Business Travel Briefing
For October 20-31, 2022
The briefing in brief: Expect a cold, dark travel season in Europe. Delta is pulling down flights from its Raleigh-Durham "focus city." Wilmington, Delaware, is back on the airline route map. Marriott buys City Express, a limited-service brand in Latin America. Hawaii gets better inter-island flight connections, but United is bailing on Hilo again. Amtrak says its San Diego trains may not resume before the end of the year. Trump Hotels wildly overcharged the Secret Service for protecting the former president and his family. And more.

The greenback is almighty again in Europe--the euro is now selling for about 98 cents--and that makes the continent an historic bargain for American travelers. But if you are planning a trip in the months ahead, be aware that it's going to be a cold, dark winter on the continent. The surging price of energy and the possibility of fuel shortage are turning Europe into a less-than-ideal destination. Some changes are cosmetic and symbolic--Paris, the so-called City of Light, is dousing outdoor lighting on icons like the Eiffel Tower--but many are substantive. In Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Railroad says it will lower temperatures in passenger train carriages by two degrees Celsius between November and February. It will also dim the lights at the country's 30 largest rail stations and slow some trains, all in an attempt to preserve energy. And in Hungary, the country's largest hotel is closing for several months because it does not think it can balance energy costs, traveler demand and room rates. The 499-room Danubius Hotel Hungaria City in the capital of Budapest will shut its doors between November 1 and February 28. Stay tuned for more of these kinds of energy-related changes in the weeks ahead.

Delta Air Lines declared Raleigh-Durham a "focus city" in 2018 and that should have meant more point-to-point nonstops for the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. But true to Delta standards--loudly trumpet you're better than you really are--the airline has been slashing RDU service. The latest casualty? Nonstops to Nashville, which began in 2017, will end November 30. That comes after Delta admitted it has no intention of restoring nonstops to Chicago/O'Hare or Philadelphia, two key routes it "suspended" during the pandemic. The airline had already said it would not resume "suspended" routes to Hartford, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Delta has resumed nonstops to Paris, the hub of its SkyTeam partner Air France, but even that route has fewer weekly flights than before the pandemic.
        Wilmington, Delaware, is back on the route map. Avelo Airlines says it will launch nonstops in February to five Florida destinations: Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers (RSW), Orlando/MCO, Tampa and Palm Beach. The service begins in early February. The problem with keeping flights to the state's most important city? New Castle Airport (ILG) is just a 30-minute drive from Philadelphia, a hub for American Airlines.
        Charlotte reopened its upper roadway for daytime traffic after closing it on September 27 for work on a new, 146,000-square-foot canopy. The roadwork will continue at night for the next 18 months. Curbside check-in has also reopened.
        Houston/Intercontinental airport now has a branch of Minute Suites. The 5-suite operation, available free for an hour using Priority Pass, is located near Gate C14.

Apparently 30 brands and a network of more than 8,000 hotels worldwide isn't enough for Marriott. This week it purchased City Express, a chain of more than 150 hotels, most of them in Mexico, but several in Costa Rica, Colombia and Chile. Founded in Mexico in 2002, the hotels are often the best properties in the smaller markets they serve. City Express is around the level of Marriott's Fairfield Inn brand, but the chain will maintain its own identity. Marriott says it paid $100 million to snap up City Express' existing hotels, several more in the construction pipeline and the chain's intellectual property.
        Hyatt opened a 700-room property at the Salt Palace Convention Center. The Hyatt Regency Salt Lake is directly connected to the convention facility.
        Guoman Hotels, for years known as Thistle Hotels, is changing names again. It's now known as the Clermont Hotel Group and also controls the Hard Rock London brand. The company is the largest hotelier in London and operates 17 hotels with 5,000 rooms.
        Ritz-Carlton is taking over the 431-room Los Colinas resort just outside Dallas. It now trades as a Four Seasons property, but will be run by Marriott on December 15. It'll be renamed as Los Colinas Resort until renovations are complete and then will assume the Ritz-Carlton name.

Most mainland travelers understandably consider the Hawaii market a matter of leisure flights connecting to sunny resort destinations. But inter-island flyers will tell you that nothing has been quite right since Aloha Airlines tanked in 2008 and left Hawaiian Airlines as the only major player. This week, a small improvement: Hawaiian has struck an interline ticketing deal with Mokulele, a commuter carrier that links the islands of Lanai and Molokai and Kapalua on Maui. But no good deed goes unpunished, of course. United Airlines says it is dropping flights between Hilo on the Big Island and the mainline. The last nonstop to Los Angeles will be on January 7. United ended SFO-Hilo flights in 2013. United (and Continental) have served Hilo on and off since 1967.
        WestJet Airlines says it will launch four weekly flights between its Calgary hub and Terrace, British Columbia, on December 1. Service will be with Q400 aircraft.
        Breeze Airways is adding two new cities to its route map: Cincinnati and Vero Beach, Florida. From the Queen City, there will be nonstops to San Francisco and Charleston, South Carolina, starting on February 8. From Vero Beach, Breeze will fly to Hartford, Connecticut, starting on February 2, and to Westchester (HPN), New York, on February 3.

Best perk of Southwest Rapid Rewards? The Companion Pass that allows Rapid Rewards members to take a traveler along for free. The Pass doesn't come cheap, of course, and Southwest is bumping the mileage requirement again for 2023. You will now have to accrue 135,000 points instead of the current 125,00 points to snag a pass. Silver lining? Southwest credit cardholders will receive a 10,000-point bonus toward a Pass each year they hold a Southwest card. More details are here.
        Delta Air Lines and Starbucks have linked frequency programs. Essentially, you'll earn one Delta SkyMile for each dollar spent at the coffee chain. Details are here.
        Marriott Bonvoy is devaluing again. Effective October 31, the 5,000-mile bonus you receive when transferring 60,000 Bonvoy points to airline miles will be dropped. The transfer ratio of three Bonvoy points to one airline mile remains, but Marriott is ending the practice of adding 5,000 bonus miles whenever you transferred 60,000 or more points.

Amtrak now says it probably won't be able to restore service to San Diego's Santa Fe Depot station before the end of the year. Service to and from San Diego was suspended on September 30 after movement on an unstable section of trackbed just north of the city. Amtrak had been serving about three million passengers a year heading to/from San Diego on Pacific Surfliner trains.
        American Airlines says it will pay out at least $7.5 million to settle a class-action suit from passengers who say they were wrongly charged baggage fees. The suit was filed in a federal court in Texas.
        In-flight mask mandates are functionally dead, but the federal government isn't giving up its fight to impose them in the future. It is appealing a Florida federal court ruling that struck down the mandate in April. Oral arguments are set for January 16.
        Russian hackers have claimed credit for temporarily taking down several airport Web sites earlier this week. Ironically, almost no one noticed ...

Trump Hotels and golf courses charged the Secret Service as much as $1,185 per night for hotel rooms used while protecting then-President Donald Trump, his children and/or certain federal officials. In most cases, the federal per diem was less than $300 per night. The information was released on Monday (October 17) by the House Oversight Committee. The records show how Trump essentially turned the Secret Service into captive customers of his properties and charged it far higher rates than other guests. The committee also noted that Eric Trump, Trump's younger son, claimed that Trump properties charged the Secret Service "like $50" for rooms.