The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Briefing for December 4-20, 2014
The briefing in brief: miles and points news for 2015; more love for the Philadelphia-London run; Hawaiian and KLM pack in the seats; Alaska Air will charge for exit-row seating; a raft of new limited-service Hilton hotels; David Neeleman's Azul Airways launches U.S. routes; and more.

More of What You Need to Know About Miles and Points in 2015
We're among like-minded folks here, so it's okay to admit it: As soon as Thanksgiving dinner is cleared away, you start thinking about your 2015 frequent travel programs. And while the big news for 2015--Delta and United airlines devaluing their programs under the guise of switching to revenue-based programs--has been covered to death, there are some other important things worth noting for next year:
    There are alternatives to last-minute mileage runs to keep or elevate your 2015 status. The airlines will simply sell it to you. (Of course, only you can decide whether the opportunity cost of buying up is worth it.) The offer from Delta SkyMiles is here. The American AAdvantage offer is here while the US Airways Dividend Miles buy-up plan is here.
    Alaska Airlines smells near-term opportunity in the Delta and United shifts to revenue-based plans. So it is hoping to woo flyers with increased bonuses. Effective January 1, Mileage Plan flyers will get 75 percent bonuses for first-class fares, up from 50 percent. Full-fare coach bonuses go to 50 percent, up from 25 percent. And three lower-priced coach levels will earn bonuses for the first time. S class will get 50 percent, while B and M fares will receive a 25 percent bonus. But there is a downside: Earnings are being reduced when you fly Delta and put the miles in your Mileage Plan account. Complete details are here.
    Travelers seeking awards for Hawaii travel will have more options next year. Delta is reviving Northwest's old Minneapolis-Honolulu nonstop, a route it dumped in 2011. Delta will use 225-seat Boeing 767-300ERs on the run, which will operate daily between October 25, 2015, and March 26, 2016. Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines, a mileage partner of several mainland carriers, is adding flights next summer on several routes. That includes runs to Lihue from both Los Angeles and Oakland and more service between LAX and Maui. Hawaiian says the flights between late May and September will add more than 100,000 seats to the Hawaii market.
    If you're looking for more Europe awards, United is adding three new seasonal flights next year: Chicago-Dublin, Newark-Venice and a second Washington/Dulles-Paris/CDG frequency. The Dublin and Paris flights will operate between June 4 and mid-August. United's first-ever Venice nonstops will run through late September.
    Speaking of Venice, Hilton HHonors members have a third option in the area: The 203-room Move hotel in Mogliano Venato, about 15 miles from the heart of Venice, has become a DoubleTree by Hilton. And Marriott Rewards members will have a fifth Venice-area option beginning in March. The 266-room JW Marriott will be located on a 16-acre private island about 15 minutes by boat from St. Mark's Square.

Philadelphia Is Suddenly Getting a Lot of Love From London
Philadelphia flyers take note: You're suddenly getting a lot more options for flights to London/Heathrow. Delta Air Lines will launch a daily Boeing 757-200 flight on the route beginning April 7. That's just a few days before American Airlines adds a second daily flight between Philadelphia and Heathrow. The second American frequency will be a morning run, departing PHL at 9:55 a.m. and arriving in London at 10:10 p.m. The return flight is an early-morning (8:20 a.m.) departure from Heathrow. ... American and US Airways have combined their ticket counters at Charlotte, the US Airways hub that is the second-busiest in the merged carrier's system. ... Air New Zealand flyers take note: The carrier has moved to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles. Premium-class customers will now use the Star Alliance lounge in TBIT, an 18,000-square-foot club that Air New Zealand already manages. ... Washington/National flyers should be aware of a major realignment. American and US Airways have combined operations and the office is next to Claim Area #12. JetBlue Airways has moved to Terminal B and operates from Gates 26, 28, 30 and 32. Virgin America is now using Terminal B Gate 24. Southwest has expanded at Terminal A and uses six of the nine gates there. And three airlines--Air Canada, Frontier and Sun Country--are now using the Terminal A ticket-counter space vacated by JetBlue after its move to Terminal B. ... A 155-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened opposite the international terminal of Krakow Airport in Poland.

Hawaiian Packs in Seats and Alaska Air Charges More for Comfort
You want the bad news first or the really bad news? Okay, bad news first. Alaska Airlines says it will charge extra for its more spacious coach seats located in the exit rows. Dubbed Preferred Seating, Alaska says it'll throw in a free drink and priority boarding if you pay to sit there. Prices will be $15 (for flights up to 1,250 miles), $30 (for longer-range flights) or $50 on flights longer than 2,000 miles. The change goes into effect in the first half of next year. Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines will be adding seats on its inter-island fleet of 18 Boeing 717 jets. Hawaiian next year will replace its existing chairs with those despicable slim-line seats and increase the count to 128, up from the current 118 or 123 per plane.

And Now, A Bajillion More Limited-Service Hilton Properties
Say what you will about the dreadful state of Hilton HHonors, but it hasn't stopped Hilton from a breakneck expansion. No week goes by without a clutch of openings. And that apparently goes double for holiday weeks. Here's what's new just from Hilton's limited-service brands. Hilton Garden Inn has opened properties in downtown Louisville (162 rooms); Findlay (101 rooms) and Akron (119 rooms), Ohio; and Kirov, Russia (102 rooms). Meanwhile, Hilton's Hampton Inn chain has opened branches in Bar Harbor, Maine (103 rooms); Gaziantep, Turkey (117 rooms); and Silao (110 rooms) and Hermosillo (151 rooms), Mexico. ... Speaking of Mexico, Hyatt has opened a 140-room Hyatt Place in Ciudad del Carmen, about three miles from the airport. ... InterContinental has opened an 89-room Holiday Inn Express in Yopal, Colombia; a 140-room Holiday Inn in Ankara, Turkey; and converted a 91-room property in Fredericton, New Brunswick, into a Holiday Inn Express. ... The biggest news from Marriott this week is the opening of the Edition Hotel in Miami Beach. It's the third link in the seven-year-old chain, which once promised to have 100 hotels open in ten years. But that didn't stop the Edition's incredibly self-centered front man, Ian Schrager, from claiming that the opening of the Edition meant that Miami Beach had "come of age." ... And what week in hotels would be complete without some more lodgings in China? Starwood opened a 509-room Sheraton in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province. And Marriott opened a 386-room Marriott in Haikou on Hainan Island. Hilton opened a 453-room property in Haikou last month.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Azul Brazilian Airlines, founded by David Neeleman after he was forced out of JetBlue Airways in 2007, has opened its first U.S. route. Azul now flies between Sao Paulo/Campinas and Fort Lauderdale, a JetBlue focus city. The airline will add an Orlando-Campinas route on December 15. ... Oneworld Alliance elite flyers got some new baggage privileges starting on Monday (December 1). On most flights, Sapphire-level flyers get an additional checked bag free of charge and Emerald and Sapphire flyers receive priority baggage handling. ... United Airlines is chopping some flights off the schedule. Washington/Dulles-Sacramento nonstops are gone for at least three months beginning in January. Also gone are Pittsburgh-San Francisco flights for three months. United has already permanently dropped Pittsburgh-Los Angeles service and will cut Los Angeles-Carlsbad flights on April 6. ... Add KLM to the list of carriers using slim-line seats to stuff more chairs on its aircraft. The carrier's Boeing 777s are being reconfigured for 10-across seating in coach in a 3-4-3 layout. The planes have been 3-3-3 across. ... SuperShuttle, the airport-shuttle company, is now operating at Atlanta/Hartsfield.

This column is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2014 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.