The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for May 21-31, 2015
The briefing in brief: You need to start cashing your Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus miles. Singapore Air launches its premium-economy service on August 9. A barrage of new hotels worldwide. Airlines add more flights south of the border. Rail strikes off. And much more ...
Really, Business Travelers, Time to Cash Those Delta and United Miles
When Delta Air Lines made SkyMiles award charts disappear in February, we knew what was coming: a switch to revenue-based awards larded with gigantic price increases. Now the moment of reckoning is upon us. Delta this week suddenly repriced some cheaper, short-haul coach flights. And because those rates dropped--down to 5,000 miles each way from the previous 12,500 on routes such as Los Angeles-San Francisco--we can assume big increases on prime routes are imminent. Where to expect massive bumps: business-class flights to Europe, especially popular runs such as London, France (Paris and Nice) and Italy (Rome, Milan, Pisa and Venice). Other areas ripe for big price increases: South Africa and transcon domestic runs. "The goal," a Delta insider told me, "is to match mileage levels to peak demand and [dollar] price" travelers pay. Translation: Delta plans to make its best business-class awards, already overpriced compared to other carriers' frequency programs, even more expensive. And since award charts are gone and Delta claims it can change prices without notice, we won't know when or how hard the hammer will fall. Your only recourse: Clean out your SkyMiles accounts now and claim awards before the secret devaluation kicks in. Meanwhile, if you're a big United MileagePlus player, expect to see your prices rise, too. Although it hasn't given details, the airline's management says it will begin a switch to revenue-based award pricing later this year. Expect United to move about 15 minutes after Delta since United reflexively does whatever Delta does immediately after Delta does it. And no smirking from American AAdvantage players, either. You may be safe this year as American completes the hardest bits of the US Airways merger. But American chief financial officer Derek Kerr told a conference this week that he likes what his competitors have done with their programs and hopes to mimic their moves.
Singapore Airlines Will Roll Out Premium Economy in August
The last major holdout on international premium-economy class, Singapore Airlines, has put flesh on the bones of its previously announced fourth cabin. The airline said this week that its premium economy will offer seat comfort in the now-standard range--38 inches of pitch, chairs that are 18.5-19.5 inches wide and 8 inches of recline--in a 2x4x2 configuration. There will be 13.3-inch monitors; at-seat power, a pair of USB ports and storage specifically designed for laptops and tablets as well as smartphones. Premium-economy flyers will have priority check-in counters, receive amenity kits and a larger checked-bag allowance. There'll be three choices of main course during meal service, complimentary Champagne and wine and the opportunity to use Singapore's unique "book the cook" pre-ordering service. The first flights outfitted with the new cabin roll out August 9th between Singapore and Sydney. Premium economy doesn't arrive on U.S. routes until December, when Singapore's New York/Kennedy and Los Angeles runs get it. Flights from San Francisco receive the cabin in the first quarter of 2016. The price? Not yet set, but expect to pay a 40-50 percent premium over coach.
British Airways says it'll switch to Boeing 777-200s on its Austin-London/Heathrow route. The swap from Boeing 787 Dreamliners occurs on October 25 and that means Austin flights will have a first-class cabin for the first time since the route launched last year.
Azul Airlines, the Brazilian airline created by David Neeleman after he was pushed out of JetBlue Airways, is expanding again in the United States. Azul will begin flying from Orlando to Belo Horizonte, capital of the state of Minas Gerais, on November 16. Azul began Orlando-Sao Paul/Campinas flights last December.
Go South, Alternate Airlines
I'm no Horace Greeley, the 19th-century journalist who sagely urged young men to go west. Besides, I'm suggesting you look south, since that is where alternate airlines are suddenly sending aircraft and assets. Some new routes are winter snowbird runs, but others are year-round attempts to add capacity to underserved destinations south of the border.
JetBlue Airways is adding flights to Mexico City, Quito, Ecuador, and Antigua. The new A320 flights to Mexico City begin October 1 from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. The new Quito service will also be from Fort Lauderdale and launches in the first quarter. The carrier will begin flights to Antigua from its New York/Kennedy hub. There'll be three weekly runs beginning November 5. Another newbie: seasonal Boston/Logan-Barbados service that starts on November 7.
Alaska Airlines is adding Costa Rica to its route map. There will be four weekly flights between Los Angeles and San Jose beginning October 31. The next day, Alaska will launch a Los Angeles-Liberia route four times a week.
Southwest Airlines, which first dipped its toe into international flying with the purchase of AirTran Airways, apparently likes the southern waters just fine. Effective October 15, it'll added flights from its Houston/Hobby hub to four cities in Mexico (Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos) as well as daily runs to Belize City and San Jose, Costa Rica. The next day, it'll start daily flights from Hobby to Liberia, Costa Rica, and Montego Bay, Jamaica.
You Get a Hotel! And You Get a Hotel! And You Get a Hotel!
We've reached the tipping point: There may be one hotel for every living, breathing American. That's how fast the industry is opening new properties. I suggest you refill your coffee cup before attacking this week's list of new entrants.
Hyatt has opened a 152-room Hyatt Place in the Taghazout Bay Resort, a development 10 miles north of Agadir, Morocco, and a 155-room branch connected to the Meadows Casino in the Pittsburgh suburb of Washington. Meanwhile, a 172-room Hyatt House has opened in downtown Seattle.
Hilton has opened a 247-room resort in Batumi, a Black Sea resort in the Republic of Georgia, and a 171-room hotel in Southampton, England, near the Ageas Bowl sports complex. Its Hampton Inn division has opened branches in Frisco, Texas, and downtown Cincinnati as well as an outpost inside the Art Deco building on East Wacker Place that once housed the Chicago Auto Club. Internationally, there are new Hamptons in Zacatecas, Mexico, and Bournemouth, England. It has also opened a 137-room Hilton Garden Inn inside The Rim complex in San Antonio and Home2 Suites in Farmington and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Marriott has embarked on a massive expansion of its Fairfield Inn brand and has a slew of new locations: Waterloo, Iowa (81 rooms); El Paso, Texas (124 rooms); Bowling Green, Kentucky (106 rooms); Lynchburg, Virginia (129 rooms) and Carlsbad, California (99 rooms). It has also opened a 199-room SpringHill Suites in Lewisville, about 10 miles from Dallas/Fort Worth airport. Overseas, it opened a 101-room Marriott in Mulu, Malaysia; a 228-room JW Marriott on a golf course in Zhejiang, China, and a 107-room JW Marriott in the seaside resort of Bodrum, Turkey.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Another German rail strike, the ninth in 11 months, ended today (May 21). But now the operator, Deutsche Bahn, and the driver's union have agreed to keep negotiating until at least June 17. And a British rail strike, scheduled to begin this weekend, was called off while the two sides negotiate.
Plaza Premium, which operates public airport lounges, has opened a club in Terminal 4 at London/Heathrow. It is accessible through Priority Pass or for 35 pounds for two hours.
Luxury Link, once a hot auction site for upmarket hotels, has unceremoniously folded.
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