Business Travel Briefing
For October 9-27, 2022
The briefing in brief: Watch out for gate changes next week at two Chicago/O'Hare terminals. (No) surprise! Delta devalues SkyMiles again. Airlines rush in new capacity to Australia and New Zealand. Travel's toughest get--South Africa--finally gets a bit easier. Free night awards earned from Amex Hilton card spend are now valid any day of the week. And more.

Like it or loathe it, Chicago/O'Hare affects us all. And what happens at O'Hare rarely stays in Chicago. Which is a long-winded way of saying be on the lookout for big gate changes next week. Effective on Wednesday (October 12), Delta Air Lines is abandoning its long-time home at Concourse E in Terminal 2 and switching to Terminal 5. It'll now operate from Gates M2 to M11 in the western concourse of Terminal 5. Also closing is Delta's SkyClub in Terminal 2; it has been replaced with a 22.00-square-foot club in Terminal 5. What happens to Delta's old T2 gates? United will expand into Gates E7-E14 and Alaska Airlines will use Gates E15 and E17. Stay tuned for more changes because this is part of a $1 billion makeover of Terminal 5, which includes new retail and dining options and a six-story parking garage. In the meantime, however, Delta customers using Terminal 5 should use the Main Parking Garage or economy lots and take a shuttle to their gates. And be sure to double-check your boarding gate if you're using O'Hare in the days ahead.

There never seems to be enough capacity into South Africa, which leads to the obscene (often $15,000+) business class fares and simply insane (990,000 miles) award prices. I'm not saying the new flights will ease fares or award prices, but they can't hurt. United Airlines, for example, launches nonstops from its Washington/Dulles hub to Cape Town beginning November 17. There will be three weekly flights using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners configured with 48 business class seatbeds, 21 premium economy seats and 188 coach seats. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines launches three weekly runs to Cape Town from its Atlanta hub on December 17. Delta will offer four classes--business, premium economy, Comfort+ and coach--on Airbus A350-900 aircraft. Finally, Emirates Airline is bulking up its South Africa schedule via its Dubai hub. Effective December 1, flights to Durban will operate daily. There will be twice-daily Dubai-Cape Town runs starting on February 1 and three daily flights between Dubai and Johannesburg beginning on March 1. Emirates will use a combination of Boeing 777s and Airbus A380s on the South Africa flights.

When you run the worst frequency program with the lowest rate of return and your currency is derided as SkyPesos, what can you do? Devalue some more, of course. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Delta SkyMiles is hiking the amount you must spend to earn elite status. While there is no change to the number of segments (MQS) or miles (MQM) you must fly to reach Medallion Status, Delta is now demanding more spend (MQD) for that status. To reach Gold Medallion, you will now have to spend at least $8,000 a year, up from the current $6,000. Platinum Medallion with require $12,000 in spend compared to the current $9,000. And Diamond Medallion members will now have to spend $20,000 instead of the current $15,000. The changes go into effect in 2023 for 2024 status. More details are here.
        HawaiianMiles players who hold a Hawaiian Airlines credit card have a new perk: two free checked bags when you purchase your ticket directly from Hawaiian. The credit card is issued by Barclays.
        Hilton Honors members who earn free weekend nights via spend on their Hilton American Express credit cards can now use those certificates any night of the week.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who still has Men at Work's Down Under on heavy rotation 42 years after the song first exploded on to the pop scene. And I use that as the soundtrack for this item: After two years when Australia and New Zealand were virtually closed to international traffic due to the pandemic, airlines are rushing in new flights to meet an expected upswing in demand. Air New Zealand launched nonstops between Auckland and New York/JFK last month and, after some initial snafus--too much weight and too much wind meant lots of passenger bags were being offloaded--the flights seem to be operating just fine. Which should be good news for Qantas, which is launching a competitive run in June. Those three weekly flights will operate on a Sydney-Auckland-JFK route using Boeing 787s and will substitute for the Sydney-Los Angeles-JFK run Qantas was operating before the pandemic. (Qantas, of course, continues to insist its "Project Sunrise" will yield Sydney-JFK nonstops in the next few years.) Meanwhile, United Airlines plans to launch nonstops between its San Francisco hub and Brisbane using Boeing 787s configured with 48 business class, 21 premium economy and 188 coach seats. The three weekly flights will launch October 28. On the down side, however, Qantas has once again pushed back the relaunch of its San Francisco-Sydney nonstops. They won't resume until March after being dumped in the early days of the pandemic.

An Ebola outbreak in Uganda has led U.S. officials to restrict arrivals from the country to five airports. Although there are no nonstop flights between the United States and Uganda, any traveler arriving via a connection from the East African nation must use New York/JFK, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago/O'Hare or Washington/Dulles. On arrival, Uganda-originating passengers will be required to complete additional health screenings.
        The Biden Administration via the FAA is ordering airlines to ensure that flight attendants are given a rest period of 10 consecutive hours between shifts.
        Asia travel continues to suffer due to continuing Coronavirus restrictions. In August, only 13 million international travelers flew in the countries covered by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. That's just 39% of pre-pandemic levels. Much of the loss is due to severe restrictions on flights to and from China, where the governing regime continues to impose a "zero Covid" policy. But traffic to and from Japan, which recently lifted its Covid rules, is also down sharply. At the moment, international capacity to/from Japan is just 25% of 2019 levels, according to industry schedulekeepers OAG.