Business Travel Briefing
For January 19 - 30, 2020
The briefing in brief: California's flight upheavals. Chase raises Sapphire Reserve annual fee. American Airlines isn't giving up on Boston/Logan just yet. United tries a Newark-Washington "shuttle" again. A Minor battle with Marriott will change where you stay. Delta dumps fuel on schools--and teachers sue. A snowy weekend of travel. How many guns are the TSA missing at checkpoints? And much more.

The California market is so huge and so segmented that it's nearly impossible to track the intricacies even if you're in the state, which incongruously no longer has a "hometown" carrier. All the decisions are being made by players to the north (Seattle-based Alaska Airlines) or "back east" (all the others). Which is my way of warning you to buckle up as we go through these changes:
      JetBlue Airways is bailing on Oakland. Effective April 29, the New York-based carrier will drop its three OAK routes, which serve its Boston/Logan and New York/JFK hubs and Long Beach. The Long Beach cut is part of JetBlue's retrenchment there and it will drop at least a half-dozen more flights from that slot-controlled airport. JetBlue has been squabbling with Long Beach officials ever since the city nixed JetBlue's plans to build a Customs facility and launch international flights. JetBlue once had a stranglehold on LGB traffic, but it now will control only 24 of the available 41 slots. Southwest, Hawaiian and Delta are all looking to grow at Long Beach, so watch for additional announcements soon.
      United Airlines returns to Santa Maria (SMX) in Santa Barbara County, the closest commercial airport to Vandenberg Air Force Base. After dropping SMX from its route map in 2016, United in June will return with flights to its San Francisco, Denver and Los Angeles hubs. Flights will be operated by commuter carrier SkyWest using CRJ200 regional jets.
      Alaska Airlines has been cutting routes from its San Diego focus city and between California and the Midwest. But it continues to bulk up flying between California and its Sea-Tac hub. The latest addition: daily flights by its Horizon Air subsidiary to Monterey (MRY). The daily roundtrip from Sea-Tac start June 18 and will operate with 76-seat EMB-175 jets.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card was all the rage in 2016 when it launched the luxury card with a 100,000-point bonus, Priority Pass membership and a $300 annual statement credit. Things haven't gone quite so well for Chase, however. The bank has taken losses in excess of $300 million on the card's rollout and cardholders defected in droves after scoring the 100K bonus. Desperate to recoup some of its losses, Chase has increased the annual fee to $550 from $450. It now matches the charge for the American Express Platinum Card. The higher fee is effective immediately for new applicants. Existing cardholders pay the $550 fee starting with the mid-April renewal cycle.
      American AAdvantage has dropped the $75 close-in booking fee on awards. But watch for it to reappear in a different form: higher award prices for those same bookings within 21 days of departure. That's what both United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles did when those programs dropped their last-minute booking fee.
      Hilton Honors, one of the least-valuable currencies, is making some minor--and we mean minor--upgrades. You can now earn points on as many as four rooms per stay, up from two. There is now no limit to the amount of points you can earn on a stay, ending the 100,000-point limit Hilton imposed on some brands. And you can now earn points on incidental purchases at all brands.

A decade-long battle for supremacy at Boston/Logan settled into a two-carrier war in recent years. JetBlue remains top dog with nearly a third of traffic at New England's primary airport. Delta has been growing, declared the airport a hub last year and now commands more than 15 percent of the market. The loser has been American Airlines. Back in 2009, American and US Airways combined for 30 percent of Logan's traffic. Post-merger, American has fallen to around 18 percent and, given American chief executive Doug Parker's reluctance to compete, one would have guessed AA would continue to shrink at Logan. At least for the moment, however, American appears ready to stand (or fly) and fight. In May, it will add or resume three routes. Using 76-seat EMB-175 jets, there'll be twice-daily service to Indianapolis, five daily flights to Raleigh-Durham and weekly service to Wilmington, North Carolina. This will be American's third attempt to fly Boston-Raleigh, having previously dropped the route in 1994 and again in 2010.
      United Airlines is once again trying to promote flights between Washington/National and Newark as a "shuttle service." No matter that even the traditional East Coast shuttles aren't technically shuttles anymore. This time, effective March 29, United is scheduling 13 daily roundtrips between the two airports. The twist? Ten roundtrips will operate with United's unique 50-seat CRJ-550 regional jets. The aircraft features 20 Economy Plus seats and a 10-seat first class cabin configured with 2x1 seating and a self-service snack and refreshment area.
      Greenville-Spartanburg has opened a scaled-down branch of Vino Volo, the well-respected chain of airport wine bars. The 824-square-foot outlet is located in the Grand Hall near Concourse B.

You're not likely to have heard of Minor Hotels, a 42-year-old operation that had 35 properties scattered around Asia four years ago. But the Bangkok-based group isn't a minor player anymore. Minor now has more than 500 hotels in 60 countries and controls fast-growing brands such as NH Hotels and the Anantara luxury collection. Until now, Minor has also been a key operator for Marriott. But no more. Earlier this month, Minor agreed to manage eight upscale hotels in France, Italy and Central Europe. Many were formerly known as Boscolo Hotels but now get their visibility as part of Marriott's Autograph Collection. With the support of the hotels' new French owner, however, Minor plans to rebrand the properties under the NH or Anantara flags and pull them out of the Autograph Collection. That includes the Palazzo Naiadi in Rome, where Sopranos actor James Galdolfini died in 2013; the Carlo IV in Prague; the New York Palace in Budapest; and the Grand Hotel Dei Dogi in Venice. Minor also is in a nasty court fight with Marriott over the future of the JW Marriott in Phuket, Thailand. Minor complains that Marriott's Phuket expansion--there are now 11 Marriott-flagged properties there--has hurt the JW's business and, pointedly, that Minor loses money with the JW Phuket's participation in Marriott Bonvoy. There are major global lodging implications with Minor's claims--Marriott denies them all, of course--but immediate speculation is that Minor hopes to break its management agreement and reflag the JW Marriott under one of its own brands. Minor also owns the St. Regis Bangkok and may eventually hope to pull that out of Marriott's orbit, too.

Delta Air Lines Flight 89 departed LAX as scheduled on Tuesday (January 14). Then the Boeing 777 to Shanghai declared an emergency shortly after takeoff and returned to LAX--but not before dumping its fuel load and dousing students, teachers and property at several Los Angeles-area schools. About 60 people were treated for fuel-related injuries, at least 20 of them children. Delta defended the fuel dump, but local air-quality regulators have hit the airline with a notice of violation for dumping at least 15,000 gallons of fuel over the schools. The FAA is investigating the incident because pilots never informed air traffic controllers about the need to dump fuel. And four teachers at one of the schools, about 15 miles from LAX, are now suing Delta in Los Angeles Superior Court.
      A tough weekend for travel. On Friday (January 17), a snowstorm whacked the Midwest and caused massive cancellations. According to FlightAware, about 25 percent of flights at Chicago/O'Hare were dumped as well 30 percent at Midway. About 15 percent were cancelled at Minneapolis/St. Paul and 25 percent at St. Louis. The worst cancellations were at Kansas City where about half the flights dumped. Meanwhile, a blizzard with 95-mile-per-hour winds dropped about three feet of snow on St. John's International Airport in Newfoundland and Labrador.
      JetBlue Airways has raised checked-bag fees to $35 for the first piece of luggage. The second bag is now $45. Expect other major carriers to follow. JetBlue in 2018 led carriers raising first-bag prices to $30 from $25.

The TSA's own tests show the agency misses 95 percent of mock explosives and weapons at its airport security checkpoints. So what can we make of this week's announcement that the TSA "discovered" 4,432 firearms in carry-on bags at checkpoints in 2019? I'm no math whiz, but doesn't that mean 88,640 contraband weapons were brought to airports nationwide and about 84,000 escaped detection and got into secure areas and onto planes?