The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Briefing for Oct. 30 to Nov. 13, 2014
The briefing in brief: American kicks the can on AAdvantage-Dividend Miles integration; 400 Hampton Inns are headed to China; WestJet wants to steal some Air Canada elites; all Marriott Rewards members will get free WiFi; and much more.

American Kicks the AAdvantage Can Until the Second Quarter
A couple of zillion words have already been written and posted about this week's announcement about how American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles will be combined. But the fact is that American basically kicked the can into the second quarter. Little was actually detailed this week--and almost nothing changed, at least at AAdvantage, the surviving program. Most of the known details are here, but here are the key points:
    For 2015 status, flying you did on both carriers in 2014 will be combined and there'll be three published elite levels: Gold at 25,000 miles (or 30 segments), Platinum at 50,000 miles (or 60 segments) and Executive Platinum at 100,000 miles (or 100 segments). The number of segments required for Executive Platinum status will jump to 120 for 2016 status. The US Airways program had four levels, so Dividend Miles Silvers become AAdvantage Gold, mid-level Dividend Miles Gold and Platinum members will be crunched into the AA Platinum level and Chairman's Preferred become Executive Platinums.
    Beginning January 1, business-class tickets will earn a 50 percent bonus.
    The upgrade situation is convoluted. The existing American regimen continues essentially unchanged, but the policies are different for existing US Airways elites.
    You won't be able to combine your balances until "early 2015." If you have an existing AAdvantage number, that'll be your account and your Dividend Miles balances will transfer. If you don't have an AAdvantage account, one will be created for you.
    American claims the AAdvantage award chart will be unchanged. There were no announced changes to the Million Miler program, either. But those changes may come when the rest of the programs details will ostensibly be announced sometime next year.

Four Hundred Hampton Inns Are Headed to China
We discussed the phenomenal growth of Hampton Inn earlier this year as the limited-service chain reached its 30th anniversary. So what does the Hilton brand, with nearly 2,000 existing branches, do next? Invade the lucrative China market, of course. Hilton announced a deal this week to open as many as 400 Hampton properties in China with the first to open before the end of 2015. The engine of Hampton's fast Chinese expansion? Plateno Hotels, which has opened 2,000 mid-market hotels in 300 Chinese cities since it was founded a decade ago. The Hamptons in China are expected to be a combination of new build hotels, conversions and renovations of existing buildings. ... Speaking of China, a 299-room full-service Hilton has opened in the Wujin district of Changzhou in Jiangsu province. And Marriott has opened a 386-room Marriott in Haikou on Hainan Island. ... Speaking of Marriott, a 156-room Courtyard has opened in Queretaro, Mexico. ... And in case you're not picking up the thread, we're talking new international hotels. That includes a 116-room Aloft from Starwood in the former Royal Insurance Building in Liverpool, England, and a 165-room Hyatt Place in the banking district of Panama City, Panama.

WestJet Really Wants to Steal Air Canada Elites
WestJet, the only nationwide competitor of Air Canada, thinks now is the time to steal some Air Canada elites. And the discount carrier may not be wrong since Air Canada has relentlessly devalued both the Altitude and Aeroplan programs in recent years. WestJet's offer is a status match to WestJet Rewards Gold for any top-tier member of any other Canadian program. And for travelers who aren't top-tier elites? WestJet is offering Gold Status to any flyer who spends $1,500 in the next 90 days. Complete details are here. ... Alaska Airlines is adding still another route to Hawaii. Nonstops between San Diego and Kona on the Big Island begin on March 5. There'll be three weekly Boeing 737 flights. ... Southwest Airlines says that its relatively new no-show policy that requires flyers to proactively cancel flights or lose their ticket is paying off nicely. It accounted for about $25 million in third-quarter revenue. "It's meaningful," chief executive Gary Kelly said. "That's more than what we get from our upgraded boarding product on a quarterly basis." Southwest also says that it has ended service to 18 cities once served by its AirTran Airways subsidiary. When the merger is completed by the end of the year, however, Southwest will still serve 51 cities that were once on the AirTran route map.

Free WiFi (Kinda, Sorta) for All Marriott Rewards Members
Marriott says all Marriott Rewards members will receive free WiFi at all of its hotels worldwide starting on January 15. But there are some virtual strings. You'll only receive free WiFi if you book through one of Marriott's channels: Marriott.com, the Marriott app, 1-800-MARRIOTT or directly with a Marriott property. And the WiFi is basic speed. Gold and platinum elite Marriott Rewards members will receive complimentary high-speed access, however. The announcement comes just weeks after Marriott was fined by the Federal Communications Commission for disabling personal WiFi hotspots at some hotels. ... Delta SkyMiles has been surreptitiously devalued again. Without advance notice, layovers on international award flights have been eliminated. Delta claims the change is a "pricing glitch," but has no intention of correcting the error on its online booking engine. Besides, Delta admits it will eliminate layovers when it introduces one-way award pricing next year. ... Some interesting new places to burn your hotel points have just opened. A 115-room JW Marriott resort has opened in Mussoorie in northern India. The hill town, formerly part of a British military cantonment, is known as Queen of the Hills. It was also once part of Nepal. It's a Category 4 redemption. And Hilton HHonors members now have an option in Myanmar. A 202-room property on 100 acres has opened in the capital city of Nay Pyi Taw. It is a Category 6 redemption. ... Voila, the frequency program for dozens of independent and small-chain hotels, is offering top-tier elite status with just one stay before the end of the year. Complete details are here.

It Took a Decade, But New York's Financial Center Has a New Hotel
Back in 2005, a controversial New York hotel developer named Sam Chang bought a parking garage just south of Ground Zero, then still a hole in the ground after the 2001 terrorist attacks. He demolished the nine-story structure at 99 Washington Street and announced plans for a 40-story hotel called the Radisson Financial. Then the global financial meltdown hit and the project stalled. Even after the economy recovered and downtown Manhattan became trendy, the project floundered. But this week the 453-foot-tall property opened with 492 rooms. But it's not a Radisson. It's called the Holiday Inn Manhattan-Financial District. ... A Hilton Garden Inn has opened in New York about as far away from the Manhattan financial district as you can get. The 124-room property is in downtown Buffalo. There's 396 miles between the two new New York hotels. ... Speaking of Hilton Garden Inns, a 115-room outpost has opened in Fayetteville, Arkansas. ... A 172-room SpringHill Suites has opened in Anaheim across the street from Disneyland and next door to the Anaheim Convention Center.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Houston flyers take note: WiFi is now free at Houston/Intercontinental and Houston/Hobby airports. ... An across-the-board $4 roundtrip fare increase attempt initiated by American Airlines failed this week. ... The Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against AT&T. The FTC says the mobile-phone giant throttled data speeds by almost 90 percent for some users after those customers had purchased unlimited data plans. AT&T denies the accusation and says that it fully explained the terms of its limited "unlimited" plans to affected customers.

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