The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for May 14-28, 2015
The briefing in brief: Rebranding and rethinking domestic premium economy. Qatar Airways adding flights to three more U.S. cities. Turkish Airlines returns to Miami. United Airlines launches two Carolina routes to Denver hub. Luxury hotels swapping brand flags. And much more ...

Airlines Are Rethinking--and Rebranding--Domestic Premium Economy
Premium-economy service, now established internationally, is still looking for a real identity on domestic routes. In the United States, Alaska Airlines is rebranding the bulkhead and exit-row seats on its Boeing 737s as Preferred Plus Seating. These chairs offer 36-40 inches of seat pitch compared to 31 or 32 inches in standard coach. Upgrades to the Preferred Plus seats will include priority boarding and a free cocktail, beer or glass of wine. Prices are $15 for flights up to 1,250 miles; $30 on flights up to 2,000 miles; and $50 on longer flights. Alaska's elite flyers will still have first crack at the seats on a complimentary basis. Other passengers can buy up beginning 24 hours before departure. More details are here. Meanwhile, WestJet of Canada is improving its Plus premium-economy service by blocking the middle seat on its Boeing 737 aircraft. In fact, those chairs will be fitted with a tray table that can be used by the Plus passengers in the window and aisle seats. For more details, click here.

Qatar Airways Adding Routes to Los Angeles, Atlanta and Boston
While the talking heads continue to talk about the Big Three's claim that Gulf carriers are being illegally subsidized by their governments, the Gulfies themselves are continuing to add routes. The latest news: Qatar Airways says it will add three new gateways to Doha next year. Flights to Los Angeles begin January 1 using Boeing 777s. On March 16, flights to Boston launch with Airbus A350s. And flights to Atlanta begin on July 1 using 777s. If all of the additions are actually launched, that'll bring Qatar Airways to 10 U.S. cities. ... United Airlines says it'll pull down international flights during the upcoming season. Among the "winter" cuts are flights from Newark to Stockholm and Oslo, which won't run between September 5 and May 4. United will also drop one of its two daily Newark-Paris flights between October 25 and March 26. ... Starwood Hotels' St. Regis luxury brand has opened a 210-room hotel in Moscow. It's situated on Nikolskaya Street, which connects Red Square and Lubyanka Square. ... Turkish Airlines returns to Miami after a 14-year hiatus. Daily Boeing 777-300ER flights resume on October 25. ... Icelandair says it'll launch four weekly flights on March 16 from Chicago/O'Hare.

This Week in Frequent-Travel Program Devaluations
This will come as no surprise, but most of this week's miles and points news is bad. Club Carlson, which had a brief run as a fairly rich hotel plan, continues to slash benefits. The latest cutback comes in the form of the annual rejiggering of hotel categories for award stays. Effective June 1, more than 200 properties will rise in cost and only around a hundred will cost less. More than half of the pricier hotels are in Europe, where most of the good Radisson Blu properties are located. And the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has slashed the number of miles you earn if you fly British Airways. The lowest coach fares now only earn 25 percent of actual flight miles. Mid-level coach prices earn only 50 percent. You'll have to pay full-fare coach (fare classes Y, B or H) to earn 100 percent of the miles you fly. ... United Airlines has premiered a beta version of its newest Web site--see here--and is offering a so-called "bug bounty." You'll earn 50,000 to one million MileagePlus miles if you can find specific bugs in the site. Complete details are here. But beware, the rules are complicated, terms and conditions are tight and some weird verbiage applies. One example: United says you're disqualified from earning a bug bounty if you participate in "physical attacks against employees." Hey, your guess is as good as mine ...

Fancy Hotels Around the Country Are Swapping Flags
Top-notch hotels around the country are suddenly changing flags as they look for better deals from the major chains that franchise brand names. In Washington, for example, The Mayflower hotel is dropping its affiliation with Renaissance Hotels and switching to the Autograph Collection. Both brands are controlled by Marriott. Another Marriott-flagged property, the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Phoenix, is also switching to the Autograph Collection. But before that is accomplished, the hotel will close this summer for a renovation and reopen next year. ... Meanwhile, the Starwood chain is losing the Le Meridien property in Budapest. The 192-room hotel is defecting next year to Ritz-Carlton. But Starwood's Luxury Collection is picking up a property in Chicago. The hotel currently trades as the Conrad, a Hilton luxury brand, and will switch to Starwood in the fall.

United Has Carolina on Its Mind and Its Route Map
United Airlines is bulking up its Denver hub by adding flights to two North Carolina airports. Twice-daily flights to Raleigh-Durham begin on September 13 using 76-seat EMB-175s operated for United Express by Skywest. (United briefly operated RDU-Denver service in 2007.) The same day, Skywest EMB-175s will launch twice-daily United Express flights between Denver and Charlotte. ... Speaking of Charlotte, a branch of the city's Whisky River restaurant has opened at the airport. The casual dining venue fronted by Dale Earnhardt Jr., the NASCAR driver, is located on Concourse E. ... Years after SkyTeam launched SkyPriority lanes at its major airports, Star Alliance carriers have launched Gold Track priority security lanes. They are available at nearly two dozen airports and open to all Gold-status flyers. Complete details are here. ... A 107-room Hilton Home2Suites has opened three miles from Buffalo airport. ... At Baltimore Washington International, the pedestrian corridor has been temporarily closed between the international terminal and the domestic terminal near Concourse D.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The U.S. airlines continue to reap a windfall from the falling price of oil. According to the Transportation Department, airlines paid $2.03 a gallon for fuel in March, down from $3.02 in March, 2014. ... Fares for LOT Polish flights are no longer available on Orbitz.com. ... The Transportation Department is reconsidering its rules on mistake fares, the generic term for inaccurately posted prices that customers purchase. Until recently, the government required airlines to honor any mistake fare. But it has suspended enforcement of that rule until it determines if there are situations when airlines should not be required to make good on any price they advertised. ... JetBlue Airways and Amazon.com have cut a deal that will allow Amazon Prime members to use the airline's in-flight WiFi to stream movies and other entertainment. ... Amtrak says it expects to have service restored between Philadelphia and New York early next week after the fatal accident on Tuesday evening (May 12). The death count in the incident is now eight after an additional body was found today (May 14) in the charred remains of the first car behind the engine.

This column is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.