The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for Aug. 27-Sept. 10, 2015
The briefing in brief: First class disappears from more transpacific routes. National Car's pop-up lounges will pop up at more airports nationwide. British Airways and Delta add more nonstops to Great Britain. Put a tiger in your hotel room. And much more ...
First-Class Cabins Disappear on More Transpac Routes
International first class has been slow-walking to oblivion for years and it took another few steps this week when two more carriers announced plans to drop the service on some transpacific routes. United Airlines confirmed that it'll put Boeing 787 Dreamliners on routes to Sydney from its Los Angeles and San Francisco hubs. United's Dreamliners don't have first-class cabins so that means the switch from Boeing 777-200s will eliminate the carrier's Global First product (such as it is) from the Australia market. Also going: first-class cabins on United's San Francisco-Taipei route as it, too, transitions to Dreamliners. All three changes occur in late March at the beginning of the airline industry's so-called "summer schedule." Separately, management of Asiana Airlines, Korea's second-largest carrier, told employees that it'll dump first class on most of the 20 aircraft currently configured with the cabin. First class will only survive on the carrier's four Airbus A380s.
National Car Rental's Pop-Up Airport 'Lounges' Will Keep Popping Up
National Car Rental says it hasn't thought about getting into the airport-club business on a permanent basis, but any port in a storm, right? The car-rental firm has pop-up lounges that are currently located inside departure concourses at five airports--Washington/Dulles, New York/Kennedy, Boston/Logan, Chicago/O'Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth--and the units will be around for at least another year. In case you haven't seen them, the 10x20-foot modular spaces feature three LED monitors broadcasting cable-TV news and sports; a "bar" with four stools, tablets and charging stations; two lounge chairs with tablets and free WiFi. The units are open to the concourses and open to all travelers. They operate 24/7 and a "National brand ambassador" is on duty between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays. Although National isn't doing rentals at the lounge, "it's certainly advertising," says Rob Connors, the agency's assistant vice president of brand marketing. "The idea is to show business travelers that we get them, that we understand they need a place to plug in, have a comfortable seat and access to WiFi." It must be working, too, since the company claims travelers spend an average of 20-30 minutes inside what National calls Emerald Club Lounges. On September 15, the units move to five other cities: St. Louis, Philadelphia, Washington/National, Houston/Intercontinental and Minneapolis. On January 15, the lounges head for 90-day stays in Baltimore/Washington, Pittsburgh, Denver, Sacramento and an undetermined fifth airport. Any chance the clubs will be a permanent offering? "We've been asked," Connors admits. "But we haven't gone there with our thinking."
Good News, Bad News From Amtrak as It Revamps Guest Rewards
Amtrak already announced it was revamping Guest Rewards into a revenue-based program à la Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus. But there's actually some good news along with the bad as Amtrak this week rolled out the first specifics of the transition. The new plan begins January 24 and will reward two Guest Rewards points per dollar spent on Amtrak travel. There's a 25 percent bonus for business-class travel and a 50 percent bonus for booking first class on Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor. Redemptions will also be revenue-based and a first pass on the awards indicates that points will be worth from about 2.5 cents (on Acela trips) to around 3 cents on other trains. What's the good news? Blackout dates on awards will disappear, especially valuable for travelers looking to claim seats on Acela during peak mid-day trains. That's not possible in the current Guest Rewards program. The bad news? Award prices for premium routes with sleeper compartments, a popular redemption option for families, have skyrocketed. Although there were no details given, Amtrak says it will have a points-and-cash option for travel when the new program launches.
Delta and British Airways Launch New British Routes
There's good news for business travelers who need more nonstop options to the United Kingdom. British Airways and Delta Air Lines announced new routes this week. From BA, it'll be nonstops between San Jose, California, and London/Heathrow. Beginning May 4, there'll be daily flights using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners configured with eight suites in first, 42 seat-beds in business class, 39 seats in premium economy and 127 coach chairs. The route is another boost in BA's capacity to the San Francisco Bay area. Earlier this year, it put 469-seat Airbus A380s on one of its two daily flights to San Francisco International. Meanwhile, Delta and code-share partner Virgin Atlantic on May 1 will begin a seasonal flight to Heathrow from Delta's Salt Lake City hub. And Delta will try again with a route between its New York/Kennedy hub and Edinburgh, Scotland. That year-round daily run resumes May 26 using 168-seat Boeing 757s. Delta didn't say what aircraft it'll operate on the SLC-LHR route.
Priority Pass is now valid for complimentary entry at the lounge at Olbia Airport on the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia.
Put a Tiger in Your Hotel Room ... Or Happy Lodging
I don't know what it says about the world, but the conversion of the iconic Humble Oil buildings in Houston is complete. Once the home of the energy company that gave us the slogans "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" and "Happy Motoring," the historic towers fronting Main and Dallas streets now house a trio of Marriott properties. On Monday (August 24), a 167-room SpringHill Suites opened in what had previously been used as an 82-unit apartment building. The other buildings in the Humble complex, first opened in 1921, include a 191-room Courtyard and a 171-room Residence Inn. Marriott is clearly flooding the zone near the city's Brown Convention Center. A 328-room JW Marriott opened on Main Street last year and a Marriott Marquis is under construction adjacent to the convention facility.
InterContinental has opened a 101-room Hotel Indigo in York, England. The hotel is on Walmgate Street, the heart of York's chocolate industry, where products such as Kit Kat, After Eight mints and the Chocolate Orange were created.
Starwood has opened a 150-room Sheraton in Ufa, Russia, and converted a former Howard Johnson into the 270-room Sheraton Bucharest in the center of the Romanian capital.
Hyatt has opened Hyatt Place properties in Normal, Illinois, and Amherst, New York, five miles from Buffalo airport.
Hilton has opened a 174-room Hampton Inn near the convention center in San Francisco. It has also added the 155-room Admiral Hotel in Mobile, Alabama, to its Curio Collection. The property opened in 1940 as the Admiral Semmes Hotel and is receiving a much-needed renovation.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
London travelers take note: The "Night Tube" service scheduled to launch next month has been delayed. The premiere of overnight trains on the Jubilee, Victoria and parts of other lines has run into opposition from labor unions. Several strikes earlier this year hobbled the system and unions cancelled this week's scheduled strikes when management agreed to delay the launch. Management and unions are negotiating over work rules for the new overnight trains, the first in London Underground history.
Hilton says it is eliminating porn as part of "immediate changes to our global brand standards." Never mind that Hilton didn't move until guests stopped buying it and "immediate" actually means, by Hilton's own admission, "phased out... subject to the terms of contract."
Delta Air Lines has been ordered by a federal judge to pay $2.7 million for failing to produce documents and other information in a lawsuit concerning baggage fees. Delta had already been fined nearly $5 million in the same case for similar violations of discovery rules in a case that claims the airline and AirTran Airways colluded on the timing of their 2008 decision to impose a first-bag fee.
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