The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for March 16 to 30, 2017
The briefing in brief: American joins United in adding lots more O'Hare flights. Alaska Air bulks up in San Diego, too. Marriott super-elites get United Gold status. Air Canada adds two new transborder routes. Huge losses at Turkish Airlines and Air India. United's Polaris seat woes.
American Airlines: Any Hub United Can Grow We Can Grow Bigger ...
United Airlines is reversing years of domestic route cuts by bulking up at its hubs. As we explained two weeks ago, the big winner is Chicago/O'Hare, United's hometown hub. That move engendered an immediate reply from American Airlines, perennial Number 2 at O'Hare. To match United's 47 new O'Hare roundtrips, American is adding about as many. Effective June 2, there'll be a daily roundtrip to Meridian, Mississippi. A larger tranche of flights comes on July 5 when American adds two daily roundtrips to Appleton, Wisconsin; Birmingham, Alabama; and Colorado Springs. There'll also be daily roundtrips to Bozeman, Montana, and Boise, Idaho. Also new will be three daily roundtrips to Greensboro, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina. (Flights will be operated with regional aircraft, many of them one-class, first-generation commuter jets, too.) If this sounds like silly, tit-for-tat one-upsmanship, you need to understand the background. American is run by Doug Parker. The new president of United is Scott Kirby, Parker's former aide de camp at American, US Airways and America West. Both believe that airlines make money by driving us to connect through hubs. When they ran US Air, for example, 98 percent of the carrier's flights ran through its hubs. Do not expect United or American to run differently. They'll fly you anywhere you want to go, so long as you connect somewhere first.
Alaska Airlines Will Bulk Up in San Diego, Too
Alaska Airlines is a distant fifth in San Diego, where Southwest Airlines controls nearly 40 percent of the traffic. But with the Seattle-based carrier trying to leverage its San Francisco network with its Virgin America subsidiary, it only makes sense to try to grow in Southern California, too. On August 27, Alaska will launch nonstops from San Diego to Omaha and Austin. On October 18, it will begin flights to Albuquerque. November 18 brings flights to Minneapolis. And on December 15, Alaska will add flights from San Diego to Kansas City and St. Louis. All routes will operate with 76-seat EMB-175s configured with 12 first class seats, 12 premium economy chairs and 52 coach seats. These new flights are in addition to the Baltimore/Washington and Sacramento flights that Alaska launched from San Diego this week.
Marriott Platinum Premiers Now Get United MileagePlus Premier Status
If you've reached Platinum Premier status in Marriott Rewards, the hotel chain's deal with United Airlines now gets you MileagePlus Gold status. That's not much, but it's better than a punch in the gut, I guess. MileagePlus Golds can reserve Economy Plus seats at booking, receive domestic upgrades at 48 hours before departure and two free checked bags. MileagePlus Gold also translates to Star Alliance Gold, which offers international airport club access. More details are here.
American Express is trimming Centurion Club access benefits for Platinum cardholders. Effective March 30, you'll only be permitted to bring two guests free or charge.
Best Western Rewards is upping benefits for members. Free nights now count toward elite status. Gold elites now receive room upgrades (don't count on them) and a welcome amenity of bonus points or beverages. And the top-tier elites receive a 10 percent rebate on the cost of award nights. More information is here.
Air Canada Pulls Some Transborder Routes From the Dead Zone Airlines launch and drop routes all the time, of course, but it's rare that runs abandoned for years get a second life. But Air Canada is feeling cocky these days, so it's reviving routes long assigned to the dead zone. Example one: Montreal-Washington/Dulles. Air Canada last flew the route six years ago. Starting May 1, however, once-daily service resumes using Air Canada Express regional jets. Even more surprising is the return of Boston-Vancouver nonstops. Air Canada dropped the transcon back in 2005. But it'll be back between June 23 and September 4 this summer. Air Canada will use an Airbus A319 on the run.
American Airlines has won government approval for a six-month delay of its Los Angeles-Beijing route. American claims the Chinese government has denied it commercially viable slots at Beijing Capital Airport. The U.S. Transportation Department says American can wait until September 16 before starting the route.
Air India is losing $100 million a year on its U.S. routes, according to the analysis of local media. Biggest loser? Air India flights from Newark to Mumbai with continuing service to Ahmedabad. About a third of Air India's total U.S. losses come on that one route.
March Madness: Marriott Keeps Churning Out the Limited-Service Hotels
It's nearly impossible to overstate the speed at which Marriott is adding hotels. Yes, it acquired Starwood through a merger last year. But Marriott's own organic growth--focused especially in its limited-service brands--is mind-bending. Consider this week's new additions: a 106-room SpringHill Suites in Tulsa; a 105-room Fairfield Inn in Uncasville, Connecticut, near the casinos; a 164-room Moxy near London/City Airport; a 177-room Courtyard in Redwood City, California; and TownePlace Suites branches in Huntsville, Alabama, and Cranberry Township in suburban Pittsburgh. Marriott says it is opening one TownePlace and one Fairfield Inn every five days or so.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
One more time: travel and politics are intimately entwined. One more time: You need look no further than Turkish Airlines for proof. The fast-growing carrier earned a profit of a billion dollars in 2015, but 2016 was a mess due to terrorist incidents in Istanbul; a foiled coup against Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan; a purge of Turkish Airlines employees after the coup; and plunging tourism caused at least partially by Erdogan's increasing bellicosity. The upshot: Turkish Airlines lost $682 million in 2016 while most of the rest of the airline industry was wildly profitable.
United Airlines has banked almost all of its supposed revival on Polaris, the carrier's new business class service. The "soft" end of Polaris--food and beverage options, blankets, pillows and the like--rolled out in December to generally fine reviews. But the heart of the service--a better seat--has been slow to appear. The first aircraft with new seats won't be on an international run (San Francisco-Hong Kong) until the end of the month. Then comes one of the Newark-Tel Aviv flights in May. The full rollout of Polaris was due to last four years, but now even that absurdly sluggish timeline is suspect. United's seat supplier, Zodiac, says it is having "industrial issues" at the factory producing Polaris seats. That likely means an even further delay in configuring aircraft with a product United has been pumping relentlessly for months. "We are not happy. Period," United chief executive Oscar Munoz said this week. Imagine how United's long-suffering passengers feel.
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