The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for March 7-March 21, 2019
The briefing in brief: American AAdvantage essentially devalues by 10 percent. Southwest launches Hawaii flights and promptly annoys flyers in the East. Aer Lingus learns the limits of endless expansion. Canadian travelers get lots more flights. American grounds 14 jets. And more.
American AAdvantage Just Essentially Devalued by Another 10 Percent
American AAdvantage has been devalued by a thousand small cuts ever since the reverse merger of US Airways and American Airlines. Now another big hit: AAdvantage co-branded credit cards from Barclay and Citibank that offer a 10 percent rebate on award redemptions are eliminating the benefit. The perk meant that if you carried one of the cards, you essentially received a 10 percent discount on all award tickets. One example: An off-peak business class award to Europe costs 57,500 miles one-way. But you got 5,750 miles restored to your account if you carried one of the Citi or Barclay AAdvantage cards. (And, yes, I know, you can almost never get a 57,500-mile award on American Airlines metal and are usually shunted to a partner airline that charges huge co-pays.) Unfortunately, the perk is being wiped out on all Barclay and Citi cards effective April 30. (An exceedingly thin silver lining: You must redeem awards by that date but, obviously, you can book travel for future dates.) Both Citi and Barclay are adding some limited new benefits to offset the loss of the 10 percent rebate, but none are as useful or as economically compelling as the rebate.
Southwest Airlines Launches Hawaii Flights and Promptly Annoys Eastern Flyers
After what seemed like a decade's worth of teases and reveals, Southwest Airlines treceived final FAA approval to run its twin-engine Boeing 737s to Hawaii. The carrier promptly announced flights would launch on March 17 and just as promptly it annoyed Eastern flyers because of the schedules. First the launch dates: Oakland-Honolulu gets the introductory flights beginning March 17. Oakland-Kahului, Maui, launches on April 7, followed by San Jose-Honolulu (May 5); Oakland and San Jose to Kona (May 12); and San Jose-Maui (May 26). There will also be a Honolulu-Kona interisland run starting May 12. Southwest will provide island-themed snacks and beverages on the Hawaii flights, but there'll be no other in-flight service changes. Now the problem. While flyers originating East of the Mississippi can time Southwest flights to connect to the airline's Oakland and San Jose runs to Hawaii, there are no feasible connections from Hawaii back to the East and Midwest. That is because Southwest's initial tranche of service does not include red-eye flights from Hawaii to the mainland. That means no morning arrivals in California and virtually no chance to make onward connections to the East. Southwest says that'll change as it expands its Hawaii flight options. Of course, Eastern travelers could just stay in Hawaii, but your mileage may vary.
Canadian Airports Get a Wide Range of New Flights From Air Canada and WestJet
Canada may be riveted by the political scandal rocking the Trudeau Administration, but Canadian flyers shouldn't take their eyes off their flight schedules. Why? Things are actually getting better at the airports thanks to a burst of new flights from Air Canada and WestJet. The latter, for example, will operate a daily flight between London, Ontario, and Montreal. The seasonal service (June 24-October 15) will operate with WestJet Encore 78-seat Q400 turbo-props. New mainline service from WestJet includes three weekly flights from Edmonton, Alberta, to St. John's, Newfoundland, beginning July 2. Also new: daily transborder flights between Calgary and Portland, Oregon, beginning April 29 and twice-weekly Calgary-Austin service launching May 2. Over at Air Canada, the new service is all international and all winter sun runs. Between December 11 and March 27, there will be three weekly Boeing 787-9 flights between Montreal and Sao Paulo/Guarulhos. Between December 8 and May 11, there will be three weekly Rouge Boeing 767s flights between Toronto and Quito, Ecuador. Finally, between December 12 and late March, Air Canada 787-9s will fly four times weekly between Vancouver and Auckland, New Zealand.
Aer Lingus Learns There Are Limits to Endless Expansion
Aer Lingus has been on a tear in recent years and its transatlantic expansion intensified after being purchased by the parent of British Airlines. Now it looks like Aer Lingus has gone an air bridge or two too far. Frequencies are being cut and at least one new route delayed. The Montreal-Dublin nonstop originally due to launch August 8 has been pushed back until the summer of 2020 at the earliest. The Minneapolis-Dublin route starting in July is selling so poorly that it is being reduced to five weekly summer flights instead of the previously announced daily schedule. Aer Lingus is also cutting service days on its routes to Dublin from Hartford and Philadelphia. Also getting still another trim: flights from New York/JFK to Shannon.
Ethiopian Airlines couldn't make flights to Los Angeles work and last month dumped the route. But it has announced plans to add more service at Washington/Dulles. In addition to its current daily nonstops to Addis Ababa, Ethiopian will add three weekly nonstops to Abidjan, economic capital of the Ivory Coast. The Star Alliance carrier says the Boeing 787s will continue on from Abidjan to Addis Ababa. Flights begin June 9 using Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Flybe, a not-particularly-loved British commuter carrier--okay, customers loathe it--does have its supporters. The new ones: Channel Island residents. On March 31, Flybe will launch daily flights between Guernsey and London/Heathrow. It's the Channel Islands' first nonstop connection to Heathrow in 20 years.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Alaska Airlines flyers take note: Flights at Chicago/O'Hare move terminals on Thursday, March 14. Terminal 3 is out. Departures will be at Terminal 2--Gates G4 and G6--on G Concourse.
American Express Platinum cardholders take note of this reminder: Effective March 22, there's a three-hour rule on admissions to Centurion Lounge locations. That means you won't be admitted more than three hours before your departing flight. Worse, your days of using a Centurion as an arrivals lounge are over. Unless you're making a connection, passengers on arriving flights won't get access to the clubs. Whether the new rules will help with overcrowding at some clubs remains to be seen. Separately, Amex has also announced it is dumping the free Boingo Wireless benefit. If you're enrolled before April 30, however, your free Boingo access continues to December 31. Has anyone used Boingo lately?
Hyatt and American Airlines say they'll be linking frequent traveler plans. Elite AAdvantage members will receive a bonus of one mile per dollar for spend at Hyatt hotels and World of Hyatt elites will earn a point for every dollar spent with American. No time frame for the tie-up was announced, however.
Existential Question: Is a Brutally Bad Plane Better than a Cancellation?
American Airlines grounded 14 Boeing 737-800s today (March 7). The planes in question are part of the six dozen or so aircraft that American has converted to hideous Project Oasis interiors that match those on their hated new Boeing 737 Max. As you recall, those planes have just 30 inches of seat pitch, awful slimline seats and minuscule lavatories. The 14 737-800s were all retrofitted by a third-party vendor not American's in-house employees, something American's unions have been highlighting today. Grounding these horrible, no-good, very bad planes normally would be great news--except that they eventually go back into service. Besides, last-minute groundings cause cancellations. According to FlightAware.com, as of 8:30 p.m. today, American has dumped 52 flights and already cancelled 42 flights on Friday and 28 on Saturday. Expect more in the days ahead.
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