The Etihad buying spree shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The Abu Dhabi-based carrier has confirmed that it is taking a 24.9% stake in Jet Airways. The move also includes Etihad buying three pairs of Heathrow slots from Jet and investing $150mm in the Jet Privileges frequent flyer program. Jet will establish a hub in Abu Dhabi as part of the deal, adding connectivity into the region and integrating with Etihad’s network there. That this is the first major foreign investment in an Indian carrier is significant, to be sure. And there are many things which may come about as a result.
One major question being asked is if Jet’s Brussels hub will move to another airport. Dublin is one idea being talked about based on the Etihad stake in Aer Lingus. Berlin or Dusseldorf could also be options with Air Berlin connectivity as well. And Germany probably presents better business options for passengers and a better connectivity point on to continental Europe. On the down side, Berlin’s airport is mostly full now and the new one may never open so that could be a problem.
Another bit to watch will be the development of the loyalty program. At the end of 2012 Etihad acquired Air Berlin’s Topbonus program. They also acquired the program of Air Seychelles. These programs are currently being run independently, but the potential to fold them into a single, global solution is quite real. The part where Etihad is pushing the cutting edge of loyalty offerings, especially on the redemption side, means that the potential for a very interesting shift in the loyalty landscape globally is very real.
Similar to last week’s post, here’s a collection of trans(north)atlantic routes offered by members of the oneworld alliance. Compared to the map from Star Alliance the network looks a bit light, but there are still a lot of options out there; nearly 100 by my initial count (and I’m sure I missed a few which y’all will remind me of, pushing the number up). And the oneworld collection is quite dispersed on the Americas side of the map, covering a lot of the Caribbean in addition to the USA, Canada and Mexico. Here’s the full collection:
For the two smaller TATL carriers in oneworld, Air Berlin and Finnair, the maps are particularly light in coverage, though Air Berlin does have a number of leisure/islands destinations with limited frequencies:
Iberia has a number of destinations, split between the USA and other countries (Note: this has been updated to remove the LatAm routes getting killed at the end of March):
American Airlines has a 20 TATL routes from what I can see (I’ve excluded BOS-LHR as that is ending soon from what I recall):
And, of course, British Airways and their coverage out of 3 London airports:
Oneworld has more coverage in the Americas than Star Alliance from a destination count; there are at least these 44 that I can find:
On the European side there are these 16 destinations, far fewer than what Star Alliance offers:
The table of all the oneworld North Atlantic routes can be found here.
It isn’t just the world’s airlines where the "big three" of the Middle East – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – are making huge inroads. Just ask the fans of Barcelona’s football club. The team will see, for the first time in its 113 year history, a corporate sponsor on the front of their jerseys: Qatar Airways. The deal nets the team £25 million annually.
The move has angered some fans (the club is wholly owned and operated by its supporters) who see the move as a betrayal of their tradition. Club president Sandro Rosell insists that the deal is "good for our club, good for our city and good for our country." This isn’t the first major marketing move by one of the three carriers. United Airlines was a long-time sponsor of the US Open tennis tournament. Last year that sponsorship was taken over by Emirates in a reported seven year, $90mm deal.
Enormous amounts of money are shifting around with these carriers and there doesn’t seem to be much the other global carriers can do to keep up. The hubs of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi present incredible geographic advantages for huge chunks of the world’s population. An 8 hour flight from any of the three can cover 60%+ of the world’s population, including Barcelona. And including huge chunks of India, China, south-east Asia, and Europe. When Etihad can afford to buy a chunk of Air Berlin (both the airline and their loyalty program) to gain access to the local markets rather than figure out bilateral treaties and such that’s a huge competitive advantage for them.
I’ve talked in the past about the impact of the Middle Eastern carriers on global alliances. The Qantas/Emirates deal was a huge move to change the way the world’s air traffic moves and the way marketing partnerships operate. Barca agreeing to wear the Qatar logo on their shirts isn’t quite as big a deal financially, but it very well may be just as significant from a marketing and psychological standpoint.
Crazy cheap fares tonight on Air Berlin from Los Angeles to Europe for winter travel. Many destinations being reported on MilePoint, FlyerTalk, Facebook and twitter for <$500 round trip, including Copenhagen, Vienna and more.
These aren’t the greatest as a mileage run as they book in to a very low earning fare bucket (at least if crediting to AAdvantage) so don’t expect this to be a great start towards your EXP earning for 2013. And flying Air Berlin longhaul in coach is something of a self-hating exercise, but it is a great fare.
Get ‘em while they’re still around. The flexible dates search on ITA is your friend here.
Air Berlin has joined the relatively small pool of airlines which no longer directly operate their own loyalty program. The carrier sold their Topbonus program to Etihad, a 29% shareholder in the German airline. The move is expected to push Air Berlin to a profit for the first time since 2007.
Loyalty programs are, in many cases, the only consistently profitable portion of an airline operation. The loyalty programs also have many more avenues over which they can expand and generate additional partnerships and profits. And Etihad sees these opportunities quite well. CEO James Hogan, at the announcement in Berlin, noted, "the loyalty-program sector is a faster growing and higher margin business than the airline industry." Etihad aims to build a global loyalty management platform which can cover multiple airlines. Currently Air Berlin, Etihad and Air Seychelles are covered by Etihad’s stake but others could be folded in to the operation in the future based on the way it is being set up.
Etihad has been on the leading edge of loyalty program technology and partnerships in recent years. The carrier has more than 170 partners, a very large number for a program with fewer than 2 million enrolled members. And Etihad has been pushing to improve the fungibility of points through programs like PointsPay, a partnership which allows members to spend points like cash using a credit card funded by their points balances. It would not be particularly surprising to see programs like PointsPay extend to the Topbonus program in the not-so-distant future.
For Air Berlin losing direct control over their loyalty program is probably not all that huge a deal, though they do have to ensure that they continue to meet the rules of oneworld with respect to policies and participation. It is, however, a one-time windfall financially. If the carrier cannot keep operational profits flowing they won’t be able to generate the large cash infusion again, at least not from Topbonus.
The coming years should see growth in the employee ranks at American Airlines according to company CEO Thomas Horton. In a letter to employees this week Horton indicated that the company intends to grow the pilot numbers by 2,500 over the next five years. That growth is similar to the announced plans to hire flight attendants in the near future. The growth is expected to support, among other things, the growing international route map for the carrier; those flights are longer and on larger planes requiring more crew to operate. The hiring will also cover 650 pilots on furlough and offset 500-600 who are approaching mandatory retirement in the same timeframe.
The carrier announced four specific new routes this week which they intend to serve starting in Spring 2013. The new routes being launched are:
- Dallas/Fort Worth ─ Seoul, South Korea starting May 9, 2013
- Dallas/Fort Worth ─ Lima, Peru starting April 2, 2013
- Chicago O’Hare ─ Dusseldorf, Germany starting April 11, 2013
- New York JFK ─ Dublin, Ireland starting June 12, 2013
The Seoul route will operate in conjunction with American’s oneworld partner JAL. The Dublin and Dusseldorf routes will operate as part of the airline’s joint business agreement with British Airways and Iberia. The Dusseldorf route will also operate as a codeshare with oneworld partner AirBerlin. Passengers will have access to a number of onward connections on the AirBerlin route network out of Dusseldorf.
And while the pilots’ union contract issues are still out there the other labor groups seem to be on board with the latest plans. The head of the union even expressed mild satisfaction with the hiring plans, though also noting that the company still isn’t as big as it has been in the past. So, has American turned the corner in their bankruptcy reorganization? These latest moves suggest that they think they have.
American Airlines has added two more partners to their online award booking engine. Air Berlin and Finnair are the latest additions to the aa.com site. The site hasn’t updated to include the two carriers in the list of participating carriers but it is definitely including them in search results. A quick check of the site shows that the searches seem to be working well, including mixing them with other partners on award searches:
The fee details (top left) are generic which is unfortunate. Going through the process the above itinerary results in approximately $42.50 in taxes and fees. That appears to match the government-mandated fees on the itinerary so no extra charges for fuel or such.
I do have some concerns about just how complete the searches are. Searching against other public inventory data for the same flight details as noted above I am seeing inventory which suggests that non-stop options on Finnair should be available:
For some reason the AA site doesn’t show those. I haven’t yet called to see if they can see them in the call center or not but I’m quite intrigued that the website doesn’t show them. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. It does appear that Qantas sees them so I’m guessing it is a bug in the AA site:
Nice to see the new carriers added, but with the incomplete results it isn’t quite as useful as it probably should be.
And, in case anyone is wondering, the other search there is via my Wandering Aramean Travel Tools. It now supports Finnair Economy award seat searches and alerts directly, in addition to using the oneworld alert method.
American Airlines adds Qantas as an online award redemption partner
Yesterday was apparently THE day to make news if you’re running an airline and looking to change the face of the global alliances. The oft-suspected (and occasionally flatly denied by the CEO) joining of Qatar Airways into the oneworld alliance was the major news that everyone expected. The ascension of Qatar into the alliance is expected to take 12-18 months and British Airways – recently a loser in the Qantas/Emirates deal – will be the sponsoring carrier for Qatar.
Not quite as expected was the announcement from Etihad and AirFrance/KLM that they were going to be building out a major code-sharing arrangement. Not only that, but Air Berlin – ~30% owned by Etihad – is also getting in on the deal. Air Berlin is also a oneworld member and Air France/KLM represents a huge chunk of the SkyTeam group. Or, to quote Doctor Peter Venkman, "dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!" Okay, maybe not mass hysteria, but the move does represent the largest codeshare agreement between two alliance members from different alliances that I’m aware of.
And, let us not forget that Emirates may have started this whole thing rolling when they made the deal with Qantas, getting the latter to dump British Airways as their partner on the Kangaroo routes. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that analysts are saying that deal was the catalyst for the final push from BA to get Qatar to join up.
So, does Air Berlin now have to leave oneworld? Does Qantas? And does it make sense for either of them to? No, no and no.
For the past 15 years the alliances have been presenting themselves as the only logical way to build a network offering global coverage without actually flying to all the destinations. And there is certainly value in these alliances. But they aren’t the only option.
Several carriers have done reasonably well playing as "partner to everyone" rather than choosing just one pool of partners. The logistics might be a bit more difficult – more different systems rather than a single interface into the alliance definitely is – but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done. And the alliance members still have their bilateral relationships where necessary.
The real value for the airlines likely lies in the anti-trust immune operations. These tend to follow alliance lines but they aren’t exclusively so. And just being part of an alliance doesn’t guarantee participation. In other words, the real money comes not from the alliance but from having the right partners and government approvals.
The alliances are nice marketing arrangements for the airlines. And when they are operating smoothly there are even occasional benefits to the passengers. But the "shake-up" from the big three in the Middle East isn’t going to upset those alliances. At least not yet. Maybe they’ve got a few tricks still up their sleeves.
German carrier airberlin has officially joined the oneworld alliance this week, bringing a bit of good news to the group which has seen its share of trouble the past couple months. Airberlin has been moving towards this point for quite some time, with its bilateral relationships with other alliance carriers being built up recently; now all alliance benefits will also be available.
In recognition of the carrier joining the alliance many of the members are offering double miles promotions for flights on airberlin. They generally require registration prior to flight so make sure to check the details of your program (AA promo info here) for flights between now and May 15, 2012.
Similarly, airberlin is offering a double miles bonus for flights on all other oneworld partners over the same timeframe (AB promo info here). That’s actually a rather broad promo; not too shabby.
Hungarian flag carrier Malev has ceased operations following demands from creditors that certain balances be paid immediately or in advance. The carrier has been struggling for many years; those debts finally caught up. The move grounds the airline’s fleet, stranding several thousand passengers and leaving the company’s ~2,600 employees with an uncertain future. The shutdown was apparently precipitated but ground handlers in Tel Aviv demanding payment up front for services. Similarly, a plane in Dublin was not permitted to depart, supposedly citing the company’s accumulated debt as the reason.
The airline is relatively small, but they do hold 27 routes out of Budapest where they are the sole carrier. While it is likely that other carriers will step in to pick up some of those routes such changes will take time and in the interim a number of passengers will be inconvenienced by the service termination.
The move is also a blow to global alliance oneworld, of which Malev is a member. The group is adding other carriers, including Air Berlin and Kingfisher, but those carriers are also struggling somewhat financially.
This cessation follows that of Spanair from last week. Truly a sad time in the skies over Europe.