The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for October 1-15, 2015
A Texas Love (Field) tale pits Southwest Airlines against Delta Air Lines. No surprise: Hilton and Air Canada devalue their frequency plans again. A mess of new Marriotts worldwide. More nonstop flights between the United States and Mexico. More intrigue at United. And much more ...
Love Story: Southwest Pays Big for a Monopoly and Delta Wants a Free Ride
The decades-long story of Dallas/Fort Worth and Dallas/Love Field is a tangled, Texas tale of crony capitalism (local governments and airlines conspire to build DFW, close Love and control markets), entrepreneurial zeal (Southwest becomes behemoth from humble Love origins), federal intervention (former House Speaker Jim Wright invents law to hobble Love) and, eventually, artificial shortage (Love is legally barred from adding gates despite robust demand). This week's twists? According to court documents and testimony covering a clutch of lawsuits, Southwest Airlines paid United Airlines $120 million to buy out United's lease on two Love Field gates. That gave Southwest control of 18 of the airport's 20 gates. (The other two are used by Virgin America, which got them from American Airlines as part of its deal to merge with US Airways.) The problem, besides the fact that Southwest paid an astronomical sum to get an even stronger hold on its hometown airport? Delta Air Lines has been using United's gate space to operate a small slate of flights to its Atlanta hub. Southwest wants Delta immediately evicted. Delta doesn't want to go. Yet Delta passed on a deal to buy United's lease and now demands a federal judge force Southwest to accommodate Delta's flights. Tune in next week for further updates on airlines behaving badly and Texas' warped markets.
Same Old Same Old: Hilton and Air Canada Devalue Programs Again
Hilton HHonors has devalued so frequently and dramatically that it doesn't even have time to do it on a schedule. It just cuts the value of HHonors points whenever it suits corporate whims and doesn't bother to alert you to the changes. Instead, it dumps "adjustments" on an "update" page. Effective October 14, it is raising the price of awards at 32 more hotels. (Eleven go down in price.) This follows a July downgrade when 18 of 20 award changes were price increases.
Aeroplan, the frequent flyer program of Air Canada, continues its relentless devaluation. Effective December 15, it increases the prices on many rewards and realigns travel zones. Aeroplan has helpfully provided a PDF chart of the new and old prices. The sole saving grace: One-way awards will now be available worldwide.
Marco Polo Club, the elite-status program of Cathay Pacific, switches to revenue-based recognition effective April 15. That means more elite credit for higher fares and premium-class tickets and less ability to earn status with low-priced coach travel. Complete details are here. Mileage earning in Asia Miles, Cathay's frequency plan, does not change, however.
More Mexico Flights Get on the U.S. Route Map
It probably has nothing to do with Donald Trump's demagogic grandstanding, but there's been a burst of new route announcements between the United States and Mexico. One example: American Airlines says it will launch five weekly flights between its Dallas/Fort Worth hub and Merida, capital of Yucatan state. American will use Airbus A319s on the route. Meanwhile, Volaris, the low-fare/high-fee carrier based in Mexico City, is adding a route between Chicago/Midway and Durango, capital of Durango state. The twice-weekly nonstops will operate with Airbus 319/320s and launch on December 8.
Air India says it will launch a nonstop flight between San Francisco and New Delhi. But don't rush to book. The airline didn't announce a launch date or details of the service and it's been known to renege on route announcements.
Kuwait Airways, which operates a New York/JFK-London/Heathrow route as well as JFK-Kuwait City nonstops, has been slapped down by the U.S. Transportation Department. Two years after an Israeli citizen says he was denied passage on the New York-London service, the DOT says Kuwait violated U.S. discrimination laws by refusing to sell a ticket to the traveler. Kuwait says it was only following Kuwaiti law, but the DOT says the airline's refusal to sell the ticket based on the traveler's citizenship constitutes "unreasonable discrimination." The ruling was issued yesterday (September 30). Kuwait Airways has 15 days to affirm that it will not discriminate against any traveler based on race, nationality or passport status. You can read the DOT's communications with Kuwait Airways here.
Marriotts Open Here, There and Everywhere
It's hard to tell which chain is opening properties faster, Marriott or Hilton. For this week, however, the winner is clearly Marriott. The chain has opened Residence Inn outposts in Augusta, Georgia (124 rooms), and San Angelo, Texas (92 rooms). There are new Courtyard hotels in Bogota, Colombia (144 rooms); Jacksonville, North Carolina (112 rooms), and Zhengzhou, China (277 rooms). There's also a 98-room Fairfield Inn in Bristol, Tennessee, and a 320-room Marriott in the Dazhi area of Taipei, Taiwan. Marriott also picked up another property in Boston. The 136-room Envoy Hotel opened in the Seaport District and it's part of the Autograph Collection.
Hilton, meanwhile, opened a 91-room Home2Suites in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and a 378-room Hilton in Zhoushan, a coastal city south of Shanghai. Hilton has also rebranded the Hotel Nikko in Tokyo as the Hilton Tokyo Odaiba.
Starwood has opened a 105-room Aloft in College Station, Texas, and a 104-room Element in Bozeman, Montana.
Hyatt has opened a 126-room Hyatt Place in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras.
InterContinental has opened a 135-room Hotel Indigo in the East Liberty area of Pittsburgh.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines dropped its Atlantic City flights last year after just eight months of operation. That was in direct contradiction of a controversial contract with the Port Authority, the scandal ridden agency that runs many transportation facilities in New York and New Jersey. United was supposed to run the flights for a year or be liable to return more than $100,000 in marketing support it received for the service. But the Port decided United could keep the funds, according to a report this week by the Associated Press. The Atlantic City routes, a pledge by the Port to add more train service at United's Newark hub and a "chairman's route" to South Carolina all led to Jeff Smisek's abrupt departure last month as United chief executive.
Amtrak has added baggage fees. But it isn't as bad as it sounds. (In other words, not like the airlines--yet.) The first four bags (two weighing 25 pounds and two weighing 50 pounds) are free. Additional bags will cost $20 each. Complete details are here.
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.