The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Briefing for Nov. 20 to Dec. 4, 2014
The briefing in brief: JetBlue sells its soul; Delta and United find more things to devalue; Starwood loses hotels in London and Lauderdale; a new burst of Marriotts worldwide; Delta bulks up (again) in Seattle; Chase's pop-up Christmas lounges for United cardholders; and more.
JetBlue Sells Its Soul to Analysts for $300 Million
From the moment it launched in 2000, JetBlue Airways grew as an innovative disrupter. Its all-new planes were the first to offer free TV service at every seat. It pulled chairs off planes to increase legroom. It made in-flight WiFi free and continued to include one checked bag free with every fare. All that made JetBlue the most successful and most consistently profitable start-up of the deregulated-airline era. But yesterday (November 19), JetBlue surrendered to airline analysts, acquiescing to their demands to make the carrier look more like legacy airlines. JetBlue flyers buying the lowest fares next year will pay an as-yet undisclosed fee for any checked bag. Beginning in 2016, JetBlue will install 15 more chairs in its 150-seat Airbus 320s. And all 165 seats will be the despicable "slim-line" style that passengers hate. The price of JetBlue's sellout? According to JetBlue's own presentation, just $300 million in incremental operating income--and some of that won't even be realized for five years. And while JetBlue executives were at pains to point out the new cabin layout will still offer more legroom than any other carrier's coach class, the message to business travelers was crystal clear: The JetBlue of the future will be more crowded and less comfortable and with lots more flyers scrambling for carry-on space. Even JetBlue's sole bit of good news--free WiFi survives at least until the end of 2015--came with bad tidings: The airline won't finish installing WiFi on its Airbus A320s this year as originally promised. That timeline has slipped to the middle of next year and there's no installation schedule for the EMB-190 fleet.
Delta and United Find Even More Program Devaluations
If you thought Delta and United had devalued their frequent flyer programs as much as they dared, guess again. Both carriers found new ways to slash their programs this week. ... Over at Delta, the airline finally got around to publishing all of its 2015 SkyMiles award charts and you'll pay more for some seats. Coach flights to the Middle East and South Asia will cost 2,500 miles more each way. And even the airline's long-overdue improvement--one-way awards priced at half the roundtrip mileage--comes with a cost: Effective January 1, stopovers will no longer be allowed. All of Delta's award charts are now available here. ... At United, there's a panoply of additional cuts to MileagePlus beginning on February 1. For starters, elite flyers no longer receive waivers for the upgrade co-pay on p.s. flights between New York/Kennedy, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Elites will now be required to kick in as much as $250 each way. Gold elites also lose the third free checked bag. And Platinum elites, 1K and Global Services flyers won't be reimbursed the $100 fee for joining Global Entry. One other cut: Since Copa Airlines is launching its own frequent flyer program, it'll exit MileagePlus and your perks will no longer apply on the Latin American carrier.
Starwood Loses Big-Name Hotels in London and Lauderdale
Starwood has lost a pair of big-name hotels on both sides of the pond. The Lanesborough in London will reopen next spring without a tie to Starwood. The 93-room property on Hyde Park Corner opened in 1991 as part of Rosewood Hotels and became a St. Regis in 2002. Now it'll be part of the Oetker Collection, a small chain of super-deluxe properties. The Lanesborough, reputed to be the most expensive in London, closed for a top-to-bottom renovation last year. Meanwhile, in Fort Lauderdale, the much-less-grand Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach is leaving the system on December 2. The 486-room hotel may be better known as the Yankee Clipper. Its Wreck Bar, designed to resemble an underwater shipwreck, has been used in several movies, including 1999's Analyze This. ... A burst of new properties from Marriott this week. In Anchorage, there's a 114-suite TownePlace Suites. In Houston, it's the 328-room JW Marriott, located in the 104-year-old Samuel Carter Building on Main Street. In Recife, Brazil, there's a new 162-room Courtyard. Also in South America, the 64-room Artisan DC in Bogota, Colombia, has joined the Autograph Collection. There are also two new AC Hotels in Europe, a 91-room property in Valencia, Spain, and a 98-room branch in Istanbul.
Delta Really, Really, Really Wants a Seattle Hub
Delta Air Lines originally started building its flight schedule from Seattle-Tacoma more than two years ago but claimed it wasn't horning in on Alaska Airlines' home turf. Delta adamantly insisted It was only interested in shifting some Asia business from its Tokyo/Narita hub. There has been plenty of evidence to the contrary--see the chronology here--and now there can hardly be any doubt that Delta is interested in obliterating Alaska at Sea-Tac. This week it announced more than a dozen more flights, all of them operated by its Delta Connection commuter carriers. Beginning May 4, there'll be four daily flights to both Boise and Sacramento. A month later, there'll be five daily flights to Denver. And as if to underline Delta's interest in disrupting Alaska Air, May 15 marks the launch of seasonal daily flights to both Ketchikan and Sitka. Delta says it operates 80 daily flights from Seattle and expects that number will increase to 93 next month. By next summer, it'll be 120 flights a day. ... Cincinnati has a new lounge--The Club--located at Concourse A between Gates 8 and 10. It's the seventh The Club lounge in the United States and it offers free entry for Priority Pass members. Others pay $35. ... Silvana Salcido Esparza, who fronts Phoenix's highly regarded Barrio Cafe, has opened a build-your-own burrito restaurant in Terminal 2 at Phoenix/Sky Harbor airport.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Eurostar travelers take note: Strikes in Belgium on four days (November 24 and December 1, 8 and 15) will severely snarl rail service. Check your options here. ... Chase United credit card holders take note: Chase will once again run pop-up lounges in the Short Hills Mall (Millburn, New Jersey) and Westfield Centre (San Francisco). The private clubs run through Christmas Eve and offer gift wrapping, complimentary snacks, beverages, coat check and entertainment. Full information is here. ... Hey, you never know when you need information like this: Minsk Airport is now connected to the city center of the Belarusian capital with five daily roundtrip trains. The trip takes about an hour and a bus connects the airport train terminal with the passenger terminal.
Maybe Diet Coke Should Be Sending Freebies...
United Airlines and Orbitz.com are suing a Web site called Skiplagged.com because they claim the little-known site encourages the sale of "hidden city" fares. The folks at Bloomberg News have a reasonable report on the issues. But I've been writing about hidden-city tickets for decades, including the infamous Why We Hate the Airlines and Love Diet Coke. It's undoubtedly the most popular column I've ever written about business travel. It's been reprinted dozens of times in newspapers, magazines and on other Web Sites. It even appears in a college-journalism textbook as an icon of excellent feature writing. In fact, I've heard from everyone except the Coke folks. So how 'bout it, guys? I'm not against a thank-you case or two--although, truth to tell, I drink more Coca-Cola Cherry Zero these days.
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