The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for March 3-17, 2016
The briefing in brief: Every airline wants to fly to Cuba, so long as it's Havana. Got hotel points to spend? Here are the newest warm-weather options. Southwest wants to link Sacramento to BWI. Three years late and plenty of hotels short, Hyatt launches a "soft brand." And more.
Every Airline Wants to Fly to Cuba, So Long as It's Havana
I warned you last month to slow down your thinking about flights to Cuba. This week we moved a small step forward as airlines were required to put in their bids for the 110 available flights to 10 destinations in Cuba. As expected, there was a rush of interest in flights to Havana and only a spotty desire to fly elsewhere on the island. Alaska Airlines wants to fly to the Cuban capital twice daily from Los Angeles. Delta wants daily flights from Atlanta, Orlando and New York/Kennedy as well as two daily flights from Miami. JetBlue Airways wants to operate flights from Boston, Newark, New York/JFK, For Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa. Southwest is looking for Havana flights from Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa. United Airlines made the smallest application, asking only for a weekly flight from Chicago/O'Hare, Houston-Intercontinental and Washington/Dulles. It also wants daily flights from its Newark hub. There were also applications from Frontier Airlines, the commuter carrier Silver Airways and the revived Eastern Airlines. Only 20 daily flights to Havana will be approved by the Transportation Department and the winning routes aren't likely to occur until the summer.
Got Hotel Points to Spend? Here Are the Newest Warm-Weather Options
An early March cold snap might have you thinking about another warm-weather getaway and, lo and behold, major hotel chains have some options for you. Marriott Rewards, for example, has a new Thailand property, the beachfront, 322-room Hua Hin Marriott Resort and Spa. It's a Category 4 redemption. Also in Thailand, IHG Rewards Club has picked up a 156-room beachfront resort in Pattaya. That's via rebranding of the existing Sheraton Pattaya. The transition happens next month. And Hilton HHonors picks up two new beach locations. The Vintro Hotel South Beach, located in the old Park Avenue Hotel, opened last week as part of the Curio Collection. It's a Category 9 redemption. And a 123-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened in Iquique, Chile. The oceanview property near Cavancha and Playa Brava beaches is a Category 4 redemption.
Delta SkyMiles has jacked up the price of business class awards to Tel Aviv. Effective November 1, a roundtrip will now cost at least 170,000 miles, up from the current 140,000 miles. Of course, Delta doesn't want you to know this in the world of "secret" and/or nonexistent award charts.
Southwest Wants to Link Sacramento to Its Baltimore/Washington Hub
Southwest Airlines thinks it sees opportunity for a unique transcontinental route: From its Baltimore/Washington hub to Sacramento, California. The daily service would launch August 7 using Boeing 737s, of course.
Los Angeles flyers using international Star Alliance carriers now have a single check-in location: Aisle C in the Bradley International Terminal. The co-location includes carriers such as Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, EVA Air and Turkish Airlines.
Santa Barbara gets a nonstop link to American's Dallas/Fort Worth hub starting on June 2. American Airlines will add a daily commuter flight using CRJ-900 aircraft operated by Mesa Airlines. The downside: That's a long ride (1,314 miles) on a small plane. Another new American West Coast link: daily flights to Redmond, Washington, from American's Phoenix hub. American will use CRJ-700s on that 900-mile run.
Fayetteville, Arkansas, gets a nonstop to New York City again when Delta Air Lines adds six weekly CRJ-700 flights. The route to LaGuardia Airport starts on April 4.
Three Years Late and Plenty of Hotels Short, Hyatt Launches a 'Soft Brand'
Hotel "soft brands" are all the rage, the theory being that independent properties around the world can tap into the frequency programs and booking engines of major chains without surrendering too much of what makes them unique. Marriott, Starwood and Hilton have been building out their soft brands quickly and adding big-name independents to the stable. Meanwhile, Hyatt Hotels remained on the sidelines--at least until this week. It announced a soft brand called The Unbound Collection. But this wasn't how it was supposed to be. Hyatt purchased the Driskill Hotel in Austin three years ago specifically to anchor the creation of a soft brand. What took so long? "Too many people around here have an inflated view of what Hyatt is," one insider recently told me about the delay. "They obsess endlessly over what is or isn't a Hyatt. That becomes indecision and, eventually, paralysis." The wait means Hyatt has launched Unbound without any new players. The initial roster includes the Driskill and two recent pickups that had been operating as pseudo-Hyatts: the Hotel du Louvre in Paris and the Carmelo Resort, the former Four Seasons property in Uruguay. Another resort, the new Coco Palms on Kauai in Hawaii, had already been announced as a Hyatt. Construction on the property hasn't even started yet. Meanwhile, Hyatt's nascent Centric brand got a boost the same way Hyatt is pumping up Unbound. Three existing Hyatts--The Pike in Long Beach, California, the Escala Lodge in Park City, Utah, and one of the chain's two hotels in the Woodlands, Texas--have been rebranded as Centric properties.
South American Airlines Are Headed South
Unless you're a regular south of the border, you probably don't pay much attention to the goings on in the skies of South America. Let me update you in a word: grim. Global carriers have curtailed service to Venezuela since the socialist government there makes it almost impossible to repatriate funds. Meanwhile, the economies of Brazil and Argentina are in steep decline and so are the country's airlines. Aerolineas Argentinas, which has been up, down, over and out in the past few decades, is down again. For about the zillionth time, it'll drop flights between its Buenos Aires hub and New York/JFK. And seven-year-old Azul, created by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, won't be coming to JFK at all. "We certainly expected to be in the New York market by now," Neeleman told me last week while promoting TAP Air Portugal, which his investment group controls. "But the Brazilian economy is so weak that it can't happen." In fact, Neeleman is crafting TAP's revival with planes shifted from Azul. More than a dozen newish Azul aircraft have been moved to Portugal to operate routes for TAP. As a result, Azul will cut capacity this year. Also slashing routes: Gol of Brazil, which recently received a cash injection from the HNA Group, parent company of China's fast-growing Hainan Airlines. Delta Air Lines owns 16 percent of Gol, but Delta president Ed Bastian says Brazil's economy doesn't justify a further investment. Which is dire news for cash-starved Brazilian carriers, especially since the government this week officially raised the cap on foreign investment to 49 percent. It's hard to see who'd be willing to bet in Brazilian aviation just now, however.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
The air marshal service has been riddled with misconduct in recent years, according to a survey of TSA records obtained by ProPublica.com. In recent years, marshals have been suspended more than 900 times resulting in more than 4,600 days lost to misconduct. Also, 640 marshals have been terminated or resigned or retired while facing investigation.
InterContinental Hotels says it will eliminate porn from its in-room video systems. As always, the chain claimed it was for social reasons, but the fact is in-room, pay-per-view porn no longer generates much revenue.
Airfares may rise again. American Airlines has raised fares from $3-$10 each way on fares to Mexico and the Caribbean. Other carriers have yet to match.
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