The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Briefing for October 23 to 31, 2014
The briefing in brief: Airlines juggle transatlantic routes. United and Chase cut a MileagePlus deal with Hertz. Do you have Carolina in your mind or on your itinerary? Air Canada devalues Altitude again. We like great airport food--if it's close. The Six Percent Ebola Solution.
Nobody Expects an Ethiopian Route Between LAX and Dublin
U.S. carriers have reported record 3Q earnings--almost all of them today (October 23), in fact--and they're flying high. But there does seem to be excess transatlantic capacity and bookings across the pond have been relatively weak. U.S. airlines are trimming around the edges in the next two quarters and may (or may not) ramp up again in the spring and summer. International carriers are acting a bit differently, however. Some are adding transatlantic capacity while others are moving seats and routes around. So pay attention to these changes: British Airways is adding a first-class cabin on its nonstops between Denver and London/Heathrow. Effective late in March, a four-class Boeing 747-400 will offer 16 seats in first. Meanwhile, KLM Royal Dutch resumes nonstop flights between Edmonton, Alberta, and Amsterdam beginning on May 3. The four weekly flights using Airbus A330-200s are KLM's first from Edmonton in eight years. Air Berlin, on the other hand, is juggling. It will drop Miami-Berlin/Tegel flights in May, but add frequencies on routes to Dusseldorf from its New York/Kennedy, Chicago and Los Angeles gateways. Finally, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition or this: Ethiopian Airlines will launch a nonstop Boeing 787 Dreamliner route between Los Angeles and Dublin starting on June 3. Or as Francis Urquhart might have said, "You could call this a 'black Irish' route, but I couldn't possibly comment."
United and Chase Cut a MileagePlus Deal With Hertz
United MileagePlus now has an exclusive rental-car partner: Hertz and its Dollar and Thrifty divisions. Effective November 1, MileagePlus members who book Hertz will earn from 500 to 1,250 miles per rental depending on your status. (Dollar and Thrifty renters will continue to earn 50 miles per day and a flat 500 miles for rentals of five days or longer.) MileagePlus elites will also receive elite Hertz status beginning January 1. Premier Silver and Gold members can sign up for Hertz Five Star Status. Super-elites get Hertz President's Circle Status. Chase United Club and legacy Presidential Plus cardholders will also get President's Circle Status. (Those Chase cards once offered elite Avis status.) More details are here. ... Air Canada flyers take note: The Altitude program is being devalued again on March 1. The 500-mile minimum for flights will disappear; reaching elite status will require more flying; upgrades will be more expensive; and low-level elites will lose free access to Maple Leaf and Star Alliance airport lounges. Complete details on changes to the insanely complicated Air Canada program are here. ... There are rumors that the by-invitation-only Avis First program is about to get a major overall and the first proverbial shoe has dropped. The so-called "local market" promotions for residents in major cities are ending and the name of the program will be changed to Avis Preferred Plus. Complete details are here.
Do You Have Carolina in Your Mind--or on Your Itinerary?
Hotel rates are rising even as developers throw up new properties, especially in the limited-service sector. This is especially true in places where secondary markets are booming. Like, say, the Carolinas. Three new properties have opened this week, including a third Fairfield Inn in Fayetteville at 4249 Ramsey Street (115 rooms); an 83-room Home2 Suites by Hilton in Florence; and a 96-room Courtyard in the Summerville suburb of Charleston. That last one is the first hotel in the 4,500-acre Nexton development on Interstate 26. ... The Dakotas are also hotel-boom territory and there's now a 96-room Courtyard in Bismarck not far from the existing Residence Inn and an 80-room Home 2 Suites across from the Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls. ... Speaking of fast-growing, the endlessly expanding Hampton Inn chain has added two more: a 143-room property in Gulfport, Mississippi, and a 99-room hotel in Granger, Indiana, just off Interstate 90.
Great Airport Food? It Better Be Close and Fast
This week's Seat 2B column discusses the new face of airport dining and how the food on the main concourse looks a lot like the food on Main Street. But my conversation with Frank Sickelsmith, a vice president at airport giant HMSHost, also touched on how unlikely we are to go out of our way to visit any particular dining option. First of all, he explained, we're not likely to eat landside before security. Airport restaurants "do better post-security," he explained. "People want to clear, find their gate and they don't want to stray too far for a meal." How far? "Most people won't go more than five gates away or walk more than five minutes," he said. And we do feel the time pressure. "We believe [flyers] give us a 30-minute window at a full-service restaurant from walk-in to leaving. And that's the service standard we shoot for as we develop new dining concepts."
The Six Percent Solution on Ebola
The hysteria over Ebola has subsided since facts eventually win out: Only one traveler from West Africa, Thomas Eric Duncan, developed the disease. Moreover, none of the passengers on any Frontier Airlines flights shared with one of Duncan's nurses has shown any symptoms. Nevertheless, under pressure from hysterical politicians on both sides of the aisle, the Department of Homeland Security this week implemented a Six Percent Solution. About 94 percent of the estimated 1,000 weekly passengers from the worst-hit West African nations (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) arrive through the five U.S. airports where there is mandatory Ebola screening: Chicago/O'Hare, Washington/Dulles, Newark, New York/Kennedy and Atlanta/Hartsfield. Homeland Security has ordered the remaining six percent must arrive at one of those five airports.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Portugal travelers take note: Flight crews of Star Alliance carrier TAP Air Portugal have announced four one-day strikes, claiming their contracts have been violated. The strike dates are next Thursday (October 30), November 1, November 30 and December 2. ... Speaking of strikes, the two-day pilots job action at Lufthansa this week resulted in around 1,500 cancellations, including several transatlantic flights when the aviators unexpectedly extended their work stoppage to long-haul runs. ... American Airlines says it has now combined operations with US Airways at 82 airports nationwide. ... Fares have gone up again as first JetBlue Airways and then Delta Air Lines pushed through modest hikes during the last 10 days. The jump is $2-$5 each way depending on the route.
Holy Toledo! The New King of 'Velcro' Hotels
We've talked before about "Velcro hotels", properties that change brands so frequently that folks joke the signs are secured with the hook-and-loop tape. But we must now bow down to the waterfront hotel at 444 North Summit Street in Toledo, the new King of the Velcros. It will be sold next month at a bankruptcy auction and, in the meantime, has changed the name on the door again. The 241-room hotel opened in 1985 as a Sofitel, became a Marriott in 1988 and was briefly a Holiday Inn in 1994 before rebranding as Crowne Plaza. It became a Wyndham in 1998, went independent as the Toledo Riverfront Hotel in 2007, became a Crowne Plaza again in 2008 and then went independent again in 2011. It briefly traded as a Best Western last year and is now called the Grand Plaza Hotel & Convention Center.
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