The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Business Travel Briefing for July 26-Aug. 9, 2018
The briefing in brief: American folds on Basic Economy. Marriott won't automatically merge your SPG account. Air Canada wants to buy back Aeroplan. Pittsburgh pays British Airways to come back. Hyatt makes a pitch for a Spanish chain. MSP's new hotel has its own TSA checkpoint.
American Airlines Brings a 'Perk' Back to Basic Economy
American Airlines said this week that it will make its Basic Economy fares just a little less awful. On September 5, travelers who buy Basic Economy fares will be allowed to carry on a traditional amount of baggage. Until then, American will continue to limit Basic Economy travelers to just a single bag that fits under the seat. Overhead bins will remain verboten for Basic Economy flyers until September 5. Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum. Delta Air Lines, first to introduce the super-stripped-down Basic Economy, has always permitted two carry-on bags. And while United has also limited Basic Economy flyers to a single bag, it has lost money on the category, expecting profits when American matched its restrictions. Now that American has backed off, expect United to follow--and for Delta to continue to laugh up its metaphoric sleeves. By the way, in case you've forgotten, the airlines don't actually want you to buy Basic Economy. They use the brutal restrictions to force you to purchase a higher-priced ticket. And apparently we do, about 60 percent of the time.
Marriott Says You Must Combine Your Own Programs in the Merger
As you surely know by now, Marriott is planning a big-bang merger of its Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs. But it has been annoyingly slow with the facts. The earnings schedule and the award charts have finally been disclosed. Now come some more granular details. The actual combination will be August 18, not August 1 as Marriott initially suggested. (That said, American Express will lower earnings on the existing SPG credit card on August 1.) And if you want your Marriott and SPG programs to combine, you must do it yourself. Marriott won't automatically merge your accounts unless you have linked them in advance. (Do that here.) Word to the wise: If you're in a Marriott or SPG hotel over that August weekend, make sure to get a paper receipt for your stay and spending. There are almost surely going to be glitches and missed stays. Another useful note: If you only have an SPG account, your account number won't change. That will be your new Marriott number. And, no, Marriott says, you can't know the new program terms and conditions in advance. You'll have to wait until August 18 for that, too.
Aeroplan players take note: Air Canada and its banking partners want to buy Aeroplan back from the company it sold the plan to in 2005. Air Canada, of course, previously said it would leave Aeroplan in 2020 and start a new program, which would have left Aeroplan players with lots of questions, lots of miles and precious few answers. Aeroplan's current owner, a data firm called Aimia, says it has been in conversation with Air Canada and the banks and will consider the offer. Stay tuned. Air Canada says its offer expires on August 2. We might know in a hurry if everything loyalty in Canada scrolls back a baker's dozen of years.
Pittsburgh Shows British Airways the Money
Want to make some quick dough? Offer Pittsburgh Airport authorities a flight to Europe. Once a hub for US Airways, the airport has paid Wow Air an $800,000 subsidy to fly to Iceland and $500,000 to Condor to fly to Frankfurt. Now it has landed a big fish: British Airways. Pittsburgh will pay BA $1.5 million a year for two years to restore nonstops to London. BA once flew Pittsburgh-London/Gatwick, but dropped the run in 1999. Now it'll begin a Pittsburgh-London/Heathrow run on April 2. There'll be four weekly flights using Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners.
Delta Air Lines says that it will create a new transborder joint venture with WestJet, the Canadian discount carrier. Meanwhile, it is applying to change its existing transatlantic joint venture. Current partners Air France and KLM stay, but Alitalia is being tossed. In its place: Virgin Atlantic, which is 49 percent owned by Delta. As a combined entity, Delta, the Air France/KLM Group and Virgin Atlantic control about 25 percent of transatlantic traffic.
Minneapolis/St. Paul Gets an Airport Hotel with a TSA Checkpoint
The newly built InterContinental Hotel at Minneapolis/St. Paul has opened and it has a very special feature: a dedicated TSA checkpoint. The hotel is connected via skyway to Concourse C in Terminal 1. The TSA security checkpoint is located in the skyway. The full-service hotel offers two restaurants, a bar and a spa with sauna and indoor pool. The only other U.S. hotel with its own TSA checkpoint? The Westin at Detroit/Metro.
San Jose has been on a roll, successfully repositioning itself as a Silicon Valley alternative to San Francisco. It has added nonstops to several Asian and European destinations, too. But now it has hit a bump in the road. United Airlines announced this week that it will drop flights to San Jose from its Newark hub. The service ends in October, just 18 months after its launch. The pullback is interesting since United was unable to dislodge Alaska Airlines, which also flies a Newark-San Jose nonstop.
Desperate to Expand, Hyatt Takes a Run at Spain's NH Hotels
As I mentioned earlier this year, the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group might be forced to dispose of much of its travel portfolio. (The need for spin-offs took on new urgency earlier this month when HNA's co-founder and co-chairman "fell" off a wall in France and died.) Which leads us to NH Hotels, one of the lodging chains in HNA's orbit. A Thai investment group bought HNA's stake in NH Hotels last month and has made a bid to take over the Spanish chain of nearly 400 properties. But Hyatt jumped into the fray today (July 26) and says it wants to take over the group, too. NH Hotels is strongest (Europe and South America) where Hyatt is impossibly weak. The match makes geographic sense and would make Hyatt about 50 percent larger with the stroke of a pen. But typical for Hyatt management, it's not ready to make an offer and hasn't exactly dazzled the market with its preparation. NH's annual general meeting is on August 9, so watch how the situation develops. Stand by.
TownePlace Suites, one of Marriott's fast-growing limited-service chains, continues to spread across the nation. In recent weeks, it has opened branches in Saraland, Alabama; Minooka, Illinois; at 805 Orleans Road in Charleston, South Carolina; in Mesquite, Texas; Grafton, Wisconsin; Whitefish, Montana; and in downtown San Diego at 1445 Sixth Avenue.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Hawaii travelers take note: United and American airlines are swapping out aircraft on runs to and from the mainland. American Airlines said this week it would speed the retirement of ten Phoenix-based Boeing 757s that fly Hawaii routes. They will be gone from the AA fleet by late next year and be replaced by Airbus A321neos. Meanwhile, United Airlines will move the awful Boeing 737MAX9 aircraft onto Hawaii routes. Look for the planes--with reduced legroom in both coach and first class--to be deployed on flights between Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kona and Kahului. Book away if you can. The planes should be designated 7M9 on schedules.
JetBlue Airways has bowed to the obvious: It can't compete in the crowded California Corridor/West Coast market, where it is a distant fifth. It previously announced massive cutbacks at Long Beach, one of its original focus cities. Watch for further schedule reductions in the weeks ahead.
The nexus of all bad travel karma in Europe? France--if you believe the trade group of European airlines. If its figures are accurate, 70 percent of the 423 days since 2004 when air traffic controllers were on strike occurred in France. Worse, they say, when air traffic controllers strike in France, no overflights of the country are allowed. That contrasts with strike procedures in other European nations.
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