The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for May 19-June 2, 2016
The briefing in brief: There is no proof EgyptAir 804 was the victim of terrorism. Delta has figured out how to make SkyMiles worse. Alaska is taking on Southwest in California. Hilton is bulking up rapidly without a merger. Hyatt Place opens in London and Phuket, Thailand. And more.
Everyone Knows EgyptAir Flight 804 Is Terrorism--Except the Terrorists
Cable networks, presidential candidates and a disappointing number of "experts" who should know better insisted all day today (May 19) that EgyptAir Flight 804 was a victim of a terrorist attack. The problem? There's not a shred of proof--and the terrorists themselves don't seem to know about the disappearance of the jet. As I'm posting this just before midnight, there's still no trace of the aircraft, a 13-year-old Airbus A320. Despite earlier claims by both Greek and Egyptian officials, there's no trace of debris yet, either. The plane's disappearance from radar just moments after it entered Egyptian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea literally remains a mystery. Even more mysterious if you support the terrorism theory? Twenty-four hours after the incident, no terrorist organization has claimed credit for an attack on the Paris-Cairo flight. Terrorist networks such as the ones run by ISIS haven't even mentioned the plane on its radio broadcast or news service. (Yes, ISIS has radio and news services.) Al Qaeda has also been silent about MS804. If it's not terrorism--a bomb is the unsupported theory du jour--what would cause a narrowbody aircraft to fall from the sky from the normally safe cruising altitude of 37,000 feet? Pilot error, of course, or willful pilot misconduct. Or an unprecedented catastrophic failure of the airframe, engines or electrical systems. Likely? Not really. But no less likely at this point than blind conjecture that MS804 was hit by terrorists who somehow infiltrated Charles de Gaulle Airport. (Update as of 7:45 a.m. Friday, May 20: Egyptian authorities now say they have discovered debris from MS804 in the sea about 180 miles north of Alexandria.)
Yes, Virginia, Delta Has Figured Out How to Make SkyMiles Worse
Did you find yourself sitting in a middle seat in Comfort+ this week instead of being upgraded to first class? Welcome to the brave new world of Delta SkyMiles. As we explained at the beginning of the year, Delta is intent on selling first class seats rather than make good on its promise to give them as perks to their elite SkyMiles customers. So starting this week, with Comfort+ now technically a separate class, your domestic upgrades will only get you from coach into the airline's slightly-better-than-coach cabin. Delta even considers middle seats in Comfort+ an upgrade and will put you in the middle automatically even if you're holding an aisle seat in coach. The airline claims you can try for an aisle seat in Comfort+ after the upgrade kicks in, but you can't stop an upgrade to middle seats and there will be precious few Comfort+ aisles available since Delta tries to sell those, too. The latest Delta three-card-monte scam is described here with typical Delta misdirection and mischaracterization.
Hilton HHonors members have another South Pacific resort option. The chain's DoubleTree brand has taken over a 120-room property on Sonaisali Island in Fiji. The resort is a Category 5 redemption.
IHG Rewards Club has another option in New York. The Hotel Barclay near Grand Central Terminal has reopened after a 20-month renovation as the InterContinental New York Barclay. The 704-room Jazz Age luxury property at the corner of East 48th Street and Lexington Avenue is a 60,000-point redemption.
KrisFlyer, the frequent flyer program of Singapore Airlines, will allow you to redeem for premium economy seats starting May 24. Then, effective June 1, the airline will eliminate coach-to-business-class upgrades. You'll only be able to use miles to upgrade from coach to premium economy or from premium economy to business.
Alaska Airlines Seems Intent on Taking on Southwest in California
There's a line of reasoning positing that Alaska Airlines is buying Virgin America for $2.6 billion mostly to eliminate an intra-California competitor. That may or may not be true, but there does seem to be little question that Alaska Air will attempt to make a run at Southwest's dominance in the California Corridor. Effective March 16, which should be well after the Virgin deal is done, Alaska Air is adding two more routes aimed directly at Southwest. Using 76-seat E175s operated by its commuter partner SkyWest, Alaska will fly the San Diego-Sacramento and Burbank-San Jose routes.
Atlanta/Hartsfield security checkpoints have been overwhelmed since the TSA closed the South Security station earlier this month. The reason? The TSA is installing automated security checkpoints paid for by Delta Air Lines. Similar machinery already operates at London/Heathrow. The agency insists the machines will increase throughput by about 40 percent. The South Checkpoint is scheduled to reopen next Tuesday, May 24.
Hilton Makes Like Sherwin-Williams and Covers the Earth
As other hotel chains bulk up with mergers--Marriott gets Starwood, Accor gets Fairmont, etc.--Hilton is going it alone. And, lordy, is it slapping its brand on a nearly endless stream of new properties. So buckle up and see if you can find your favorite Hilton brand or destination. From Hilton Garden Inn, there are new branches in Foshan, China; Spring, Texas; Troy, Michigan; and Sunderland, England, next to the Stadium of Light, home of the woeful Sunderland football club. DoubleTree opened a new-build property in Suzhou, China, and converted a former Wyndham in Andover, Massachusetts. From Hampton Inn, there are new branches in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Michigan City, Indiana. There are new Homewood Suites in Munster, Indiana, and down New York Avenue from the convention center in the District of Columbia. But, wait, there's more! New Home2 Suites have arrived in Cartersville, Georgia; Hanover, Maryland; downtown Indianapolis; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hyatt continues to (ever so slowly) expand the international reach of its Hyatt Place brand. There are now branches in Phuket, Thailand, overlooking, but not on, Patong Beach, and in Hayes, England, about 10 miles from London's Heathrow Airport.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines is pulling its sponsorship of the historic Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Delta's complaint? The Fox leased its space to Qatar Airways for a night to celebrate its launch this week of Atlanta-Doha nonstops. Delta and the Gulf Carriers have been feuding over allegations of subsidies and Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar al Baker recently said he was launching the Atlanta route to stick it to Delta. Yes, fellow travelers, the proper sentiment is "a pox on both their houses."
Qatar Airways, by the way, has raised its stake in International Airlines Group to 15 percent. IAG is the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling. Qatar Airways, which is owned by the Qatari royal family, originally took a 9.9 percent interest in IAG about the time it joined the Oneworld Alliance in 2013.
Domestic airfares rose $2-$4 each way last weekend when major carriers raised prices to match a fare hike launched by Delta and Southwest Airlines.
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