Business Travel Briefing
For November 11-25, 2021
The briefing in brief: Capital One makes its play for premium-travel cardholders. United dumps a dozen small cities from its route map. An LAX office building converts to two hotels. Sonesta now begins to shrink. Iberia and Turkish Airlines add more U.S. service. Amtrak is a big winner in the new infrastructure bill. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

Capital One isn't exactly the most targeted marketer out there. It made its bones going after customers who roll over balances rather than high-value customers who pay immediately to avoid interest. Yet Cap One was also one of the first banks to promote credit cards that didn't charge foreign exchange fees and it recently made massive upgrades to its reward plan to appeal to frequent flyers. Now its next strategy: a super-premium travel card to compete with American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve. And the typical Capital One bifurcation is in play with the Venture X card, which began taking applications this week. The Visa Infinite Card is comparatively cheap ($395 annually compared to Amex Platinum $695 and Chase Sapphire's $550), but the big acquisition bonus (100,000 points) requires a massive spend ($10,000 during the first six months). The prime benefit: a Priority Pass Select membership complete with the restaurant benefit. There's also a possibly useful "cell phone protection" benefit that gets you up to $800 if your device is damaged or stolen. There's an interesting statement credit--$200 for charges on Airbnb and VRBO--and one of more modest interest: a $300 credit for a charge made via Capital One Travel. And one "benefit" to ignore: Hertz President's Club status.

Now that air traffic is returning to something approximating normal, United Airlines and its commuter carriers are blithely dumping small cities from its route map. The excuse? The cities were performing fine during the dreariest days of the pandemic, but now don't contribute enough to the bottom line. Gone are flights to College Station and Killeen, Texas; Columbia, Missouri; Evansville, Indiana; Kalamazoo and Lansing, Michigan; Twin Falls, Idaho; Monroe, Louisiana; Pierre and Watertown, South Dakota; and Mosinee, Wisconsin. Also being permanently cut: flights to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Almost all of the routes were being served with 50-seat regional jets. The Twin Falls service ends this month. The other cities will be cut at the end of the year.

Sonesta Hotels had fewer than 100 properties at the beginning of the pandemic but passed the 1,000 mark thanks to an acquisition of some lower-end brands. The other driver: Service Properties Trust, a huge hotel owner that also controls a third of Sonesta. After rocky negotiations with Marriott, InterContinental and Hyatt, Service Properties shifted hundreds of hotels to Sonesta's brands from the larger firms. But now the metaphoric worm may be turning. Service Properties said this week that it is considering selling about five dozen hotels "unencumbered" by the Sonesta brand. What that means in English is that Service Properties is looking to peddle unwanted hotels and will let potential buyers pick up the locations without requiring them to honor existing Sonesta management contracts. Stay tuned.
        Best Western says it is extending the elite status of all members of Best Western Rewards until January, 2023. That makes BW the latest chain to extend status, following Marriott, Hilton, Radisson and InterContinental.

The iconic, mid-century office building at 5959 West Century Boulevard just outside Los Angeles International has been converted into a pair of hotels. The 13-story structure, once known as Airport Center, is now a dual-branded Hyatt. Of the 401 rooms, 129 are designated at Hyatt House and 272 are branded Hyatt Place. The property, a literal stone's throw from the Hyatt Regency LAX, has an extensive fitness center and a rooftop pool with views of the runways. (Hey, some people like that kind of view.)
        Phoenix/Sky Harbor gets yet another common-use airport club. The Escape Lounge is on the mezzanine level of Terminal 3 between the E and F gates. There's also an Escape Lounge in Terminal 4. Both are aligned with American Express' lounge access program and free to Platinum cardholders.

Major transatlantic carriers seem convinced that passengers will be flocking to flights now that the pandemic has eased and national borders are opening. Although specific details and service details are not yet available, Iberia and Turkish Airlines are leaking information about their new destinations. For its part, Iberia says it expects to launch new nonstops from Madrid to both Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington/Dulles. And Turkish has told shareholders that it will inaugurate new service to both Seattle-Tacoma and Detroit/Metro next year.
        Aeromexico is splitting its Mexico City hub. Starting December 11, the airline will move around two dozen flights to Terminal 1 from their current home in Terminal 2. More details are here.

Although there's plenty of evidence that almost no one is paying the "disruptive flyer" fines being levied by the FAA, the agency continues to dole out the financial penalties for being an in-flight jerk. Examples: $32,000 assessed to a woman on an Horizon Air Flight from Austin to San Francisco. The FAA says she threw trash at flight attendants and stole cookies from other passengers. Meanwhile, a $17,500 fine was levied against a JetBlue Airways customer who caused a Newark to Fort Lauderdale flight to divert to Richmond, Virginia. He assaulted a member of the flight crew and was met by police when the plane landed in Richmond.
        Amtrak is emerging as the big winner of the $1.2 billion infrastructure package President Biden is expected to sign next week. The railroad will receive about $66 billion to address its repair backlog, improve stations and purchase new trainsets. Aging tunnels will also be replaced. Amtrak would also be required to bring back ticket agents to any station that has at least 40 passengers a day.