Business Travel Briefing
For September 9-29, 2022
The briefing in brief: Western airlines play musical chairs in alliances with Gulf carriers. Wan points promotions from the major hotel chains. A new backdoor benefit for Amex Platinum cardholders. Airlines dump a slew of mostly domestic routes in secondary markets. Sonesta picks up four all-suite hotels in Manhattan. WestJet adds nonstops between Winnipeg and Los Angeles. Marriott's Frenchman's Reef on St. Thomas is divided into two new resorts. And more.

The Western airlines for years have demonized Gulf Carriers such as Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. The complaints were an odd cornucopia of lies, half-truths, nativism, economic protectionism and, of course, outright racism. But that was before the Western carriers decided there was money to be made by cooperating with them. The first major change was Qatar Airways joining the American Airlines-led Oneworld Alliance in 2013, but the pace of change has really picked up in recent weeks. Air Canada, which for years leaned on the Canadian government to keep Gulf Carriers out of Canada, has signed a deal to code-share and offer reciprocal frequent flyer participation with Dubai-based Emirates Airline. Air Canada's Star Alliance buddy, United Airlines, will announce a similar deal with Emirates next week. (United and Emirates were code-share partners before Emirates flew to the United States.) The merry-go-round doesn't end there. To align again with United, Emirates needs to sever its decade-old agreement with JetBlue Airways. That once profitable deal ends on October 30. JetBlue will compensate by expanding its existing cooperation with Abu Dhabi-based Etihad. Expect those details to be announced in the weeks ahead. But, wait, there's more. Oneworld member Finnair is launching nonstops to Doha from key Nordic capitals as part of a huge new code-share deal with Qatar Airways. Flights from Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen begin in the fall.

Average nationwide nightly hotel rates are now running about 20% above pre-pandemic levels, which may explain why major hotel chains are flogging such weak points promotions. Latest in: Marriott Bonvoy, which is offering 2,000 bonus points per stay, but only starting with the second stay between September 21 and December 15. Marriott credit cardholders earn an additional 2,000 bonus points for each brand they use, but, again, only starting with the second stay at each brand. Meanwhile, Hilton Honors offers 2,000 bonus points per stay until December 31, the absolute bare minimum given the low value of Honors points. World of Hyatt offers double points on stays until December 20, but only if you stay at least two nights. It also offers double-night credit at its expanding collection of all-inclusive properties. Ironically, the best offer may be from the lightly regarded Best Western Rewards program. It offers double points on all stays between September 12 and November 21 without any strings. Advance registration is required for all these promotions, of course.
        American Express Membership Rewards has a new backdoor perk for Platinum cardholders: free streaming on Paramount+. Existing Amex Platinum "digital" benefits only cover Audible, Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM and The New York Times up to $20 a month. But the card also covers Walmart+ membership and Walmart+ now includes free Paramount+ streaming as part of its benefits package.

With this year's crazy, leisure-fueled travel rush slowing, the U.S. and Canadian airlines are shedding a slew of runs, most (but not all) of them to secondary and tertiary domestic cities on their route maps. Buckle up, because this is a long list:
        American Airlines dropped all service to three cities this week: Islip and Ithaca, New York, and Toledo, Ohio. It is also dumping routes from Dallas/Fort Worth to Hermosillo, Mexico, and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. From Philadelphia, it is cutting flights to Newport News, Virginia, and Santo Domingo and Santiago, Dominican Republic. The airline's Chicago hub loses flights to Ontario, California. From Charlotte, American is dumping runs to Alexandria (Louisiana), El Paso (Texas) and Sioux Falls (South Dakota).
        Delta Air Lines is dropping six routes from its Detroit/Metro hub: Allentown (Pennsylvania); Cedar Rapids (Iowa); Dayton (Ohio); Fort Wayne (Indiana); Oakland; and Oklahoma City. Also going: flights from Minneapolis to Moline, Illinois, and the Boston-Toronto route.
        Hawaiian Airlines has ended its nonstop between Honolulu and Orlando, the nation's second-longest domestic route after Hawaiian's Boston-Honolulu run.
        JetBlue Airways is dumping 37 routes, about half of which had been "temporarily suspended" during the pandemic. Among the newest cuts: flights from Newark to at least a half-dozen Caribbean destinations; service from Fort Lauderdale to Aruba; and its Los Angeles-Jacksonville route.
        United Airlines this week ended service to Texarkana, Arkansas, and will dump flights to Flagstaff, Arizona, by the end of the month. Also going: United service between its San Francisco hub and Santa Rosa/Sonoma County, California.
        WestJet Airlines is cutting back on its route network in Eastern Canada. It has already dumped flights between Toronto and New York/JFK and will soon end Toronto runs to Boston, Quebec City and Frederickton, Newfoundland.

Once upon a time, in a travel reality far, far away, Sonesta Hotels owned New York City's prestigious Plaza Hotel on Central Park. But that was a different Plaza, a different New York and a different Sonesta, which is now a repository of an odd grab-bag of hotels reflagged from other chains. But even with the rapid reflaggings over the past two years, Sonesta had no presence in New York City. Thanks to an extremely soft Manhattan real-estate market for hotels, however, the chain has managed to buy four upmarket properties comparatively cheaply. The all-suites--The Benjamin, The Shelburne, The Gardens and The Fifty--were owned by Denihan Hospitality Group, which marketed them under the Manhattan East and, lately, the Affinia Hotels banners. The hotels, which total about 900 suites, have already added the Sonesta brand to their names. Sonesta reportedly paid less than $240 million for the properties, which Denihan refinanced in 2016 for about $320 million. By the way, Denihan started as a prestigious dry cleaner and was the outfit that writer Tom Wolfe used to launder his iconic white suites.
        Choice Hotels has agreed to buy the Radisson brand and franchise network in North America. That currently includes about 625 hotels and 67,000 rooms. Choice, whose lower-priced hotels trade under brands such as Quality Inn, Comfort Inn and EconoLodge, is paying $675 million for the American Radissons, which are a motley collection of rundown "full service" Radissons and 450 or so limited-service Country Inn properties. The deal is expected to close this year.

After months of acrimonious legal action, Pittsburgh International has dumped Fraport, longtime operator of the airport's highly regarded Airmall retail and restaurant operation. The airport will now apparently self-manage its tenants.
        WestJet says it will add nonstops between Winnipeg and LAX beginning October 31. The three weekly flights are being pitched as a link between Los Angeles' entertainment community and Winnipeg's nascent film and television industry.
        Delta Air Lines has opened a Sky Club at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Which is cool, except that it's still almost impossible to get to Japan given its current Covid restrictions.
        Marriott is opening two new resorts on St. Thomas this fall. But there's less (and more) than meets the eye. The old Frenchman's Reef resort has been divided into two properties and both have received extensive makeovers in a $425 million renovation. One is called the Westin Beach Resort and will have 392 rooms, including 28 suites. The other is The Seaborn and have 94 rooms with four open-air restaurants. It'll be part of Marriott's Autograph Collection. The two properties are connected by the beach at Frenchman's Reef.