Business Travel Briefing
For July 29-August 12, 2021
The briefing in brief: Delta extends elite status for another year. When will the other carriers match? Priority Pass adds 40 lounges in China. Top-end Canadian Visa cardholders get Plaza Premium freebies. American Airlines makes a down-market deal in South America. Marriott Bonvoy loses Hawaii resort. Israeli airlines fly to Morocco. Surprise! No one paying their fines for violating the in-flight mask mandate. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Faced with an ugly reality--business travel has been slow to return and the Delta variant may delay a revival even longer--Delta Air Lines this week unveiled a slew of status extensions and other changes. Delta elites this year will have their status extended through 2022. MQMs earned this year will roll into 2022 to qualify for 2023 status. Travelers who actually earn 2022 status via flying this year will receive added benefits. Upgrade certificates now will be valid through January 31, 2023. Other perks--SkyClub guest passes, companion certificates and credit card flight credits--will also be extended. So the obvious question is: When will the other carriers match in their respective programs? The obvious answer: Eventually. "There's no big rush," one airline's frequency chief told me after Delta's announcement Tuesday (July 27). "It's not like we'll lose traffic from members who aren't flying anyway." Another told me that his carrier will certainly extend their elite members' status, "but we really do want to see what the next 60 days bring. Who knows? Maybe we'll be happily surprised."

As I suggested two weeks ago, the airport club scene will continue to morph in strange and sometimes mysterious ways. Latest news? Still smarting from the loss of dozens of Plaza Premium lounges, Priority Pass has cut a deal with China Southern Airlines. That'll give Priority Pass cardholders access to 40 lounges across China. And take note if you carry a Visa Infinite Privilege card, a type of super-premium Visa issued only in Canada. Infinite Privilege cardholders now receive six free visits to Plaza Premium clubs in the next 11 months as well as retaining the existing Priority Pass perk.
        Lexington/Blue Grass Airport in Kentucky closes for runway repairs from August 19 through August 22. Commercial flights to/from Lexington have been cancelled on those days.
        Charleston/Yeager Airport in West Virginia is getting a new name. The airport is due to open a U.S. Customs facility before the end of the year and that entitles it to add "international" to the name. Effective January 1, the new name will be West Virginia International Yeager Airport.

American Airlines is the largest carrier to South America, but it's still plugging holes after the 2019 loss of its Latam partnership to Delta Air Lines. It tried to plug the gap with a deal with GOL Airlines, but that is largely limited to Brazil. So today (July 29) American struck another deal, this one with JetSmart, a low-fare/high-fee airline that operates in Chile and Argentina. To understand how downmarket the JetSmart arrangement is, consider the South American carrier as the functional equivalent of Frontier Airlines in the United States. That's no random comparison: JetSmart is owned by Indigo Partners, the same investment operation that owns Frontier. The deal would include code-sharing, a frequent flyer program partnership and an investment in JetSmart by American. Multiple government approvals are required.
        JetBlue Airways is cutting a dozen flights out of its start-up schedule to London. The carrier is still on schedule to launch New York/Kennedy-London/Heathrow service on August 11, but there will only be four weekly flights in September instead of daily roundtrips. During its quarterly earnings call on Tuesday (July 27), JetBlue blamed the flight reduction on continued restrictions on U.S.-U.K. travel. The next day, however, Britain lifted its quarantine requirement on U.S. visitors.
        El Al and Israir have launched passengers flights between Tel Aviv and Marrakech. Israel and Morocco established diplomatic relations in 2020. El Al says it also will launch flights to Casablanca starting September 2. Arkia, a third Israeli carrier, says it will fly to Marrakech in mid-September.
        Mango, the low-fare carrier in South Africa, has gone into bankruptcy. Like South African Air, which is bankrupt and grounded, Mango is owned by the South African government.

Marriott Bonvoy players take note: You're losing a Hawaii hotel award option. A well-known local operator, Outrigger, has agreed to acquire the 509-room Sheraton Kona Resort and convert it to the Outrigger brand. The deal is expected to close late next month. The property originally opened as the Kona Surf Hotel in 1971 and closed in 2000. It reopened as a Sheraton four years later.
        United Airlines says coach passengers can soon pre-order snacks and beverages. The option is available now in the online "reservation details" section of its Web site for flights beginning on Monday, August 2, from Chicago/O'Hare to Honolulu, San Diego, Orange County and Sacramento. United says it will offer the pre-order option on all flights longer than 1,500 miles by the fall.
        Toronto Union Station has completed a 10-year, US$660 million renewal project. The historic Bay Concourse, the main passenger area, and the York Concourse now have new dining options, more ticketing machines and new departure boards. There are also new lounges for VIA Rail customers.

The federal government has levied hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in recent months for in-flight mask violations and related disruptive behavior. Getting offending flyers to pay up is another matter, however. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request from, we now know only two passengers have agreed to pay. "It's perhaps not surprising that the people who are most adamant about not wearing a mask are also the most adamant about not paying a fine," opines Carnegie Mellon University professor Gretchen Chapman. Read all about it here.