This Week in Travel: Covid Tests, Airline Fees and Sustainable Travel

An airplane from below. Airlines continue to require Covid testing

Keeping you and your groups up to speed with weekly travel updates.

The Buzz

“If you listen to the narrative in the country right now, it’s about testing. Testing must be a component of our events. As a country we’re deficient on tests, we got so focused on vaccines we forgot about the testing component.”

-Michael Dominguez, president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) at Smart Meetings’ 2020 Hospitality Predictions webinar

Covid-19 Updates

The White House announced on Jan. 10 that at-home Covid tests will be required to be covered by private insurance. Starting on Jan. 15, 2022, people covered by a health insurance plan who buy an FDA-approved, over-the-counter diagnostic test for Covid-19 will have eight of those tests a month covered by insurance.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a release that the Biden administration would be purchasing half a billion at-home, rapid tests to send for free to Americans who need them. “This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp-up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost,” he said.

Free Seating Up for Grabs at Southwest?

Southwest’s incoming CEO Robert Jordan told AP in an interview conducted in December but published this week, that the airline is not considering changing its “no bag or change fees” policy. Jordan, however, said that one of Southwest’s most popular features, open-seating might be slated for change. “I do put assigned seating sort of in the never-say-never bucket,” Jordan said.

Southwest is also offering passengers the option to buy discounted CityHealth RapidReturn test kits before or after purchasing tickets. The kits contain a CDC-approved Rapid Antigen test and a virtual appointment with a CityHealth testing specialist who will supervise the test and who are available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. The kit does not require an app but does require a Wi-Fi connection and a video-enabled device (smartphone, tablet, laptop). A secure link to the digital health certificate is sent via email shortly after the test is completed, about 2-3 minutes. Tests are available to Southwest passengers at a discounted rate of $50. Kits are available at CityHealth..

JetBlue Sustainable Travel Partners Debuts

JetBlue has announced the launch of a new sustainable travel initiative aimed at helping corporate travel customers lower their business travel emissions and meet corporate sustainability targets. The new program will give corporate travelers personalized data that will help them track and lower their carbon footprints. The program includes offering JetBlue-generated sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) certificates, complimentary carbon offsetting on all domestic flights operated by JetBlue, personalized travel data and analysis for accurate emissions reporting, consultation and tools for custom planning and target setting to make more sustainable travel choices.

“As our business customers return to the skies, they increasingly have been asking for our support in meeting their net zero and sustainable travel goals,” Sara Bogdan, director of sustainability and environmental social governance for JetBlue, said in a statement. “JetBlue has extensive expertise in decarbonizing air travel thanks to our early and leading commitments and supply agreements. We’re now extending these options to our corporate customers so that, for the first time, they can play a direct role in enhancing the sustainability of their air travel when flying with JetBlue.”

MGM Resorts Reinvents Loyalty Program

MGM Resorts is revamping its loyalty rewards program, MGM Rewards, on Feb. 1, 2022.

The new program will allow non-gaming customers the benefit of earning MGM Rewards Points, redeemable for complimentary food and beverage, entertainment, hotel stays and more. All members now may earn points on almost all expenditures at MGM Resorts destinations. Customers playing slots will also earn “Slot Dollars.” The five existing member tier levels—Sapphire, Pearl, Gold, Platinum and NOIR—will remain in place.

New marquee benefits include waived resort fees (Gold+), Tier Achievement Travel Credit to Las Vegas (Platinum+), complimentary tickets to MGM Rewards concerts (Pearl+), advanced suite upgrades for up to three nights (Platinum+), access to exclusive tier appreciation events and experiences (Gold+) and 4 p.m. late check-out (based on availability; Platinum+). MGM Rewards Points and Slot Dollars will also not expire for Pearl+ members due to account inactivity.

This Week’s Takeaway:

CES and PCMA have happened with participants adhering to masking, distancing and other rules. The White House promises to make testing easier, cheaper and more available. Flight cancellation rates and Covid-rates went up hand-in-hand but a sense of outlasting the Omicron variant with good sense and good science is infusing meetings, webinars and planning sessions with a guarded optimism.

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