Business Travel Briefing
For August 6-30, 2023
The briefing in brief: American Airlines looks like toast in Chicago, Boston and New York City. Hyatt, Marriott and InterContinental steal smaller hotel chains from each other. El Al will start service from Fort Lauderdale. Air Canada will fly to Singapore. United adds routes to Manila and Christchurch, New Zealand. Delta finally opens a second club at JFK. And much more.

Back when American Airlines was a respected, reliable carrier, then chief executive Robert Crandall defended a marketing deal with inferior US Air because it would "save" American's hub at Chicago/O'Hare. Crandall insisted that US Air's Pittsburgh hub would help AA level the playing field with United Airlines' much larger O'Hare operations. Decades later, of course, Pittsburgh-less US Airways reverse merged into American. That gave the combined carrier a strong Southern presence, but still left it vulnerable at O'Hare, in Boston and in New York. Once based in New York, American wilted under a 21st-century assault from Delta Air Lines, which was growing rapidly at Kennedy and had previously acquired US Airways' strong LaGuardia hub. To address some of those self-inflicted wounds, American in 2021 created the so-called Northeast Alliance (NEA) with JetBlue Airways in New York and Boston. But that deal definitively unraveled late last month after JetBlue, desperate to win government approval for its merger with Spirit Airlines, decided not to appeal a federal judge's ruling against the alliance. So it begs the question: How does American compete at O'Hare, Boston, LaGuardia and Kennedy, four of the nation's busiest and most lucrative travel markets? The answer: American Airlines has no clue. At O'Hare, American's slice of the mainline flight market has fallen below 25%, nearly 13 points behind United's share. And American's ORD schedule remains about 20% smaller than it was before the pandemic. At Boston/Logan, American's 16.4% of the market is a distant third behind JetBlue (about 31%) and Delta (around 20%). But it is in New York City where American is in the worst shape. At LaGuardia, Delta and its commuter carriers represent more than 33% of the traffic, nearly double American's market share. American commands just 12.5% of JFK's traffic compared to JetBlue's 39% and Delta's 36%. And American continues to cut at JFK. The airline confirmed this week that its nonstops to Doha--launched just last year--will shift to its Philadelphia hub on October 29. It also begs the question of what American will do with the dozens of New York slots the carrier has leased to JetBlue but will regain now that the Northeast Alliance is toast. "No idea," one discouraged American executive told me this week. "The NEA was our Plan B. No one has a Plan C."

Can the global hotel groups play musical chains? I think they can since smaller hotel firms and reservation services are bouncing around from one major chain to another. Hyatt, with the smallest global footprint of the major chains, has been the most active. It purchased Dreams hotels for $125 million and added the 12 locations into its World of Hyatt program. (Dreams, which includes the Chatwal and Unscripted brands, had previously been aligned with Marriott Bonvoy.) Hyatt also acquired London-based Mr and Mrs Smith Hotels for about $65 million. The reservation service, which represents 1,500 upscale hotels in 20 countries, were aligned with InterContinental Hotels. The Smith platform and properties are slowly being integrated with World of Hyatt. Hyatt has also aligned with Lindner Hotels, which has nearly three dozen hotels in Europe. Most of the Lindner properties have rebranded as JdV by Hyatt hotels, which itself was once known as the Joie de Vivre boutique chain. But Hyatt isn't winning them all. The chain's long-term alliance with MGM Resorts ends on September 30. Also going: the reciprocal status match between World of Hyatt and MGM Rewards. MGM's new home? Marriott Bonvoy. All 17 MGM properties will switch to Marriott in October. No details have been released, but elite Bonvoy and MGM Rewards members will receive reciprocal benefits.
        Los Angeles-area travelers take note: Thousands of workers at dozens of unionized hotels in the region are striking for better wages and benefits. The union is employing a strategy of rolling work stoppages rather than blanket walkouts. After their contract with the hotels expired at the end of June, workers struck hotels in the downtown area. Then they walked off the job at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport and Disneyland. They later struck properties in Hollywood and Pasadena. The list of hotels that may be struck at any time can be viewed here.

Transpacific flyers can't help but be happy with this news: More nonstops are on the way. Air Canada says it will launch nonstops from its Vancouver hub to Singapore next year. It'll be the first time in more than 30 years that Air Canada will serve the city-state and Changi airport. Four weekly flights using Boeing 787 Dreamliners configured with business, premium economy and coach cabins begin on April 3. Meanwhile, United Airlines is adding seats on its existing flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and launching a new ANZAC route. Effective December 1, United will add a nonstop between its San Francisco hub and Christchurch, New Zealand. There'll be three weekly flights on Boeing 787s configured with business, premium economy, Economy+ and coach. But that's not all, as they say on TV. United is also adding a new nonstop from San Francisco to Manila. The daily flights begin October 28 using Boeing 777-300ERs. On the same day, the airline resumes nonstops between Los Angeles and Tokyo/Narita. United will continue to fly from LAX to Tokyo/Haneda, too.
        Air France will begin flights between Raleigh/Durham and Paris/CDG on October 30. The three weekly flights will operate with Boeing 787-9s configured with 30 business class seatbeds, 21 premium economy chairs and 228 coach seats. One note, however: This service will replace Delta Air Lines' existing RDU-CDG route, which Delta had flown as frequently as daily during the summer.
        Air India has resumed its nonstop flights between New York/JFK and Mumbai using Boeing 777-200LRs. Air India previously flew the route until early 2019.
        American Airlines has dropped flights between its Miami hub and Tel Aviv, but El Al is bulking up in South Florida. It has added a sixth daily roundtrip to its existing Miami-TLV route and will launch nonstops between Fort Lauderdale and TLV. The latter service initially will be short-lived, operating only between September 13 and late October. Year-round flights between FLL and Tel Aviv begin next spring, however.
        Etihad says it will launch nonstops between Boston and Abu Dhabi on March 31. There will be four weekly flights using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. After substantial global cutbacks in recent years, Boston will be Etihad's fourth U.S. gateway after Chicago, New York/Kennedy and Washington/Dulles.
        WestJet says it will begin flying nonstop between its Calgary hub and Tokyo/Narita. Three weekly Boeing 787 roundtrips begin on April 30.

In this our summer of flying discontent, there is a slim silver linings: There are a slew of new airport clubs that may relieve some pressure on existing facilities. Most notable: Delta Air Lines has finally opened a second SkyClub at New York/Kennedy, the hub that is the poster child for overflowing lounges and long entry lines. The new club covers 14,000 square feet and is near gate A7 in Concourse A of Terminal 4. The airline also has opened a third lounge at its Minneapolis/St. Paul hub. The 21,000-square-foot club is located on the upper level of the G Concourse. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has reopened a club at its clogged in Seattle-Tacoma hub. The lounge on the D Concourse, closed for more than five months for renovations, has 50% more seating space. Air Canada has also been busy. It has opened its first Maple Leaf Lounge in San Francisco, a hub of its Star Alliance partner United Airlines. The 165-seat club is located in Terminal 2. Air Canada also opened an Air Canada Cafe at Toronto/Billy Bishop, home of competitor Porter Airlines. The 4,300-square-foot facility is mostly aimed at grab-and-go and self-serve flyers. And an independent Escape Lounge has opened in Syracuse on the second floor near Concourse A. Access is free for American Express Platinum and Amex Delta Reserve cardholders. Others pay $45 for entry.

American Express Membership Rewards has added the Qatar Airways Privilege Club as a points-transfer partner. Points transfer on 1:1 basis. A reminder: Privilege Club uses Avios points as its currency.
        Marriott Bonvoy has finally reactivated the personal Ambassador program for customers at the Ambassador Level, which requires 100 nights of stays and $23,000 in annual spend. If you qualify and haven't already been contacted by your personal Ambassador, call Bonvoy.
        Southwest Airlines is raising nuisance fees. Effective August 15, you'll pay more to check a third bag; for overweight and oversized luggage; and for transit of pet carriers. The unaccompanied minor fee is also rising.