Dec 24 2013, 2:16pm CST | by Forbes
2014 brings with it major changes in the airline industry, including the merger between American Airlines and US Airways and tectonic shifts to multiple mileage programs. The impact of these changes will shape the way that business travelers fly, leading some to earn fewer miles over the course of the year and others to change their travel patterns.
To get an idea of what airlines will work best for business travelers in 2014, we turned to a few experts in the industry to get their opinions. Before we begin though, it’s important to place this discussion within the context of your personal location and travel flexibility. Living in Chicago, I’m fortunate to have United Airlines and American Airlines calling O’Hare a hub, meaning I can get almost anywhere on those carriers without taking a connection. Were I to fly on US Airways though, I’d likely have to connect through Charlotte, Philadelphia or Phoenix, and while I don’t mind connecting, many do. If you live in a city like Pittsburgh with one major airline and you don’t like to connect, then your answer is simple. But if you want to really maximize the impact of those earned miles, then other options are on the table.
One of the most important things to keep in mind for the coming year is that the mileage programs for Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are drastically changing. While the specifics of each program are slightly different, two main changes stand out across programs: there is less flexibility to earn miles on partners and elite status for the 2015 year is based on how much you spend on the airline. If you barely earn elite status with either airline and you do a lot of flying on partner carriers, it pays to look up what sort of mileage you’ll earn. Similarly, if you earn your status by frequently booking low cost tickets, you may be at risk for not reaching the minimum spend requirements. Take a look at Delta’s mileage program updates here and United’s updates here to get an idea of the new constraints.
American Airlines, US Airways and Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, have refrained from major changes to their mileage program structure, though once its merger is complete, the new American Airlines may follow suit with competitors.
Back to the issue of flexibility in connecting, airlines made deep investments in expanded route networks in 2013, and that may influence who you fly with in 2014. “A good business airline gets you where you want to go with multiple fight options a day, and lets you be productive while getting there,” Gary Leff, head of the popular View from The Wing blog tells me. “That means the major network (legacy) airlines are the better business airlines. The two best are American Airlines and Delta Airlines for letting you stay connected with inflight wireless internet while offering frequent schedules across their broad networks.”
Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com agrees. “Business travelers require good route networks, solid in-flight products and strong customer service. In those categories, I feel American Airlines is a top all-around pick. They are in the process of updating their fleet with a top lie-flat longhaul product, have not devalued their frequent flyer program (like United and Delta) and still offer top frequent flyers complimentary upgrades–even on transcontinental routes.”
Outside of the legacy carriers, there are a few great options for casual business travelers not looking for an expansive route network or partner benefits. “JetBlue, will launch their Mint business class transcontinental service in summer of 2014,” Mr. Kelly continues. “The pricing allows small and large business alike to buy premium transcontinental seats at a fraction of the regular price that the major legacy airlines charge.” Virgin America, the darling of inflight passenger experience, will also play a bigger role in the business travel world in 2014 as it expands its presence in New York City.
At the end of the day, however, the best business airline for each traveler boils down to a careful match between traveler flexibility and a robust mileage program. The traveler in Fargo can be just as empowered as one in New York with the right planning and time commitment–it’s simply a matter of investment.
Source: Forbes Business
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