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Major Airline News for 2017: How “the Big Four” Will Vie for Your Business

January 5th, 2017 /

Being subjected to the same luggage bins, packaged snacks, and tiny seats over and over squashed my fancies about the glamours of flying pretty early in my career. I do spend a lot of time daydreaming about improvements that would make the experience less drab, but, with a few notable exceptions, airlines don’t seem to put much stock in what business travelers actually want out of their trips.

My idealistic dreams aren’t entirely dead, though, because every year I look forward to the annual roll-out of announced changes to the “Big Four” (American, Southwest, United, and Delta). And this year, odds are good that we’ll see a number of adjustments that will actually benefit frequent travelers. Here’s what I’m most excited about for 2017.

American Airlines

major airline news

American Airlines will revamp their rewards program and add a new economy fare class. Image by Flickr user Bernal Saborio (CC BY-SA 2.0)

American loyalists will see one major perk: changes to the AAdvantage rewards program. While somewhat controversial, this alteration will add a fourth tier to the airline’s elite rewards structure. You can qualify for their new Platinum Pro status by accruing 75,000 EQMs or 90 EQSs in a calendar year. This status gives you unlimited complimentary upgrades plus nine miles per dollar spent.

The flip side is that AAdvantage has switched to a revenue-based system, which means that spending thresholds are now part of earning an elite status—you can no longer accrue miles solely via your flight segments. If you typically rely on cheap award tickets to earn your status, you might need to come up with a new approach. This spending threshold also extends to higher statuses: to earn Gold up through Executive Platinum, you’ll need to spend $3-12k on flights per year. (Some airlines allow you to waive this spending threshold if you charge enough to their co-branded credit cards, but American hasn’t yet announced whether they’ll follow suit.)

Southwest

southwest's major airline news for 2017 includes better connectivity

Southwest plans to expand service and update their fleet with high-tech partnerships in 2017. Image by Flickr user Kevin Dooley (CC BY 2.0)

Southwest is rolling out service expansions in 2017 that might make them slightly more attractive to business travelers: they’re adding daily service between Newark/Fort Lauderdale and Houston/Omaha, giving travelers in these markets a wider pool of options.

The airline is also looking to improve its in-flight connectivity. By 2018, they’ve promised WiFi bandwidth that’s up to four times as fast as their current offering, and they’re in the process of retiring all Boeing 737 Classics, which means that by fall 2017, the entire Southwest fleet will be WiFi-equipped. (The airline has partnered with Panasonic Avionics to offer satellite Internet on their new Boeing 737-Max planes.)

These developments might finally make Southwest competitive with other major airlines—if you absolutely must fly budget, better WiFi at least allows you to be productive during your flight

United

we'll see a few changes to united airlines in 2017

In 2017 United will welcome new international business class perks and a new low fare class. Image by Flickr user Daniel Ramirez (CC BY 2.0)

While United hasn’t announced many consumer-facing changes for 2017, I’m excited about one major innovation: they’re officially rolling out their new Polaris business class seating, lounges, and service.

Changes include fully-reclining seats, bedding from Saks 5th Avenue, and seasonal menus that come with the option of creating your own wine tasting or enjoying a morning Mimosa. Unfortunately, United’s entire fleet won’t have new seating for another couple of years—but you’ll at least receive Polaris service in older cabins starting this year.

United is also unveiling their new Polaris lounges (the first is now open in O’Hare, offering another way to relax if you’re passing through). These lounges aim to surpass the luxury available anywhere else by providing multi-course meals, chef-designed small plates, a bar with craft beer and cocktails, luxury showers, and dedicated rest areas.

On a less heady note, the airline is adding an extremely inexpensive new fare class which will restrict low-paying passengers to only one under-the-seat carry-on bag. No using the overhead bins. This means that business travelers choosing United will (theoretically) be granted more space in overhead bins, and the boarding process is supposed to move much more quickly. Time will tell if these benefits pan out.

Delta

delta's major airline news for this year? new business class lounges

Delta is making significant changes to their rewards program, fleet, and business class perks in 2017. Image by Flickr user Andres Nieto Porras (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Delta has the reputation of following their customers’ wishes, and this trend seems to be holding strong in 2017. They’ve altered their diamond elite upgrade benefits structure, and Diamond Medallions who earned their status in 2016 can now get four global upgrades or eight regional upgrades—double what you’d receive on the old policy.

Like United and Southwest, Delta is also making significant changes to their fleet. They’ll be releasing new Airbus A350-900 planes to replace their older 747s, and they’ve also come up with a new international business class feature: doors. Yes, Delta is now the first airline to feature a business class suite (called Delta One) with a closeable door. I don’t personally see the need for one more barrier on the way to the restroom, but Delta’s advertising campaign is playing up the privacy benefits, and if you’re on an international flight, you might admittedly appreciate a space to nap in peace or get confidential work done.

Take Your Pick in the New Year

Thankfully for frequent travelers, the airline market is bigger than the big four. Image by Flickr user Whity (CC BY 2.0)

The upcoming fleet changes and first class suite advancements are promising for frequent flyers. While boarding a plane will probably never rank among your favorite activities, we can all appreciate improvements to the passenger experience.

If you’re looking for a more immediate upgrade, you should also consider a membership with JetLux Hotels. We’ve revolutionized the booking process by giving you access to steep discounts at some of the best boutique and chain hotels across the country. It’s luxury you can actually count on in the new year.

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