UPDATE | Being met at the airport gate, having someone from the airline keep an eye on your connection, fast tracking your way through customs and immigration on arrival into the United States, and an escort through the airport -- how much is that worth to you, business traveller?
Qantas' main US partner American Airlines offers a Five Star Service VIP airport assistance program, which has undergone a number of changes recently -- including a sliding scale of pricing depending on the airport you're using, varying between US$125 and US$275. (That's gone up from a flat-rate $120 worldwide.)
For the money, you get a number of different VIP services, depending on whether you're connecting, arriving or departing.
How it works
Let's say you're arriving at LAX on one of Qantas' flights, connecting to another flight in the US. (You need to be on at least one AA flight in your journey to be eligible to buy Five Star Service.)
Before you land, the airline will be keeping an eye on your connection in case you need to change flight. You'll be met at your arrival gate, "expedited" through security, helped with your bags, escorted through customs and immigration, shown into the Admirals' Club lounge, helped with any rebookings if your flight is late, and then escorted onto pre-boarding for your onward flight.
Business travellers will be most interested in the "escort" through customs and immigration, which sounds similar to the escorts for wheelchair passengers and unaccompanied minors, who get to jump the queue and go straight through the Air Crew/Diplomatic lane.
The "pro-active flight monitoring and priority re-accommodation during delays" (new since we last checked up on the service) is also a draw -- no more waiting in the interminable queue at the transit desk while racking up the global roaming data on your phone to figure out what your options are.
How much it costs
Costs for the service vary depending on what airport you're using (prices in USD):
- $125: Los Angeles LAX, Miami MIA, New York Kennedy JFK, New York LaGuardia LGA
- $200: Boston BOS, Chicago O'Hare ORD, Dallas/Fort Worth DFW, San Francisco SFO, Washington Reagan National DCA
- $275: Buenos Aires EZE, London Heathrow LHR, Milan Malpensa MXP, Tokyo Narita NRT, Sao Paolo Guarulhos GRU
Additional adult travellers are $75, while the kids 17 and under are $50 each.
Going for the Five Star experience
Australian Business Traveller asked American Airlines for clarification on exactly what travellers arriving on Qantas flights into Los Angeles LAX and Dallas DFW can expect, since a key part of the value in the service is being able to jump the often interminable customs and immigration queues.
An airline spokesperson told us: "Five Star Representatives must follow local customs and immigration procedures. In certain markets, we have maintained the ability to take a Five Star guest through a shorter line to expedite the process. In other markets, Five Star representatives are not allowed to be with the customer while they speak with immigration officers, but can rejoin to assist with luggage retrieval. We follow Customs and Immigration procedures in DFW and LAX, and are not able to elaborate on specific details."
It's unfortunate that American can't guarantee you Five Star experience, but we deduce that their hands are somewhat tied by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) by the official line: "Escort through Customs and Immigration will be provided when American Airlines has access to these airport secured areas."
American's final word on the subject is:
"Five Star’s goal is to provide a smooth and hassle free experience clearing local customs and immigration, but cannot expedite or bypass local authority restrictions."
If you're sold on the concept and don't mind a bit of ambiguity as to which line you'll be in, you can book via email to FiveStar.Service@aa.com or call +1 877-578-2702 between 5am and midnight Dallas time, which is from 8pm-3pm Sydney time.
When would you use the Five Star Service? Is it worth it for your money? Sound off in the comments below!
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.