The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Business Travel Briefing for June 8-21, 2018
The briefing in brief: Airlines, hotels and credit cards shuffle the loyalty deck again. Virgin Atlantic dumps Vegas, but adds an LAX-Manchester run. Limited-service hotels are the coin of the lodging realm. American adds more RJ routes. El Al delays launch of San Francisco flights.

Airlines, Hotels and Credit Cards Shuffle the Loyalty Deck Again
It's not you. It's them. Honest. It's not that you're getting too old or too busy to keep up with changes to your frequent travel programs. It's that airlines, hotels and card companies now tinker with their benefits (okay, mostly cut them) with breathtaking rapidity. In case you've missed the latest slew of changes, here's a quick summary.
      American AAdvantage is revoking discounted Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seats for Gold Elite members. Effective September 5, Gold members will no longer receive 50 percent off MCE seat assignments at booking. You'll now pay full price--or gamble for a free upgrade at check-in.
      American AAdvantage Citi credit cards have cheapened their car rental coverage. They now won't cover you for "loss of use" expenses claimed by a rental firm after an accident.
      United MileagePlus Explorer Card from Chase has improved benefits. You'll now receive 2 miles per dollar spent on hotel stays and restaurant charges and get a 25 percent discount when you charge United Airlines in-flight purchases to the card.
      Hyatt guests who do not book direct and aren't World of Hyatt members will no longer receive free breakfasts at Hyatt Place hotels. The change is effective for bookings made after November 1. Even elite members of the program will be denied breakfast if they don't book direct with Hyatt. On the plus side, Hyatt says World of Hyatt Globalist and Explorer elites will receive confirmed early check-in next year. Details are still unclear, however.
      Loews is ending its YouFirst frequency program on December 6. No word if there will be a replacement or if Loews will join a third-party loyalty scheme.

Virgin Atlantic Dumps Las Vegas-London, Adds LAX-Manchester
Virgin Atlantic is effectively a vassal of its minority owner Delta Air Lines, so look at these changes through that lens. Virgin is dumping its Las Vegas-London/Gatwick route on March 31. Essentially taking its place are new flights between Los Angeles and Manchester in northern England. There'll be three flights a week on that run when it launches on May 22.
      Etihad, the troubled Abu Dhabi-based carrier, is dropping one of its two New York/Kennedy flights. It previously eliminated all flights from San Francisco and Dallas/Fort Worth.
      El Al is delaying the launch of its new San Francisco-Tel Aviv route. The three weekly Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights are now scheduled to begin May 13 instead of November 19.
      British Airways says it is "suspending" its Calgary route, perhaps permanently. Flights to London/Heathrow end on November 3 with no resumption date scheduled. Air Canada and Air Transat compete on the route.

Stuck In the Middle--or Upper Middle--With You
This shouldn't surprise you: The American lodging landscape is shunning traditional, full-service hotels. Or perhaps more accurately, hotel investors are shunning traditional, full-service hotels. The overwhelming number of properties being built or in the U.S. development pipeline are various flavors of limited-service hotels, which the industry euphemistically calls "select service." According to the latest crunch of the numbers by the invaluable Lodging Econometrics consulting firm, 72 percent of upcoming hotels will be limited-service operations. The fastest-growing brands: Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites and Home2 Suites, a newish Hilton chain.
      W Hotels, now a part of the vast Marriott machine, has opened two new international outposts. There is now a 312-room W Hotel in Brisbane, Australia, and a 280-room branch in Amman, Jordan.
      Chicago lodging continues to evolve. Marriott has opened its first Moxy hotel in the River North neighborhood. The 156-room property is on Grand Avenue at LaSalle Drive, a short walk from the Merchandise Mart. Meanwhile, on the so-called Gold Coast, the Claridge House is once again an independent property. First opened in 1923, the property spent the last few years trading as a Hotel Indigo. Now a $9 million renovation and a new oyster bar and restaurant have transformed the 165-room property again.

American Airlines, Like United Before It, Adds More Crappy RJ Flights
Airlines long ago admitted tiny, tinny regional jets were bad business: Passengers hated the cramped quarters, the planes were expensive to operate and they clogged crowded hubs. So the carriers spent the last few years getting rid of the smallest RJs. But United Airlines, desperate to bulk up its connecting traffic and regain what it insists is its "natural market share," has been adding RJs with abandon. Now American is adding RJ routes again, too. From its Dallas/Fort Worth hub, American will add two daily ERJ-140 flights to Del Rio, Texas, on November 4. From its Miami hub, there'll be a daily flight to Greensboro, North Carolina, and twice-daily flights to Knoxville. Both routes begin December 19 using ERJ-145s. Other late fall additions to AA's route map will use slightly larger RJS. DFW-Wilmington, North Carolina, will run with CRJ-900s while DFW-Sarasota will operate with CRJ-700s. Both daily routes launch December 19. And there'll even be one honest-to-goodness jet flight. Effective December 19, American will begin daily flights between DFW and Buffalo, New York.
      United Airlines has finally opened the long-delayed Polaris Lounge in Terminal C at its Newark hub. The 27,000-square-foot club seats 455 and has ten shower suites. Available only to business class passengers, the lounge is located between Gates C102 and C120.
      Southwest Airlines is adding a daily nonstop flight between Washington/National and Oklahoma City. The route launches November 4.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines will test another new boarding method this summer. Gone will be the five separate boarding lines at the gate. Also gone: upgrade status displayed on monitors. In place of five lines will be two, one for priority flyers and one for all other boarding groups. The monitors will now be used to display which boarding group has been called. United switched to the five-line system in 2012.
      Norwegian continues to substitute aircraft as it temporarily grounds Boeing 787 Dreamliners due to engine problems. The latest route to get a substitute: New York/Kennedy to London/Gatwick. One of Norwegian's two daily roundtrip flights will operate with Boeing 747-400s until July 23.
      Air France travelers take note: The brief peace between the airlines and its unions appears to be over. Unions have announced another strike for June 23-26.

This column is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2018 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.