Business Travel Briefing
For November 4-18, 2021
The briefing in brief: Three more hotel chains extend elite status into 2023. Alaska Airlines adds nonstops to Miami and Cleveland from Seattle. United adds Boston-London flight. Air Transat adds four international routes from francophone Canada. Major changes coming next week at Washington/National Airport. Copa Airlines will launch flights to Panama from Atlanta. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

With 2021 winding down and travel still a fraction of its 2019 volume, more hotel chains are realizing that they have no choice but to extend elite status for their best customers. Hilton already pressed the extension button in September and now Marriott, InterContinental and Radisson have done the same. That leaves Hyatt and some second-tier chains--Best Western, Choice, Wyndham--still to respond. Meanwhile, here are some of the specifics of the latest moves:
        Marriott Bonvoy will extend your existing status through the end of February, 2023. Validity of Bonvoy points has been extended through 2022 and free-night awards will be extended until June 30, 2022. But Marriott never does something without charging you for it. Effective in March, award charts are disappearing and will be replaced with "dynamic award prices" tied to the cash rate on the days you want to claim. Hotels (and airlines) insist that is fair, but there always seems to be a hidden devaluation built in. Don't expect Marriott to do it any differently.
        IHG Rewards, InterContinental's program, is extending elite status through February, 2023. The points expiration for general members has been delayed until at least January, 2023. Credit card reward nights issued in 2021 will be valid through December 31, 2022.
        Radisson Rewards members in the United States have their status extended through February, 2023. Credit for all 2021 nights will roll over to next year and be counted toward 2023 elite status.

Unrelenting pressure from Delta Air Lines at its Seattle-Tacoma hub continues to motivate Alaska Airlines to find places to fly. Its newest choices? Cleveland, Miami and Salt Lake City, a Delta hub. The Cleveland run from Sea-Tac launches June 16 with a daily Boeing 737 nonstop. Flights to Miami from Sea-Tac are being revived after a 10-year hiatus. There will be a daily roundtrip using 737-900s that also begins on June 16. The new service to Salt Lake is a nonstop from Anchorage and will run weekly on Saturday using 737-900s. It begins June 18.
        United Airlines, for about the 300th time in its history (including Continental Airlines), has announced it is running a "shuttle" operation between Newark and Washington/National Airport. The supposedly hourly operation will use a mix of CRJ-550 and Boeing 737 Max aircraft. When you add up all of its flights to DCA or its Washington/Dulles hub, that gives United a total of 32 daily flights from Newark and New York/LaGuardia.
        WestJet says it will return to 95 destinations this winter after myriad pandemic cancellations this year and last. Most notable? The return of nonstops to Honolulu from Edmonton; restored service between Regina and Winnipeg; and sun destination nonstops from Calgary to Fort Lauderdale, Kauai and Kona in Hawaii and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

The pace and tenor of Washington politics never seem to change regardless of who's in charge, but the same can't be said for traffic flows at Washington/National Airport. Gate 35X, the pit of commuter-travel despair, has disappeared and now there will be a new slew of changes early next week. Effective on the evening of November 8, all shuttle buses--for parking, car rental and airport hotels--will move to the curb outside baggage claim. That's already where taxis and ride-share pickups muster. Meanwhile, two new security checkpoints open on November 9. They'll service Gates 10 to 59 and be used by passengers heading for flights on Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, United and American. Once airside, passengers can move freely between Gates 10 and 59 without extra screening. (Terminal A Gates 1-9 used by Air Canada, Southwest and Frontier will not change.)
        Cincinnati now has a consolidated rental car facility. The $175 million facility on nine acres is home to 11 rental firms. Most importantly, however, the operation eliminates the need for shuttle bus transportation since the car-rent facility is directly connected to the passenger terminal.
        Hertz says it has ordered 100,000 Tesla electric vehicles and the first of them will be delivered this month. Eventually, Hertz says Teslas will be offered in all major U.S. markets and select European airports. For its part, Tesla and Tesla boss Elon Musk say no contract has been signed yet.

The Air Canada buyout of Air Transat was scuppered by the Coronavirus and objections from European regulators, so that has left the smaller airline scrambling for ways to remain relevant. It is honing in on francophone Canada and unleashing a raft of new and somewhat surprising service from Montreal and Quebec City. Montreal gets three new nonstops from Air Transat, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. All are slated to begin in May. But the biggest surprise is Quebec City's first new nonstop flight to Europe in a long time. From May 11 through September 28, Air Transat will run a weekly Airbus A321neo to London/Gatwick. Air Transat also says it'll revive its Quebec City run to Paris for the summer.
        United Airlines says it'll launch flights from Boston to London/Heathrow in late March. The daily flights will operate with Boeing 767-300ERs configured with 46 business class seatbeds and 22 international premium economy seats as well as United's standard coach and EconomyPlus chairs.
        ITA Airways, the carrier that replaced defunct Alitalia, is also taking Alitalia's position in the SkyTeam Alliance.
        Copa Airlines says it will launch four weekly flights between Atlanta/Hartsfield and Panama beginning December 12. Copa is a Star Alliance member, which means this flight will essentially be an orphan fighting upstream against Delta's massive Hartsfield operation.

The FAA said today (November 4) that it had referred more than three dozen allegedly disruptive passengers to the FBI for criminal prosecution. Separately, a 20-year-old man this week was charged with assault after attacking a flight attendant last week on an American Airlines run from New York/JFK to John Wayne/Orange County. Brian Hsu, a New York student, claims he suffers from brain trauma and was returning home after brain surgery. He was released on $10,000 bond and is due to appear in a Denver court on November 15. He also must submit to a mental health evaluation.
        Southwest Airlines says it is investigating a pilot who ended an announcement with "Let's go, Brandon," a right-wing slur aimed at President Biden. "Southwest does not condone employees sharing their personal political opinions while on the job," the carrier said. Separately, Southwest suspended a pilot as a result of his assault last month on a flight attendant. The argument, at a bar in a hotel used for crew layovers, was over mask mandates.