Business Travel Briefing
For Oct. 22-Nov. 11, 2023
The briefing in brief: As predicted, Delta makes only tiny changes to SkyMiles devaluation in response to flyer outrage. American is buying old Alaska Airlines planes, but that's good news for AA first class flyers. Shocker! Southwest improves the Rapid Rewards program for 2024. Marriott pushes MGM's participation in Bonvoy to next year. SAS now charges for business class seat assignments. United fiddles with its boarding procedure again. And much more.

Talking-head "travel experts" predicted that massive pushback from unhappy flyers would force Delta Air Lines to withdraw its latest draconian devaluation of SkyMiles, but events have transpired exactly as I predicted last month. Delta paid lip service to the public anger, then, in a transparent move to make it appear like it was listening, made only minor changes to its devaluation. Example: In 2023, it takes $3,000 in Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) to reach silver status. Delta originally doubled the requirement to $6,000 next year. Its adjustment brings that down to $5,000, still a 67% boost. At the top Diamond Level, this year's $20,000 level was boosted to $35,000. It's now been adjusted to $28,000, a 40% boost. If your interest is centered on Sky Club access, Delta played the same game. The once-unlimited entry policy for Amex Platinum and Delta Amex Reserve cardholders is still gone. Delta Reserve members will now get 15 visits a year and Amex Platinum members will receive 10, slightly more than the initial devaluation. In fairness, however, Delta did make one substantial change: Multiple club visits in a single day on connecting itineraries will count as just one visit instead of each visit counting separately. One other notable change: Rollover qualifying miles, which Delta originally pegged at an outrageously high 20:1 conversion rate to MQMs, has been improved to 10:1

Before it gpbbled up Virgin America in 2016, Alaska Airlines operated an all-Boeing fleet. The Virgin buy came with a slew of Airbus aircraft, however. Alaska swallowed hard and reconfigured them to match its Boeing aircraft. But Alaska retired the last ten Airbus A321neo aircraft on September 30 and has struck a deal to sell them off to American Airlines. That is very good news for American flyers since AA plans to put the planes into service with Alaska's configuration, which means as much as 41 inches of first class legroom. The planes are due to be delivered to AA before the end of the year. American hasn't disclosed a timetable for converting the ex-Alaska planes to its inferior "Oasis configuration," which squeezes in a half-dozen extra seats and cuts first class leg room to only 37 inches. Enjoy the extra legroom while you can, AA flyers.
        United Airlines and Aer Lingus end their oddball code-share arrangement on Friday (October 27). That likely means United will no longer offer award seats on Aer Lingus, either. It also probably means that American Airlines and Aer Lingus will forge a closer partnership in the months ahead. Aer Lingus is not in the Oneworld Alliance, but is part of the immunized transatlantic venture between AA and IAG, the parent company of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus. Stay tuned.

It's been a long, long time since a carrier genuinely improved its frequent flyer program, but full marks to Southwest Airlines. In what may be a tacit recognition of the weak outlook for domestic travel--or a low-key attempt to lure away disgruntled Delta flyers--Southwest is rolling out Rapid Rewards enhancements for 2024. Starting next year, A-List Status will require 20 segments, down from the current 25 flight segments. A-List Preferred will require 40 segments, down from the current 50. (Qualifying points remain the same at 35,000 and 70,000 respectively.) In 2024, spending on Chase/Southwest credit cards will earn 1,500 qualifying points per $5,000 in spend. (Southwest currently requires $10,000 in spend for 1,500 points.) In 2024, Rapid Rewards members will be able to pay for flights with a combination of cash and points. Redemptions will start as low as 1,000 points. A new perk kicks in next month: A-List Preferred flyers will receive up to two free drinks per flight when they choose mobile boarding passes.
        Marriott Bonvoy has admitted the obvious: It won't integrate MGM Collection properties this month as promised. Marriott now says the integration and elite-status benefits are expected to kick in by "early 2024."
        American Airlines is scrapping the Business Extra small-business program and launching an AAdvantage Business plan. Of course, the new program is less generous. Business Extra ends on December 15. Details are here.

Worst travel trend ever: Supposedly full-service airlines charging for advance seat assignments in business class. British Airways created the heinous charge more than 14 years ago, but other traditional carriers have, until now, chosen not to cross the red line. Air France and KLM introduced a fee for business class seat assignments in April, but pointedly exempted transatlantic flights. Beginning tomorrow (October 23), however, SAS Scandinavian is imposing the charge on all flights. Unless you are a Eurobonus elite member, you'll pay $90-$120 for an advance seat assignment in transatlantic business class.
        Amtrak says business-class passengers no longer receive free admission to the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago's Union Station. If they wish to enter, they'll be hit with a $35 fee for a day pass. The railroad previously began charging most riders for access to Club Acela and Metropolitan Lounges at East Coast stations.
        Timing Alert: Most countries that observe Daylight Saving Time switch back to Standard Time on Sunday morning, October 29. The United States and Canada don't switch until Sunday, November 5. If you're traveling internationally, check your flight schedules carefully.

United Airlines will fiddle with its boarding process this upcoming week for the umpteenth time in the last few years. It's still another attempt to impose the WILMA (window-middle-aisle) method, which is corrupted because United (logically) allows elite flyers to board early no matter where they sit. Even United admits its goals are modest: two minutes faster boarding, which almost surely won't even get them an extra "turn" of an aircraft over the course of a day. Still, little things mean a lot and the move is getting lots of attention. Will Allen made it the topic of his blog post this week. And all-news radio stations around the nation decided that I needed to opine on the change. Here's me talking to Rob Archer and Karen Adams of KNX News in Los Angeles. And in case you prefer Northern California's slant, here's me talking to Patti Reising and Bret Burkhart of KCBS News in San Francisco. I'll spare you the rest of my radio week since it sounds a lot like those two.