The secret elite status programs of airlines

The invitation-only VIP airline programs that could teach MI5 a thing or two about secrecy.

The exact details of these airline’s secret elite status programs are under wraps. Image credit: iStock

As Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

Most times, the club you want to be part of is the one that’s hardest to get into and that’s so exclusive no-one knows about it. And if there’s an industry that knows how to be exclusive it’s the airline business. There are a handful of elite private airline programs out there rarely spoken about, but they do exist. They aren’t ones you can accrue points for, and you’ll have to work hard to just find them on the airlines’ websites. The only way you can gain access is by invitation.

So if you spend more time in the air than you do on the ground, prepare yourself for the following airline clubs, who might come calling…

Qantas Chairman’s Lounge – secret lounges in major airports

Visitors to the Qantas First Class lounge at many Australian international airports will know they are pretty swish, but there is said to be another lounge nestled within these airports that’s even more exclusive – the Chairman’s Lounge.

These private members’ clubs can be found at the international airports in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth and are considered to be so exclusive that only 1,000 people are said to know where they are. So how do you get in? You have to be invited.

Members of the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge reportedly include government ministers and celebrities, such as Qantas ambassador John Travolta. The perks include free upgrades, access to any pre-blocked seats, entry to Qantas First Class lounges worldwide and use of their spas. But you need to stay in Qantas’s good books, as membership to the Chairman’s Lounge only lasts for two years.

Get access to the spas at Qantas First Class lounges worldwide. Image credit: Ridofranz/iStock
Get access to the spas at Qantas First Class lounges worldwide. Image credit: Ridofranz/iStock

Emirates iO – invitations to Emirates sporting events

Why be a VIP, when you can be a VVVVip? Emirates guests who spend up to 1 million USD per year on Emirates flights or take more than 50 business or first-class flights with the airline are thought to be considered for this invitation-only status.

If invited, it’s believed your iO card will be hand-delivered to your home by a member of the Emirates staff, giving you the perks of being personally whisked through security and given private limousine transfers from the terminal to the plane. It is understood you can take up to 10 guests with you into any Emirates lounge and you’re guaranteed a business-class seat on any Emirates flight.

If you are a fan of football, tennis, rugby, Formula 1, horse racing, cricket or golf, this is where the membership is worth its weight in gold, or should we say platinum? It is understood Emirates iO members can be offered a free invitation to Emirates sponsored events.

American Airlines ConciergeKey – the one George Clooney has

When George Clooney’s character was attempting to win over the high-flying woman played by Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”, he pulled out his graphite American Airlines ConciergeKey card. This invitation-only club is a level above Executive Platinum and is said to be given to high revenue customers and decision makers with high spending power, as well as, we presume, dashing Hollywood celebrities.

When members are handed their black card, it is understood they can expect escorts through airport terminals, upgrades, Cadillac transfers on the tarmac, and access to American Airlines’ Flagship Lounges. They can also gift Executive Platinum status to one other person. So if you’re finding it hard to clock up those air miles to give your status a boost, all you need to do is find a high-flying friend.

United Chairman’s Circle – a handful of members

Under United – the Chairman’s Circle, you’ve got a better chance of an upgrade and can order up a Mercedes to whisk you across the tarmac should you have a tight connection.

While the Global Services membership is something some would give their teeth for, before United merged with Continental Airlines, it offered the Chairman’s Circle. While there are four million milers who have reached the 100,000 air miles needed for a Global Services membership, it is believed there are just a few hundred members in the Chairman’s Circle.

This membership was reportedly offered by United’s CEO to heads of companies who spent at least 5 million USD a year with the airline. The spouse of the member would receive a Global Services membership, perish the thought. While we jest, the services appear to be pretty similar. Chairman’s Circle seems to have all of the Global Services membership offerings as well as a meet and greet service and dedicated reservations team.

British Airways Executive Club Premier – tarmac transfers by Jaguar

It should come as no surprise that the country who created James Bond has managed to keep its high-flying club top secret. Sitting one notch above British Airways Gold Elite membership is the British Airways Executive Club Premier.

While many of its perks aren’t revealed, what we do know is this invitation-only club is designed to make its members’ trips run as seamlessly as possible. It is believed the British Airways Executive Club Premier team will fast-track its members through airport security, promise to help them reach their flight—even if they have to delay a flight slightly so there are no missed connections—will upgrade members from business to first-class instantly and will whisk them from the lounge to their waiting aircraft.


Claire Turrell

Freelance journalist Claire Turrell has lived and worked in London, Dubai, and Singapore. When she’s not busy writing, she is riding motorbikes off-road in Cambodia, diving in Oman or learning Muay Thai in Thailand.