Business Travel Briefing
For December 3-17, 2020
The briefing in brief: Hyatt slashes elite status requirements in half. American and Alaska Air start rolling out reciprocal benefits for elite flyers. Accor adds a slew of lifestyle hotel brands. A Jewish-Cuban immigrant will run Homeland Security. The Transportation Department yields to airlines on changes to rules about "unfair" and "deceptive" practices. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Full marks to Hyatt for slashing elite requirement for its World of Hyatt program. In 2021, you'll only have to stay five nights to achieve entry-level Discoverist status. (That's the level you get automatically with a World of Hyatt credit card.) It'll now require only 15 nights to achieve mid-level Explorist level. The top tier, Globalist, now will require just 30 nights. Better yet, you can start earning now since all stays until the end of the year roll over and count again in 2021. Best of all, you're spotted five nights of elite credit if you have the World of Hyatt credit card. Hyatt has been the most aggressive chain with promotions during the pandemic and that will work to your benefit, too. Atop the reduced elite-status levels, the chain's Bonus Journeys promo--up to quadruple points per stay--and its Free Night sale (as much as 25 percent rebate on awards) have been extended through February 28. It's a potent package of incentives--if, of course, you're traveling. One bit of irony, though: With the rollback of Globalist to 30 nights and just 25 with a credit card, Hyatt has essentially restored the old, beloved Diamond elite level of its former Gold Passport program. When World of Hyatt launched in 2017, the more than doubling of the stay requirement for its top tier (25 nights for Diamond, 60 for Globalist) was one of the most vociferously criticized changes.

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines are slowly rolling out new details of their cooperation. Besides joining the Oneworld Alliance, Alaska Air will have a direct tie-up with American. Starting in March, elites will receive reciprocal benefits such as complimentary access to upgraded coach seating on each carrier. They'll also receive priority boarding and check-in privileges. Super-elites will get complimentary business and first class upgrades on each carrier later in the year. You can already earn-and-burn in either program.
        Delta Air Lines abruptly cancelled nearly 500 flights on Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after and blamed it all Coronavirus-related staffing issues. (Yeah, of course, it's a weak dodge.) But it's hard to get too worked up about the snafu since so few people were in the air over Thanksgiving. According to TSA checkpoint statistics, flying during the period was down 60 percent compared to last year. For all of November, flying was down about 63 percent.
        JetBlue Airways is going back to the equity markets for funding to survive the pandemic. It is floating another 36.5 million shares at $14.40 a share. Net proceeds should be about $500 million.

Accor, the French hotel giant, doesn't get much attention because of its limited American footprint. But that changes a bit thanks to a fusillade of moves the company made late last month. For investments worth about US$300 million, the chain will get total control of several notable "lifestyle" hotel brands. That includes Mondrian, Delano and SLS Hotels--all have a U.S. presence--and the Hoxton and Gleneagles brands. All of the acquisitions and several existing Accor brands--including 21c Museum Hotels, which has nine U.S. properties--will be folded into a lifestyle division called Ennismore. Its portfolio will include a dozen brands, 73 existing hotels and more than 100 more properties in various stages of development and construction. What's it all mean? If you are a fan of "indy hotels," be aware that many of them will actually be controlled by Accor and you might as well be in Accor's inexcusably weak ALL loyalty program. Accor also controls the Fairmont, Sofitel, Novotel and Swissotel chains.

A JEWISH-CUBAN IMMIGRANT WILL RUN HOMELAND SECURITY We still don't know who will serve as Transportation Secretary in the Joe Biden Administration, but we can expect a huge shift at Homeland Security, which has been a sewer during the Trump years. The current "acting" Secretary, Chad Wolf, is a lobbyist who was illegally appointed, according to more than one court ruling. He barred New York State residents from Global Entry for political reasons and under circumstances so bizarre that Justice Department lawyers apologized to the courts. He was in charge of Trump's unmarked proto-military operations this spring and summer. And just this week a report from the Inspector General accused the TSA of following some travelers into airport bathrooms, failing to track flyers it considered high risk and a panoply of other failings. Who did Biden pick to be the new broom at DHS? Alejandro "Ali" Mayorkas. He's the son of Cuban-Jewish immigrants who worked at Homeland Security in the Obama Administration and was the youngest U.S. attorney in the nation when appointed in 1998. The 60-year-old has recently been working at WilmerHale, an international law firm.

Back in the good old days--you know, this time last year--a six-gate expansion at one of our busiest hubs would be big news. But Denver opened a six-pack of new gates in the west end of Concourse B and few noticed. Opened just before Thanksgiving, all the gates will be used by United Airlines, the largest carrier at Denver. There's an outdoor terrace and fire pits, too.
        Columbia, South Carolina, gets three new Florida routes via Silver Airways, the independent commuter carrier. There'll be flights to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa. Twice-weekly runs start on December 17 using all-coach ATR aircraft.
        Bologna, Italy, has opened a 5-kilometer people mover linking Marconi Airport with Bologna Centrale, one of Italy's busiest rail stations. The so-called Marconi Express monorail requires about seven minutes to travel between the airport and rail station.
        London gets two more airport lounges reopened. The Aspire Clubs at Heathrow (Terminal 5) and Gatwick (North Terminal) reopen Friday (December 4) for the first time in months. Both accept Priority Pass for entry.

With just weeks to go before the Trump-run Transportation Department turns over the keys to the incoming Biden Administration, the DOT pushed through a few new "midnight regulations." One allows airlines to deny passage to any "service animal" that isn't a specially trained dog. So if you were expecting to take your first pandemic flight with an emotional-support wombat, reformulate your plans. The Trump team also initiated a series of rules that will make it substantially harder for future DOT regimes to regulate "unfair" and "deceptive" airline practices. DOT now must do a three-pronged analysis and clear a minefield of other hurdles before adopting rules that make airlines unhappy.
        Airbnb is moving ahead with its initial public offering to raise upwards of $2.5 billion. It priced shares at $44-$50. That would value the company at around $35 billion, about twice its valuation earlier this year when it raised $2 billion in debt financing.