In other hotel, aviation and travel industry news last week…
- Last year, Chicago took the top spot as being the city that charges the most taxes to travelers in the country and effective January 1, 2012, they’ve raised hotel taxes another percentage point. It brings the hotel portion on par now with New York and Las Vegas. Another article, however, states they don’t see “any move to raise taxes on the travel industry.”
- Checks are beginning to arrive in mailboxes across the country with refunds of fees charged for using credit cards overseas. A class-action lawsuit that required filing a claim back in 2008 is finally being settled and people are getting surprises in the mail ranging from $18.04 to thousands of dollars. I quite honestly don’t remember if I filed a claim. I hope so, because the travel period was from February 1, 1996 through November 8, 2006 and I was overseas quite a bit during those 10 years. Were you?
- The Department of Transportation extended the deadline for airlines to advertise fares inclusive of taxes and fees by two days. Now effective January 26th, American Airlines requested the delay since they claimed Tuesdays are the busiest day of the week for their website and the previous January 24th requirement would have been too burdensome. No other airlines objected.
- Boeing orders are up 52% this year compared to last, in part due to a record-setting year for the 777. The manufacturer delivered 477 aircraft in 2011, but has a backlog of 3,771 unfilled orders. President and CEO Jim Albaugh stated, “As our current commitments become firm orders and we add even more customers, I have no doubt that 2012 will be the ‘Year of the 737 MAX’.”
- A subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, MLT Vacations, is now the travel wholesaler selling Air France Holidays and Alitalia Vacations. They also run the Delta Vacations brand. Vacation packagers receive bulk fare contracts from airlines, hotels and other travel providers and then combine them to sell complete vacations at a price cheaper than what you’d be able to book individually with each unit. I worked for a couple of these outfits in the 1990s and really enjoyed a unique side of the industry not known by many.
- Online retailer Overstock.com launched a travel page on their popular website. Powered by Priceline, you can book complete vacation packages or individual air, car and hotel reservations. It really acts like a portal, though, because as soon as you enter any type of search criteria, it redirects you to Priceline.
- On January 1st, the former Las Vegas Hilton rebranded as The Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, ending its more than 40 years as a chain hotel. This past Tuesday, workers removed the Hilton logo from the side of the building.
- GDS firm Travelport modified their planned re-pricing of certain functionality within Apollo, Galileo and Worldspan that would have cost travel agencies approximately $35 per month per terminal. Not unlike airlines, the company unbundled several integral features of the systems that were once free and wanted to start charging for those services. After backlash from agency groups, they relented and modified their planned changes.
- Finally, a proposal for a third runway at Hong Kong’s airport has been submitted to the government for consideration. Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, as well as the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, backed a study supporting the expansion to keep Hong Kong as “the regional and international leading aviation center.”
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- United Airlines announced they will add a segment onto the existing Washington Dulles to Dubai flight and continue to Doha, Qatar beginning May 1, 2012. The news release claims the flights will be operated with United’s International Premium Travel Experience Boeing 777s, but there’s still always a risk of getting an unconverted bird until all 777s have been refitted.
- American Eagle has been selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin daily service from Chicago O’Hare to both Sioux City and Waterloo, Iowa. It’s a part of the Essential Air Service program where the government subsidizes airlines to serve certain routes to smaller communities that would otherwise be unprofitable to fly. The carrier is planning to begin flights next spring using Embraer regional jets.
- Virgin America’s size will now warrant the carrier to report on-time data for its flights to the DOT in 2012. ExpressJet Airlines will also be required to do the same, but they’ve been doing so voluntarily this year. Meanwhile, Atlantic Southeast and Mesa no longer have to report the stats, but Mesa says they’ll continue to report on a voluntary basis.
- The International Air Transport Association (IATA) lowered its 2012 profit forecast for global airlines by nearly 29% this week. European carriers are expected to lose a collective $600 million next year in part due to the meltdown of the Euro. Carriers in North America are expected to post $2.1 billion in profits.
- Airlines are asking the DOT to delay part of the new passenger protection rules that are scheduled to take effect January 24, 2012. Many carriers issued sworn affidavits saying they need at least another year to comply with the rule related to baggage fees and allowances on multi-carrier itineraries. Current system constraints and the inability to access a passenger’s previous flight from another carrier on the same itinerary are causing the headaches for IT staff.
- The Australian Labor Party is backing Qantas unions in their desire to keep the airline Australian-owned and controlled. Legislation is being considered to strengthen the Qantas Sales Act that will “keep the majority ownership, operation and governance of (Australian) airlines in Australia.” A carrier spokeswoman warned, “Any proposed plans to change the act that restricts Qantas from doing business will not protect Australian jobs.”
- Expedia and United Airlines have extended their agreement for another multi-year term. While not confirmed, the news blurb about it sounds like Expedia might soon be able to sell Economy Plus seats and other ancillary products. One of Expedia’s brands, Travelscape, is the current provider of hotel listings on United.com.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- EVA Airways has come out and acknowledged they are “in aggressive talks” to join either the oneworld or Star Alliance by 2013. Here in the U.S. they fly to Anchorage, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York’s JFK. To me, Star seems more fitting with United Airlines’ stellar connection opportunities from LAX, SFO and SEA. American would have a slight advantage at JFK, but I feel the West coast presence would be the biggest draw. They also have a huge presence in China with service to 25 cities via their Taipei hub. It’s gotta be Star.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation is keeping a close eye on airlines and their social media outreach on Twitter. Current rules requiring tax and fee disclosures must be adhered to even with the 140-character limit. Airlines must link any tweets with airfare advertisements to “a place on a separate screen where the nature and amount of taxes and fees are prominently and immediately displayed.” Come January 24, 2012, all-in fares inclusive of all taxes and mandatory fees will be required on all advertising, no matter the medium.
- The DOT also this week granted antitrust immunity to American Airlines and Qantas. Both carriers can now set prices, schedule flights and provide enhanced benefits, connections and other services to travelers between the U.S. and Australia. An interesting tidbit from the article reveals that Qantas holds a 40% share of the U.S.-Australia market, followed by United Airlines & Air New Zealand holding 27% and Delta Air Lines and V Australia with 22%.
- AAdvantage geek was first to report that American Airlines introduced new Flagship Check-in at Los Angeles International Airport with a rather hilarious “illustration” of the new layout at LAX. It’s available to Concierge Key, paid First Class and those who buy American’s Five-Star Service travel assistance. I have a feeling I’ll try it out for a couple of reasons. One, I love the elitist experience (yes, I’m that shallow) and two, just to review it for my blog.
- American also expanded their agreement with the Transportation Security Administration and the trusted traveler program with the inclusion of additional airports. Las Vegas McCarran, Los Angeles International and Minneapolis-Saint Paul airports will be included next month in the test program to expedite “vetted” travelers through security. I received an invitation, but will pass since I’m gung-ho on achieving United million-miler status next year and won’t be flying American with any regularity.
- American also launched an aggressive new television campaign with online contests and more, but I came across a neat non-contest ad featuring one of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey. There are three new ads starring Mr. Spacey that highlight the “philosophy of understanding the individual flyer.” Here’s one of them:
- Global Distribution Systems are a hot topic in the airline industry this year with American being the forefront challenger of their traditional booking methodology. Those issues aside, GDSs are making bank and two of them this week reported stellar third quarter results. Amadeus posted a net income of €136.8 million, or approximately $186.4 million, and Travelport (Apollo, Worldspan & Galileo) enjoyed a $51 million net income this past quarter. Not too shabby.
- Finally, Asiana Airlines is reporting it will expand its long-haul routes and desires to become a world top-10 carrier in revenue and profit by 2015. A Star Alliance carrier, Asiana will take delivery of its first Airbus A380 in 2014 that will be used on Seoul to U.S.A. routes. I’m certainly saving some of my miles for an opportunity to ride on an OZ A380 and hope they don’t restrict award space on that bird in premium cabins as so many other carriers do. Separately, I’m flying Asiana in First and Business Class later this month, so look for a trip report soon.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek claims he doesn’t see any signs of an “imminent recession” when looking at advance bookings. A combination of capacity discipline and fare increases has kept the carrier in the black. Smisek remarked, “We’re not seeing it in our bookings [or] in our business travel,” as he told reporters after a speech at the Executives’ Club of Chicago. At the same conference he told reporters, “It’s easy to talk culture; it’s hard to walk it,” referring to the turbulence in challenges of merging two carriers and their respective unions. Captain Wendy Morse, chairwoman of the United Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) claims, “We will not stand by silently while United CEO Jeffrey Smisek inaccurately proclaims that the United-Continental merger is going along smoothly.”
- American Airlines, on the other hand, fears a double-dip downturn in the economy. They’ve further cut capacity this year and will retire 11 Boeing 757s. Eight times the normal amount of pilot retirements also occurred in August and September this year contributing to some of the capacity cuts. It’s rumored pilots are bailing early to ensure they receive advantageous pension plans, and one post also claims it’s due to the raise in mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65.
- Want to know more about mileage runners? Check out this amazing article that appeared this week on Fox News. BoardingArea’s founder Randy Petersen was interviewed for the article as would be expected since I consider him the “God” of frequent flyer programs. Here’s a teaser – “Would you ever fly around the world in 48-hours, or fly through Detroit eight times in a single trip just to get air miles?” We’re a unique bunch, but very passionate about why we do it.
- A woman has sued United-Continental (and regional airlines Colgan Air and Pinnacle Airlines) claiming post-traumatic stress disorder from a flight she was on that experienced ‘extreme turbulence.’ The flight from College Station, Texas to Houston was operated by Colgan Air, which does business as Continental Connection. File this under ridiculous and the far too often litigiousness some people have thinking an opportunity has opened up. Shame on the lawyers for taking such a ridiculous case. Money, money, money rules, though.
- Hotels in the United States posted impressive financials this summer. It has been reported, “U.S. hotel demand during the summer was higher than STR forecasted. Demand for the three months ended August 31 increased 4.2% from a year earlier, while revenue was up 8.1% to $31.2 billion.” Overall occupancy at hotels rose 3.5% and the average daily room rate similarly increased by 3.7%. No economic downturn signals this summer from the hotels.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation is looking to ensure passengers with disabilities have equal access to booking and checking-in with airlines. “Currently, the nation’s air carriers fail to use updated, accessible technology on the internet and at the airport, openly discriminating against the blind.” As such, the DOT is proposing regulations that will amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include provisions that will allow sight-impaired people to access web-only sale airfars, as well as include Braille instructions on check-in kiosks. I have a feeling the proposals will pass… it’s about time.
- More woes for travelers in Australia this week with Qantas cancelling or delaying flights due to labor unrest, Jetstar check-in agents taking “industrial action” by self-waiving excess baggage fees for 24-hours and Customs and Border Protection staff taking similar “industrial action,” by striking this past Thursday. The Australian Prime Minister is close to stepping in requiring Qantas and their unions to re-open discussions. It’s pretty unstable in Oz right now, in some cases benefiting passengers and in some cases not.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- All Nippon Airways (ANA) took delivery of its first Boeing 787 this week and it flew to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Wednesday. Regularly scheduled service doesn’t begin until November 1st, but the carrier plans to fly a charter flight from Narita to Hong Kong on October 26th. The Dreamliner will be seen initially flying regionally with long-haul service from Tokyo to Frankfurt beginning in January 2012.
- Lufthansa has ordered two additional Airbus A380s and 10 other aircraft in a deal that carries a list price of about $1.3 billion. The carrier says the increased capacity is necessary for “short-term requirements.” The other additions are one A330-300, four A320s for regional intra-Europe flying and five Embraer 195 regional jets. Once delivered, Lufty will have a fleet of 17 A380s.
- The Air Line Pilots Association at United Airlines sued the carrier claiming pilots weren’t given enough time to learn, train and implement a new procedure when a jet is caught in a strong wind gust. The procedure in question is currently used at Continental Airlines and requires pilots to let the autopilot make the necessary adjustments vs. pilots taking control in those instances. Courts ruled with the airline allowing the changes to go ahead. Something tells me, though, that pilots against the change might disobey procedure and take over control of the airplane. Just a hunch as it’s something I might do.
- Courts also sided with US Airways this week forcing pilots to quit engaging in work slowdowns that have caused delays and cancellations impacting the carrier’s ability to handle reaccommodation of passengers. When the suit was filed, the US Airline Pilots Association claimed the carrier’s allegations were “categorically false” and instead said they were performing a “safety campaign.” The judge disagreed after reviewing the evidence and issued an injunction against the union.
- Many hotels require you to cancel a reservation by 6pm the day of arrival, or some even 24- to 48-hours out. It’s nothing new, but one hotel in Packwood, WA has a vague policy stating, “If Manager is able to re-sell Guest’s dates at net rates of at least equal to those charged to Guest, Manager will refund Guest’s Use Fee less a Re-Booking fee as specified by Manager.” Chris Elliott thinks hotels might adopt airline-like rebooking fees on some rates in addition to the already existing non-refundable ones. It’s an interesting concept where hotels could create a new revenue stream, but I don’t think it will catch on.
- Hilton HHonors revealed its fourth quarter promotion offering either double points or a free night certificate after four qualifying stays or 10 nights. Registration is required for stays between October 1st and December 31st this year. The list of non-qualifying properties is lengthy and includes two I have bookings at in October. As such, I signed up for the double miles since it wouldn’t pay off to do a couple of mattress runs just to get a free night.
- Even with the current economic downturn, it’s being reported business travelers are returning to booking premium cabins on airlines. Corporate travel managers saw a five percent increase this year in North American companies that allow premium-class travel. 56% of companies here have such a policy, with 46% of European firms, up from 34% last year. I always feel fortunate to get a complimentary upgrade on United’s A319 fleet with only 8 seats in First Class, but my luck might change should these figures continue to rise.
- Finally, Virgin Atlantic was fined $25,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation for violating the rules for advertising taxes and fees clearly. They found the carrier, “displayed internet ads that did not provide direct access to information on taxes and fees that were in addition to the base fare.” If you clicked on the ad, the fees were there, but fairly well hidden in the fine print. This will all change come January next year, though, as all advertised prices will be required to include the fees.
The enhanced airline passenger protections I blogged about in April went into effect yesterday, specifically:
- Airlines will be required to refund any baggage related fee if a checked bag is lost. Don’t get too excited, though… it only applies if the bag is actually lost (i.e., never found), not delayed. Current policies will remain in effect for further compensation due to loss, damage or delay set under each carrier’s contract of carriage.
- The “no more than four-hour” tarmac delay policy for U.S. airline international flights will now be extended to include those flights of foreign airlines at U.S. airports. For domestic flights, the existing three-hour rule in place only at large- and medium-hub airports has been expanded to include small- and non-hub airports. An exception still applies, though, in cases of “safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.” Adequate food and water must be provided after the first two hours of any tarmac delay and working lavatories and medical equipment must always be present.
- Denied boarding compensation, namely those who are involuntarily removed from a flight and didn’t volunteer, has been increased to allow double the one-way price of tickets for short delays (2 hours domestically, 4 hours internationally) up to $650, and four times the one-way price for longer delays up to $1,300.
- Finally, airlines must disclose all optional fees on their websites to include fees for checking bags, meals, changes and cancellations, seat assignments, and upgrades. Both American and United now have dedicated pages fully detailing these fees. I’m sure the other carriers do, as well, but I haven’t checked as of this posting.
Additional rules are scheduled to go into effect January 24, 2012, but airlines are actively challenging these for a variety of reasons (separate blog post on that forthcoming), which include:
- All taxes and fees must be included in advertised fares.
- Post-purchase price increases are prohibited (sorry Spirit).
- Reservations can be held without payment, or cancellations allowed, for 24 hours after the reservation is made.
- Baggage fees must be disclosed when booking a flight, as well as on e-ticket confirmations.
- Prompt notification of delays planned to exceed 30 minutes.
This is a step in the right direction, but many of the policies are still hotly contested and open for interpretation.
Several articles caught my eye yesterday and this morning, so here’s a news roundup of the top stories hitting the blogosphere:
- No, Pan Am definitely isn’t returning to the skies as an airline, but ABC Television has ordered a pilot episode for a new show that will follow the fictional lives of flight attendants during the 1960s heyday of Pan Am. Depending on the cast (Christina Ricci is mentioned) and style of the show (sorta like Mad Men?), we’ll see how well it presents on the small screen, perhaps as soon as this Fall.
- American Airlines was fined $90,000 for failing to reveal upfront that a $30 airport ticketing fee would be deducted when redeeming voluntary denied boarding vouchers at the airport. Since the vouchers received for giving up your seat on an oversold flight can’t be redeemed online, you either mail them in or take them to an airport to get your tickets issued. Taking them in, then, effectively reduces the value of those bump vouchers by $30, so the DOT slapped American with the fine. They’ll only really pay $45,000, though, as half is “forgiven” if they don’t keep the practice in place. I wish speeding & parking violations carried the same half-off concept!
- Oil prices are skyrocketing again, bringing higher airfares, increased fuel surcharges, and one carrier is proposing “flexible” airfares that will change with the price of fuel. Allegiant Air told the US Department of Transportation that it is considering offering the option to book a cheaper ticket now, and then have the fuel surcharge (or rebate) applied the day before travel based on the going oil rates at that time. Read more about it here, including some well-thought out pros & cons in the comments. I wouldn’t buy a ticket with this feature… would you?
- The tulips are continuing to wilt over at United Airlines, and today they’ve rebranded the website with the new globe logo and font. Ben over at One Mile at a Time caught a pretty funny error on their initial release. United claimed to serve “all seven continents,” but it has been corrected as of this posting to read, “spanning six continents.” Antarctica would have been an interesting addition, I’d have to say! The website currently shows the new logo if viewed in Firefox, but Safari still shows the old tulip logo. Not sure about Internet Explorer.
- FlyerTalk has long been the premier site for frequent flyer enthusiasts, with forums and topics surrounding airlines, hotels, car rentals, travel news, and just about anything to do with mileage or point accrual loyalty programs in the travel industry. Its founder, Randy Petersen, sold FlyerTalk several years ago and now he’s launched MilePoint. It operates on the latest Facebook-like, aesthetically enhanced technology and looks to be much the same as FlyerTalk in terms of content and membership. I’ve joined and will keep an eye on things there, but FlyerTalk still has its strength in total numbers. [Edited to add:] Also, there is something to be said for a clean, avatar-free setting like FlyerTalk. Do you think it’s easier to read?