu/Denver flight that was sent back to Honolulu at two in the morning; and of course all the usuals of free luggage, rapid check-ins, and first-name use...much as Ryan Bingham/Clooney scores in "Up in the Air." Nothing elitist about it, but the service and perks certainly make me want to fly all of my annual miles with United, and makes all those flights to Japan a bit more tolerable.

Sometimes things are, in part, defined by what they are not.

I have an exaulted status at all airports, and on all airlines. I am not on the no fly list. Your plane will never be diverted to Gander just because I'm on it with you.

I will say, I hope there is never a mistake dealing with my honored self, for if there should be, and a strip search is necessary, you'll never see a concourse be more quickly evacuated to the murmurings of, "That's just wrong."

This phenomenon of gaining access to an elite club that has no perks associated with it appears to be a corollary to that great HR maxim: "if you can't afford to give them a raise, then give them a loftier title". The result being that we have executive assistants to assistant deputy vice presidents of the water cooler.

Suddenly, I think I'm attracted to you.

Mmmmm.... Bing, you sexy you are a Concierge Club about a drink tonite?

Bing, what's the problem? Why would airlines promotional campaigns behave any differently than political campaigns?

Bottom line: promise great rewards, but deliver peanuts with a song and a dance from irate citizens and passengers! Whew!

Maybe your Concierge Key Club card and a rented wheelchair would provide privileges somewhat equivalent to Admirals Club membership. At least you'd have the joy of running over competing passengers toes with complete impunity.

I'm not in favor of silly little club-status titles anywhere. I want to be assured that my money is just as good as the next guy's, even if he happens to have an addiction to XYZ Airlines and ABC Hotels. Why should an addiction be rewarded with bonus miles and extra towels in the bathroom? If I'm paying the same money for a flight or a stay, then I expect the same service. Period.

Keep your Concierge Key. Keep your Admiral's Club. Don't insult my intelligence. All I ask is that you fly me in reasonable comfort from origin to destination. And it would be nice if I didn't have to fork over $35 to bring a suitcase with me.

Bing, most of the dismay with your induction into the American Airlines Concierge Key Club is most probably the lack of an "Prenuptial Agreement": spelling out the responsibilities and limitations of the relations and affairs description?

Mike H., not trying to start an argument(frequent blog visitors know that's never my intention), but the whole point of special customer treatment (real or merely perceived) is to foster an addiction to a particular service provider. That's why your money will often not provide you equivalent service, and to expect such is not realistic.

I had to fly a lot in my last position, and often on short notice. I mostly flew the peanut taxi for convenience, but I flew American or BA for anything international. I never had any of those silly club cards, just the usual frequent flier number.

American has often upgraded me to 1st class from biz. I'd never pay for 1st class, but I'll gladly take it on an ass-numbing 14 hour flight to Tokyo! I'll say this, 1st class on American or British Airways is worthy of the name, at least on international flights.

I figure that those ego cards just tell the airline you can be bought off cheap. You want real perks, you gotta play hard to get! Rack up miles, don't cash them, and never show any interest at all in any of their marketing ploys. I figure I've gotten way more out of having a fat milage balance with American than I ever would get out of actually "spending" those miles.

It's ConciergeKey Services, not Concierge Key Club. ConciergeKey Services are provided to a select group of VIPs to facilitate travel on AA. The program is offered on an invitation basis only and is targeted at customers who control travel policy for large organizations. Customers who generate a high amount of revenue for AA may also be invited into this program (those who spend upwards of US$50k a year on travel with AA). Services provided include airport escorts, airplane pre-boarding, and also assistance with flight changes, seat changes, and upgrade requests via their own dedicated reservation line. ConciergeKey representatives will also monitor day of travel of ConciergeKey members and will proactively reroute or rebook travel when necessary. ConciergeKey status allows check-in at First Class counters, as well as access to elite lines through security at certain airports, however it has no effect on upgrade standby listing (ConciergeKey status is not linked to elite status).

As A million mile AA flyer, I can safely say, there is always at least one guy (or gal) ahead of you that has more miles and gets the upgrade. The only privlege I seem to get is boarding early, oh and being permenant Gold. Another 1/2 million to go and I am permenant Platnium.

Is there any club status that can get me out of the DC weather? Without stepping onto an airplane? Right now I'd gladly surrender all my miles to stop the snow!

Being a 100K (Gold) member of United Airlines for the past several years and having flown on many airlines I think Star Alliance/UA has the best alliance out there and most importantly the Global Services which is by invitation only has much better perks than American Airlines. You should give it a try, change is not always bad :)

United Global Services is great, they will upgrade you, will meet you at the gate with your rebooked flight if your flight is late, and in general make sure you're taken care of.

You don't know what CK is worth until you actually need it. They've jumped through hoops I can scarcely believe sometimes, but you have to be in a position to need it (emergency re-route/change, stuck due to bad weather, etc).

It's one of those things where its value is not readily apparent, but becomes a bright shining light when in need.

I am Executive Platinum and CK. I certainly don't use my Concierge Key status for a hook up, but I can say that it is a perk. EXP gives you a jump to the head of the list if you are on stand by as well as upgrade. But, CK puts you above all other EXP if you are wanting to get on a different flight with standby. I had a London flight from LAX and that flight was cancelled. Not only did CK call me, but they had re routed me and got me to LHR sooner than the original flight! Granted, you don't always get escorted on board, but they really are there when you need them. Don't underestimate the value.