Business Travel Briefing
For Aug. 29 to Sept. 12, 2019
The briefing in brief: United MileagePlus miles won't expire and that's probably bad news. San Francisco closes a runway next month, so expect even worse delays. Alaska Airlines continues to juggle along the West Coast. Marriott will (mostly) dump its single-use bathroom amenities. The Senator from Delta resigns. Montreal gets another Air Canada route to France. And more.

United Airlines abruptly announced this week that MileagePlus miles will no longer expire. The change takes effect immediately and the airline promises that travelers whose miles expired in July and August will have them restored at no charge. Great news, right? Um, not really. For starters, the old system cancelled miles after 18 months without account activity, but keeping the miles current was hardly difficult. Holding a Chase United credit card came with an expiration waiver. Even without a card, there were several painless ways to keep the miles viable. But now that no miles will expire there will be many more of them chasing the same number of award seats. That'll make our lives harder, not easier. Worst of all, United is switching to revenue-based award-redemption prices. Starting in November, many prices will begin floating and, as usual, that'll cause a massive spike in award costs. And it's not like we don't have a template to predict this. Delta Air Lines in 2011 eliminated the policy of expiring SkyMiles. Not long after, it switched to revenue-based mileage accrual and award pricing. The SkyMiles program has been a bottomless pit of pain ever since. Award prices now can reach more than 900,000 miles for a business class redemption.

The purchase of Virgin America made Alaska Airlines a truly national, coast-to-coast player. But the Seattle-based carrier's strength remains in the West in general and along the West Coast in specific. And the carrier continues to juggle its West Coast route map. The airline this week announced eight new routes, all of them touching Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego. What it didn't mention is that it is slashing at least as many routes there. First the new runs: On January 7, the carrier will launch flights to LAX from both Spokane, Washington, and Redmond, Oregon. March 19 brings flights to LAX from Boise, Idaho, and Missoula, Montana. Also on March 19, the carrier launches flights to San Francisco from Spokane and Redmond. An SFO-Anchorage route begins April 21. San Diego also gets a Redmond run starting on March 19. Now the cuts: The biggest loser seems to be San Diego, where Alaska Air had been slowly building for years. Gone are six SAN routes: Albuquerque; El Paso; Kansas City; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Omaha; and St. Louis. Meanwhile, Baltimore is cut to seasonal service. At LAX, Alaska is dropping the Philadelphia nonstop. SFO loses two routes--to Albuquerque and Kansas City--while four others (Nashville, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Raleigh/Durham) are cut to seasonal service. The route cuts will happen in two tranches: Some will end on November 4 and others drop January 6.
      Southwest Airlines will drop more than a dozen routes starting January 6, just before the carrier embarks on a new round of Hawaii flights. Most notable deletions include four three routes to Orlando (from Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and New York/LaGuardia); Los Angeles-Pittsburgh; Austin-San Francisco; and Atlanta-Boston.

San Francisco International has enough trouble with timely arrivals and departures even in the best of times. September, unfortunately, will not be the best of times. One of the airport's runways will close from at least September 7 through September 26. That'll lead to lots more cancellations and delays. So many that the top dog at the airport, United Airlines, has issued a travel waiver. The airline, which controls more than 41 percent of SFO's traffic, says flyers can change plans to avoid the airport. It has also pre-canceled some flights and involuntarily rebooked customers. To add insult to delay, the SFO AirTrain is being repaired, upgraded and extended. There will be full or partial closures for the next few weeks.
      Montreal gets still another Air Canada nonstop to France. Effective June 4, the carrier will launch five weekly flights to Toulouse, the home of Airbus and a major city in the French southwest. The route will be served with Airbus A330-300s configured with business, premium economy and coach cabins. Toulouse is Air Canada's third year-round French destination from Montreal, joining Paris/CDG and Lyon. Air Canada also flies seasonal runs from Montreal to Nice, Bordeaux and Marseille.
      Dallas/Fort Worth Terminal D international flights operated by American Airlines may now be equipped with biometric boarding processes. American said this week that select departures will use facial recognition kiosks rather than traditional boarding passes.

Everyone has a frequent flyer number, right? But frequent guest memberships? Not so much. The difference goes back to the very beginning of post-deregulation loyalty plans. The airlines launched their programs instantly. Hotel chains, which doubted the value of the plans, often waited a decade or more to get serious. Besides, chains were tiny then and the lodging landscape more fragmented than today. That's a long-winded way of explaining that it is just now that hotel frequent-stay programs are truly impacting lodging behavior. According to a hotel-consulting firm called Kalibri, almost 54 percent of room nights booked in June at chains with a loyalty plan were made by program members. That's a 4.4 percent year-over-year increase, making loyalty-program members the fastest-growing segment of the lodging industry.
      Marriott will join InterContinental Hotels and eliminate single-use bathroom amenities. That said, however, Marriott apparently will not impose a blanket ban on single-use amenities. Individual properties and entire chains may be exempt based on Marriott's mythical standard of being "consistent with brand experience and quality standards." About 20 percent of Marriott's 7,000+ properties already use larger, pump-dispenser bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel.

Delta Air Lines and Bombas, a sock company, have struck a month-long deal. During September, business class customers in Delta One cabins will receive a pair of Bombas dress socks and Bombas will donate 300,000 more pairs to charity.
      Emirates Skywards is the newest transfer partner for Chase Ultimate Rewards. Sounds great, right? But a reminder: Most Emirates aircraft have a sub-par business class and Skywards awards carry hefty co-pays. If you're going to move Chase points to Emirates, make sure it's for a first class award.
      Johnny Isakson, a three-term Republican senator from Georgia, says his health problems will force him to resign his seat at the end of the year. The 74-year-old Isakson has been Atlanta-based Delta's most ardent supporter in Congress, so much so that he has been derisively described as the "Senator from Delta."