Business Travel Briefing
For Early October, 2021
The briefing in brief: Marriott promises to improve breakfasts at four of its chains. More airport lounges are opening. Airlines continue to make abrupt changes to their route maps. United and American line up new overseas partners. KLM will restore Miami and Las Vegas flights after all. The Justice Department says two scammers beat airlines for more than $500,000 in "lost" luggage compensation. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Marriott Promises Better Breakfasts. Should You Believe It?
As you have surely experienced during this pandemic, hotel breakfasts are now a sometimes thing--even at chains that promise complimentary victuals as part of their brand standard. For more than a year, grab-and-go bags have displaced once-hearty buffets. Some hotels simply gave up and told guests to find the nearest fast-food joint. Meanwhile, many supposedly full-service hotels have kept restaurants closed and pushed guests to "ghost kitchens" operated by services such as Butler. Now one of the most egregious offenders, Marriott, which has let franchisees violate brand standards at will, promises to improve breakfasts at its limited-service operations: Residence Inn, TownePlace, Fairfield Inn and SpringHill. "Through extensive consumer insights, we recognize that our guests want to wake up to a nutritious and energizing breakfast made with quality ingredients," says Marriott vice president Diane Meyer. Leaving aside the fact that Marriott needed research to understand that guests booking hotels promising breakfast actually, you know, expected breakfast, Meyer and Marriott are touting all sorts of morning upgrades. Marriott says the new menus will launch in October and roll out to almost 3,000 properties during the winter. Two huge red lights, however. A new menu doesn't mean Marriott will stop looking the other way when individual properties ignore the brand mandate. And Marriott's chief executive, Tony Capuano, has promised franchisees that he'll reduce their costs. A good breakfast doesn't cost much, of course, but hoteliers aren't in the mood to spend regardless of what they promise in public.

Lounges Are a Bright Spot in the Dreary Airport Landscape
If you've been through an airport lately--Who'd a thunk Joe Sent Me would ever use that phrase?--you know the landscape remains fairly bleak. Many shopping venues are still closed, food-and-beverage options are limited and prices have skyrocketed as airports quietly abandon their "street pricing" pledges. One bright spot: airline clubs and common-use lounges, which are reopening rapidly and briskly adding new locations. In Cleveland, for example, a new location of The Club has opened at the entrance to Concourse B. It's operated by a division of the same company that sponsors Priority Pass, the global airport lounge network. The location once housed a branch of the Airspace Lounge but has been closed for more than a year. Meanwhile, Plaza Premium, which is positioning itself as competition for Priority Pass, has taken control of the former Virgin Clubhouse in the North Terminal of London/Gatwick. That means the club is open to pay-in customers and holders of the American Express Platinum Card. And speaking of American Express, it is negotiating with the Port Authority, which operates Newark Airport, to open a Centurion Lounge at the soon-to-open new Terminal A. Plans call for an 18,000-square-foot club on the third level of the new facility. Don't expect to see it before the summer of 2023, however.

United and American Line Up New Partners
U. S. carriers continue to shy away from launching their own flights and look instead to line up local international partners. United Airlines, for example, has struck a deal with Airlink of South Africa to add code-share flights to more than 40 destinations around the southern part of the continent. United now flies nonstop to two destinations--Cape Town and Johannesburg--in the region. Meanwhile, American Airlines has struck a deal with IndiGo, a low-fare/high-fee carrier in India. American will place its code on flights to 29 IndiGo destinations from Delhi and Bangalore. Both deals require government approval. Stay tuned.
        KLM is reviving plans to restore winter flights from its Amsterdam hub to Las Vegas and Miami. Three weekly flights on both routes relaunch on December 6. KLM abandoned plans to resume service this summer after the Netherlands tightened travel rules and the United States didn't open to Europe flyers. But Dutch rules have been loosened and the United States says vaccinated Europeans should be able to visit starting in early November.

They Come and They Go on the National Route Map
The only constant of pandemic travel is change and airlines continue to add and dump routes with lightning speed. Delta Air Lines on November 1 drops flights between its Salt Lake City hub and Durango, Colorado, a route it launched earlier this year. And United Airlines is bailing on Rochester, Minnesota. Flights from its Chicago/O'Hare hub ended earlier this month. Flights from the Denver hub disappear on October 30. Ironically, all three routes are flown by SkyWest, the huge regional airline that runs commuter service for Delta and United. Meanwhile, start-up Avelo Airlines says it will launch flights from its Burbank hub to Tucson, Arizona. Twice-weekly Boeing 737 flights are scheduled to begin on December 16. But beware: In its short history, Avelo already has announced new routes and then never actually launched the runs. Finally, public charter carrier JSX says it has begun flying between Dallas/Love and Austin. The four daily roundtrips use the airports' private-jet terminals and specially configured 30-seat Embraer jets.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
How do you beat the airlines on luggage? Fly under fictitious names, use phony addresses and make bogus claims for losses, according to indictments unveiled this week by the Justice Department. According to charges lodged against two Louisiana residents, they scammed more than $550,000 by making 180 claims against at least four airlines. The indictment and other material can be viewed here.
        An Amtrak Empire Builder train derailed over the weekend in Montana. Three passengers were killed and at least 50 more were injured. Nearly 160 passengers and crew were on board the 10-car train, eight of which went off the rails near Joplin. The Empire Builder runs from Chicago to both Seattle and Portland.
        New York City hotels had a strong summer--rates recovered to near pre-pandemic levels and seem normal through the rest of the year. That is partially why two New York giants--the 1,900-room Hilton in Rockefeller Center and the 1,300-room Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Terminal--are planning to reopen. The Hilton opens October 4 and the Hyatt returns November 1. Those dates aren't totally market-driven, however. Recently passed New York City legislation would have forced the hotels to pay substantial severance to laid-off workers had they remained closed. A local real estate publication has those details.