Business Travel Briefing
For October 8 to 22, 2020
The briefing in brief: Airlines rush to slash holiday flight schedules as advance bookings fail to materialize. Hyatt extends elite status for another year. Qatar Airways says it'll launch flights for San Francisco--again. Sonesta Hotels will inherit about 100 hotels leaving Marriott brands. Medjet says its evacuation now covers domestic Covid-19 evacuations. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Remember the before times when business travelers quaked at airports full of once-a-year flyers during Thanksgiving and end-of-year holidays? Um, mark up another "old normal" falling by the pandemic wayside. With post-Labor Day travel bumping along at about 30 percent of 2019 volume and no upswing in view, airlines are making deep cuts in their already shriveled fall and winter flight schedules. One of the most notable cuts: In November, American Airlines is abandoning its specially configured Airbus A321T aircraft on the bellwether transcon route between New York and Los Angeles, the nation's busiest. In place of five or six daily A321T roundtrips between JFK and LAX, there'll be just two daily Boeing 777 flights. But the cuts go far deeper than just flashy routes. American will fly just 44 percent of its 2019 schedule in November. United will fly only about 50 percent. Both reflect dozens of reductions in flight frequencies. Southwest Airlines once hoped to restore its full 2019 schedule by the end of the year, but will operate only about 40 percent of it in November. International runs are taking a particularly big hit. American is delaying the return of its two routes from Raleigh (to London and Paris) until next year after originally promising to restore them in the fall. Delta Air Lines temporarily has cancelled Boston-Dublin and JFK-Barcelona and slashed frequencies on routes such Atlanta-Seoul and Los Angeles-Tokyo. According to schedule-keeper OAG, overall advance bookings for November seem to be around 25 percent of 2019 levels.

Hyatt Hotels continues to set a blistering pace as it attempts to keep the World of Hyatt plan relevant to grounded members. The hotel chain said this week that elite members have had status and perks extended another year--this time until February 28, 2022--regardless of current activity. Also being extended are many free-night, suite-upgrade and club-access awards. Most will now be valid through the end of 2021. Points for all members that were due to expire are extended through June 30, 2021. Also getting another deferral: Hyatt's plan to switch to peak/off-peak award charts will not happen until at least July 1, 2021. It's hard to imagine what hotels on what dates will even have peak-award days even by the second half of 2021, but let's see what happens then. Complete details on the extensions are here.
        El Al exits the American Express Membership Rewards program on December 31. Transfers to the Matmid plan from Amex must be completed by that date.

Qatar Airways has a credibility problem. No major carrier introduces more routes--complete with silly speeches and political pomp--only to quietly slink away without ever flying the service. One timely example: San Francisco-Doha, which Qatar Air introduced in 2017 with the promise of a 2018 launch. It, uh, never happened. In fact, it was never heard of again--at least until this week. The airline says it is now prepared to launch the 8,000-mile nonstop route. There will be four weekly flights beginning December 15 using Airbus A350-900 aircraft configured with 36 business class seat-beds and 247 coach chairs. Stay tuned.
        Fiji Airways has again delayed the restart of flights to the South Pacific island. It now says service resumes January 11 from its Nadi hub to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. But since this is the third or fourth time that Fiji Air promised a relaunch, proceed with caution.

Just weeks ago Sonesta picked up nearly 100 hotels from InterContinental when a powerful property owner bolted after IHC failed to make some contracted payments. Now the same owner, Service Properties Trust, has pulled 122 hotels from Marriott brands. Service Properties cites the same reason: It claims Marriott owed $11 million under the terms of management agreements. The departures include two Marriotts, two Springhill Suites, a dozen TownePlace Suites, 35 Residence Inns and 71 Courtyards. The company says it's selling off 24 of the hotels and the remaining 98 will go to Sonesta. Why Sonesta again? Easy. Service owns about a third of the once-tiny chain. Sonesta says nine of the soon-to-be-former Marriotts become Sonestas on December 15 and the other 89 move on January 31. The rapid expansion is also leading Sonesta to create two new brands--Sonesta Select and Sonesta Simply Suites--to complement the existing flags: Royal Sonesta, Sonesta Hotels and Sonesta ES Suites. What does a chain of 350 or so hotels--more than 200 inherited from a diverse collection of other brands in a matter of months--look like? Stay tuned.
        Mandarin Oriental and the Oberoi hotel groups have announced an alliance. The two Asia-based chains will cross promote on their respective Web sites and permit members of each other's loyalty plans to claim some reciprocal benefits. More details are here.

Medjet says members who wish to evacuate after being hospitalized with the Coronavirus can do so within the contiguous United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The new benefit is effective October 19. International and Hawaii/Alaska evacuations for Coronavirus are still unavailable. "We have been working to source enough aircraft with isolation pods," the company says.
        The FAA says airlines with take-off and landing positions at the nation's three slot-controlled airports will be able to keep them until the end of March. Under usual rules, airlines are under a use-it-or-lose-it restriction, but the agency says Coronavirus-scrambled flight reductions should be ignored. The airports involved--New York/Kennedy, New York/LaGuardia and Washington/National--are currently operating at around 50 percent of capacity since the pandemic began.
        Amtrak this week begins moving to a schedule of just three-weekly trains on ten of its long-haul runs. That includes routes such as the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York), Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles) and the Texas Eagle (San Antonio-Chicago).