The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Business Travel Briefing for January 19-31, 2017
The briefing in brief: What is in your wallet? American invents nine boarding groups (and a secret one). Fear, loathing and delusion at the TSA. Delta adds seven more routes from Sea-Tac. Hyatt buys a chain of resorts. Obama's DOT wants to change fare displays. And more.
What's in Your Wallet? No. Literally. Your Wallet.
The endless debate over "wallet wars" and what cards people use to pay for things is limited by the data. It's impersonal, almost impossible to quantify by interest group or type of customer. But I have a source of real-world data no one else has: your payments for JoeSentMe membership. While I have no access to your personal records and never see your credit card information--blessedly, it's been that way forever, so there is no chance JoeSentMe can be hacked--I do get a monthly report from the credit card processor. It tells me the membership fees paid via American Express, Visa and MasterCard. The month-to-month data for 2016 was remarkably consistent. At the bottom of the totem pole is MasterCard. In nine months of 2016, MasterCard's share of JoeSentMe membership charges ranged from 20 to 23 percent. It inexplicably bottomed out at 13 percent in September. The other two months it was 18 percent. In 10 months, American Express was the card of choice, with membership share of payments between 42 and 49 percent. One month (August), Amex payments dropped to just 31 percent. In December, both Amex and Visa each accounted for 40 percent of member payments. Visa was the choice in August, with its yearly high of 45 percent. During the other 10 months, Visa's share ranged between 31 and 39 percent. The inevitable conclusion? Amex remains the business traveler's card of choice, but barely. After decades of effort, Visa is now near parity with frequent charging frequent travelers.
Fear, Loathing and Delusion at the TSA
Along with virtually all political appointees of the Obama Administration, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger leaves his post tomorrow (January 20). And while it's unsurprising that the incoming Trump Administration is unprepared with a new TSA boss, it's also not unprecedented. It took President Obama nearly 18 months to get John Pistole installed as TSA Administrator after Bush appointee Kip Hawley departed in January, 2009. What is odd about Neffenger's departure is how delusional he seems about his 18-month stint atop the bloated, ineffective and universally loathed agency. In a departing interview with Politico, Neffenger marvels at "how quickly you can really turn things around." Moreover, he thinks the TSA is now an open and transparent operation. "What I said to people was, 'Look, you don't gain anything by hunkering down. Let's go find out why people aren't happy with us, and let's reconnect.' " Of course, delusion goes with departure at the TSA. When he left, Hawley recommended a long string of improvements that he personally blocked while he ran the agency. And the man between Hawley and Neffenger, John Pistole, was an equally autocratic disaster. Meanwhile, until the incoming Trump Administration names a new boss, the agency will be under the leadership of a career bureaucrat, deputy admisistrator Huban Gowadia.
American Altering Boarding Call, Promises Not to Screw Flyers With Premium Economy
American Airlines says it'll adjust its boarding process effective March 1. Out is any mention at the gate of class of service or American AAdvantage elite status. Also out: The odd happenstance where travelers with Group 1 boarding status are actually the fifth set of travelers called to board. The new process includes nine groups and is more a bureaucratic reorganization rather than any substantial change to when travelers board.
The new Group 1 includes first class flyers, business class flyers on two-class international flights and active U.S. military.
Group 2 is for Executive Platinum and Emerald Oneworld Alliance travelers as well as business class flyers on three-class international flights.
Group 3 is for AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Platinum customers and Oneworld Sapphires.
Group 4 is all other elites, including Alaska MVP members, Citi/AAdvantage Executive cardholders and flyers who purchased priority boarding.
Group 5 (the existing Group 1) is for premium economy and Main Cabin Extra flyers and other AAdvantage credit cardholders.
Groups 6-8 are general coach customers while Group 9 is the new untouchables zone for the upcoming deplorables who buy a basic economy fare.
If this sounds complicated, American insists it won't be because everyone will have a boarding group number printed on their boarding pass. In other words, avoid the boarding area until your group number is called. But even a 9-zone system apparently isn't enough since Concierge Key super-duper, super-secret elites will board first, even before the new Group 1.
AAdvantage is also promising that the upgrade regimens won't change when American launches its international premium economy class for sale later this year. Travelers will still be able to upgrade from coach or Main Cabin Extra into business class. But stay tuned because promises like this often have a way of disappearing, especially when airlines think they can wring more revenue out of you.
Delta SkyMiles members can now earn miles by flying Jet Airways of India, a newish Delta partner. Delta says awards on Jet will be available beginning March 1. More details are here.
Hyatt Buys Miraval to Create a 'Wellness' Mini-Brand
As Hyatt falls further behind its mega-sized global lodging competitors, it seems to be settling for small-bore projects and niche concepts. The latest: a $215 million deal to buy two resorts and the spa brand controlled by Miraval. The existing resorts are the eponymous Miraval in Tucson and the Travaasa in Austin. Hyatt also claims it will spend another $160 million to expand the Tucson resort, redevelop the Austin property--and finally complete Miraval's long-planned purchase of the Cranwell golf resort in Lenox, Massachusetts. If Miraval closes on the aging property, it'll convert to the Miraval name and undergo a renovation and expansion. The resorts will comprise a new Miraval brand within the Hyatt portfolio. Despite the fact that the deal has already closed, Hyatt isn't sure when you'll be able to book the properties via Hyatt or earn and burn points in Gold Passport or the upcoming World of Hyatt. That'll come "sometime this year," says a Hyatt spokesperson.
Delta Grows Again at Sea-Tac, American Juggles in Miami
The never-ending turf war at Seattle-Tacoma grinds on. Delta Air Lines says it will add seven new destinations from Sea-Tac in its battle with hometown favorite Alaska Airlines. Effective March 9, there'll be a daily flight to Milwaukee, followed by three daily flights to Eugene, Oregon (April 1). There'll also be daily flights to Nashville (May 26); Raleigh-Durham (June 8); Austin and Redmond, Oregon (June 12); and Lihue, Kauai (December 21). The Austin and Nashville routes will be operated with Airbus A319s, the Lihue service with Boeing 757s and Raleigh gets a Boeing 737. All the other routes will be operated with two-class regional jets.
Miami is getting more flights via American Airlines. There'll now be three daily roundtrips to Minneapolis and three to Austin. But the bump to three from one flights comes at a cost. American is switching to regional jets (E175s) on both routes.
Philadelphia is the next city to get an American Express Centurion Club. Amex has confirmed the smallish (about 5,000 square feet) operation will be above the existing British Airways lounge in Terminal A West. Expect it to open sometime in the third quarter.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
The Obama Administration was turning out the lights, but the Transportation Department this week proposed a major change in how airlines and online travel agents display fares. The DOT wants full disclosure on fees for checked and carry-on bags whenever a fare is shown. Full details are here. The rules normally come into effect after a comment period, but there's no guarantee that the Trump Administration's DOT, presumably led by nominee Elaine Chao, will agree to implement. Stay tuned.
British travelers take note: More strikes are on the way. Tomorrow (January 20), another job action will all but shut down Southern Rail. Another strike affecting some British Airways flights is due Monday (January 23) and watch for more job actions on the London Underground beginning on February 6.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may remain a mystery for years, perhaps decades, to come. The plane has been missing since March, 2014, but officials have called off the search for the aircraft.
Emirates now sells entry to its lounges at its Dubai hub. You must join its frequent flyer program (free). Once you do, it's $100 for a four-hour pass to its business class lounge and $200 for four hours use of the first class lounge.
This column is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2017 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.