March Catch-Up

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Some quick highlights (and lowlights) from the month of March…

New Routes – yes, maybe, and probably not.

Southwest started flying to Hawaii in early March and really kicked things off with a bang offering $49 fares.  This has been a long time coming and is good for consumers adding lower cost competition on these routes.  Hawaiian Airlines is the one that will most likely suffer the most as Southwest also began flying intra-island routes.  Time will tell how this affects Hawaiian air travel, but overall, this should be seen as a positive.

JetBlue has been dropping hints about expansion (specifically to Europe) and with their east coast base, this actually does make some sense and they do have the infrastructure to pull this off.  There is a company-wide meeting on April 10th to discuss the vision and strategy of the company, so perhaps some details will be released at that time.  

I have a personal soft spot in my heart for Mongolia, and upon hearing that MIAT Mongolian had filed with the USDOT to begin service to the US I was equally excited and confused.  They have filed to fly to Los Angeles and Washington as Fifth Freedom routes with intermediary points in either China, Japan, or South Korea.  In my opinion, we are more likely to see 1,000 new orders for A380s this year than these routes become a reality.  It is nice to dream though.

Interesting Acquisitions

American Express announced that it will be acquiring LoungeBuddy, an often cited lounge review site that also offers the ability to research airport lounges and even purchase day passes. While I am not entirely certain what this means I have a few predictions and thoughts. First, LoungeBuddy does partner with lounges that are outside of Amex’s current (and quite robust) lounge network. This partnership could expand the already large network even further. Second, more so than any other card issuer, I feel American Express looks to curate a strong travel lifestyle association around its cards and this acquisition only continues to reinforce that. Lastly, I am curious to see what (if any) impacts this has on other premium cards in the market. As if one bit of Amex lounge news wasn’t enough – they also announced another extension with Lufthansa lounges in Frankfurt and Munich through Oct. 31, 2019. So now the question is- how will Chase and Citi respond? WILL Chase or Citi respond?

HotelTonight is a nifty app that can be used for last minute bookings with a network of over 25,000 hotels. While that isn’t exactly a massive number (considering there are over 50,000 hotels in the US alone), their recent acquisition by Airbnb is a potential game changer. In recent years Airbnb has been listing more hotel rooms and resorts and with the the bed-and-breakfast/boutique hotel focus of HotelTonight, it would appear Airbnb is willing to invest quite a bit into that area of their business, pivoting slightly from apartment/home/private room rentals for which is more traditionally known.

OneWorld Member Quick Hits

For the past 4-5 years Qatar Airways has hinted at a possible exit from OneWorld and it appears that within the next month or so they will come to a final decision on the matter. I’m really not sure if this is more posturing or if it is for real. A departure would certainly hurt airlines like American and British Airways that rely on Doha as a major node in their partner route network. However, with the isolation facing Qatar from neighboring nations, I would think they would want to solidify another alliance partnership or agreement, or work to get the embargoes lifted before alienating themselves further.

In more uplifting Qatar Airways news, the US will see additional cities getting Qsuite service between now and early June. Boston and JFK got the Qsuites on April 1, with Houston, Philadelphia, and another JFK route getting them in the beginning of June, and Dallas receiving Qsuite service starting in July. This is arguably the best business class seat flying right now, so it is great to see this continued increase in availability to and from the US.

Qatar isn’t alone in the suite space, and British Airways announced that it is joining the party with their Club Suite product. It is being rolled out first on their new A350-1000 which will be available this summer for bookings between London and Madrid before moving in the fall to the London-Toronto and London-Dubai routes. By the end of the year the expectation is to have four of these planes flying and two reconfigured 777s. This product looks gorgeous and is definitely on my list. British Airways current business class product doesn’t hold up well against most of the competition, so this is a fantastic upgrade and I look forward to the wider rollout.

As of March 20th, you can earn and redeem AA miles on China Southern. On its own this is a win for flyers – another airline with whom to use and earn AA miles. The strengthening of the China Southern and AA relationship should cause concern over the Cathay Pacific-OneWorld relationship. With the two airlines being physically so close, it is odd to have them both in the alliance. At this point nothing is changing with Cathay, but it is worth monitoring this situation for future developments.

End of Korean Air Stopovers

Had this happened a couple of years ago the sting would have been far worse, but since the removal of Korean Air as a transfer partner of Chase, the number of people potentially impacted is probably far fewer. That being said, this still is bad news. Beginning July 1, 2020 free stopovers in Korea will no longer be allowed on reward flights. This is a huge benefit as you can book the stopover on both the inbound and outbound of your round-trip flight. The silver lining here is that there is still over a year to take advantage of this great benefit!

Cheaper United Flights and Dynamic Award Pricing

Delta’s dynamic award pricing has been met with criticism and has cost Delta a lot of long time loyal followers. United appears to be moving in the same direction, which has me worried. The current upside is that there are a number of short-haul domestic flights pricing at 5-6k points and even some international premium cabin flights coming in below the “chart” rate. What is to be seen is whether they begin to jiggle the handle on inventory and if there is any rhyme or reason to their pricing. I am hopeful they use this dynamic pricing to lower costs on less popular flights or for severely undersold legs, but only time will tell!

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