Business Travel Briefing
For April 13-April 24, 2020
The briefing in brief: American says it will extend AAdvantage statu safter other airlines and hotels announce changes. Air Canada maintains the most international nonstops from North America. Hotels close as nationwide occupancy collapses into the low twenties. Airlines pout about bailout terms and drop airports, too. Delta wants credit for your empty middle seat. And more, including our daily Coronavirus update.

With the notable exception of InterContinental Hotels, major airlines and hotel chains all have essentially called 2020 a do-over and extended the status of their elite players. American Airlines moved this morning (April 13) after an American source admitted to me over the weekend that the carrier was inundated with calls from elites inquiring about AAdvantage extensions. "It's not like anyone's flying and we're losing business," she explained about the delay. But American's perks and extensions finally rolled out this morning and letters to elite AAdvantage members should be in inboxs by tomorrow (April 14). Meanwhile, if you missed your preferred airline or hotel's move, here are the relevant links:
        American Airlines extended elite status for a year, but also reduced some elite qualification rules and added months to Admirals Club memberships.
        Alaska Airlines extended Mileage Plan status through 2021. If you were working on a status challenge, your time frame has also been extended.
        Delta Air Lines is extending 2020 Medallion status until January 31, 2022. There are also extended benefits for Skyclub members and Delta American Express cardholders.
        Hilton Hotels was the first lodging chain to extend status. Honors members who were being downgraded on March 31 are extended until March 31, 2021. If you already earned 2020 Honors status, you're good until 2022.
        Hyatt Hotels extended World of Hyatt elites for a year. It also extended the validity of certain awards and postponed a previously announced switch to a peak/off-peak award structure.
        Marriott has extended Bonvoy status for a year, extended the validity of some award certificates and extended expiring miles until February, 2021.
        United Airlines is extending MileagePlus status until January 21, 2022. It has also fiddled with credit card and United Club policies, reduced elite status qualifying levels and extended status match rules.

U.S. carriers have maintained few international routes, so your best bet flying from North America is via an Air Canada hub. It has maintained the continent's most comprehensive array of international flights. From Montreal, it's still flying to Brussels, Frankfurt, London/Heathrow and Paris/CDG. From Vancouver, you can reach Hong Kong, Heathrow, Seoul and Tokyo/Narita. And from its Toronto hub, there are flights to Bogota, Frankfurt, Heathrow, Mexico City, Tokyo/Haneda and Zurich.
        Emirates Airline is slowly getting back in the air after a lockdown ordered by the United Arab Emirates. Effective May 1, it'll fly to Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston/Intercontinental, LAX, New York/JFK and Washington/Dulles. Fights to Seattle and San Francisco resume June 1.
        United Airlines is the only airline still offering nonstops from North America to Tel Aviv. But getting to Newark now is a challenge. At least for a few weeks, United only serves Newark from Denver, Chicago, Houston/Intercontinental, LAX, San Francisco and Washington/Dulles. Another problem: International flights into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport were briefly halted yesterday (April 11) before resuming today. And all TLV arriving passengers are forced into 14-day mandatory quarantine.

It is the unfortunate reality of life on the road that airlines get the lion's share of coverage. Hotels, where we actually spend more time, get short shrift. It hasn't changed much in the Coronavirus world, either. As we're all watching who's flying where and how much taxpayer money airlines will siphon, the lodging industry is on the verge of extinction. According to STR, the gurus of lodging analysis, 665,000 of the nation's supply of 5.4 million guestrooms are now shuttered. Of the remaining rooms available to rent, only 21.6 percent were occupied in the week of March 29 through April 4. The average daily rate for the rooms was $76.51, a 41.5 percent tumble from last year. And one of the key metrics of lodging health--revenue per available room (revPAR) is so low as to be almost a joke. It stood at just $16.50. That means for every room a hotel operates, the daily revenue each generates is less than $20 a day. Some other notably catastrophic stats: Occupancy in Honolulu hotels is just 7 percent. Only 18 percent of rooms are occupied in New York, the current epicenter of the pandemic. Luxury hotels nationwide (9.1 percent occupancy) are faring worst. Economy hotels (an admittedly amorphous term) are doing "best." They're filling 38.8 percent of their rooms.

U.S. airlines--especially Delta, United and JetBlue--tried to scam travelers into accepting vouchers rather than cash refunds for cancelled flights. But now the metaphoric shoe is on the other foot and the airlines are furious. Instead of an outright $29 billion grant of taxpayer funds to cover payrolls and keep workers off federal unemployment rolls, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is holding out. His interpretation of the CARES Act passed earlier this month envisions gifting "only" 70 percent of that number. The other 30 percent of the $29 billion would be low-interest loans with the government receiving warrants against future stock purchases. This 70/30 grant is separate from the other part of the CARES Act, which earmarks an another $29 billion in loans for passenger and cargo carriers.
        Airport fallout What's any of this got to do with airports, you wonder? Another stricture of the bailout is that airlines must maintain service to all destinations. There are a few wrinkles, however, and airlines are quick off the mark to exploit them. JetBlue, for example, is allowed to consolidate service in certain markets. That means it can "temporarily" drop flights at Providence, Rhode Island, in favor of Boston/Logan. Its Los Angeles area schedule has excised Burbank and Ontario while maintaining LAX and Long Beach. San Jose is being sacrificed for San Francisco while Baltimore/Washington is dumped for Washington/National. In the New York area, flights will continue at JFK and Newark, but not LaGuardia, White Plains and Stewart/Newburgh. JetBlue also wants a permanent CARES waiver to drop service at 12 airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston/Intercontinental and Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines is trying to permanently dump nine airports, including JFK, Boston and Seattle.

Double Tree, the conversion brand of Hilton, has no discernible standards. That, in fact, is the hallmark of conversion brands such as Crowne Plaza (InterContinental), Delta (Marriott) and basically all of Radisson in the United States. The only thing that pulls Double Tree together is the cookies you receive on check-in. Some like them, some loathe them. If you are a fan, you'll enjoy the recipe, which Hilton dropped online this week.
        Lufthansa says that its post-pandemic plans don't include Germanwings, its intra-Europe discount operation. The brand is, ahem, retired.

The daily "throughput" reports from the TSA indicate that only about 100,000 people a day are flying in the United States. That's down from as many as nearly 2,600,000 passengers last year. Meanwhile, the airlines' trade group says load factors dipped as low as 11 percent on April 5. In other words, finding an empty middle seat--or your own row--isn't a concern at the moment. But Delta Air Lines thinks you're not paying attention and this week announced with great fanfare that it would block middle seats starting today (April 13) until May 31. All praise Delta, beneficent lord of the skies.