Updates: Air Emissions; Upside; Basic Economy; PayForTrip; Real ID; Compl.ai

By | February 3, 2017

Sometimes the things we write about peter out. Sometimes more developments happen, but they don’t warrant an entirely new article. In other cases, something unexpected or counterintuitive is noteworthy in its continuance. Hence, the Updates post.

Click to jump to United’s carbon emissions pledge to corporate clients, Upside’s launch, proliferating Basic Economy airfares, PayForTrip’s pause, the federal government’s Real ID implementation, a check on startups and shutdowns of ARC mobile tech and SGTP.

With Older Planes But Cleaner Fuel, United Promises Lower Emissions Than AA, Delta

United has been making a big deal about its commitment to the environment. It also sought to nullify any advantage rival Delta was getting through a performance guarantee by establishing a matching program. At the beginning of this year it tied the two together. Now, in addition to committing to on-time performance and completion rates that are no worse than both American’s and Delta’s, United also now is pledging better baggage handling than at least one and a smaller carbon footprint than both.

The airline describes the environmental component of its guarantee as an industry first. It’s calculating carbon emissions per available seat mile for 2017, for both mainline and regional operations. United said the data used is “reported and independently verified in each competitor’s Carbon Disclosure Project response or Corporate Responsibility Report.”

For 2015, United said its carbon dioxide equivalent per million ASMs was 152.8, American’s was 156.4 and Delta’s was 161.3. If United slips behind either this year, it will pay eligible corporate accounts based on their carbon footprint (tracked by ticket designator code and/or tour code).

At an average age of 13.9 years at year-end 2016, United’s mainline fleet is older than AA’s (expected to be 9.8 years by the end of this year, according to officials) but younger than Delta’s (16.9 years, according to its website). Older planes generally are less fuel-efficient and therefore burn more fuel. United, though, said it used lower-carbon emitting biofuels on more than 39,000 flights through 2016 while AA and Delta used it on none. United also said it’s contracted to buy 15 million gallons of biofuel compared to zero for AA and Delta.

Meanwhile, Delta last month said its on-time performance metric for the operational guarantee now is based on A0 measurements (the percentage of flights landing exactly on time or early) rather than A14 (landing within 15 minutes of the scheduled time). United’s program has used A0 since it launched.

A Delta press official added that the airline has been “working with a couple of accounts” on carbon emissions measurements.”

Upside Launches

Jay Walker’s new service for unmanaged business travelers officially launched last month. Upside’s approach is opaque packages for air and hotel that are cheaper than buying them separately. He said the service now has sufficient inventory: 1,200 hotels and “almost every major airline in the world.”

Upside's Jay Walker

Upside chairman Jay Walker

It hasn’t been entirely clear how the nine TMCs listed on Upside’s site are involved with the service. Walker said language on the site suggesting TMCs would bring Upside to existing managed travel clients is “probably a little outdated.” They’re not providing agents to help with Upside customer service, he said, but rather simply advising on “systems, processes, procedures — that kind of thing.”

So what’s in it for them? “To be part of the ecosystem,” Walker said. “It makes sense to keep any new inventions as close as you can to your business.” He’s also perfectly happy to let TMCs use Upside on behalf of any interested clients.

Next steps could include adding car rental and other ground transportation, dining and entertainment.

“There is no question there will be smart ways to integrate all kinds of innovations and value-added services into our packages,” Walker said. “There are better ways to understand your opportunities while traveling. We are ultimately wide open to be a platform to integrate all kinds of other elements. We just have our hands full for the next few months.”

Walker is aiming to achieve a $1 billion run rate “very quickly.” Using direct-to-consumer advertising, he said it probably will take about six months to determine appetite among the target audience — some 25 million or so business travelers who work at small companies. “What percent of the market will buy their air and hotel together?” Walked asked. “If the answer is 5 percent, that’s a multibillion-dollar business. if the answer is 1 percent, that’s a problem. If the answer is 30 percent, then you have $50 billion in sales.”

AA, United Focusing On Distribution As They Prep Basic Economy

As expected, American Airlines last month followed Delta and United in adding a Basic Economy fare type. It goes on sale Feb. 21 in select markets. Like those of its rivals, AA’s new bottom-level, nonrefundable product is meant to provide more choices for customers and a defense against no-frills competitors. United will start selling its version of Basic Economy later this quarter (first in Minneapolis).

Regarding such fares already for sale (Delta’s), travel management pros have raised concerns about deficiencies in disclosing restrictions to travelers using corporate self-booking tools. Some block Basic Economy from showing in those tools.

United Airlines economy class

Image: United Airlines

All three airlines plan to expand Basic Economy across their domestic networks and eventually on international routes. They have said they’ll work to disclose all airfare rules at points of sale. At United, president Scott Kirby said making that happen within global distribution systems “hasn’t historically been at the top of their investment list.”

An AA agency guide noted that Basic Economy fares are not available for open jaw or multi-city itineraries. During irregular operations, those purchasing the fare type would be reaccommodated only on AA or joint business partners British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qantas — unless they have elite status. If they do, regular reaccommodation policies would be in effect.

Meanwhile, unlike Delta, both American and United disallow Basic Economy passengers from using overhead bins. Both will charge passengers a $25 penalty fee when they try to bring aboard bigger carry-on items, on top of the regular checked bag fee that would apply for gate-checking the bag. Both also said flight attendants won’t be the baggage police.

Kirby said United personnel will aim to get rollerboards and the like checked in while Basic Economy passengers still are in airport lobbies. Without providing specifics, he said there are “some really clever ways” to do that.

PayForTrip Loses Card Partner, Contemplates Future

Things are on hold for virtual payment startup PayForTrip, which we highlighted in July 2015.

Cindy Allen, CEO of PayForTrip

According to CEO Cindy Allen, the company’s card-issuing partner, VPay, “will be suspending their efforts in the travel industry for the foreseeable future” to take advantage of new contracts in other verticals.

Allen is “assessing next step options” for PayForTrip. The company has not identified a replacement for VPay.

PayForTrip partner and chief commercial officer Kathy Burns in January joined W Holdings as VP for TMC services, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Clock Ticking Toward Real ID

Eight U.S. states have less than a year to fall in line with federal rules or their residents’ driver’s licenses won’t get them on commercial airplanes. Under the Real ID Act, states must start issuing new, “secure” driver’s licenses and ID cards. Once regulations phase in, TSA will accept state-issued driver’s licenses or ID cards only from compliant states.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Homeland Security

A year ago, DHS deemed Minnesota, Missouri and Washington noncompliant. They still are. Now, so is Maine and Montana. If these states don’t move to comply, residents from Jan. 22, 2018, will need another acceptable form of ID to board planes (including “enhanced” driver’s licenses issued by five states” and U.S. passports). The same is true for Kentucky, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Those three have “limited extensions” for other phases of Real ID but not the commercial travel component.

Full implementation is Oct. 1, 2020; every domestic U.S. air traveler will need a Real ID-compliant license or other acceptable identification.

Startup Check

We’re not sure if 2015 PhoCusWright People’s Choice Award winner Tripchamp is down for the count, but its support line is and the company hasn’t tweeted in five months. We first covered it here in our LinkedIn group. Tripchamp chief product officer Daniel Senyard is now (also or instead) CEO of new company Compl.ai. Compl.ai “allows business travelers to book on any platform or site they want by overlaying a display showing what’s in and out of policy on sites like Expedia, Airbnb, Orbitz and Kayak,” according to its website. Senyard indicated by email that he would share details about the new venture later this month. He didn’t respond to a question about Tripchamp. [UPDATE, Feb. 7: “Our business is actually doing very well,” according to Tripchamp chief revenue officer Michael Culhane, “with some large international customers and a major U.S. agency consortium getting onto our platform which is producing results ahead of what we expected.” Senyard has transitioned to an “advisory role,” Culhane noted.]

If Compl.ai’s idea sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you remember Procureapp, which Runzheimer acquired in 2014. Oh yeah, what ever happened to that? We asked Runzheimer. According to a spokesperson, “Unfortunately, they are going to pass on offering any commentary.”

More fortunate is TripActions, which last month said it has 70 customers and raised more than $14 million in funding.

ARC Zapped App Shop

In September 2015 we covered Protravel’s and Tzell’s new mobile apps, ProTrip and tZapp, apparently powered by ARC’s Better My Trip technology. What came of the effort? Zip.

“In late 2015, after looking at the economics in an increasingly crowded market of like-solutions, we felt it didn’t make sense to continue investing in the resources needed to keep Better My Trip current and competitive,” according to an ARC spokesperson. “Basically, the business case just didn’t hold up.”

SGTP Still Stopped

Just over a year ago we reported on the issues facing the Society of Government Travel Professionals, a once-venerable membership group for government travel managers. It didn’t look good but the door was left open for a potential comeback. Consider it shut. The group’s former leader did not reply to a request for comment.

The National Defense Transportation Association, meanwhile, is about to put on its second annual GovTravels event with support from several corporate travel suppliers.