The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for April 26-May 10, 2018
The briefing in brief: JetBlue is heading West. Better perks coming for United and American credit cardholders. United finally opens a second Polaris business class lounge. Alaska Airlines trims some Virgin America routes. The strikes will continue at Air France. And much more.
JetBlue Heads West After Years of Thinking the Sun Rises in the East
More than 18 years after its launch and meteoric rise, JetBlue Airways still has holes in its network. Not the least of which is its lopsided East Coast network. All of its focus cities are along the East Coast--New York/JFK, Boston/Logan and Fort Lauderdale--and it has no strong positions at any West Coast airport except Long Beach, where it has battled airport officials. But JetBlue is now doing a Horace Greeley--you know, Go West!--and planning to bulk up on the other side of the country. It is returning to Los Angeles/Ontario Airport after a ten-year absence, relaunching nonstops to JFK on September 5. On December 15, it'll also add flights to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from Boston, Fort Lauderdale and Long Beach. It'll add a flight from Long Beach to Bozeman, Montana, on December 13 and bulk up its flight schedule at Burbank, another LAX alternative. Also new: a code-share with JetSuiteX starting on May 1. (JetBlue bought into JetSuiteX, a California scheduled charter operation founded by former JetBlue executive Alex Wilcox, in 2016.) But there is a big kink in the West Coast play: Long Beach, where JetBlue controls about 80 percent of the traffic. After losing fights over noise limits and support infrastructure for international flights, JetBlue is slashing service at Long Beach. Beginning in September, there'll be just 23 daily flights, down from the current 35.
Better Perks Coming for United and American Credit Cards
The market for airline-aligned credit cards is saturated and existing cardholders are spending less because they're unhappy with constant devaluation of frequent flyer programs. That is forcing the banks sponsoring airline cards to up the ante in an attempt to juice acquisitions and increase spending on existing cards. For American AAdvantage members, Citibank will improve benefits on the basic card. Effective July 22, Citi AAdvantage Platinum cardholders will earn two miles per dollar spent at restaurants and gasoline stations. You will also receive a $100 American flight discount after $20,000 in yearly spending. Over at Chase, the United Explorer card is getting a makeover. Effective June 1, MileagePlus members receive two miles per dollar spent at hotels and restaurants; a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership and 25 percent off in-flight purchases. However, Explorer's 10,000-mile bonus for annual spend and some "junk insurance" is being dropped although primary car rental coverage will be retained.
Marriott Rewards, or whatever they are going to call the new program, is pushing back against complaints that it is hiding a devaluation in its still-secret award charts. Of course, the pushback is weak: award pricing for 100 hotels in a few cities. If that seems like cheating, it is. One hundred hotels represent 1.5 percent of Marriott's 6,500-hotel portfolio.
United Airlines Finally Opens Second Polaris Lounge
Nearly two years after first announcing its Polaris business class brand and products, United Airlines finally gets around to opening a second club. On April 30, the San Francisco Polaris Lounge opens in the International Terminal near Gate G92. The club has 440 seats spread over two levels and 28,000 square feet. United says three other Polaris clubs will open this year, but the timeline continues to slip. Now the Newark lounge is scheduled for "early June," the Houston/Intercontinental club is due "this summer" and the Los Angeles facility will arrive "this fall." All four were originally scheduled to open last year. There is also no information on a timeline for four other clubs announced in 2016.
Tampa gets two new dining options. Mise en Place, a branch of a well-known American restaurant downtown, is located in Airside F. PDQ, a national quick-serve chicken chain that launched in Tampa in 2009, opened in Airside C.
London and Windsor, two smaller airports in Ontario, Canada, will get connections to Montreal from Air Canada. The daily commuter roundtrip flights launch on July 2.
Alaska Airlines Trims Some Former Virgin America Routes
Alaska Airlines completed the transition of Virgin America flights to Alaska Air computers this week. There were no notable delays or disruptions. But the airline continues to feel the financial pinch of the merger. One notable change? Alaska is dumping Virgin's flights to the East Coast from capacity-restrained Dallas/Love Field. That's good news for Love-based Southwest Airlines. It is taking a 10-year lease on some of Virgin's former take-off and landing slots and will use them later this year to add more flights to Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia. No financial details of the deal were revealed. Alaska Air is also reducing schedules on flights to New York/Kennedy from Los Angeles and San Francisco, two other former Virgin America routes. One roundtrip on each route will end on July 6. Another change: Alaska Air officials said this week that it would launch a Basic Economy fare later this year. Although details were not announced, the fare sounds depressingly similar to the stripped-down Basic Economy now offered by Delta, United and American airlines.
Southwest Airlines says that it expects passenger revenue to drop as much as 3 percent in the second quarter as a result of the engine explosion last week on Flight 1380. That translates to as much as $100 million.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Marriott is joining Hyatt in the home- and apartment-rental business. Marriott has partnered with a company called Hostmaker for a six-month test of homesharing in London. Rentals are being routed via Marriott's Tribute Portfolio soft brand and can be booked at a special Web site. Marriott says about 200 London homes and apartments are available. Earning and burning Marriott Rewards or SPG points is allowed, but there are quirks: renters must pay at the time of booking and cancellation penalties are stiff. Unlike most home rentals, however, travelers can check in 24/7 rather than at set times.
Air France passengers take note: The ongoing labor strife over wages continues to disrupt the airline. Unions say they will strike for at least four more days. At the moment, new job actions are planned for May 3, May 4, May 7 and May 8.
Southwest Airlines continues to tease a new service to Hawaii. It has launched a Hawaii-specific Web site promising flights to Honolulu, Maui, Kona on the Big Island and Kauai. No other dates or specifics were announced.
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