The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Briefing for January 29 to February 12, 2015
The briefing in brief: Another round of frequency plan cuts. American and United "rebank" hubs. Marriott buys Delta Hotels. Hyatt creates another hotel brand. An extended-stay option in London. Hilton returns to central Paris. More airport lounge options in Singapore. And more...

Another Week, Another Round of (Mostly) Bad Frequency Plan News
With airlines and hotels boasting record occupancies and rising rates, there's no financial incentive to, uh, "over-entitle" us via frequent travel plans. So they continue to hack away at benefits. This week's most egregious offender? United Airlines' MileagePlus, of course. As it prepares to switch to revenue-based accrual on March 1, United is aligning the earnings we can expect on its international partners. And, not surprisingly, earnings are being slashed for virtually all flyers. A very few full-priced, premium-class fare categories get a boost, but most discounted fare buckets, in both coach and premium classes, get severely cut. Most will now only earn 25-75 percent of the flown miles. In typically customer-unfriendly United fashion, even finding the new charts is painful. You must surf here and then click on the logo of each partner. Meanwhile, the British Airways Avios program gets a haircut, too. Minimum earnings have been cut to 125 points (from 250) and the lowest-priced fares will earn only 25-50 percent of mileage. There are some boosts in earnings for higher-priced and premium-class seats, however. Claiming premium-class awards on BA will cost more, too, although short-haul prices on partner awards (a favorite among some U.S.-based flyers) will not change. The new charts are effective April 28 and are available here. Looking for good news? Chase Ultimate Rewards again has Korean Air as a points-transfer partner. Booking Korean Air is quirky, but it offers terrific premium-class availability. And Starwood Preferred Guest is teasing additional flexibility for Platinum-level Elites. The current prime benefit, 10 suite upgrades a year, will remain, but Platinums will be able to choose other perks instead. No details yet, but stay tuned.

Take It to the Bank. American, United 'Rebanking' Hubs This Quarter.
Once upon a time, "banked" hubs were all the rage. Flights arrived and departed at the same time, which was financially cool for airlines and theoretically good for business travelers because it offered the chimera of short connecting times. But banked hubs were hideous for on-time performance, more expensive to operate and caused many missed flights. So after 9/11, airlines switched to "rolling" hubs. They cost less for the airlines and meant slightly longer waits for connection, but created fewer actual missed flights. But airlines have decided that lying about their schedule and showing phony fast connections is better for their revenue, so they are busily "rebanking" their hubs. The latest? American Airlines will rebank Dallas/Fort Worth schedules on March 29 and United Airlines will rebank its Chicago/O'Hare hub sometime during the first quarter. ... Speaking of United, it is closing its closet-sized United Club on Concourse D of Atlanta/Hartsfield on Sunday (February 1). Hawaiian Airlines has remodeled two Premier Club lounges. The location in the interisland terminal at Honolulu airport--it's where the former Aloha Airlines Ali'i Club used to be--is now open for business. The renovated lounge at Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui opens over the weekend.

American Airlines Bulks Up South of the Border
Airlines are trimming what they consider "excess" capacity, but American Airlines sees growth potential in Latin America and the Caribbean. First up is a new route to Barranquilla, Colombia, from Miami. The daily run starts on June 4. There will also be new weekend flights to Belize City from Los Angeles (beginning June 6) and new daily flights to Guadalajara, Mexico, from LAX starting June 4. Another new route: six weekly flights between Monterrey, Mexico, and Miami beginning on June 4. ... By the time American launches that Miami-Monterrey route, it'll find a competitor with a two-month head start. Aeromexico will add a daily flight between the two cities on March 26. ... Your Priority Pass card will now get you into the SATS Premier Lounges at Changi Airport in Singapore. There's a SATS lounge in each of Changi's three passenger terminals.

Marriott Buys Delta Hotels of Canada, Hyatt Adding Centric Brand
Marriott continues gobbling up regional hotel chains. It announced this week that it will acquire Canada's Delta Hotels for US$135 million. Delta has 38 hotels in 30 Canadian cities. Marriott purchased the Protea Hotels chain of Africa last year and cut a deal with AC Hotels of Spain in 2011. ... Hyatt says it is creating a new brand called Centric and promises to have 15 open this summer. They'll be conversions of existing hotels and lodgings already under construction. What will Centric hotels be? Lots of luck deciphering the buzzwords and marketing gobbledygook in the announcement. If I had to infer from context, the chain will feature tiny guestrooms that are designed to drive you into coffee-bar-like lobbies so you'll buy overpriced booze, beverages and snacks. Here's something you hardly ever see: an extended-stay hotel in London. InterContinental's Staybridge Suites brand has opened a 93-room location near the Vauxhall tube stop in the Battersea neighborhood. Closer to the Battersea Bridge, InterContinental has reflagged the former Hotel Verta as a 78-room Crowne Plaza. ... And here's something you haven't seen in a long time: a Hilton hotel in central Paris. The 268-room Hilton Paris Opera is open on the Rue St. Lazare in the 9th arrondissement. It's a renovation of the former Concorde Opera hotel. It's a Category 9 redemption in Hilton HHonors. But beware: not all the rooms have been renovated yet, so book wisely.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, is trying to buy Aer Lingus of Ireland. IAG's third bid, about 2.55 euros a share, has been accepted by the Aer Lingus board. But the Irish government holds a 25 percent stake and may resist IAG's bid. IAG, run by Willie Walsh, a former chief executive of Aer Lingus, is interested in the Irish airline's take-off and landing slots at London/Heathrow. But the Irish government is interested in making sure Irish citizens continue to have access to Heathrow on the local carrier and will resist the job cuts Walsh will inevitably want to impose on Aer Lingus. Stay tuned. ... The Federal Communications Commission said once again this week that hotels cannot block your personal WiFi signals. The FCC fined Marriott last year for blocking signals in a conference room and Marriott (backed by Hilton) recently petitioned the agency to allow it to block MiFi and similar devices. ... HMS Host, the big airport food-service operator, has quietly converted restaurants at four airports into a mini-chain called MKT. The outlets serve soups, salads and sandwiches in a market-like setting. You'll find MKT locations on Concourse B in Minneapolis/St. Paul; Concourse C at Las Vegas; Concourse C in Anchorage and Concourse C in Tulsa.

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