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From dedicated check-in desks to chauffeured cars, here are the perks Big Tech enjoys for spending hundreds of millions on air travel each year

Thomas Pallini   

From dedicated check-in desks to chauffeured cars, here are the perks Big Tech enjoys for spending hundreds of millions on air travel each year
  • Companies that spend millions of dollars on air travel are given incredible perks from airlines.
  • One such perk is top-tier frequent flyer status that comes with free upgrades, lounge access, and chauffeurs.

Loyalty has its perks, especially when loyalty means spending hundreds of millions of dollars on airline tickets every year.

Business travel is a leading revenue source for airlines and the top corporate spenders are frequently given extra benefits in exchange for their continued business. Some of the perks go way beyond what even the most frequent individual traveler could ever hope to receive.

Tech companies are among the top spenders on airline travel given as Big Tech giants have offices and facilities around the world. China, for example, is a top destination for Silicon Valley-based firms like Apple.

United Airlines, in 2018, revealed that Apple was buying 50 business class seats every day on flights to Shanghai, China. Apple's business with United at the time was worth more than $150 million in revenue.

Airlines, however, lost a big chunk of that revenue during the pandemic as international borders started to close in January 2020. Cost-minded leisure travelers tend not to spend as much as business flyers and are less likely to pay for premium cabin travel or costly last-minute fares when vacationing.

When big business does return to the skies, these are the perks that will likely await them.

Expedited access to elite status

Employees that travel enough will often earn elite status with an airline that gives them extra privileges when flying.

"The basic idea is you get to bypass a lot of the hassles," Brett Snyder, founder of the aviation blog CrankyFlyer, told Insider.

Acquiring elite status requires loyalty to a particular airline to the tune of a few thousand dollars in purchased tickets and tens of thousands of miles flown. But airlines can also offer elite status memberships to corporate travelers as a "sweetener" in a contract even before the first flight, Snyder said.

Most of the perks will come from having that elite status but airlines can still go above and beyond for top corporate clients.

Dedicated check-in lanes

For some companies, spending millions of dollars on travel means never having to wait in line at certain airports. At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for example, Delta Air Lines has dedicated check-in desks for Amazon and Microsoft employees.

While check-in counters are becoming obsolete given improvements to self-serve kiosks and airline mobile applications, employees can use them to quickly check their bags or have airline staff assist with any flight issues.

The scheme isn't replicated at every Delta airport for Microsoft and Amazon employees but they will still likely have access to priority check-in areas. Business travelers often earn elite status on the airlines they frequent and can often use priority check-in lanes as a result, especially when traveling in a premium cabin, as Insider found when testing out the lowest tier of Delta's elite status.

Some US airlines have private check-in areas altogether for elite status holders and premium cabin travelers, away from the main check-in desks, such as Delta's Sky Priority check-in area at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Access to invite-only programs

While elite status is a common perk of frequent business travel, the highest echelons of those programs are reserved for an airline's top spenders. Attaining membership in the unlisted programs is the dream of any frequent traveler and top corporate clients may be given an allotment of memberships for their top travelers.

American Airlines has ConciergeKey, United Airlines has Global Services, and Delta Air Lines has 360°.

"These are highly coveted programs, there's a mystery to them," Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.

Even if a member of these programs purchases the cheapest economy ticket on a given flight, they will still reap the benefits of complimentary lounge access, priority check-in lanes, early boarding, and a host of other secretive amenities that airlines won't discuss publicly.

Airlines have different requirements for who is invited into their programs and limits on the number of memberships they can distribute each year, according to Harteveldt. Companies seeking to get memberships for their flyers would have to spend a significant amount on yearly air travel, with spend requirements varying from city to city.

"Delta 360° is an annual, invitation-only program for our top SkyMiles Members, offering an exclusive suite of benefits and services even beyond Diamond Medallion Status," Delta writes on its website. "An invitation into Delta 360° is based on your overall investment with Delta. If you're selected to join, we'll contact you directly."

A certain number of memberships are then given to corporate travel managers to distribute to employees, Harteveldt explained, with airlines being incredibly mindful of how many are allocated.

Lounge access

Airline lounges are exclusive hideaways that offer private and comfortable seating when waiting for a flight, as well as complimentary snacks, beverages, and food items. Corporate customers flying internationally in business class will often have access to these lounges included in their tickets.

Airlines will also give complimentary lounge memberships to their most frequent flyers. On American, for example, executive platinum status holders can choose to receive an Admirals Club membership as one of their free perks.

ConciergeKey, Global Services, and Delta 360° members also receive complimentary lounge access for their respective airlines, according to, Harteveldt, Upgraded Points, and SFGate.

Airside transfers in a luxury Porsche, General Motors, or Mercedes Benz vehicles

Members of the ConciergeKey, Global Services, and Delta 360° programs need not worry about running from one flight to another when passing through an airline hub with a tight connection. Rather, they'll be escorted down to the ramp and driven to their next flight in a luxury vehicle.

American will chauffeur passengers in a luxury General Motors vehicle while United transfers its passengers in a Mercedes-Benz and Delta in a Porsche, according to Upgraded Points. [not sure this blog is reputable enough to cite on its own] Cadillac was formerly American's vehicle manufacturer of choice for airside transfers until the switch was made to GM, the airline confirmed to View from the Wing. [caddy is owned by GM — so need different wording here]

It's a "surprise and delight" perk, Snyder said, that isn't guaranteed for everyone with a short layover. Airlines may also be more accommodating to passengers on delayed flights by holding their connections, Harteveldt said, depending on the customer and corporate client.

Priority Boarding

Elite status holders are often among the first passengers to board a flight, whether they're seated in a premium cabin or not. ConciergeKey members, for example, can board ahead of first class customers and active duty military members even if they've booked a basic economy ticket, according to American's boarding priority list.

Early boarding gives flyers first pick at overhead bin space and more time to get settled before the rest of the plane boards.

Better opportunities for first class upgrades

Complimentary upgrades to first class are among the most valuable perks for an elite status holder. A single upgrade can be worth more than the price of a ticket and instantly elevate a travel experience, especially on longer flights.

In many frequent flyer programs, any elite status holder can request an upgrade and they'll accommodate if there is a seat available. But oftentimes, there ends up being people that don't make the cut because there aren't enough seats available for all elite status holders.

Corporate travelers, however, have a better shot at upgrades because airlines consider a variety of factors when determining who to upgrade. The level of elite status and how much a traveler's company spends with the airline in a given year are also taken into consideration.

"Generally, if you have all things being equal, the person who works for a large corporate account that may have a major business relationship with an airline would likely get the nod for the upgrade ahead of the person who is an individual traveler," Harteveldt said.

An airline also might give a certain number of upgrade coupons to a corporate client that can be used to get a premium cabin seat, Harteveldt added.

Drink coupons and free snacks

Not all of what corporate clients get are grand gestures, however, and sometimes a free drink can make the difference. Coupons for a complimentary alcoholic beverage are sometimes included in a corporate contract, according to Harteveldt, and offered on certain fares geared towards business travelers.

Airlines like Delta and American also offer complimentary alcoholic beverages in their extra legroom sections, which companies may be willing to purchase for their employees. Southwest Airlines' "Business Select" fare also comes with a free drink coupon.

Some US airlines aren't currently offering alcohol in regular economy sections until the pandemic subsides but the perk will likely return.

Some airlines also might offer complimentary meals or snacks to corporate flyers even if they're sitting in economy on domestic flights. American offers Executive Platinum status holders a complimentary snack and an alcoholic drink in economy, Snyder said.

Dedicated reservation lines

Airline hold times have markedly increased as airlines sought to shed their staff during the pandemic. Travelers can find themselves waiting on hold for hours.

Elite status holders, however, have special phone numbers to use when calling the reservations desk with shorter hold times, and corporate travelers with elite status can also use them. Some companies were so important to airlines, however, that special phone lines were created just for their employees.

"In the past, some airlines would create basically special toll-free numbers for their largest corporate accounts where the employees would call in and get a dedicated sub-group of agents within a reservations office so that they were served faster," Harteveldt said.

Harteveldt noted that the perk likely doesn't exist anymore and those phone lines have been merged into the dedicated lines for top frequent flyers. "If you put somebody into the higher tiers of a frequent flyer program, they're going to get expedited service anyway," he said.

Travel agents, however, including those with corporate accounts, still have lines to many airline reservation desks, Snyder said. "It's for the travel planners, the people that are doing the work," he said.

Free or discounted extra legroom seats

Not all companies pay to fly their employees in a premium cabin on every flight but airlines can help make the economy experience more enjoyable by offering favorable rates on extra legroom seats, according to Harteveldt. Delta's "Comfort+" seats, for example, offer extra legroom as well as complimentary alcohol and premium snacks.

Some airlines also offer complimentary upgrades into extra legroom sections for their elite status holders.

Airlines also block certain regular economy seats that don't offer extra legroom but have a more preferable location in the cabin. Snyder says that corporate clients may be given advance access to those seats ahead of the public.

Waived checked bag fees

A basic perk of earning elite status is getting a complimentary checked baggage allowance, which can save travelers and their companies money when a trip requires checked baggage. Companies may also be able to negotiate lower fees for checked baggage, Harteveldt said.

More flexibility for corporate travelers

Many US airlines have abandoned change fees for domestic flights but tickets can still be restrictive. The nature of corporate travel, however, requires additional leeway that airlines are willing to give to high-spending clients.

"You get much more flexibility as a corporate [client]," Snyder said, noting that some airlines have a system for clients where points can be redeemed for perks. Common perks include things like name changes on tickets, flight changes, and converting non-refundable tickets into refundable tickets.


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