The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Business Travel Briefing for April 6-20, 2017
The briefing in brief: Alternate carriers offer more choice on transcon routes. Low-fare transatlantic carriers continue to expand U.S. routes. Alaska will keep Virgin America's Dallas/Love Field gates. DoubleTree now slaps its name on factories. More Priority Pass options. And more.
Flying Transcon? More Choices--and More Lavish Choices, Too
For as long as there has been U.S. commercial aviation, the leading carriers of the day dominated transcontinental flights. TWA and American controlled the early days. United and then Delta have also staked their claim. But it is hard to ignore how the alternate carriers, notably JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines and its Virgin America subsidiary, have been elbowing their way into the game. JetBlue, for example, this week announced even more flights equipped with Mint, its high quality and relatively low-fare transcon flights with lie-flat beds. Effective August 15, JetBlue will put Mint-equipped Airbus A321s on its New York/Kennedy-San Diego run. Boston-San Diego flights offering Mint start on December 10. (JetBlue will also put Mint-equipped aircraft on its JFK-Las Vegas route on November 6.) Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines, which has publicly eschewed lie-flat beds on transcon runs, is expanding its coast-to-coast Boeing 737 service. Beginning September 1, there will be Los Angeles-Philadelphia flights. Portland-New York/Kennedy runs launch on November 6. Virgin Atlantic flew the LAX-Philadelphia route for two years until late 2014.
The Low-Fare Transatlantic Flights Keep on Coming
Low-fare transatlantic carriers are growing so fast and adding so many cities that we really need a scorecard to keep track. I'm working on one and I hope to have it next week, news permitting. In the meantime, you should know that Norwegian has announced two more routes to London's Gatwick Airport. Boeing 787s configured with coach and a premium cabin (47 inches of legroom using cradle seats) will fly from both Seattle and Denver. Four weekly Seattle-Gatwick flights launch September 17 and twice-weekly Denver-Gatwick service begins a day earlier. Meanwhile, Condor is adding flights to its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich. Starting May 1, it's nonstop to San Diego from Frankfurt. New Orleans-Frankfurt service begins May 3. June 23 is when Condor adds Pittsburgh-Frankfurt runs. The new Munich nonstops are from Las Vegas (May 3) and Seattle (June 21). Condor will operate the seasonal flights with Boeing 767s. Premium economy seats, configured 2x3x2, have 35 inches of legroom. Condor's business class is configured 2x2x2 with angled flat beds. In-flight meals and free checked luggage are included in all fares, which run about 50 percent below major carriers' premium economy and about 60 percent less than traditional business class prices. Condor flights also earn Alaska Airlines miles.
British Airways has opened the First Wing check-in complex inside Terminal 5 at its London/Heathrow hub. It has two dedicated security lanes and direct access to the Concorde Room and Galleries First lounges. It is available to first class flyers, BA Executive Club gold members and Oneworld Emerald customers. First Wing is located at the north end of T5.
Alaska Keeping Virgin America's Gates at Dallas/Love Field
Alaska Airlines confirmed this week that it will continue to use the two gates its Virgin America subsidiary controls at Dallas/Love Field, which is dominated by Southwest Airlines. Alaska already flies to Dallas/Fort Worth from its Seattle and Portland hubs. Virgin currently flies to five cities from Love Field--New York/LaGuardia, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington/National--but Alaska didn't say whether it would keep the same Love route network.
Tokyo/Narita continues to lose service from U.S. carriers. United is dropping its nonstops to Seoul on October 27.
Vienna gets another airport hotel. The 405-room Moxy, a Marriott property, is located near the airport parking lots.
Out of Hotels to Convert, DoubleTree Turns to Factories
DoubleTree by Hilton is what the hotel industry calls a "conversion brand." Translated, that means it is the name Hilton uses to slap on hotels interested in changing brand flags but disinterested in adhering to any particular physical or service standard. But there must be a shortage of hotels to convert because the newest DoubleTree is a factory, specifically a boxy former Chinese noodle facility in Minneapolis. The 141-room property is on East Huron Boulevard at the edge of the University of Minnesota campus. Meanwhile, the eponymous Hilton brand is not above conversions, either. It is now flying the Hilton flag over the 302-room former Inverness Hotel & Conference Center in Denver. It has a golf course, spa and five restaurants.
Denver is getting a lot more attention from other chains, too. InterContinental has opened a 180-room Hotel Indigo near Union Station. And Carlson has renovated a former Holiday Inn and Ramada hotel into a 220-room Radisson. It's on Bannock Street near the junction of Interstates 70 and 25. And a little further west on Interstate 70, a Hilton Garden Inn has opened in the Olde Town district of Arvada. It's the first lodging option available in Arvada.
Greater Los Angeles continues to get new options, too. A 136-room Courtyard by Marriott has opened in the heart of Santa Monica. And a 350-room Hotel Indigo opened downtown in the $1 billion, 6.3-acre Metropolis development.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Los Angeles Airport has a nice new revenue stream: ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft. It raked in $22.8 million in fees from the firms last year. Ride-hail apps are rapidly replacing taxis at LAX, too. Taxi pickups have declined 30 percent in the last five years. Cabs now account for about 25,000 weekly pickups at LAX compared to nearly 48,000 for ride-hail services.
Delta Air Lines now sells Comfort+ seats on its CRJ-200 commuter aircraft.
Priority Pass has expanded its deal with Minute Suites, the domestic airport short-stay hotels. Priority Pass began offering cardholders a free hour at the hotel at Philadelphia Airport. The offer has now been expanded to the Minute Suite properties at Atlanta/Hartsfield and Dallas/Fort Worth, two airports where Priority Pass already had several lounges. The first hour of a room is free and additional hours are available at discounted prices.
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