The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for March 2 to 16, 2017
The briefing in brief: United reverses course again. Singapore Air and Amex Platinum give--and take away. Delta says poles with signs will improve airport boarding areas. Hyatt will operate 1,800 rooms at a Bahamas resort. Tel Aviv gets more and better flights. And more.
United Reverses 'Aggressive' Shrinkage, Pursues 'Aggressive' Domestic Expansion
Scott Kirby, the new president of United Airlines, wants you to know that the carrier is embarking on an "aggressive" expansion of domestic routes. We can only assume that Kirby will be at least as "aggressive" as ousted chief executive Jeff Smisek was in pruning domestic routes to return to profitability. The takeaway? United is eternally "aggressive"--even if all the aggression ends up leaving it running in place as it careers from one extreme to the other. Anyhoo, starting in June look for United to launch or resume routes from its hubs in Newark (to Sacramento); Houston/Intercontinental (to Springfield, Missouri); San Francisco (to Hartford, Santa Rosa, Cincinnati and Spokane); and Denver (San Luis Obispo and Columbia, Missouri). And from its Chicago/O'Hare hub, there'll be new or resumed routes to Champaign/Urbana; Columbia; Reno; Spokane; Rochester, Minnesota; and Charlottesville, Virginia. Most of the routes will be operated by United Express carriers using regional jets, of course, but the transcons will get full-size (if narrow-bodied) aircraft. The rest of the "aggressive" expansion? Year-round service on a half-dozen routes currently operated seasonally and increased frequencies on at least a dozen routes from United's hubs.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Gives and Takes. Amex Platinum Gives and Takes.
As U.S. legacy carriers continue to hack away at the value of their frequent flyer programs, business travelers have looked to the programs of international airlines. Two favorites: Flying Blue from Air France and KLM and KrisFlyer from Singapore Airlines. If you've been playing--or transferring points to--KrisFlyer, take note of some substantial changes that take effect later this month. The good news: Singapore Air eliminates fuel surcharges on redemptions, which can save you hundreds of dollars on an award flight. The bad news? KrisFlyer raised award rates for most seats and also eliminated the 15 percent discount it offered for online redemptions. The net net? Less cash outlay for award seats, but many more points. A salient example of the mileage changes? San Francisco-Singapore, the only nonstop route to its hub from the United States, cost 68,000 miles when you factored in the online-redemption discount. But now it will cost 88,000 miles. Complete details are here.
American Express is doing the same give-and-take game with the Platinum Card. Beginning March 30, Platinum cardholders will receive a $200 annual credit applicable to Uber rides. The credit will take the form of a $15 monthly credit with a $20 bonus in December. Another perk: five Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on prepaid hotel bookings at AmexTravel.com. (That's a little less than it seems, though, since you won't get your elite status perks and stay credit at many chains if you use a third-party booking site.) The downside? Amex will raise the Platinum annual fee to $550, a $100-a-year hike. The new price begins with renewals on or after September 1. There are other, smaller changes, too, so surf here for complete details.
Poles With Signs on Them Are Delta's 'Enhanced' Boarding-Gate Improvement
Delta Air Lines today (March 2) breathlessly announced a new boarding enhancement at several gates at Atlanta/Hartsfield. The improvement? Poles with signs on them. Seriously. Delta wants you to know that five gates on Concourse B now have pillars that segregate flyers by SkyMiles elite status and boarding group. Complete details on this fabulous new amenity are here. If you love poles with signs on them, Delta wants you to know that it'll consider placing more poles at more boarding gates in the future.
Atlanta may have new poles, but it's losing SuperShuttle. The shared-ride service with the familiar blue vans is pulling out of the Hartsfield market after two unsuccessful years. SuperShuttle says it can't compete with Uber in Atlanta.
Manchester, England, gets its first nonstop route to San Francisco later this month when Virgin Atlantic launches three weekly flights. The route will operate with Airbus A330s configured with coach, premium economy and business class cabins.
Hyatt Will Open 1,800 Rooms at the Jinxed Baha Mar Resort in the Bahamas
Desperate to revive the aging Cable Beach area of Nassau, Bahamas, a local businessman dreamed up a project called Baha Mar. The grandiose scheme, enthusiastically supported by the Bahamian government, would include a golf course, thousands of luxury beachfront hotel accommodations, a huge casino and other 21st-century amenities. The $4 billion project promptly ran afoul of 2008's global recession and was only revived with an injection of cash from a Chinese bank. But the money came with strings: Baha Mar had to be built with Chinese labor supplied by a Chinese construction company. That's when things really started to go south. The construction firm was sloppy and inept and some say it was premeditatedly bad as a way to force out the local Bahamian businessman. Work on the project halted in 2015 after the construction flaws were found, Baha Mar slid into bankruptcy and the nearly finished resort sat empty, baking and molding in the Bahamian sun. A Hong Kong firm with close ties to the Chinese government took over Baha Mar late last year and the resort seems back on track now that Chinese interests are, in fact, in control. The golf course and casino should open this spring and Hyatt announced this week that the first 200 of 1,800 rooms it will manage at Baha Mar should open next month. Later this year, a 300-room SLS Hotel will open and, just before Christmas, a 200-room Rosewood Hotel will debut. It's worth noting that Rosewood is controlled by New World Development, a Hong Kong powerhouse that also runs the New World hotel chain. New World in turn is controlled by Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, the Hong Kong conglomerate that just happens to be the firm that took over Baha Mar.
More (and Better) Flights to Tel Aviv
Places like Tel Aviv, Delhi and Cairo tend to be the cities where airlines usually banish their oldest, shabbiest planes. So this is something of a surprise: United Airlines says its Newark-Tel Aviv route will be the second to get new Boeing 777-300ERs configured with the Polaris business class. Effective May 5, one of the two daily flights (United 90 and 91) will have the new aircraft and it will be staffed by pre-merger United crews. But that's not all, as they say on TV. LOT Polish has announced it is beefing up Tel Aviv service. In June, there will be additional flights from Warsaw, LOT's hub, using Boeing 737-800 aircraft. And since LOT is a partner of United in the Star Alliance that means even greater chances of MileagePlus award seats to Tel Aviv in the months ahead. In July, LOT will also add Tel Aviv flights from Lublin, Gdansk, Poznan and Wroclaw.
Swiss International Air Lines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, will begin charging customers later this month for some business class seat assignments. Airbus A330 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft operated by Swiss are configured 1-2 in business class. The single-chair window position, called the "throne seat," will cost $99 or $199 each way to reserve. HON Circle and Senator members of Lufthansa's frequent flyer program will still be able to reserve the seats free of charge.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
David Samson, the New Jersey politician who shook down United Airlines for flights to an airport near his weekend home, is requesting probation rather than jail time. The former chairman of the Port Authority, which operates Newark Airport, says he's too old, too ill and, frankly, too important to go to jail. He pled guilty to charges that call for a penalty of up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. More details on Samson's request are here. United paid a fine in the case and no United Airlines officials have been charged.
Delta Air Lines has been fined $90,000 by the Department of Transportation for violating tarmac-hold rules. Four flights--two at Atlanta and two at New York/Kennedy--were involved in the July, 2016, incident.
Qatar Airways says it will once again allow through-checked bags even if passengers are flying on more than one ticket. The Oneworld Alliance now allows individual member airlines to refuse to through-check bags if flyers are using more than a single ticket.
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