Business Travel Briefing
For March 12-March 27, 2020
The briefing in brief: Best advice for travelers hoping to make changes or cancellations during the chaos? Wait! Amex opens a Centurion Lounge at LAX. Air Canada's second Signature Suite is due on Saturday in Vancouver. Notable route cancellations in the blizzard of new changes. More warm-weather hotels and resorts. The U.S. dollar tanks against the euro and yen. And much more.

As chaotic and bizarre as the last few weeks have been, there is one bit of advice that is still golden: Wait. Want to cancel? Wait. Want to change? Wait. Want to book? Wait. The travel industry has been turned upside down again and its first impulse is to try to rip you off, especially when it comes to the cash it already wrestled from you. But reality often sets in and they loosen the rules. And even if reality doesn't change them, events overtake airlines and hotels. Last week, for example, United Airlines decided it could deny you a refund and unilaterally consider you "reaccommodated" even if its involuntary flight change was 25 hours earlier or later than your original flight. That might conserve cash, but it infuriates customers and, as United learned this week, probably isn't legally supportable. So now the window for involuntary changes before a refund is down to six hours. Which is longer than the previous two-hour rule, but generally acceptable as the carriers have been forced to slash schedules. Another example: You wanted to cancel your flight to Europe next week or next month, but the airline wanted a huge cancellation fee. However, last night's not-really-a-travel-ban travel ban announced by President Trump is leading carriers to cancel buckets of flights. Now you can have a refund because the flights may no longer exist. The same is true for hotels, which started out playing hardball on changes to nonrefundable room rates, but are increasingly letting you make no-fee alterations. So if you don't like what your supplier is saying today, wait until tomorrow or next week. It's the Coronavirus crisis version of "hang up and call again" when you don't get the answer you want.

American Express finally opened its long-awaited Centurion Lounge at Los Angeles. The LAX facility premiered Monday (March 9) and is about 14,000 square feet and located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. The food services are curated by Nancy Silverton, best known for the original La Brea Bakery and Osteria Mozza. The LAX opening follows last month's Centurion Lounge opening in Charlotte. And now that traffic is plunging, you might actually be able to get into the clubs and find a place to sit.
        Vancouver gets the second Air Canada Signature Suite for elite business class customers. Scheduled to open Saturday (March 14), the facility is located on the second floor of the Maple Leaf Lounge. The original Signature Suite opened in Toronto/Pearson and instantly won raves for its sit-down dining. The Vancouver facility is available to international passengers booked in J, C, D, Z or P class.
        Cincinnati is gaining a new route thanks to the endless tit-for-tat battle between Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines at Seattle-Tacoma. Alaska will add a daily Boeing 737 roundtrip on August 18 between its Sea-Tac hometown and the former Delta hub in Cincinnati.

Airlines are dumping flights and reworking route maps faster than the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 are falling. It's impossible to keep up, but thought these cancellations merit special attention:
        British Airways is killing its all-business-class London/City-New York/Kennedy route until September 1. This comes despite the fact that Britain is outside the Schengen Area and exempt from the Trump travel ban.
        El Al is delaying its launch of flights between Chicago/O'Hare and Tel Aviv. The service was due to return to the El Al schedule on March 22, but has now been delayed until June 28.
        United Airlines is dumping flights between its San Francisco hub and Northwest Arkansas (XNA), essentially Walmart's hometown airport. The route is suspended between April 1 and October 1.
        Finnair will drop all U.S. flights to Helsinki from next week through mid-April. That won't just make it harder to get to the Finnish capital, it eliminates one of the best ways to fly to destinations in Russia and the Baltic States.

The headline is a reference to an obscure Alec Wilder song, but it's also accurate. The hotel pipeline will slow to a trickle now that business travel has collapsed, but it is still spitting out properties that were already under construction. And most of the hotels are in warm-weather climes. In recent days, for example, Marriott opened an 80-room Aloft on Bali; a 174-room Westin in Monterrey, Mexico; and its second JW Marriott in Orlando. The new Florida property, with 516 rooms, is located in the Bonnet Creek Resort around 30 minutes from Orlando International. Meanwhile, Hilton has a new Curio Collection property in Key West, Florida. The 150-room resort, The Reach, underwent a $10 million renovation in recent months.

It's gotten lost in the recent chaos, but the U.S. dollar is getting pounded against several major currencies. The euro bought only about US$1.08 three weeks ago, but has strengthened to around $1.14. It's the largest decline in the value of the dollar against the euro in nearly three years. Meanwhile, the dollar has fallen to a six-month low against the Japanese yen. It was buying about 105 yen today, down from about 112 three weeks ago.
        Virgin Atlantic is resuming flights from London/Heathrow to Cape Town, South Africa, after a five-year gap. There'll be four weekly flights with Boeing 787-9 aircraft starting on October 20.