Business Travel Briefing
For April 8-April 22, 2021
The briefing in brief: Hotels aren't likely to restore pre-pandemic perks. InterContinental Hotels unleashes another devaluation. Alaska Airlines moves to a two-tier system for airport lounge access. Start-up Avelo Airlines will launch later this month from a hub in ... Burbank. Australia and New Zealand open a travel bubble across the Tasman Sea. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

New Covid guidance from the CDC this week highlights a startling conclusion: "It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, but the risk is generally considered low." Say what? Low risk? Then what was the last year of obsessive hand-washing, scrabbling for bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfecting every surface in sight about? Very little apparently since the CDC has concluded the virus is and always has been transmitted by personal contact and aerosol droplets. Or look at it this way: Airlines scrambling for partnerships with Clorox or Lysol and spritzing disinfectant on airline seats, seatback monitors and tray tables has been little more than Cleaning Kabuki. And what of hotels, which removed a wide variety of items (pens, pads, shower caps, guest books, glassware, laundry bags, extra pillows) from guestrooms, banished buffet breakfasts and all but eliminated housekeeping visits during a stay? That seems like Cleaning Kabuki, too. The difference between airlines and hotels? The airlines will let their costly disinfecting regimens quietly fade away as passengers get less skittish. But hotels are unlikely to restore most of the perks removed under the guise of fighting Coronavirus. "Don't expect daily housekeeping to return," a lodging expert told me via E-mail this week. "In-stay housekeeping will be on request--and only during limited hours. I do think breakfasts will return, but slowly. A lot of the other stuff is gone forever because they are cost centers that owners were happy to eliminate. Hotel chains will decide putting a notepad and a pen or pencil back in the room won't matter to many guests, so why add the cost?"

IHG Rewards was already one of the least valuable hotel programs since there are no suite-upgrade opportunities, little in the way of elite-status benefits and points are rarely worth as much as half-a-cent. So what has InterContinental done about it? Devalued even more. The 100,000-point-per-night cap on award nights has been abolished and, thanks to the chain's new "dynamic price" regimen, even lower-priced hotels have notably higher award rates. Another nasty IHG wrinkle: Many hotels that had been available at or near 40,000 points now suddenly cost 41,000 points or more. Why does that specifically matter? Specialty awards, such as the free-night certificates you receive on the anniversary of your Chase IHG Rewards cards, are limited to redemptions of 40,000 points.
        Radisson Rewards is splitting into two geographically distinct plans. In June, Radisson players in the Americas will move to one plan while members elsewhere will have another program. The split is the result of a dizzying series of ownership changes that has left Radisson in the hands of Jinjiang International, a huge Chinese hotel conglomerate. That has required Jinjiang to wall off U.S. customer data to meet U.S. government regulations. There a (very) few details about the upcoming changes here.

Alaska Airlines is changing the price of its Alaska Lounge network. Starting in October, there will be two tiers of membership. Standard membership includes admission to the seven existing clubs and the upcoming Alaska Lounge in Terminal 2 at SFO and will cost $450 a year. (Alaska Airlines elite members will pay $100 less.) The new Alaska Lounge Plus tier will include access to American Admirals Club. (Alaska and AA are code-share partners and Alaska Air recently joined the Oneworld Alliance.) The Plus level will cost $600 a year with a $100 discount for elites. If you renew or join the lounge network before October--the current price is $350-$450--you'll be grandfathered into the Plus level for the membership year.
        JetBlue Airways says its first transatlantic route--to London--will operate with Airbus A321s configured with 114 coach seats. There will 32 inches of pitch and chairs will be 18.4 inches wide in a 3x3 configuration. That's better than standard coach on competitive carriers. Coach flyers will also receive free in-flight WiFi and live television channels. Chairs will have AC and USB power ports. The aircraft will also have 24 premium economy seats with as much as six extra inches of legroom and a reimagined Mint business class. JetBlue has yet to release pricing details or even the London airport it will serve.

Hollywood-Burbank Airport, an alternative for travelers who'd prefer not to fly from LAX, is dominated by Southwest Airlines, which controls more than two-thirds of the traffic. But Avelo Airlines, the not-quite-a-start-up carrier fronted by former United and Allegiant executive Andrew Levy, thinks it can find a little elbow room at BUR. Avelo Air launches on April 28 with daily flights to Santa Rosa, California, and wants to fly to 10 other secondary Western airports by late May. It includes routes to Ogden, Utah; Bozeman, Montana; Mesa, Arizona; three Oregon airports; and Redding and Arcata/Eureka in California. But Avelo, built on the regulatory and licensing bones of Casino Express and Xtra Airways, is not a commuter carrier. It'll fly Boeing 737-800s--albeit in a knee-crushing configuration with just 29 inches of seat pitch. You'll also pay extra for everything, including $35 for an overhead carry-on; $10 for a checked bag; $10 for priority boarding; and seat assignments. Slightly more spacious extra-legroom seats start at $18 a pop. How will a miserable seating and charge-for-everything model stack up against Southwest at Burbank? Mostly, it won't because Avelo will avoid flying anywhere Southwest already flies. And, obviously, it's not courting business travelers, only price-conscious leisure flyers.

No nations locked down harder--or more successfully--than Australia and New Zealand. Even the 2.5 million or so flyers across the "ditch"--that's the Tasman Sea to the rest of us--have been basically out of luck during the last year. But now flights between Australia and New Zealand can resume in earnest starting April 19. The quarantine-free bubble on trans-Tasman flights is available only to local residents. If you're connecting from a third country, you'll still be required to quarantine when reaching Australia. New Zealand isn't even open to most other visitors.
        Air France/KLM will receive another four billion euros of government support. This second tranche is available only for Air France operations, however, since the Netherlands hasn't yet agreed to stump up more for KLM. The combined operation received 20 billion euros in bailout funds last year and it required Air France to surrender 18 take-off and landing slots at Orly, Paris's second airport.

Air Canada and Air Transat have called off their merger. Announced nearly two years ago, the deal ran into opposition from European regulators. Air Transat says it'll search for a new investor.
        Priority Pass members now have access to new lounges at Tokyo's airports. The ANA lounges at Haneda (Terminal 3) and Narita (Terminal 1, Satellite 5) are now part of the program. The Haneda lounge is the first Priority Pass facility at the close-in Tokyo airport.
        Delta Air Lines had another (small) meltdown over the Easter weekend. It cancelled 77 flights Easter Sunday (about 3% of its schedule) and violated its blocked-middle-seat policy to accommodate flyers originally booked on the cancelled legs.