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United has just launched a VIP service available to anyone willing to pay when flying via its Newark and Chicago hubs called United Exclusive Assistance.
With Exclusive Assistance you have your choice of three VIP Meet & Assist services:
- Departure service: A concierge will meet you curbside on arrival, handle your check-in, escort you through security, and guide you to your gate or to the United Club if you have access or pay for access. They’ll also help rebook your flight if it gets delayed or cancelled.
- Connection service: A concierge will meet you at the jet bridge with a sign displaying your name, guide you through the terminal, and to your gate or the United Club if you have access or pay for access, as well as assist if you need to be rebooked.
- Arrival service: A concierge will meet you at the jet bridge with a sign, assist you with bags at baggage claim, and escort you to your ride from the airport.
All of the services are available in multiple languages, so this can be worth it if you have relatives or business associates who don’t speak English and aren’t used to navigating United’s terminals.
It’s also helpful if you have small kids to handle, or want to make sure you’ll get through security quickly. While not explicitly noted or promised in the Exclusive Assistance description, services like this typically involve the concierge taking you to the very front of the security line where the concierge presents his/her badge to the TSA agent, letting you go ahead of other passengers.
United plans to expand the service beyond Newark and Chicago, but hasn’t specified any dates.
What does it cost?
Some sample checks show that a standard departure, arrival, or connection service costs $250 for one person, $325 for 2 adults, and $400 for 3 adults. A family package of 2 adults and 2 kids runs $350.
You can only book it if you’re flying on United, though there doesn’t appear to be any back-end linking of your United reservation with this service.
This service is not provided by real United agents. Instead, it’s white labeled for United by a contractor, Global Airport Concierge, which has been offering a similar service for years at most major airports around the world. With the United version, the agents will presumably wear uniforms that are more United-like, have United branding on your name card, and be known to actual United staff as a partner of the airline, so United agents will probably know to help out passengers with a concierge more quickly.
In fact, you can book a concierge service from the same company at a 15% discount to the United prices by going direct and paying with a MasterCard. It might not be United branded, but the general benefits will be the same, and you can utilize the service at many more airports.
How does it compare?
American has long had Five Star Service with similar benefits at its New York – Kennedy, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles airports.
It also costs $250 for one adult, $325 for 2, but for a family runs $425, so it is more expensive on that front.
While United Exclusive Assistance is available to *any* United passenger who pays, American’s Five Star Service is only available if you’re riding up front in First or Business Class.
But Five Star Service does add the use of the exclusive Flagship check-in area, which is equivalent to United’s Global Services check-in. The United version only promises priority check-in, and it’s unclear whether that includes the Global Services check-in lobby.
Five Star also includes Admirals Club access, while United’s Exclusive Assistance charges you $50 per person for access.
So you get more from Five Star, though it’s not as widely available. Five Star also uses contract agents who wear vests that make them look like American Airlines employees. They’ll typically walk up to the counter and get an agent’s attention when you need rebooking, and will escort you to the front of the security line.