Business Travel Briefing
For July 8-July 22, 2021
The briefing in brief: Hilton eliminates daily housekeeping at U.S. hotels except luxury brands. American Express raises Platinum Card fee to $695 a year. Porter Airlines finally announces a September restart in Canada and the United States. Heathrow Terminal 3 reopens next week. United details the reopening of United Club airport lounges. Hertz exits bankruptcy--and learns nothing. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

This should shock, but not surprise, you: Hilton this week officially eliminated daily housekeeping at all U.S. properties except those aligned with its luxury brands (Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and LXR). Although Hilton was at pains to claim the decision was based on guest desires in light of the pandemic, don't be fooled. This is a cost-cutting move, one of many that have already been publicly promised to franchisees by Hilton chief executive Christopher J. Nassetta. Hilton properties don't want to pay for housekeeping staff and they're trying to convince you that you don't want clean rooms, either. Hilton pointedly promises that guests can request housekeeping during any stay, but that's a patently empty gesture. With hotels employing fewer people to clean rooms, housekeeping-on-request will become a strictly "if available" event. Even if a hotel is willing to provide it, housekeeping certainly will be on its rigid internal timetable, not a time that may be convenient for you. What's next? Watch how Hilton's major competitors--Marriott, InterContinental, Wyndham and, to a lesser degree, Hyatt--react. And watch for this: a pay-for-housekeeping option. "It's inevitable," the general manager at a non-Hilton property told me this week. "Hotels may start providing 'guaranteed' daily housekeeping to super-elite customers and offer to provide it for a hefty daily fee to other guests."

The American Express Platinum Card has long been the go-to charge vehicle for business travelers, primarily due to its superlative lounge access policy and automatic gold-level status conferred in the Marriott and Hilton frequent-stay programs. It was a comparative bargain at $495, but Amex raised the annual fee to $550 several years ago and now has jacked it to $695. The new charge is effective immediately for new cardholders and kicks in when existing Amex holders renew their card. As Bob McGarvey astutely notes in his column this week, however, Amex has been hacking away at its lounge benefit as it hiked its fees. Its version of Priority Pass no longer includes the airport-restaurant benefit and Amex is further limiting guest access to its own Centurion Lounge locations. Amex hopes its new lifestyle perks--gym-membership kickbacks, Uber credits, streaming-services rebates, mobile-phone protection and a free membership in Clear--will obscure the $145 rate bump and reduced club perks. Your call on this one, fellow travelers.
        Citi Premier, which issues ThankYou points that can be transferred to several airlines, has a new acquisition bonus. New applicants can earn 80,000 points if they spend $4,000 in the first 90 days. The card, which carries a modest $95 annual fee, is also notable for strong everyday earning: triple points on airline, hotel and dining spend as well as triple points at supermarkets and gasoline stations. More details are here.

Every few months since March, 2020, Toronto/City-based Porter Airlines announced it would delay the restart of its flights around Canada and to the United States. It did so again this week, but this time the delay came with a restart schedule. If you believe Porter after all the times it cried aeronautic wolf, flights will start running again on September 8 with service to Ottawa, Montreal and Thunder Bay. Quebec City returns on September 13. On September 17, Porter says it'll cross the border again with flights to Newark, Boston, Chicago/Midway and Washington/Dulles. Routes that don't touch Toronto/City begin returning on September 13 with flights from Halifax to both Montreal and Ottawa. Let's see what happens. In case you've forgotten, Porter flies 74-seat Bombardier Q400s configured 2x2.
        Aer Lingus has deferred the launch of new nonstop routes from Manchester, England, to New York/Kennedy and Orlando. Flights were due to launch late this month, but have now been moved to September 30.
        Singapore Airlines is launching a rare "fifth freedom" route within Europe. Flights between Copenhagen and Rome using internationally configured Airbus A350s are due to begin July 16.

England's newly relaxed travel rules still leave Americans encased in amber--that requires a mandatory quarantine and intermediate tests--but London/Heathrow is betting things are slowly getting back to normal. Terminal 3, mothballed since April last year, reopens on July 15. Delta Air Lines and its vassal, Virgin Atlantic, will be the first two carriers to move back into their old homes. Heathrow has taken a huge hit during the pandemic, losing more than 450,000 flights since March 1, 2020, according to Eurocontrol, which operates the continent's air traffic control system.
        Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, opened a new airport last Sunday (July 4). Officially called Chinggis Khaan International, the facility will be run by a consortium of Japanese businesses, including the operating authorities of Tokyo/Narita and Tokyo/Haneda airports.

This week's episode of Passenger Behaving Badly involves a Boston high school group flying to the Bahamas on Monday (July 5). American Airlines Flight 893 had a mechanical before departure from Charlotte and that's when the group of about 30 teens decided they'd no longer wear their masks. The replacement flight was cancelled and most passengers were put up in hotels--but not the high schoolers. They spent a cold night on floors and chairs in the airport.
        United Airlines is finally reopening most United Club locations. Lounges in Orlando, Austin and Honolulu have already reopened. Five more locations--including New York/LaGuardia, San Diego and Las Vegas--are due this month. Clubs in seven airports--including, Atlanta, Washington/National, Boston and Raleigh/Durham--are scheduled to reopen in August. Five more--including Minneapolis and Philadelphia--are scheduled for September.
        Avelo Airlines, the Burbank-hubbed carrier that launched in April, is already trimming its route map. Flights to Bozeman (Montana), Grand Junction (Colorado) and Phoenix/Mesa have been dumped. The carrier also doubled its checked-bag fee to $20.
        All 28 passengers are feared dead in the crash of an aging An-26 aircraft over Russia's remote Kamchatka Peninsula. The An-26 is a Soviet-era aircraft last manufactured in 1986.

Hertz, the one-time king of car rentals, quietly exited Chapter 11 last week after a 13-month stay in bankruptcy. The company, which also operates the Thrifty and Dollar brands, slashed debt and improved liquidity--and, of course, reduced its fleet size. Sadly, however, its customer-facing operations continue to deteriorate to almost comic levels. Besides routinely inventing phony post-rental upcharges and fees, Hertz recently had the temerity to rent a filthy vehicle to a customer and then charge her for cleaning a semen-filled condom that a previous renter left behind. Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus has the disgusting details.