The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for February 14-28, 2019
The briefing in brief: Airbus kills Airbus A380, the aircraft that never made commercial sense. Marriott launches a new name (Bonvoy) and another devaluation. Tel Aviv gets more flights. Sea-Tac juggles dining options, boots Anthony's, Vino Volo. American continues JFK pulldown.
Airbus A380: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu
Airbus closed its books today (February 14) on its money-losing A380 aircraft and said the assembly line will close in 2021. To say the double-decked leviathan was doomed from the start isn't a second guess. I suggested as much a dozen years ago when I reviewed the A380's first proving flight. No one was buying the plane then. Few have purchased a copy since--and no U.S. airline ever operated one. The super-jumbo's greatest asset--carrying as many as 800 passengers--was its biggest flaw. Airlines want twin-engine planes sized to carry a reasonable number of flyers on key runs and still be efficient enough operate on so-called "long, thin routes" where carriers gamble a market can support one nonstop a day. The four-engine A380 is neither. Its massive capacity means airlines cannot run the frequent flights that business travelers desire on busy routes and it isn't appropriate for runs that struggle to fill a 250-seat Dreamliner. Only 234 A380s have been built despite development costs estimated at $25 billion or more. (In contrast, Boeing already has built at least 780 Dreamliners even though the B787 didn't start flying until three years after the A380.) The writing has been on the wall for the A380 for years, but the end came in recent days when Qantas bailed on an order and the plane's biggest buyer, Emirates, drastically reduced the size of its future commitment.
If Only Naming It Bonvoy Was the Worst Thing Marriott Did With the Program This Week
Marriott officially launched Bonvoy this week as the new brand for the merged Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs. If only that was the worst thing Marriott did this week. Its annual revision of hotel award pricing also dropped and it is another fairly massive devaluation. Bottom line: Price increases outnumber award price reductions about ten to one. That doesn't include previously announced properties moving into the newly created Category 8 and the switch to high/low seasonal pricing that will push some award costs to 100,000 points a night. New award pricing go into effect on March 5, so check the chart to see if you should book now for future stays at existing rates. Marriott has yet to announce when the peak/off-peak pricing structure begins.
World of Hyatt has also announced its annual award repricing. Its changes take effect on March 18. About a third of Hyatt properties change price are almost equally balanced between increases and decreases. But a disproportionate number of increases are at the upper level of Hyatt's chart. One dollop of good news: No Hyatt property moved into the chain's new 40,000-point-per-night Category 8, essentially created for some Small Luxury Hotels that recently joined the program. And a small silver lining: Three New York properties drop to Category 5 from Category 6 as do the Andaz hotels in London and Singapore. Two Hyatt hotels in Hawaii each go up one category, however.
More New Nonstop and One-Stop Options for Tel Aviv Flyers
Even with some recent route and frequency additions, U.S. carriers don't fly enough flights or seats to Tel Aviv. Which is why these new options are worth noting. El Al adds a seasonal route between Orlando and TLV on July 2. It will only be weekly through August 20 using Boeing 777-200ERs, but every little bit helps. Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic is launching a route between its London/Heathrow hub and TLV starting on September 25. The daily flight will operate with A330-300 aircraft configured with business class, premium economy and coach. Virgin is now essentially a vassal of Delta Air Lines these days, so there should be good flight and price combinations using Delta, too. Finally, Alitalia says it will resume flights between Milan/Malpensa and Tel Aviv. There will be five flights a week starting July 29 and six beginning September 7. Airbus A320s are scheduled for the run, which isn't great news since there is limited (and skimpy) premium seating. Alitalia hasn't flown MXP-TLV in nine years.
Norwegian Air continues its cost-cutting and the latest casualty is the carrier's flights to the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The narrowbody service has been from New York/Kennedy, Fort Lauderdale and Montreal. Flights end on March 31.
Sea-Tac Overhauls Food and Beverage Operations and An Old Standby Gets Booted
Seattle-Tacoma has a decent reputation among business travelers for culinary options, not the least because there was an airport branch of Anthony's, a staple of the Pacific Northwest dining scene. But Anthony's is one of more than a dozen Sea-Tac dining spots that have lost the bidding for space as the airport rejuvenates its F&B offerings. Besides Anthony's--which closes on March 31--other losers include Vino Volo, the Seattle Taproom and the Vintage Washington Wine Bar. New dining spots already open include a vegetarian restaurant (Cafe Floret), a full-service restaurant from Seattle chef Kathy Casey and a branch of the Qdoba chain. On the way are a fast-casual Asian diner, a new seafood joint from Casey, a branch of local favorite Pallino's, a build-your-own salad place and a Japanese restaurant.
Dallas/Fort Worth is now home to the first airport branch of Bar Louie, a growing national chain of gastropubs. It's located in Terminal D by Gate D22.
New York/Kennedy flyers continue to watch American Airlines' hub contract. The latest pulldown: twice-daily flights to Orlando. Service ends in May.
Rapid City, South Dakota, gets two new flights thanks to United Airlines' endless regional-jet expansion. There'll be two weekly flights to United hubs Los Angeles and San Francisco between June 22 and September 1.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
InterContinental Hotels continues to buy up small, luxury competitors. Last year it was Regent Hotels. This week it is Six Senses, a group of more than a dozen luxury getaways, most of them in Asia. The purchase price is $300 million.
Cornwall Newquay Airport in the Southeast of England gets its first connection to London/Heathrow in more than 20 years. Flybe, a British regional carrier, begins four daily flights on March 31.
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