The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for April 14 to 28, 2016
The briefing in brief: JetBlue adds Mint service to Virgin America and Alaska Airlines routes. Air France upgrades its night flights to Paris. Denver Airport gets a rail link to downtown. Air Berlin bulks up again. Watch your wallet: Delta is giving you something free. And more.

JetBlue Rushes Mint Onto More Routes After Losing Virgin America to Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines last week won what may eventually be seen as a pyrrhic, $2.6 billion victory by outmaneuvering JetBlue Airways for Virgin America. JetBlue responded this week with a massive, and operationally premature, expansion of routes with Mint, the airline's well-regarded business class service. Although it couldn't announce launch dates and has to juggle its jet orders to acquire the additional Mint-equipped Airbus A321s it needs, JetBlue said on Tuesday (April 12) that it would eventually offer the business class on seven new routes: Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles and San Francisco; Seattle to Boston/Logan and New York/Kennedy; San Diego to Boston and JFK; and Las Vegas to JFK. You'll surely notice that those are all key Virgin America or Alaska Airlines routes. Mint, with spacious, lie-flat beds and a unique small-plates meal service, currently operates in the New York-San Francisco-LAX triangle. It is also available on some Boston-San Francisco flights and will begin on Boston-Los Angeles in October. JetBlue is also adding the service on some routes from Boston and JFK to the Caribbean.

Air France Adds Late-Night In-Club Dining at JFK
Business-class flyers on late-night Air France departures from New York/Kennedy to Paris/CDG have a new option: pre-flight, in-club dining. Air France is positioning the option as "Night Service" for flyers on Flight 11 (9:45 p.m.) and Flight 9 (11:25 p.m.) hoping to maximize their sleep time on the transatlantic runs. Complete details are here.
      Japan Airlines is changing the coach seat configuration on its Boeing 777-200s. Most rows will now be laid out in a 3x4x2 arrangement rather than a traditional 3x3x3 pattern. JAL says the new layout permits parents and two children to sit together.
      Air Berlin, a Oneworld Alliance carrier, is increasing transatlantic operations this fall after several years of cutbacks. Nonstops between Los Angeles and Dusseldorf will resume with five weekly flights. There will also be more frequencies on the airline's flights to Berlin from New York/JFK, Miami and Chicago. The new Air Berlin flights also will increase award availability for American Airlines AAdvantage members. Even better, Air Berlin doesn't add fuel surcharges on its awards. But a reminder: Air Berlin seats are rarely available as awards online. You'll have to call American to claim.

Denver International Gets a Rail Link to Union Station
It's taken more than 20 years since it first opened, but Denver International finally got an honest-to-goodness hotel last fall. And if all goes according to plan, next week it will have a rail link direct to downtown Denver, too. The new, 8-stop A Line is due to open on April 22 and will make the run between Denver International and Union Station in 37 minutes. The 23-mile run will cost $9 each way. By the way, the University of Colorado bought the naming rights, so the run is officially called the University of Colorado A Line. It rolls right off the tongue, huh?
      Charlotte is ending one of its most annoying features: the restroom attendants who hit you up for tips to hand you a towel. The 52 attendants will remain, but they will now receive a salary and not work for tips.
      Shenzhen, the Chinese airport just across the border from Hong Kong, now has a pair of airport Hyatt hotels. A new development houses a 112-room Hyatt House and a 167 room Hyatt Place and is directly connected to Terminal 1.
      Dubai now has a SkyTeam lounge. It is located in Concourse D of Terminal 1. But, of course, Delta is dropping flights to Dubai, so you'll have to access the lounge as an elite or premium-class passenger of Air France or some other SkyTeam member.
      Quad Cities airport in Illinois is losing its United Airlines flights to Washington/Dulles. United was being paid to run the service, but it is dropping the route on June 8 after less than a year of operation.

Let's Hope You're Looking for Another Limited-Service Hotel
The lodging industry really, really, really hopes you'll continue to love their limited-service hotel brands. Because, basically, that's all they're building. In fact, I'm not sure there's anything but limited-service properties in the 11,000-hotel development pipeline that we discussed last week. Buckle up, 'cause here's what's new this week.
      Marriott has opened Courtyard branches in Morgantown, West Virginia (107 rooms); St. Peters, Missouri (123 rooms); and The Colony, Texas (128 rooms). There are new Residence Inn hotels in Charlottesville, Virginia (124 rooms), and in Avon, Ohio, 17 miles from downtown Cleveland. There's also a new dual-brand development in downtown San Diego. It houses a 253-room SpringHill Suites and a 147-room Residence Inn.
      Hilton continues to expand the Hampton Inn chain rapidly, including a 176-room outlet in the former Allen Building near Dealey Plaza in Dallas; an 88-room property in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wexford; and an 88-room hotel in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It has added Hilton Garden Inn branches in Brentwood, Tennessee (126 rooms), and Flowood, Mississippi (112 rooms). There's also a 118-room Homewood Suites near the zoo in San Diego. Hilton has its own dual-branded development, too. The 244-room operation on Main Street in downtown Richmond, Virginia, houses a Hampton Inn and a Homewood Suites.
      InterContinental hotels has added Holiday Inn Express branches near Macquarie Park in Sydney (192 rooms) and in downtown Oshawa, Ontario (125 rooms).

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Guard your wallet, folks, Delta Air Lines says it's giving you something for nothing. The airline quietly disclosed today (April 14) that it no longer charges for tickets purchased by telephone, at the airport or from other ticket outlets. The $25/$35 fee began in 2005. It'll be interesting to see what Delta's end game is because we know it gives away nothing without an ulterior motive. More details are here.
      Southwest Airlines has increased its EarlyBird Check-In charge. It's now $15 a person each way, up 20 percent from the previous charge of $12.50.
      Virgin America and Starwood Preferred Guest, both soon to be gobbled up by larger competitors, have linked their frequency plans. You can convert SPG Starpoints into Virgin Elevate points on a 1:1 basis and Virgin flyers can earn two points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels.

This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 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.