Ultra-Elite Programs: what is your experience?

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by jbcarioca, Feb 5, 2015.  |  Print Topic

  1. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    With the profusion of ultra-elite programs it seems to me a good idea to share experiences.
    A few I know a bit about are:
    Emirates Invitation Only
    American Concierge Key
    Delta 360
    SPG Platinum 100
    United Global Services

    There are many more. A common characteristic is that, for the most part, the existence, benefits and qualifications are not widely disclosed. Thus insight is likely to be interesting to many of us.

    So, please post and tell about your experiences.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
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  2. FetePerfection
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  3. jbcarioca
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    I am a member of two of these programs so I'll describe how they both have been for me:

    American Concierge Key:
    This program has only one publicly disclosed method of entry, buying an Airpass for $40,000. Otherwise the qualifications are obscure. A few people I know in the program suggest it has little value. For me it has been so significant that I now choose AA over airlines with better onboard experiences just for the CK ground services. Unlike EK, for example, AA does not offer ground transportation to members AFAIK. However, CK members can get boarding prior to any other passengers and in many stations a CK rep drives them to the gate (in a cart, normally) and does the boarding. At my normal stations the CK reps know me and my spouse and treat us like royalty. When our bags arrive they are first, virtually always, and are often offloaded and in a trolley before I pass through immigration. Flagship checkin and Flagship lounges are part of the package as is Executive Platinum and Admirals Club membership. When the program really shines is IRROPS, where the CK desk anticipates the problem and rebooks on the next available flight, normally with advice of the change available inflight or on the departing jetway. Outside the US I have been met by a CK rep in the jetway on every single arriving flight and escorted to my waiting luggage. Another nearly unbelievable benefit, denied by AA, is that CK members always get upgrades, in my experience. Recently, for example, I changed to an overbooked domestic flight two hours before flight time and still was still upgraded to F at the gate about the time boarding began. I have no idea how that happened since F checking in full, allegedly. Another recent case was on January 3, peak travel day leaving GIG when I was upgraded to F prior to leaving the lounge. I had been booked in C, without a seat assigned. All in all this program is wonderful.

    SPG Platinum 100:
    Obviously the name even tells you how to get it. 100 days per year in SPG properties does the trick. The single benefit is a personal Ambassador. My own is congenial and instantly helpful, usually managing to clear availability when I cannot, and making certain that the property knows I am meant to get an extra dosage of TLC. That seems to work, although most of the properties I regularly stay in are quite adept at good service anyway. One apparent change is that small service defects seems to be repaired more quickly now than they did before, and the amenities sometimes seem a trifle more generous than they were before. Really, the only significant benefit to me is getting into a sold out property at my normal corporate rate, which seems to always happen. A couple other people I know with the same status mention kind gestures to family members and special recognition for birthdays, anniversaries etc. I suspect that might be true give the long personal interview that the Ambassadors indulge in when you enter the program.
     
  4. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    I did read that article. I'm not too surprised at negative comments about DL. As a Diamond I have found them to be quite decent in onboard service and otherwise decent if nothing goes wrong. However I have had four cases in the last couple yours that DL made an error in reservations, then refused to either admit or correct the error. All four cost me money, in one case more than $2,000. If nothing goes wrong they're well above AA, for example. except for ground service and baggage handling, IME. Were Delta 360 to address those issues and offer decent support I suspect it would be really good. I wish they treated me better because STL is a great place to transit. They do not even give international Business passengers free drink coupons in the lounge, which I thought was normal for almost every carrier. So long as one pays for the drinks the selection is good in the lounge, pretty weak in the air.

    Does anybody here have Delta 360?
     
  5. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Global Services, not Global Entry for UA. ;)

    I had GS for ~18 months. It was nice; I got more upgrades and some FAs were nicer to me. And a few extra rules are bent, either as a matter of policy or just because. But it didn't revolutionize my travel life at all. Then again, one of the GS reps went so far as to tell me that there is GS and then there is GS and that they make efforts to differentiate even within the tier.

    Not surprisingly I was on the lower end.
     
  6. marcwint55

    marcwint55 Gold Member

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    requirement for concierge key with with air pass is 50k this year according to AA
     
  7. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    oops.:eek: Believe it or not, auto correct did that one. I had just been writing about Global Entry and I did not notice the autocorrect. My negligence. Embarrasing!
     
  8. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    It was $40,000 last year and $30,000 a couple of years ago. I am just renewing now and facing the $50,000, which I found out about only a few minutes after I made the initial post. For me it does not matter because i've been spending about $90,000 per year anyway. For anybody with less travel that is a big hike.In any event the ticket price, based on mileage, does not change, although the net yield for AA becomes even higher due to the drop in fuel costs.
     
  9. jackplum
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    jackplum Gold Member

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    What is interesting is that there seems to be levels within levels. I am a longtime DL PM yet I have received service not unlike Delta 360 (other than the Porsche.)

    I have received calls or text messages of rerouting flights due to wx somewhere, every change fee has been waived for the last few years - even for my daughters and their flights, I seem to get the same CSRs when I call in though I am calling the PM line, I have not missed an upgrade (though I usually buy F), we get upgrades for both on companion tickets, and so on.

    A station manager once told me there was a special notation in my (Deltamatic? DL-Net?) profile that they could see. There was a baggage crisis at that time and he had to leave and I never found out what it was. I have heard though of others that have indicators for "better" treatment. I have had flight crews know about me as I boarded and not from the manifest. I had one TATL flight where the purser said the crew had received an email to make sure I had a good flight. I had another flight lead tell me that we were getting in early and DL had changed my flight to an earlier one. The amounts of compensation for the few issues I have had were VERY generous.

    I am not sure how much more I could expect from an airline - perhaps my head would start spinning.

    Now for my part, I have attended several events in ATL including the original Velvet Rope tour, 2nd ATLDO, and have made many suggestions over the years based on observations including one that brought some significant revenue in for DL. I have met many staff at Virginia Avenue and have developed some personal relationships. Perhaps that matters but I would think not.

    So... not totally unrelated to the original intent of this thread.


    Update: Maybe it was my Kryptonium card!
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
  10. MSPeconomist
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    I'm Marriott Platinum Premier, which is an invitation only level above Platinum with the invitation supposedly coming from Bill Marriott's office and offered to the top 2-3% but only after one has been Platinum (with 100 nights?) for several years.

    The benefits are minimal, and don't offer much more that Gold as MR Gold and Platinum are very similar. There may be a welcome gift, you get a black membership card and a special phoone number, but many hotel front desk staff have no idea what PP means.

    So far, there's no lifetime version.
     
  11. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    We all, I think, know that such special unpublicised status exists with some Travel companies. It seems to be interesting that several, including DL, do not seem to mind a surfeit of special programs while others, like AA, seem to standardise with only a single program with multiple paths to entry,
    The hotel programs seem to be the least valuable as MSP reports about Marriott and I reported on SPG, possibly because hotel chains are a mixture of franchise and owned properties, managed and non-managed properties so they really do not have the control or maybe even data to make a consistent program. To the same point, that may be a contributing factor to why the airline uber programs, AFAIK, do never cross into alliance-level. Even DL/AF/KL with DL being the GSA for the US, have trouble managing even the SkyBonus program across brands.

    I wonder what the prospects are for more alliance-wide cooperation and enhanced hotel network level programs?
     
  12. MSPeconomist
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    PMNW supposedly had seven different unpublished internal levels of PE. It wouldn''t surprise me if DL does something similar.
     
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  13. jbcarioca
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    If that was confirmed I wonder whether there are many revenue/influencer based programs that are not disclosed. That could explain my treatment for AA, for example, compared even with other CK members, especially given experiences such as that of jackplum.
    I do recall a recent situation with AA when I was waiting for an AA upgrade (one mentioned above in my initial post) when the Admirals Club agent told me: "Oh you'll be upgraded, nobody can have higher priority than you do". I interpreted that as a reference to CK, but the MSPe and jackplum comments make me wonder if there may be even more involved processes in play that I do not know. That is really interesting if true. It would explain a few apparent anomalies that people report that heretofore I have assumed were just lack of corporate adherence to standard policy.
     
  14. jackplum
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    jackplum Gold Member

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    Perhaps somewhere in the executive ranks there are people who can grant certain privileges.

    We all remember that Kevin Pinto at DL could work amazing miracles at an operational level (even granting MQMs).

    There is another thread somewhere about politicians, CEOs, etc. getting status so I would gather there are other factors at play.

    I am glad there are!
     
  15. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    granting a predefined and public status is "easy" within the publicly known framework of the program - a checkbox, more or less. Internal rankings, extra favors, etc. to give non-public benefits not directly associated with that status are somewhat different, I think. How much and what is communicated (and how) regarding additional special treatment could be interesting to know...but I'm sure is very private!
     
  16. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    Certainly true, but those of us on MilePoint seem prone to search for any way to gain favour in the system, whatever it is. I know I am.
     
  17. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    How many eagles do you have? ;)
     
  18. MSPeconomist
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    In the PMNW seven levels of PE case, IIRC this was never publicly admitted but officials from the FF program didn't deny it either. In fact, it seemed to be a factor that determined who got the phantom upgrades on international longhaul flights.

    At times I would notice a glimmer of something like that affecting by experiences with NW. I certainly wasn't top level but I wouldn't have been in the bottom several levels either.

    With DL, at times I've suspected that there have been different levels of DM too, with this not being completely superceded by the new Delta 360 program. Again, I suspect that I'm certainly not at the bottom level(s). I don't make unreasonable requests, but I've never had a reasonable request refused.

    My travel patterns are such that only once would the Porsche transfer have been useful to me since it was introduced, so I'm not surprised that I haven't had the experience. [It would be fun even if unnecessary.]

    A few times DL has gone way above and beyond for me, including once last year keeping a lounge open late by about six hours (to midnight) for about five of us when my flight was badly delayed. I was clearly the ranking DM on that one as I knew all of the others in this situation and it wasn't even a particularly elite-heavy flight.

    When things have gone wrong, DL has been good to me, including some comp for a downgrade that I think might be a histoorical record as well as the amazing way it was handled.

    I've been suspicious that DL is moving toward personalized or at least finely diced and sliced award and upgrade inventory availability. One piece of "evidence" is the removal for this data from EF, although DL claims that there's no longer enhanced elite domestic coach (who cares?) award inventory since it's no longer needed with the new five tier award pricing system and better (they claim) aavailability. Having said this, my experiences in getting instrument-supported upgrade space space when I call or being able to call and get good (and better than what I see on delta.dumb) premium cabin award space have been much better than most people report. I'm sure it's not because I'm good at searching for awards and upgrades, nor do I usually have much flexibility. If anything, I want particular routings and schedules when I travel.
     
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  19. MSPeconomist
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    This is an extremely interesting discussion, but the elephant in the room IMO is whether bloggers are getting special unpublished treatment from airlines and hotels. Some of them seem to have amazing records of getting upgraded into top suites with extremely high frequency.
     
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  20. MSPeconomist
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    Was there ever any suggestion that Kevin could grant extra special status to someone as opposed to just fixing and resolving situations that were brought to his attention?
     
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  21. MSPeconomist
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    Remember that SPG Plat 100 is now a published level with known criteria, although the Ambassador program started as invitation only. The unpublished part is what individual Ambassadors do for people and how much individual properties are willing to do.

    Also, SPG has acknowledged that they have a ranking of elites (Plats and higher presumably) which leads to an ordered list of arrivals being sent to every hotel every day for the purpose of assigning upgrades in advance of arrival (and perhaps other benefits). However, I've gotten conflicting information about the basis for these lists, with one GM telling me that SPG wants to spread the upgrades around, so that whether one has recently received an upgrade helps to determine the priority ranking. There's also conflicting information about whether Starwood hotels are obligated or pressured to normally follow these lists. Of course, the published benefit is that (except for Suite Night Awards and upgrades with cash or points confirmed in advance) upgrades are based on availabilty upon arrival.
     
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  22. mattsteg
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    The odds are very good that this is happening to some degree or other. Wouldn't you do this in their position?
     
  23. jackplum
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    Oh no - not at all

    Just that in his position he could do some amazing things usually in rectifying some situation

    I was trying to imply that others may have leeway to grant other perks or make notations in records - who knows what - but as your experiences and mine shows there is something else in play. Like you I have never had a reasonable request denied and even had some (what I thought ) unreasonable ones granted. It never hurts to ask.
     
  24. MSPeconomist
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    NO, I was trying to say that I haven't really tried to make unreasonable requests. I don't want to push whatever privileges I might have. The one time I might have come close, the DL agent resisted and I quickly accepted it and backed off. This was a case of a schedule and aircraft change where I said that I would happily change my travel dates by about a week to stay on a 747 for a major TPAC segment, where I had an M or B fare and was using an old-style SWU, but I wasn't willing to pay the $400 change fee to ride the 747.
     
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  25. jbcarioca
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    Yes, sort of, to both. SPG properties sometimes, in fact often, upgrade me without deducting Suite Nights, so I end out getting the suite anyway. To jackplum on unreasonable: I have made unreasonable requests numerous times with AA, AF, SPG, and Sixt, to name ones I recall. Sixt even gave me a new MB E400 Cabriolet when I saw it and asked, even though I was reserved for a far lower class. SPG properties often let me check out a 10:00 PM at no extra charge. AA has given me F when I am reserved in C three times recently at no charge when I asked. All those instances share in common that i have said something like "ah,
    I have an outrageous request. Is it too unreasonable for me to ask for....?". Mostly such requests are not granted, but if preceded with the appropriate disclaimer nobody objects.

    I'll be the first to admit that the unpublished, undisclosed factors might play a part in these situations. All three of these cases are ones that receive some handsome revenues from my influences. It's probably not coincidental that DL does not get much actual revenue from me although AF?KL do, and oddly my special treatment came from AF, where I am not a members rather than DL where I am Diamond. Oddly most of my DL revenue comes on 006 tickets but not on DL metal. This just conceivably could be jackplum's logic in place, or just might be random chance.
     
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