Industry news from Corporate Travel Management – Dec 8, 2016

First Flights Land in Cuba

On Monday, November 28, 2016 the first regularly scheduled flight from the U.S. to Havana in more than half-a-century landed in the Cuba. The American Airlines flight departed from Miami, arriving at 8:30 a.m., was the first commercial airline to land in Havana since 1961. Three hours later a JetBlue flight flew in from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Flights to other Cuban cities had begun in August. Services to Havana took longer to resume in order to satisfy U.S. airlines demands.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Howard Kass, American Airlines vice president of regulatory affairs told USA Today.

American will fly four flights a day from Miami to Havana. United began its flights to Havana Tuesday, November 29, 2016, and Delta, Frontier and Spirit began service to the city on Thursday, December 1, 2016. On December 12, 2016 Southwest will begins flying to Havana, and Alaska Airlines flights will commence in January.

President-elect Donald Trump has voiced his opposition to President Obama’s normalizing relations with Cuba in December of 2014. “We’ll see what will happen with the Trump administration,” Alfredo Gonzalez, American Airlines’ director for the Caribbean, told the Associated Press. “We don’t know exactly what will happen but we can say that we are in Cuba, in the provinces, in Havana, and we will continue our service moving forward.”

Cuba cruises approved

Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced approval to sail to Cuba.

Royal Caribbean did not offer up many immediate details, but did say they will offer will offer multiple itineraries on ships from its Royal Caribbean International and high-end Azamara Club Cruises brands.

Norwegian had a few ore details available and says they will sail to Cuba on all three of their cruise brands, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Sailings are currently set for March, April, and May with the first sailing on March 7 aboard Oceania’s Marina.

Premium Economy for Alaska Air

Premium Class, Alaska Airlines’ new upgraded main cabin seating, will debut January 5th.

Featuring 35 inches of legroom, Premium Class seats will have 3 to 4 inches more than passengers further back in the economy cabin. Premium Class customer will also receive priority boarding.

The service went on sale last week, and costs anywhere from $15 to $79 on top of the base fares. Elite status members of Mileage Plan will qualify for free upgrades at the time of booking.

Alaska Airlines said that approximately half of the fleet will be reconfigured by the start of the Premium Class service in January; the remaining plans will be reconfigured in 2017.

The changes to Alaska aircraft interior will also include increasing first-class legroom from 36 inches to either 41 or 42 inches.

New Qatar flights to Las Vegas

Next year gulf carrier Qatar Airways will add Las Vegas to its US flight network.

Although few details have been confirmed, TravelMole reported that Las Vegas has been added to a number of new flight routes planned for 2017-2018.

Las Vegas will become the 11th U.S. destination for Qatar Airways, and will be part of a planned global expansion. The expansion will also include Canberra, Dublin, Medan in Indonesia, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Chile  and Tabuk and Yanbu in Saudi Arabia.

“With today’s network announcement, we will be able to connect more people to more places than any other Gulf airline, and we will ensure our passengers will delight in the journey,” Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways’ CEO told TravelMole.

Start dates and route frequencies are yet to be confirmed for any of the new destinations.

Current U.S. citied serviced by Qatar are Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, New York JFK, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington Dulles.

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Marriott Starwood update

TravelPulse reported on a Bloomberg interview with Marriott’s global brand officer, Tina Edmundson, regarding details following the merger of Marriott and Starwood. Edmundson conveyed that there has been some difficulty creating a single loyalty program from two entrenched brands.

Nikki Ekstein, for Bloomberg, explained that “Just as tech infrastructure will require a lot of untangling, so will the terms of a new, joint loyalty program. Edmundson says this is ‘no trivial thing,’ and Marriott is not anywhere near revealing new terms just yet.”

Consumers should not expect any major changes anytime soon. Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs will continue to be independent of one another until 2018. Though the merger has been huge in terms of both scope and interest, it appears that things will remain relatively status quo for now.

While things will remain relatively calm among the various brands the luxury in their various products will see a jump in innovation. The luxury consumer will be the first to see the new tech and the comfort enhancements.

“I think we need to continuously innovate at the high end. This consumer is very discerning. We need to offer what today and tomorrow’s luxury guest is looking for. Innovation in the luxury space is absolutely a priority,” says Edmundson.

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New Waldorf Astoria opening in LA

A new Waldorf property, Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, is scheduled to open in April 2017. The hotel will represent the very best in California lifestyle and luxury. The 12-story hotel will boast 170-rooms and is said to be the most unique urban oasis in Southern California. Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, will be located at the gateway of Beverly Hills, on the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards.

Concur responds to new DOT regulations

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has released new rules governing the display of flight options by electronic airline information systems. One of the new rules prohibits the biasing of the order or content of the display (ex. flight search results) based on the airline supplier, unless this bias has been selected by the user or is authorized in a corporate contract. These DOT rules will extend to corporate online booking tools like Concur Travel.

In recognition of the new DOT rules, the Concur Travel search results page will include new language informing the user, “The order and content of the search results reflect your company’s preferred supplier policies.” Adding this language eliminates the need for clients to provide explicit authorization for Concur to bias their preferred carriers in the search results.

The new DOT rule requires that the name of the operating carrier must appear prominently in the case of codeshare flights. Minor modifications to the current display of Concur Travel search results are needed in order to satisfy this new requirement.

Concur expects to complete these modifications soon.

Sabre integrates Conferma

Business Travel News has report that Sabre eliminated all manual processes of using virtual cards to pay for air bookings, via a full integration with Conferma. This change went live the week of November 14th. Sabre’s vice president for payments, Neil Fyfe, is predicting that virtual cards will become the dominant method of paying for business travel air tickets.

Today, hotel bookings account for more than 95 percent of the virtual payments made through Sabre, according to Fyfe. Using a virtual card number for hotel bookings has been wholly automated in Sabre since 2011, for both travel agency and online booking tool reservations. Because a card number is required to complete ticketing via the mid-office, air bookings work differently. This results in bookers having to create a virtual number via a Conferma Web tool, which then must be copied and pasted it into the Sabre reservation.

Conferma director of strategic relationships, Paul Raymond , told Business Travel news that “Sabre has taken a Web process and integrated it into the host. Sabre is asking for the card instead of the mid-office system asking for it, so it looks to the agent exactly the same as using a lodge [central billing or business travel account] or corporate card. It’s an absolute watershed. It’s the first time the process has caught up with the requirements of the travel industry. People always thought it was a good idea, but they wanted a fully integrated solution. Now that’s happened, it should allow a real step change for virtual cards.”

Virtual cards offer several advantages including the fact that the card number is used only once for a specified transaction. This eliminates clients from having to replace the business travel account number if a fraudulent transaction occurs.

Only the last four digits are visible to the booker through automatic generation of the virtual card number inside Sabre, which further reduces card risk. Sarah Ponti, Sabre global product manager, said virtual cards also eliminate the need for reconciliation. Sabre asserts that a third major benefit is that Sabre forwards all booking, ticketing and payment data to the traveler’s expense tool, thereby enhancing the information available in expense reports. Virtual payments provide “Level 3,” or line item data from airlines that includes field from the passenger name record such as routing information and class of service.