The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for July 24-July 31, 2016
The briefing in brief: Southwest Airlines shows how to delay flights and still win friends. Alaska Airlines adds three transcontinental routes from Newark. American implements a series of big AAdvantage devaluations. Four U.S. airlines get daytime flights to Tokyo/Haneda. And more.
Southwest Shows How to Win Back Customers While Delaying Flyers
It's been hellacious for Southwest Airlines flyers after a still-unexplained computer meltdown on Wednesday (July 20). Yet despite ongoing problems, Southwest has generated substantial good will from the very travelers they disappointed. Which goes to show that most flyers will forgive and forget if you back apologies with cash on the barrel. Southwest's computer meltdown on Wednesday afternoon--chief executive Gary Kelly admitted it was an internal failure not due to suppliers or outside factors--immediately created long airport lines, massive delays and extensive cancellations. With both Southwest.com and airport kiosks down, Southwest on Wednesday ended up cancelling about 14 percent of its flights and running just 47.9 percent on-time. Then it got worse, according to FlightStats.com. Southwest on Thursday (July 21) managed to keep only 34.8 percent of its flights on schedule while canceling 22.6 percent of operations. It was little better on Friday (July 22), with just 36.3 percent of flights on-time and 12.9 percent of operations dumped. Things returned to something resembling normal yesterday (July 23), although the airline still cancelled 4 percent of its flights and only managed to keep 62 percent of the others on schedule. But Southwest simultaneously went on a charm and cash offensive. Travelers hit with delays found an unalloyed apology from Kelly in their email--along with a virtually unrestricted 50 percent off voucher for flights booked by October 31 and flown by January 31. "I used one [on Saturday] and saved $400," one JoeSentMe member said. Another added: "Southwest may not have first class, but Gary Kelly is all class in my opinion."
American Airlines Says "You Get a Devaluation! You Get a Devaluation!"
American Airlines switches to a revenue-based mileage-accrual system on August 1 and, like United and Delta before it, snuck an approximately 20 percent devaluation into the American AAdvantage formula. But it hardly stops there. If you're flying on partner airlines such as British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, your mileage earnings will be substantially reduced if the flights aren't booked as an AA code-share. One example: H class fares on British Airways, which earn 100 percent of flown miles until July 31, will earn just 50 percent of miles flown starting August 1. Also cut: American Admirals club privileges for Citi Prestige cardholders. That diminution is effective next July. But wait, there's more bad news. Starting tomorrow (July 25), American raises the price of Admirals Club membership. The new fees are listed here.
Cathay Pacific will soon offer a credit card for U.S. travelers. The Visa-branded card will be issued by Synchrony Financial, good for travelers who have already exhausted their ability to grab a new Amex- or Chase-branded card. Details of the new Cathay card haven't been announced, but it's a logical move since the Hong Kong-based airline now has six U.S. gateways: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York/Kennedy, Newark and Boston.
Alaska Airlines Plans a Big Transcon Expansion--at Newark
If you have any doubt that competitors look at United Airlines as the 90-pound weakling among the 800-pound gorillas, consider the latest move from Alaska Airlines. It's planning a big build-up at Newark Airport, United's major East Coast hub. Freed from slot restrictions and populated with a lot of disaffected United flyers, Newark looks like relatively easy pickings to Alaska. Alaska already flies from Newark to its own Seattle-Tacoma hub, but three new nonstops are on the way. Starting November 10, there'll be a daily flight to Alaska's Portland, Oregon, hub. On November 21, Alaska will add a nonstop to San Diego, long a market underserved from the New York area. On March 12, Alaska will add a daily flight to San Jose, which is slowly growing as a Bay Area alternative to San Francisco. Alaska caps it off on May 15 with a third daily flight on the existing EWR-SEA run. All routes will operate with Boeing 737s from Newark's somewhat less chaotic (if distinctly unglamorous) Terminal A.
Dublin Airport gets a much-needed lounge in the U.S. customs and immigration pre-clearance area. 51st and Green is located in Terminal 2 beside the U.S. departure gates, situated after travelers pass through U.S. Customs. Open to business class customers of Aer Lingus, Delta, American and United airlines as well as card-carrying members of those airlines' club networks, 51st and Green is operated by Dublin Airport itself.
London/Heathrow Airport has a new lounge. Sort of. Club Millesime, located inside the Sofitel Hotel attached to Terminal 5, is now available to Priority Pass and Lounge Club cardholders even if they aren't guests. Complete details are here.
Dickinson, North Dakota, the shale oil boomtown that has fallen on hard times as oil prices plunged, will keep its air service for the time being. United previously announced that its commuter division would drop flights to Denver on September 27. But the Transportation Department this week ordered United to keep flying the Dickinson-Denver route until it can find a replacement under the Essential Air Service program.
There'll Be Five Daytime Routes to Tokyo/Haneda From U.S. Airlines
After months of bureaucratic wrangling both here and in Japan, four U.S. carriers will get daytime routes into Tokyo's close-in Haneda Airport. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines will both fly from Los Angeles. Delta will also get to fly from its Minneapolis hub to Haneda. (Expect Delta to promptly dump its MSP and LAX flights to distant Tokyo/Narita.) United Airlines has been approved for a San Francisco-Haneda run. Hawaiian Airlines, which already won approval for a Kona-Haneda flight, will also get to fly Honolulu-Haneda. Hawaiian is expected to alternate the Honolulu and Kona flights. The awards from the U.S. Transportation department become effective on October 30, when Haneda officially opens for U.S. flights arriving between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Air Canada is reinstating its Montreal-San Juan flights. The seasonal service will operate on Saturdays between December 17 and April 22 using Airbus A319s. Air Canada last flew the route in 2013.
Singapore Airlines is giving up on its quixotic Houston/Intercontinental to Moscow run, once seen to be viable due to the cities' energy businesses. But Singapore says it'll replace Moscow with a nonstop between Houston and Manchester, England. That route, which launches October 30, is equally odd, though. U.S. carriers are hurriedly trimming flights to Britain because the weak U.K. dollar is depressing tourism to the United States and the Brexit may depress business travel demand. Singapore says it'll run five weekly flights to Manchester, the gateway to Northern England, and the plane will then continue on to Singapore.
Hotels by Any Other Name ...
The relentless growth of major hotel chains isn't being done just with new construction. There's a whole lot of conversion, too. Not just hotels changing brands, but existing buildings being recast as lodging operations. This week, for example, Hilton has converted the former Chaparral Suites in downtown Phoenix into a 312-room Embassy Suites. And the former Portofino hotel in San Diego has been converted to a 378-room property called the "Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Mission Valley Stadium." Go ahead, plug that into your GPS. I dare ya. Meanwhile, Starwood has converted a former independent property in Virginia Beach, Virginia, into a 99-room Four Points. Over at InterContinental, the chain has split one of its existing hotels--the Crowne Plaza at 590 Peachtree Street in Atlanta--into two properties. The Crowne Plaza name remains on 360 newly renovated rooms while 102 rooms have been converted into a Staybridge Suites hotel. Finally, now that the Republicans have vacated Cleveland, you might want to check out the city's grand, but long vacant, Board of Education building. It's been restored and repurposed into a 189-room Drury Plaza hotel.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Air France and Delta Air Lines flyers take note: About half of Air France's flight attendants have called a strike between July 27 and August 2. Expect some cancellations and delays. More details are here.
United Airlines says it is working with the TSA to speed up security screening. Like Delta Air Lines and American Airlines before it, United will pay to install automated checkpoint lanes. The installations will start at its Newark hub in the fall, followed by its O'Hare and Los Angeles hubs later this year.
Qatar Airways says it'll take a 10 percent stake in LATAM, the parent company of LAN and TAM airlines of South America. LATAM, like Qatar, is a Oneworld Alliance member. Qatar already holds about a 15 percent stake in the company that owns British Airways and Iberia, two other Oneworld members.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.