Business Travel Briefing
For February 6-13, 2020
The briefing in brief: Marriott continues slashing the value of Bonvoy, adding more restrictions and raising many award prices. Homeland Security says New York State travelers can't apply for new or renewal Global Entry privileges. New Orleans has a common-use lounge. Frankfurt gets two new/old airport hotels. American aligns with Gol in Latin America. And much more.

Only the most credulous observers believed Marriott's claim that it would adopt the more generous policies of Starwood Preferred Guest after the 2016 Starwood merger. Every move the chain has made with its combined Bonvoy scheme proves that Marriott is only interested in cutting costs for hotel owners, raising redemption prices and cheapening the plan to the levels of competitors such as Hilton and InterContinental. The latest slaps upside our metaphoric head came this week. The legacy Starwood properties are now permitted to impose blackout dates and/or capacity controls on redemptions. (No blackout dates and no capacity controls were the original selling point of Starwood Preferred Guest when it was introduced in 1999.) Legacy Marriott brands always had capacity controls and blackout dates, of course, and Bonvoy this year also adopted peak/off-peak prices, which raised the cost of awards during high-demand periods. This week's other hit? More than 20 percent of the chain's nearly 7,400 properties will increase award prices. That comes via the annual award category reshuffle, which this year is scheduled for March 4. Fewer than 10 percent of hotels will move to a lower award category. More than three dozen properties are moving into Category 8, Bonvoy's most expensive tier. To view the extent of the devaluation, surf to Marriott Bonvoy's handy-dandy interactive chart that tells you which hotels will screw you most in 2020.

The Department of Homeland Security says it won't accept new applications for Global Entry from New York State residents. Also off-limits: applications to renew Global Entry or other Trusted Traveler programs such as NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST. The DHS says its decision is a reaction to New York's new Green Light laws that prohibit state's Department of Motor Vehicles from sharing criminal records with Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees Global Entry. You can read acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf's letter to New York state officials here. Please note: This DHS order does not affect current Global Entry travelers. It also doesn't include applications to join or renew PreCheck, the security-checkpoint bypass program overseen by the TSA. What's going on? Political theater, of course. The DHS is attacking opponents of President Trump's immigration policies. How do we know it's politics, not security? Wolf announced the DHS decree exclusively last night (February 5) on Tucker Carlson Tonight, a program Fox News itself classifies as entertainment. No other news source was informed before Wolf unveiled the DHS decision on Carlson's show. As of 4 p.m. today, there is no notice of the DHS move in the Federal Register. Moreover, the DHS knows its decree, which Wolf calls an "initial assessment," will immediately be challenged in court, just as New York's Green Light laws are being litigated. Courts will almost surely suspend the order until all relevant issues are adjudicated. And stay tuned, since New York's Green Light laws are not unique. California, New Jersey and several other states have adopted similar measures.

The new terminal at New Orleans is slowly settling in--and traffic seems to be adjusting--so it's time for the bells and whistles. The airport's first common-use lounge, The Club MSY, has opened on the third level of Concourse A. The 4,700-square-foot facility, aligned with the firm that controls Priority Pass, can be accessed via a $40 day pass if you're one of the three remaining travelers without a Priority Pass card.
        Frankfurt has a new/old airport hotel. The three-building, 1,000-room Sheraton Frankfurt--once known as the Arabella for us really old frequent flyers--has been divided into two properties. There is now a Marriott and a Sheraton in the complex. Guestrooms at the Marriott and Sheraton have been overhauled, the Marriott has a 24/7 M Club and renovations to the Sheraton conference center, its lobby and its club lounge are pending. That makes the property better, but unless you're aligned with Marriott Bonvoy, you're better with one of the newer Hilton-branded properties in the airport's The Squaire mixed-use development.
        Paine Field, opened last year to serve travelers in North Seattle, loses one and gains one. United Airlines says it is ditching flights to its San Francisco hub next month. Alaska Airlines, the dominant carrier at Paine, says it will add a daily run from Paine to Boise, Idaho. Embraer 175 flights begin June 18.

The slow dissolve of LATAM from its partnership with American Airlines and the Oneworld Alliance continues. LATAM said this week that it will leave Oneworld on May 1. LATAM is now aligned with Delta Air Lines but says it has no plans to join the SkyTeam Alliance. To replace LATAM, American this week signed a code-share deal with Gol, Brazil's largest carrier. American says it'll slap its AA code on Gol flights to 20 destinations and add frequencies on flights to Miami from six U.S. cities. American also says it'll launch a second daily nonstop between Miami and Rio/Galeão, one of Gol's hubs.
        South African Airways, operating in South Africa's version of bankruptcy, is slashing service. While all flights to the United States and London/Heathrow will continue, state-owned SAA will drop nine international destinations and all of its domestic flights except the Cape Town-Johannesburg route. Separately, a South African court has ruled that SA Express, a state-owned commuter carrier for SAA, must be put into bankruptcy, too.

A Boeing 737-800 aircraft owned by Turkish carrier Pegasus Airlines this week broke apart when it skid off the end of a runway at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport. Three people were killed and 179 were injured.
        Hyatt has lost about a dozen Small Luxury Hotels properties that originally joined the chain's World of Hyatt program. Most notable departures: the Grand Majestic on Lake Maggiore; the Hotel Vilon in Rome; the Margi in Athens; and the Grand Metsovo Forest in Metsovo, Greece.
        Eurostar has set April 30 as the first day for direct London-Amsterdam high-speed trains. Until then, passengers on the route will continue to disembark at Brussels for passport checks. The direct train between the two capitals will take about four hours compared to the current five hours and 30 minutes. The direct London-Amsterdam train will also extend to Rotterdam.
        Israel tourism grew to a record 4.5 million visitors in 2019. According to the state tourism ministry, the United States, France, Russia and Germany were the source of the most visitors.