Airport VIP Meet and Greet, Priority Immigration Just Got a Lot Cheaper

There are premium airport departure, connection and arrival services that you can buy all over the world. Some are offered by airlines, others by airports, and some by third party services. In fact it isn’t even always clear which is which.

  • On arrival this can mean meeting you curbside, escorting you through security and it may include lounge access. You’ll be dropped off at the lounge and collected and escorted to your gate.

  • For connections you can be met on the jetway or at the gate and escorted to your connecting flight. With a long connection this may include lounge access, a shower, and then escort to your connecting gate.

  • On arrival this generally involves being collected at your arriving gate and escorted to immigration where you’ll often skip queues. In the most premium versions of this service it may even mean being met at the aircraft and taken by electric cart through the terminal — or even by car across the tarmac.

I’ve used the JetQuay terminal in Singapore both on arrival and departure when my hotel was selling it at half the price of buying direct.


Jetquay Terminal, Singapore

American Airlines offers “5 Star Service” in 16 airports. Delta has VIP Select. United Airlines puts its branding on the third party Global Airport Concierge service. Bear in mind it may be cheaper to book Global Airport Concierge with a Mastercard for 15% off.

Pricing ranges tremendously, with tarmac transfers in Europe costing as much as $2000 while a simple meet and greet on arrival in Southeast Asia may be $20. What’s new is that services especially in Europe have gotten cheaper.

I’m familiar with Blacklane as a company which connects drivers with travelers via mobile app. These are pre-scheduled rides that can make sense on arrival in lieu of a hotel car, I don’t like to preschedule departures because when I notionally think I ought to leave for the airport when making a booking may vary a lot from the time I actually decide to walk out the door on the day of departure. For departures I prefer Uber or Lyft.

You can also earn miles for your spend with Blacklane.

What I didn’t know is that they also offer an airport concierge program and pricing at many airports is surprisingly good. For instance, being met at your gate and escorted through expedited customs and immigration costs $100 per person at Paris Charles de Gaulle. (Of course you’re likely getting Fast Track immigration if you arrive in business class.)

It’s the same price at London Heathrow and Frankfurt.

Bear in mind though that the U.S. isn’t nearly as easy to work with on a paid, reasonably priced basis. So the $100 they charge doesn’t get you much with international arrivals, though some still may wish to use the service for domestic arrivals and connections.

For international arrivals they note that they meet you after you get through customs so they’re not meeting you at the gate and they aren’t expediting immigration formalities.

I’m not going to want to use them in Bangkok. There I can do a premium arrival service for $21 or $44 where I’m met with an electric cart at current exchange rates.

Blacklane wants $100 per person and doesn’t mention anything about golf cart. So it pays to compare, especially where local options are known to be cheap.

And bear in mind that special services aren’t perfect. Delta VIP Select once left John Legend’s luggage unattendant and it was stolen, so these services aren’t perfect. Of course The Points Guy paid to fly Etihad’s The Residence from New York JFK to Abu Dhabi and the airline forgot to board his carry on which he realized when he went to use his private onboard shower.

Back in 2002 when US Airways filed bankruptcy (for the first time in the previous decade) their management layoffs included the two ‘special services’ VIP staff at Washington’s National airport. The late Senator Ted Kennedy, then a frequent beneficiary of the service (for the DC-Boston Shuttle), intervened by ringing up the President of the airline to make sure they kept the special accommodation. Kennedy at the time claimed his intervention wasn’t about his own personal benefit, but was to “save jobs” — the two jobs, of course, that provided him personal assistance at the airport.

I’m a fan of these offerings, but I like to see them affordable. I think that a meet and greet buggy service at under $50 for 2 people in Bangkok, including assistance from plane through immigration and with baggage claim (with handover to your transportation into the city) is a real value that more travelers would take advantage of if they were aware of the service.

At first world prices though it’s strategically useful to be aware of the option but not something most readers will take advantage of. Still it’s nice to see this option at a lower price than many vendors offer in Europe, and for less than the airlines are offering in the U.S. as well.

(HT: @pcpontificates)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. My college girlfriend’s late father was “Protocol Director” for PanAm at LAX for years and years. His primary job was to shepherd VIPs from car to seat while avoiding the plebes. Back then (before modern security), many times that meant exiting your personal limo plane side and bypassing the terminal entirely.

  2. I’m surprised that they couldn’t do something better at LAX, since the Private Suites has its own CBP area which would be great for clearing Customs in an expedited manner. It’s too bad they couldn’t work something out for customers to use this terminal for clearance.

    With the long lines that I have read about at LHR, it seems like the service could be well-worth the 100 dollars in many instances when arriving there.

  3. My problem with these services is that unless you’ve used one (or know someone who has) at a specific airport before, it’s very difficult to know how much value it adds until after the fact. I paid $300 for VIP arrival (third-party service) in Astana (KZ) last year because I was arriving in the middle of the night after traveling halfway around the world to someplace I’d never been before. I was met at the gate and escorted to a separate lounge for immigration processing which very likely was faster than queuing with everyone else. But then I couldn’t leave the lounge and exit until they retrieved my luggage which took far longer than if I had been at the baggage carousel myself, partly because of the language barrier when asked to describe my bags (I speak very bad Russian and no one spoke English). Then when I was reunited with my bags I was escorted to a different exit door from the other arriving passengers, and as a result it took an additional 15 minutes to find my driver who had been waiting at baggage claim all along. I’m a big believer in going with the flow when traveling, but felt I didn’t receive close to $300 in value from my “VIP” arrival.

  4. Looks as though the price has went up in Bangkok. They also aren’t able to fast track you through unless you are Business or First class.

  5. Can anyone recommend a service that can truly expedite arrival formalities at 1.LHR terminal 3 – 8pm arrival in VS Upper so not sure all that necessary 2.SGN – have used the VIP (for fee) service offered by the Park Hyatt Saigon and it is very VIP and really expedites arrival formalities but not staying at Park Hyatt and not sure what company they use . Any suggestions appreciated .

  6. Any recommendations on a service in Mexico like this? We’re traveling for Christmas to SJD in Y & in April to CUN in F. Would like a minimum of hassle & this sounds like something that might be useful

  7. Maxie Dean, I have used a company called airviplondon before and they’re really good! I used another one in the past but had a few issues with the greeters not turning up on time and not being able to use fast track lanes… but so far these guys have been great, hopefully they keep it up.

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