Business Travel Briefing
For April 29-May 12, 2021
The briefing in brief: Marriott Bonvoy extends the validity dates of points and award nights. United MileagePlus offers elite flyers a three-pronged promotion. The return of an in-person CES in January points the way to a business travel revival. U.S. airlines add more nonstops to Greece as the country reopens on May 15. Plaza Premium pulls airport lounges from Priority Pass. JetBlue Airways adds two new aircraft types to the fleet. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Airlines are whistling past the graveyard and suggesting they can return to profit without business travel and long-haul international traffic. In fact, British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle claimed this week that he would soldier on with upmarket leisure travelers filling premium seats usually occupied by business people. Free-spending leisure flyers "give us a very effective buffer if the corporate segment is not recovering," he said this week in an interview with The Guardian newspaper. United Airlines was also claiming it could profit without much business travel or international long-haul traffic. At least United was saying that until today, when chief executive Scott Kirby admitted to The Washington Post that it needs 65% of business travel demand and long-haul international to return in order to put United back into the black. So the question: When will business travel return? Airlines certainly don't know and most of us don't know since we business travelers are prisoners of all sorts of external factors. But if you're looking for a clue, consider: Sponsors of the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas announced yesterday (April 28) that the 2022 exhibition will return as a in-person event in January. And the dirty secret of business travel is that meetings and conventions make up the bulk of demand. When conventions and meetings return, so will most business travel.

Marriott Bonvoy is again delaying the expiration dates of points and certain award certificates. Points in your account will now be live until March 31, 2022, even if you haven't had Bonvoy activity in the last 24 months. Free-night awards--those perks you've received via promotions or Marriott-branded credit cards--will be valid through January 3. There is a string attached, however. The extension is valid only on awards originally due to expire in 2020 or 2021. Award-night extensions will automatically appear on your account on or after May 6.
        United MileagePlus has already reduced elite-status qualifications for 2021. Now it is teeing up a Pick Your Path promotion that allows you to choose an elite-status promotion. For travel until July 27, you can choose to: up to 25% PQP bonuses on your next three trips; 10% of the PQP requalification you need with no travel required; or double miles up to 10,000 bonus miles on MileagePlus shopping and dining. If you're a United elite, you must choose an option by May 13 or you'll automatically be opted into the 25% PQP promotion.
        Discover, the multi-brand loyalty program of chains such as Omni, Outrigger, Kempinski and Pan Pacific, has a new player. NH Hotels, with branches in many European and South American cities, will join early next year. Several other brands of NH's parent company, Minor Hotels, are already part of the program.

Greece reopens to vaccinated American visitors on May 15 with no quarantine required. Very nice, you say, but Greece barely gets any nonstops from the United States. But 2021 is different. (Hadn't you noticed?) U.S. airlines are pouring new nonstops into Athens this summer and reviving their skeletal pre-pandemic Greek operations. American Airlines is adding New York/JFK nonstops to Athens beginning June 3 to accompany its revived Philadelphia-Athens service. Delta Air Lines adds Atlanta-Athens nonstops on July 2 to twin with a revived JFK-Athens run. United Airlines will fly from its Washington/Dulles hub to Athens beginning July 1 to match with its revived Newark-Athens run. Another bit of good Greek news? Emirates Airline resumes its Newark-Athens nonstop starting June 1. Emirates is the only airline offering a first class cabin to Athens.
        Mango Airlines, the financially stressed, state-owned South African carrier, abruptly cancelled all its flights yesterday (April 28). The domestic airline resumed flights today, but may stop operations again as soon as Saturday (May 1).

This is not good: Plaza Premium, an upscale network of lounges in dozens of international airports, is bailing from Priority Pass. The split is effective July 1 and virtually all Plaza Premium lounges will no longer be accessible with a Priority Pass card. The spat is over the amount that Priority Pass, operated by England-based Collinson Group, would pay for each cardholder who entered a Plaza Premium operation, which is based in Hong Kong. The split will affect travelers who are direct Priority Pass members and flyers who receive Priority Pass via Chase's Sapphire Reserve card. Travelers who have Priority Pass via an American Express Platinum card apparently won't be affected. Plaza Premium is already listed as a separate entity in Amex's Global Lounge Collection, which means Amex and Plaza Premium have signed a direct reimbursement agreement.
        Dixons Travel, which operates about three dozen electronic shops in airports in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Norway, has closed all of its outlets. Dixons says Britain's decision to ban duty-free airport shopping after Brexit made continued operation impossible. Most Dixons locations have been closed during the pandemic.

The Department of Homeland Security is again delaying the requirement that drivers licenses be compliant with REAL ID standards in order to be accepted at airport checkpoints. The new deadline is May 3, 2023, an 18-month extension from the most recent "deadline" of October 1. The law creating the federal REAL ID standard was passed in 2005 and the original deadline for REAL ID implementation was 2008.
        JetBlue Airways this week added two new aircraft types to its fleet. The Airbus A220-300 offers 140 seats configured 2x3. That makes seats 18.6 inches wide, the most spacious in any domestic coach cabin. There are USB and electrical power ports at each seat along with a 10.1-inch video monitor. The Airbus A321LR is designed to operate the carrier's upcoming flights to London. They offer 24 newly designed Mint (business class) seat beds, 90 coach seats and 24 Even More Space (premium economy) chairs. JetBlue hasn't specified a launch date for London flights--or even which airport it will serve.