Frequent Flier VIP: Meet the Guy Who Never Waits at the Airport


"Somebody could fly once a year or 100 times a year," said Billy Sanez, director of advertising and promotion for American Airlines, who worked with the 'Up in the Air' crew. "There's no preset determination for it. It's invitation only. It is our very best customers."

Membership doesn't necessarily guarantee membership for life. Each year, American sends out letters either renewing memberships or not.

"I wouldn't call it a secret society, but it's an exclusive group," Sanez said.

Reaching 10 Million Frequent Flier Miles

In the movie, Clooney's character shows his American Airlines Concierge Key card to a woman he is hitting on at a bar. Her response: I had heard rumors, but I didn't know these really existed.

"This is pretty sexy," she says, picking up the card.

While the Concierge Key program does exist, the movie takes a bit of artistic license with other parts of the services. Clooney's character is seeking to get 10 million frequent flier miles.

"I'd be the seventh person to do it. More people have walked on the moon," he said.

The major airlines refused to divulge how many people have reached that target, but airline officials who were willing to talk -- including from American -- said the number is more than 12, the number who have walked on the moon.

"That line is not accurate," Sanez said.

And while there is some recognition when a passenger hits the 10 million mark, American does not put the traveler's name on the side of a plane or have the person meet the "chief pilot," as the movie claims.

Phillip Dunkelberger is one of those passengers. He currently has more than 11 million miles with American and is a member of Concierge Key. (There are several American AAdvantage members who have more miles.)

He is president and CEO of PGP Corp., a global data security firm. Each year, he is on the road for at least 30 weeks.

Dunkelberger hit 10 million miles about two years ago when flying out of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. At the gate there was an announcement about his milestone and then Dunkelberger was escorted in a mini-ceremony down the ramp to the plane.

Dunkelberger said Concierge Key provides him with unparalleled service and makes him feel looked after.

"I like the fact that you can't qualify for it," he said. "In today's world where airline travel has become a get-on-the-bus kind of thing, that's a real important thing for somebody who's in the air as much as I am and has a lot of choices in business travel being the CEO of a company."

Dunkelberger chooses flights by time and price but, when all things are equal, chooses American because of the service.

He recalls a time he was flying from San Francisco to London and before takeoff somebody got sick. The plane had to be taken out of service and Dunkelberger was going to miss his connection. American rebooked him on a British Airways flight and rushed him to the other terminal to make that flight.

"They literally bent over backward," he said, "went down, pulled my bag off that plane and hand-carried it across the airport to the other airline."

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