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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 2 TO 16, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli
· Delta and American Express Devalue Partnership
· American Adds New Domestic Routes From Miami
· Air Canada Will Bulk Up International Network
· JetBlue, Virgin America Get Into a Route War
· More Indys Join Marriott's Autograph Collection
· American Wants to Add a DFW-Beijing Nonstop
· Three New Chain Properties Open in Columbus
Delta and American Express Devalue Partnership--Again
Last week's Seat 2B column briefly discussed Citibank's inability to bring its American Airlines partner into its Thank You points network. Now American Express is having similar, if not quite yet as severe, problems with Delta Air Lines. Their uneasy partnership--Amex cardholders lost free guest privileges at Delta SkyClubs earlier this year--took another hit this week when Amex was forced to impose an annual cap on the number of Membership Rewards points that you can transfer to Delta SkyMiles. Effective January 1, your ability to move Membership Rewards points to SkyMiles will be limited to 250,000 points a year. Points transfers to SkyMiles are among the least valuable ways to use Membership Rewards, but they are popular with frequent travelers who like the convenience of using Amex and Delta credits interchangeably. The new cap is so onerous that it doesn't even cover the cost of some Delta peak business-class international awards, which range from 295,000 miles (Europe) to 350,000 miles (South Africa). Given the continual devaluations of Delta SkyMiles, it's hard to recommend a mass transfer of Membership Rewards points before the cap goes into effect. But if you have plans to move points to claim Delta flights in the near- or medium-term, do it before the end of the year so you can preserve maximum flexibility in 2015. And it would be wise to examine non-Delta transfer options for Membership Rewards, which has more than two dozen other airline partners.
American Launches New Domestic Routes From Its Miami Hub
The playbook that US Airways bosses brought with them when they took over American Airlines last year includes a strategy to operate as many flights as possible from fortress hubs. The reason? There's less chance of competition (and thus a better chance of charging higher fares) if you concentrate at hubs where you have a lock on traffic. Which pretty much explains the American announcement this week that it will launch four new domestic routes from its Miami hub. Effective March 5, there will be daily nonstops to Austin, Kansas City, Salt Lake City and San Antonio. The routes include early-morning flights from the spoke city, thus allowing flyers to connect to Miami flights heading to Latin America. Returns from Miami are evening departures. (And yes, eagle-eyed reader, SLC is a Delta hub, but Delta does not fly between Salt Lake and Miami, so no competition there, either.) ... Speaking of Delta, the recent build-up at Dallas/Love Field by Southwest Airlines and Virgin America is leaving Delta without gates. So Delta's five daily regional-jet flights to its Atlanta hub end on October 13. ... Dining concessions are changing at Memphis. Out are options such as Back Yard Burgers, Memphis City Blues and Villa Fresh Italian. In will come a Wimpy's Burgers and several other new restaurants.
Air Canada Will Bulk Up International Network Next Year
Air Canada is adding international flights from its hubs in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. From Toronto, Air Canada will resume nonstop flights to Amsterdam after a gap of nine years. It'll use 211-seat Boeing 767-300ERs six times weekly beginning June 4. There'll also be double-daily flights to Paris/CDG from both Toronto and Montreal. The already disliked Air Canada Rouge service will begin twice-weekly flights between Montreal and Venice on May 14. The Rouge division will launch five weekly Vancouver-Osaka/Kansai flights on May 1. Rouge will also take over the existing Toronto-Lima, Peru, route and run it year round beginning on May 2. ... American Airlines wants to start nonstop flights from its Dallas/Fort Worth hub to Beijing. Pending government approvals, American will use Boeing 777-200ERs on the route. ... Hilton has converted the former Holiday Inn in Cairns, in the Australian state of Queensland, into the 237-room DoubleTree by Hilton. It has also opened a 123-room Hilton Garden Inn in Barranquilla, Colombia. ... InterContinental has opened a 114-room Holiday Inn Express in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
JetBlue and Virgin America Get Into an Old-Fashioned Route War
Now that the legacy carriers have been thinned out, they no longer see the need to invade each other's territories. But the alternate carriers such as JetBlue Airways and Virgin America are in growth mode and they do get into old-fashioned route wars with each other. Virgin America this week announced three new seasonal routes on what could logically be called JetBlue's turf. The service includes flights between JetBlue's New York/Kennedy and Fort Lauderdale hubs (from December to April); between JetBlue's Boston hub and Las Vegas (from January to April); and between JFK and Las Vegas (from January to April). JetBlue promptly retaliated by introducing a flight between Virgin's San Francisco hub and Las Vegas. The twice-daily service will run year round beginning January 5. ... People Express, which folded at least temporarily last week, said it had flown 55,000 passengers on 817 flights since it launched on June 30. That works out to a load factor of just 45 percent. Explains a lot, don't you think?
Marriott Adds a Bunch of Independents to Autograph Collection
If you like independent hotels but can't bring yourself to give up your hotel points, Marriott continues to make the case for its Autograph Collection of unbranded properties. Marriott is bringing another batch of independents into the Autograph fold and that'll allow you to earn and burn Marriott Rewards points before the end of the year. The new additions include the Ambassador hotels in Kansas City, Wichita, Oklahoma City and Tulsa; the four Davenport hotels in Spokane, Washington; the Triada in Palm Springs; and the Metropolitan in Cleveland, housed in the old Cleveland Trust Tower. ... Speaking of Ohio, three chain hotels of note in the Columbus area. The 92-room Homewood Suites and the 104-room Residence Inn have opened near the Polaris Fashion Mall close to Interstate 71. And a 152-room Hampton Inn has opened near Ohio State University.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
US Airways flyers take note. The airline has quietly eliminated the "buy up the Preferred" option that allowed you to purchase elite status in Dividend Miles. ... American Airlines has delayed implementation of a new rule that will force you to check bags separately if you travel on two tickets. The rule was originally due to go into effect yesterday (October 1), but has been delayed until October 15. ... The price of a barrel of oil briefly dropped to $88 a today (October 2) for the first time in 17 months. It closed at $91. ... When was the last time that you used the phone in your guestroom? The Moxy Hotel at Milan/Malpensa, the joint venture between Marriott and Ikea, has eliminated room phones.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.