Business Travel Briefing
For August 27-Sept. 10, 2020
The briefing in brief: Sonesta adds more than 100 new hotels after massive InterContinental defection. Delta revives a route to Grand Cayman. Alaska Airlines will fly to Jackson Hole. ExpressJet (or a commuter carrier by many other names) is going out of business. Hilton rolls out its fall promotion. And much more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

How does a smallish hotel chain with only 80 locations in its first 80 years more than double its size overnight? If you're Sonesta Hotels, you have a powerful part-owner unhappy with InterContinental and willing to convert more than 100 properties to Sonesta flags. First the practical realities. By November, 103 hotels and resorts currently aligned with InterContinental brands move to Sonesta. That includes three InterContinentals (in San Juan, Austin's Stephen F. Austin Hotel and in Yorkville, Toronto) and five Kimptons (the Palomars in Washington and Chicago, the Alexis in Seattle, the Allegro in Chicago and the Monaco in Portland, Oregon). They'll all fly the Royal Sonesta flag. Also included are 11 Crowne Plazas (including airport branches at Atlanta, Miami and LAX), which will reflag as Sonesta Hotels. About 80 Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites will convert to the Sonesta ES Suites operation. What's behind the mass move? A powerful REIT (real estate investment trust) called Service Properties Trust is bolting from InterContinental because IHC hasn't been paying its quarterly rents and guaranteed payments of $54 million since the pandemic began. Why choose tiny Sonesta? Service Properties also owns 34 percent of Sonesta. What's it all mean for us? If you're looking for an alternative to the big guys, Sonesta now has a larger business travel footprint, some resorts in Florida, Arizona and the Caribbean and properties in South America and Egypt. The Sonesta Member Rewards frequency plan is middling, but the credit card (issued by Bank of America) is offering a 60,000-point acquisition bonus.

Delta Air Lines hasn't flown between New York/Kennedy and Grand Cayman in more than four years and even that service was seasonal. But now the carrier says it'll revive flights as a daily route between December 19 and January 2, then offer Saturday-only flights year-round starting on January 9. Delta says it will use Boeing 737-8s on the run. But take note: All airports in the Cayman Islands have been closed since March 22 and none will open before October 1--if everything goes right. And what has gone right in 2020?
        American Airlines recently won the right from the United States and China to move its LAX-Shanghai route to Seattle. Now it says it'll fly Seattle-Shanghai daily starting March 27 with Boeing 777-200ERs. But take note: Right now none of the nearly dozen carriers serving the countries are permitted to run anything like daily flights. In fact, only eight flights a week from each side are permitted.

Airlines are beginning to scramble for routes they think are sustainable in an environment where only 25-30 percent of traffic has returned. Alaska Airlines thinks it sees seasonal opportunity in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the popular ski destination. Beginning in mid-December and continuing into April, the carrier will operate EMB-175 flights from Seattle, San Diego and San Jose. The flights will operate up to five times weekly with late afternoon departures to Jackson Hole and early evening returns.
        Cheyenne, Wyoming, regains a United Airlines route that the carrier abandoned nearly 20 years ago. United resumes flights to its Denver hub on November 11. The commuter route will run daily using CRJ-200s operated by SkyWest.
        Santa Barbara, the swanky enclave 95 miles north of Los Angeles, gets more Alaska Airlines service. Beginning November 20, Horizon Air will launch daily EMB-175 flights from San Diego.

With no customers--United Airlines recently cancelled its only contract--the commuter carrier ExpressJet is throwing in the towel. The airline says that it'll be gone by the end of September. Like many regionals, ExpressJet has a long and goofy history. Among its predecessors are Southeastern, Britt, Bar Harbor, Provincetown-Boston, Rocky Mountain and Atlantic Southeast (ASA). Over the years, all or parts of the carrier have been owned by Continental, Delta, United and SkyWest. It also flew for American Airlines, Frontier and JetBlue and briefly flew under its own XJet moniker. As recently as February, ExpressJet and United signed a deal that would have made it the world's largest EMB-145 operator. But that was pre-pandemic and times have, um, changed.

Hilton Hotels has unveiled a fall promotion. Part is standard--double points for all stays because Hilton Honors points are the least valuable among major chains--and part is more interesting: double elite-status credit. Of course, Hilton's elite status is rather pedestrian, too. Silver is useless and Diamond, the top level, is mediocre. The sweet spot, Gold, is easily available with an Amex card. Still, the promotion, valid for stays September 8 to December 31, is better than nothing. Advance registration is required.
        American Airlines says it will lay off 19,000 employees if the airline industry can't bamboozle another federal bailout. The current CARES Act funding expires September 30, so the layouts would begin October 1. American is also shedding another 23,000 workers via buyouts, early retirement and other means.
        Delta Air Lines says it has begun installing stations dispensing Purell hand sanitizer on its aircraft. They will be placed near boarding doors and lavatories.

Why should we even be surprised at this point? The Trump Administration has been funneling federal funds to Trump Organization lodgings for the entirety of his presidency. But the scope and chutzpah of some of the self-dealing with taxpayer funds at Trump-branded hotels and resorts is the topic of the latest opus from Pulitzer-winning David A. Fahrenthold. How does Trump respond to the latest laundry list of skimming? A spokesman claims Fahrenthold is unfairly interfering in Trump Organization business by reporting the publicly available federal data.