Emirates Skywards reaches 20 million members

Emirates Skywards counter

Emirates Skywards reaches 20 million members

The programme gains 220,000 new members each month


Emirates Skywards, the loyalty programme of Emirates airline, has reached 20 million members.


The airline says that on average it gains 220,000 new members each month, and in 2017, members redeemed a total of 35 billion miles on reward flights, hotels stays and other offers.


Speaking to Business Traveller Middle East last year, Dr Nejib Ben Khedher, Senior Vice President, Emirates Skywards, said that Upgrades accounted for 31 per cent of redemptions, compared with 25 per cent on cash plus miles and 16 per cent on flights. Most passengers actively look for upgrades when planning trips, with around 60-75 per cent booking upgrades ahead of the 48-hour travel window. Dr. Nejib said offering the service through mobiles is “in the pipeline”.


As with many other loyalty programmes, Skywards has moved to a revenue based model where members earn more miles depending on the price of the ticket. Emirates tickets include Flex and Flex Plus fares which earn more miles than discounted or restricted fares, and also include advance seat reservation (fees were introduced on Economy Special and Saver fares in 2016). Flex fares also offers the possibility to upgrade before the flight, whereas Saver fares only allow an upgrade 48 hours before.


Dr Nejib Ben Khedher said that “Flex is very important in two aspects.  If you talk about an economy ticket, flex gives you higher tier miles and if you’re status driven, it’s 2/2.5 times higher with the miles you earn.”


Emirates is looking into releasing more “personalised rates” taking into account how much members spend with them. Platinums spend on average 3.5 times the amount of Gold members.


“There is an aspect of revenue which is captured through the fare brand, but tomorrow even that base will not be that static.” Said Dr Nejib. “It will depend on the fare on that sector and the yield. That’s something we’re looking into. So hopefully those buying the higher fares will get higher incentives. We’re doing a lot from a data science perspective, to understand members’ behaviour better – so rather than pushing out a promotion by email, we’re trying to make it much more targeted.” One element of this that the airline has trialled is displaying upgrades on emirates.com when they are available, during the booking stage, but only to travellers it is targeting (ones who are looking to jump a tier, or stay in the existing one.


It is believed that of the 20 million members, silver is growing about 8 per cent, and platinum 4 per cent (15,000 members), but the overwhelming number are locked in blue.



Cash plus miles

In 2016, Emirates introduced cash plus miles, appealing to the many members who haven’t enough points for flights (seven million members had less than 40,000 miles). For the airline, it provides the opportunity to engage with passengers who haven’t been on board for a while – 28 per cent who took up cash + miles were “inactive” in the past year.
Moreover, with 83 per cent taking it up coming from the Blue tier, it gives Emirates the chance to showcase premium cabins to a new segment of travellers. “We want the person who has never flown business to give them a taste so we can capture them later on,” said Dr. Nejib.

The service also extends to passengers before they get on board, with Dubai Duty Free accepting cash plus miles for purchases.





Airbus’s first A350-900ULR aircraft rolls off assembly line

Airbus A350-900ULR

The first of manufacturer Airbus’s A350-900 Ultra Long Range (ULR) aircraft rolled off the final assembly line at the company’s facility in Toulouse today, ahead of its delivery to launch customer Singapore Airlines later in 2018.

The A350-900ULR is a new variant of the manufacturer’s existing A350-900 aircraft that is able to fly greater distances than both its predecessor and, according to Airbus, any other commercial aircraft. Airbus claims the aircraft is capable of flying distances of up to of 9,700 nautical miles, or 17,964 kilometres, or for durations exceeding 20 hours.

Singapore Airlines has made it known that it intends to use the seven A350-900ULR it has on order for ultra-long-haul, non-stop flights between Singapore and the US. This notably includes Singapore-New York – the world’s longest commercial route at 15,344 kilometres taking between 18 and 19 hours to complete.

The A350-900ULR isn’t the only aircraft that has ever been capable of making the journey, however. On the contrary, Singapore Airlines previously flew non-stop to Newark using its A340-500, the only aircraft capable of making the journey at the time, but scrapped the service in 2013 largely due to the fuel-intensive nature of the aircraft.

Airbus has since positioned the more fuel-efficient A350 to replace the A340 as well as compete with rival manufacturer Boeing’s 777 and 787 aircraft.

The first A350-900ULR is now set to undergo ground tests ahead of the installation of its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines. Airbus will then conduct flight tests to certify the changes in the new aircraft compared with the standard model that will enable it to fly greater distances, notably aerodynamic performance and a modified fuel system.

Last week, Airbus also delivered the first of its new A350-1000 aircraft to launch customer Qatar Airways. These variants are longer than the A350-900 and are capable of flying up to 8,000 nautical miles or 14,800 kilometres.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines is also set to take delivery of the world’s first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft next month, which it plans to begin flying to Osaka followed by Perth this May.

Singapore Airlines isn’t the only carrier waiting for the right aircraft in order to launch new ultra-long-haul routes. Last year, Qantas threw down the gauntlet for both Airbus and Boeing to develop an aircraft capable of flying non-stop between Sydney and London by 2022, a journey that would take about 20 hours and 20 minutes.

Not even the A350-900ULR is quite capable of making that journey, though it does come close, as does Boeing’s upcoming 777-X aircraft. Both manufacturers appear to have accepted the challenge by making modifications to these two aircraft.

airbus.com; singaporeair.com

New Skyteam lounges in Santiago and Istanbul


New Skyteam lounges in Santiago and Istanbul

Both lounges will open before the end of 2018


Airline alliance, SkyTeam, has announced two new branded lounges: one in Santiago, Chile and one at Istanbul’s new international airport. Both facilities are scheduled to open by the end of the year and will be available to First, Business Class and Elite Plus customers of SkyTeam members serving each city. SkyTeam currently has seven lounges worldwide after opening its latest in Vancouver in November 2017.


The Santiago lounge will be Skyteam’s first in South America and eighth worldwide. It will be available to eligible customers flying on Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeroméxico, Air France, Alitalia, Delta Air Lines and KLM.


Meanwhile, the six SkyTeam members serving Istanbul: Aeroflot, Air France, KLM, MEA, Saudia and Tarom, will transition their operations to the city’s new world-class international airport, scheduled to open in October. SkyTeam’s lounge at the new airport will replace the current facility at Ataturk Airport and will be more than double in size with a wider range of amenities.


Global Lounge Network will build and manage the Santiago and Istanbul lounges on behalf of SkyTeam. Open 24/7 in both locations, highlights include:

  • Delicious regional cuisine, freshly prepared using locally sourced ingredients, as well as international offerings. Customers can enjoy tasty pastries from an empanada station in Santiago and freshly-cooked Turkish meze and pide in Istanbul.


  • Local beers and wines plus non-alcoholic beverages will be offered in both lounges, where customers can enjoy refreshments in a sociable dining space with a communal feel.


  • Abundant natural light, power at every seat, a business area and showers for a pre-flight freshen-up. Hybrid seating providing personal space with privacy to catch up with work or unwind.

SkyTeam lounges are available in major airports served by multiple member airlines. The alliance offers branded facilities in: Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, London Heathrow, Sydney and Vancouver.


“Our holistic approach to caring for our customers is evident in our lounges. They represent a very popular alliance benefit for frequent flyers and our airlines, and we’re excited to expand our portfolio,” said Perry Cantarutti, Skyteam’s CEO. “Building on the success of our existing lounge network will enable us to offer a greatly enhanced ground experience for customers flying through Istanbul, and strengthens Skyteam’s presence in South America.”


For more information on SkyTeam’s lounges, click here.


Google Flights integrates hotel bookings

Searching the internet with Google

Google Flights App Integrates Hotel Bookings


By Bob Curley


Google continues to expand the capabilities of its Google Flights mobile app, adding direct hotel bookings to a growing list of travel tools, Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffwhitmore/2018/02/20/how-google-travel-is-changing-the-game-with-google-flights-google-trips-more/#4a370f534d98 ) reported February 22, 2018.


Google continues to expand the capabilities of its Google Flights mobile app, adding direct hotel bookings to a growing list of travel tools, Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffwhitmore/2018/02/20/how-google-travel-is-changing-the-game-with-google-flights-google-trips-more/#4a370f534d98 ) reported February 22, 2018.


Hotels can be searched via text search or map. Bookings are accomplished with a single click that takes users to the hotel site or a booking engine.


Google Flights already allows users to search flight deals offered by multiple airlines, with booking achieved via airline sites or the Google app itself. The app also includes information on baggage fees and on-time performance that often exceeds that offered by airline sites.


The app’s new navigation bar now includes four separate tabs, according to Koddi (https://www.koddi.com/google-updates-travel-search-experience-on-mobile/): Explore, Flights, Hotels, and Your Trips. Air and hotel can be searched and booked at Flights and Hotels, respectively, while Explore contains information like suggested itineraries, list of popular sights, and news articles. Users can store information on their past, present, and future travels at Your Trips.


“One of the most notable benefits of this combined search navigation bar is that the user only needs to input the date and destination once to look at available options for flight and hotels. Previously, the search required two separate queries where the dates and destination had to be input multiple times,” Koddi noted. “In addition, similar to … Expedia, Google is also offering a combined button on the Explore tab which features flights and hotels options bundled together.”



London Heathrow rail services to change in 2018

Heathrow Express

All change for London Heathrow

Report by Alex McWhirter

This time the changes involve rail rather than air connectivity.

As the opening of Crossrail (officially to be rebranded as Elizabeth Line in December) draws closer more details are emerging of the rail services we can expect to sample when using Heathrow.

Surface rail connectivity between London itself and Heathrow will increase dramatically. (Note: I am not including the slower Piccadilly Line here)

The timeline will be:

  • May 2018. Multi-stop Heathrow Express will be taken over by London’s TfL.  It will continue to operate from T4 via T2/3 to London Paddington.
  • December 2018. Elizabeth Line runs to Paddington (from the East) but you will still have to change there for Heathrow Express / Heathrow Connect.
  • December 2019. Elizabeth Line will run directly into Heathrow from Central London and the capital’s Eastern suburbs. There will be two trains hourly to T5 but four to T4.  That means there will be six trains per hour to T2/3.

Heathrow Express will continue as now.

Its selling points will be more frequency to T5 (than Elizabeth Line), a faster non-stop service to Heathrow (Elizabeth Line will make en route stops) and more space for passengers and luggage.

What about fares ?

TfL has said that Elizabeth Line will be priced in line with prices over its network.  From that we can deduce that it will undercut Heathrow Express.

Heathrow Express tells Business Traveller that, as yet,  no fares have been finalised for when the Elizabeth Line starts.  Fares in 2018 are being held at 2017 prices.  But we are told they will be “competitive with Crossrail [Elizabeth Line].”

The other news is that ticket barriers are currently being rolled out at Heathrow Express stations.

They will be accepting Oyster and contactless cards.  They are expected to be working from May at Heathrow and from September at Paddington.

One final point regarding Heathrow Express is its appeal to foreign visitors.  London media tends to think in terms of Londoners.

But Heathrow Express is bookable through airline GDSs.  It means travel agents/airlines can include the product with the air ticket making it (for foreign visitors) the easiest rail link for overseas travellers.

After all if flying into Tokyo Narita a passenger could make more sense of Narita Express than those other Japanese rail firms operating into downtown Tokyo.


Elizabeth Line   https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/elizabeth-line







Cebu Pacific launching Manila-Melbourne flights in August


Philippines-based budget carrier Cebu Pacific today announced it plans to launch a new non-stop service between Manila and Melbourne on August 14, 2018.

This will be the airline’s second destination in Australia after Sydney, which it began flying to in 2014.

“The launch of our service between Melbourne and Manila will give travellers from Australia seamless connections to other destinations in the Philippines at year-round low fares,” said Candice Iyog, vice-president for marketing and distribution at Cebu Pacific.

“This will enable Filipinos living in the Melbourne area to visit their families more often, and encourage more Australian tourists to spend their holidays in the Philippines.”

According to the airline, tourism arrivals from the Philippines to Australia have nearly double doubled since 2014, from 70,000 to 120,000.

Cebu Pacific will fly between Manila and Melbourne three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Flight No. From To Departs Arrives Days
5J 049 Manila (MNL) Melbourne (MEL) 0605 1550 Tue, Thu, Sat
5J 050 Melbourne (MEL) Manila (MNL) 1705 2315

The airline will fly its all-economy 436-seat Airbus A330 on the route. Most seats offer 30 inches of pitch, though there are 22 Preferred seats available on the aircraft that offer 21 inches.

Current fares start from 19,088 pesos/US$366 for a return ticket with no baggage or meal, while flights with baggage and a meal start at 24,388 pesos/US$468 including taxes and fees.


Virgin Australia plans to launch Sydney-Hong Kong route this year

Virgin Australia has its sights set on launching its second non-stop service between Australia and Hong Kong, with plans for a new daily service from Sydney to launch sometime in mid-2018.

It’s been seven months since the carrier launched its inaugural service to Hong Kong from Melbourne and since then the carrier has been steadily expanding the route by upping the service to a daily operation last November (though the service will return to a five-times-weekly operation effective mid-2018).

The airline also launched a frequent-flyer programme agreement with Fortune Wings Club, the rewards programme for Hong Kong Airlines along with other Chinese carriers in the HNA Group.

“Expanding our presence into Greater China is a key pillar of our international strategy, and today we are building on the positive momentum created since the launch of our Melbourne-Hong Kong flights,” said John Borghetti, Virgin Australia Group’s CEO.

“The new Sydney-Hong Kong service will link two global destinations and will allow Virgin Australia to further access the fastest growing and most valuable Australian inbound market, China, with our alliance partner Hong Kong Airlines. The service will also connect with Virgin Atlantic Airways’ flights to London.”

The new flights will depart Sydney at 1000 and arrive in Hong Kong at 1740, while the return journey will fly out of Hong Kong at 1950 and land back in Sydney at 0710 the following morning.

Flight No. From To Departs Arrives Days
VA89 Sydney (SYD) Hong Kong (HKG) 1000 1740 Daily
VA88 Hong Kong (HKG) Sydney (SYD) 1950 0710+1

Virgin Australia will be flying its two-class Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the route. This aircraft is outfitted with 20 of the airline’s The Business seats in the forward business class cabin, laid out 1-2-1 in a herringbone formation. The seats recline to a fully flat position, becoming an 80-inch bed and have in-seat USB and universal power outlets.

Economy is laid out 2-4-2 with a total of 255 seats. These offer 31 inches of pitch and 17.4 inches of width, while the seat recline is five inches. Economy class seats also have USB ports and in-seat power.

Virgin Australia’s existing Melbourne-Hong Kong service, meanwhile, will operate with the following schedule effective mid-2018:

Flight No. From To Departs Arrives Days
VA85 Melbourne (MEL) Hong Kong (HKG) 0030 0810 Mon, Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun
VA84 Hong Kong (HKG) Melbourne (MEL) 1810 0540+1 Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun
1915 0645+1 Mon


New Avani+ brand launches in Laos

Avani Luang Prabang

Minor Hotels Group has launched what it says is a new “upscale brand extension” of its existing Avani Hotels and Resorts brand.

The Avani+ brand has debuted with its first property in the Laos city of Luang Prabang, and the group says that the brand portfolio will “encompass a selection of hotels and resorts showcasing the next-level in style, design and facilities”.

Avani+ Luang Prabang is located in the city centre, close to the Mekong Rover, and features 53 rooms with either balcony or terrace, French colonial-inspired interiors, a gym, spa facilities, yoga pavilion and a 25-metre courtyard swimming pool.

Minor Hotels says that each Avani+ property “will tell its own unique story so that guests will discover a little something extra, from architecture to design to location and beyond”.

Avani Hotels and Resorts currently operates 3,800 rooms and 23 properties across 15 countries, with a further 3,000 rooms in the pipeline – it’s not clear how many of these will be assigned the Avani+ branding.

The Avani brand debuted in Europe last year, with the rebranding of the existing Tivoli Jardim Lisboa Hotel as the Avani Avenida Liberdade Lisbon Hotel, following a €1.5 million renovation programme.

Commenting on the opening in Luang Prabang, and the launch of the brand extension, Alejandro Bernabé, vice president of operations for Avani Hotels and Resorts said:

“Avani has always focused on offering the details that matter to our guests and Avani+ will take that to the next level, infusing more style and taking a non-standard approach to our upscale hotel concept, going beyond providing premium facilities, amenities, and service.

“We are absolutely delighted to introduce Avani+ with the launch of Avani+ Luang Prabang and we look forward to announcing additional Avani+ hotels over the coming months.”


Chicago O’Hare expansion plan nears approval

Chicago O'Hare

Chicago O’Hare Expansion Plan Nears Approval

By Bob Curley


An $8.5-billion proposal to build a new international terminal and add more gates and concourses to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is in the final stages of negotiation between city officials and airlines, the Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-met-city-hall-story-20180223-story.html) reported February 26, 2018.


An $8.5-billion proposal to build a new international terminal and add more gates and concourses to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is in the final stages of negotiation between city officials and airlines, the Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-met-city-hall-story-20180223-story.html) reported February 26, 2018.


The airport’s 35-year lease with the city is due to expire in May, helping to propel negotiations on an eight-year improvement plan for the airport, notorious for its frequent flight delays.


The project, slated for completion in 2026, would be paid for with higher fees on airlines and would include the demolition of the airport’s Terminal 2, which would be replaced by a new “Global Terminal.” The international terminal would be connected via newly constructed concourses to Terminals 1, 3, and 5, all of which would be extensively renovated.


When completed, the project would add 3.1 million square feet of new terminal space to O’Hare, which currently encompasses about 4.3 million square feet. The total number of gates at the airport would rise from 185 to 220.


Officials note that while O’Hare is crowded with domestic and regional traffic, it lags far behind airports in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles when it comes to international flights. LAX also recently passes O’Hare to become the second-busiest airport in the U.S.


“When you look at the international numbers, you say, ‘Wait a minute. We have half the international passengers that Miami and LAX do? We have a third the number of JFK?’” said Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans. “We have more industry, more global trade, more imports from China than LA and Miami, why should Chicago be half? We’re at 10 or 11 million international passengers and they’re at 21 or 22 million. Really? Come on.”


Seven new amenity kits for passengers in premium classes

JAL first class amenity kit by Etro

Hong Kong Airlines

Hong Kong Airlines has yet to officially unveil its new amenity kits, however Business Traveller was given a sneak preview of the design at an event earlier this month.

The design in question features the Hong Kong skyline printed in black against a cream-coloured background with the words “high life” above the buildings. As for the bags themselves, they are made from a canvas fabric that gives the kits a tactile and durable feel.

While these new bags bear a lot of similarities to the airline’s current amenity kits, which it rolled out in February last year, there are a few notable differences. Notably, these new kits will be taller and slimmer than the current kits, which are shorter in height and wider in width. The new kits will also feature a number of new designs, though the Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Harbour prints will be retained.

Japan Airlines

Japan’s national carrier is making a number of changes to its service offerings on international long-haul services starting next month, notably with new in-flight menus developed in collaboration with Michelin-starred restaurants.

Over the coming weeks, however, passengers will also see new amenity kits when travelling in first and business class on select international routes.

The first class offerings, designed by Italian fashion house Etro and set to launch in mid-March, will be available on flights between Tokyo (Haneda and Narita) and US destinations as well as London and Paris.

Meanwhile, the business class kits have been developed by Japanese firm Tatsumura Textile that will rotate colours every three months starting late-February. These will be available on routes between Tokyo and destinations in North America, Europe and Australia, as well as on the airline’s flights between Kansai International airport and Los Angeles.


Swiss unveiled its new business class amenity kits earlier this month. Designed by Swiss army knife and luggage brand Victorinox, the kits come in six different designs each of which will be rotated on board.

However, the airline won’t be offering just the standard travel toiletries bag. The range also includes other practical items intended to be reused after the flight, notably a passport holder and a metal tin modelled on Victorinox’s suitcase design.

As for the toiletry kits themselves, they contain a toothbrush and toothpaste, lip salve, sleep mask, socks and ear plugs, and will be available on Swiss flights for the next three years.


Delta began offering new amenity kits for its Delta One and Delta Premium Select passengers last year.

While the Delta One kits still make use of products from luggage manufacturer Tumi and cosmetics brand Kiehl’s, the kits themselves now feature a hard-shell option designed to mimic Tumi’s 19 Degree luggage collection. It’s worth noting that hard-shell options are only available on outbound flights from the US – inbound offer soft-sided cases.

Meanwhile, the carrier’s Delta Premium Select amenity kits come in a soft, blue Tumi pouch and feature toiletries from Malin and Goetz.

British Airways

Designer store Liberty London was behind British Airways revamped first class amenity kits, which it launched last year.

Kits come in two designs – an “Arundel” pattern for male bags and an “Indiana” print for female bags.

Aside from the outward design, the two types of bag feature different products. The men’s bag, for instance, features Refinery’s moisturiser, lip balm, deodorant, shaving gel and razor, along with other standard toiletries such as toothbrush and toothpaste, eye mask and socks.

Meanwhile the women’s bag includes Aromatherapy Associates triple rose renewing moisturiser, hand lotion, renewing cleanser and cotton pads, among other items.

This is the second time Liberty London has designed amenity kits for the airline, with the new men’s bags in particular offering a more unique Paisley-style design compared to the previous all-black bags.

Singapore Airlines

Rather than offer regular travel toiletries, Singapore Airlines filled its new amenity kits with fabric care products from The Laundress. These include sprays designed to remove wrinkles and odours from clothes, and bars for getting rid of stains without the need to wash them in liquid – great for business travellers.

Available as in a limited edition for travellers in business class, first and suites, the products come in tall, black leather bags.

Air Astana

Kazakhstan’s national carrier Air Astana partnered with French fashion house Christian Lacroix and Italian designer Furla for its latest amenity kits.

Offered to business class passengers on both short and long-haul flights, the Furla women’s bags have been designed to mimic the brand’s retail handbags, while the Christian Lacroix kits feature bold prints and colours, and the brand’s signature butterfly pattern.

Among the most notable features of the products within the kits, however, is the replacement of the typical flight socks with slippers.