Business Travel Briefing
For October 7-October 21, 2021
The briefing in brief: Will business travel volume contract by 50% in the years ahead? Chase introduces a Hyatt small business credit card and it isn't exactly a must-have. Capital One offers 1:1 transfers to airline partners. United Airlines delays San Francisco-Bangalore launch. Aer Lingus resumes two more Dublin routes and reschedules Manchester nonstops. London airports and rail stations lose dozens of ATMs. Eurostar and Thalys of France revive merger plans. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

The men who run the nation's leading airlines have been cautiously whistling past the graveyard and insisting business travel would inevitably return--and return in the foreseeable weeks and months. Although the bosses at the largest U.S. carriers disagree on specific timing, they all publicly insist that a robust rebound is just around some nearby corner. But there are voices indicating exactly the opposite. An example: Mars Incorporated, the $40 billion confectionary firm that produces everything from M&Ms to Wrigley gums, plans a permanent 50% cut in business travel. With 130,000 employees worldwide, the company says it hopes to book 145,000 fewer flights each year. Staffers are being told to travel for "purpose, rather than presence." Meanwhile, Columbia-based Avianca Airlines, which operates carriers in six Latin American nations, is restructuring in bankruptcy and the direction is clear: Create an operation for a world with 50% less corporate travel. "The threshold for a meeting to be in person has gone up," new chief executive Adrian Neuhauser said this week. "We don't think it's a 20% issue or 30% issue. We think it's a 50, 60% issue of business travel going away."

Chase's aggressive attempts to build a portfolio of Hyatt customers has taken a long-expected turn: a small business credit card to complement the existing World of Hyatt personal card. But the product announced yesterday (October 6) isn't a game changer. In fact, even dedicated Hyatt customers may decide to give it a miss. There is a hefty acquisition bonus (75,000 Hyatt points), but the spend threshold ($7,500 in the first three months) is high. Ongoing benefits are interesting, but not compelling. For example, you receive entry-level Hyatt elite status, but that's no different than the existing card. The small business card earns five status-qualifying nights for each $10,000 you spend, only slightly better than two nights for each $5,000 you spend on the existing card. (And it is worse if you consider the business card doesn't start you with five nights as the personal card does.) The annual fee ($199) is more than double the personal card's price ($95). The Hyatt spending bonus (four points per dollar) is no different from the existing card. The small business card offers a $100 statement credit against Hyatt spend each year, but not a free Category 1-4 night, a perk of the existing card. In fact, the business card's only real claim to fame is the "adaptive rewards accelerator." Stripped of the jargon, it means double points on your top three spending categories each quarter through next year and the top two categories in 2023 and beyond.
        Capital One giveth and taketh away. It now offers 1:1 point transfers to partner airlines, which practically means two airline points for spend on Capital One's qualifying cards since they offer double points for each dollar spent. On the flip side, however, JetBlue Airways is out as a transfer partner after October 24.

Aer Lingus spent a decade building a deep network of U.S. nonstops to Dublin to connect with the carrier's onward flights to Europe. But the Irish government imposed some of the longest, strictest Coronavirus lockdowns and the carrier has had to slow-walk its transatlantic return. Two more routes click into place next month: Newark-Dublin returns on November 14 and Orlando-Dublin resumes on November 27. The carrier's lounge in Terminal 5 at New York/Kennedy has also reopened. Meanwhile, the airline's launch of nonstops to Manchester, England, originally due in July, has been rescheduled. Effective December 1, the JFK-Manchester nonstops begin. Ten days later, the Orlando-Manchester run finally begins.
        United Airlines announced nonstops on the San Francisco-Bangalore run more than a year ago. It was a big deal since that ultra-long-haul route (about 8,700 miles) links Silicon Valley with the Silicon Valley of India. But announcing a route and actually launching it are two different things. The nerd bird flights, originally due this spring, now won't begin until at least March 26. Stay tuned.
        WestJet says it'll launch nonstops between Toronto and Dublin next spring. Four weekly flights begin May 15 and will eventually build to daily service in the summer months. But beware: This route will be served with cramped, single-aisle Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
        SkyTeam Alliance has officially abandoned its branded lounge inside Terminal 4 at Heathrow. The two-level club, the world's first shared SkyTeam facility when it opened in 2009, was closed at the beginning of the pandemic and the lease has expired. Besides, the key SkyTeam players--Delta, KLM and Air France--have permanently relocated to Terminal 3.

Phoenix/Sky Harbor now has another American Express Centurion Lounge. Kinda. Sorta. An Escape Lounge has opened in Terminal 3 and, like all Escape Lounges, it is branded as a "Centurion Studio Partner." Amex Platinum and Amex Delta SkyMiles Reserve cardholders receive free entry. The facility is located on the mezzanine level at the intersection of the E and F Gates. Escape also operates a lounge in Terminal 4. Meanwhile, American Express confirms to Australian news outlet that its existing clubs at Sydney and Melbourne airports will be upgraded to Centurion Lounges. That means more food and beverage items--when they finally reopen. Both clubs have been closed since the start of the pandemic.
        New York/LaGuardia continues to play musical airline chairs. Effective October 31, JetBlue Airways moves most operations to Terminal B, the better to connect with American Airlines flights. (JetBlue and AA are in a so-called Northeast Alliance and are being sued by the Justice Department.) JetBlue's Boston flights will remain at LGA's Marine Air Terminal, however.
        London Airports and train terminals have lost more than two dozen ATM machines thanks to the collapse of International Currency Exchange. The operation is now in bankruptcy. ICE's ATMs at Heathrow and London/City Airport as well those at Victoria and St. Pancras stations are among the casualties.

This isn't a big deal, but, you know, how often can we talk about a service getting less expensive? The TSA says PreCheck renewals completed online now cost $70 instead of $85. The agency says 95% of renewals are, in fact, done online.
        Eurostar and the French rail service Thalys have revived their plans to merge. First introduced in September, 2019, the merger was scrapped as the pandemic devastated traffic on Eurostar, which connects London with Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels. Now the companies hope to complete a merger by early 2023. Eurostar would continue as a separate brand.