The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Briefing for Dec. 18 to Jan. 8, 2014
The briefing in brief: Hotel rates plunge for the next few weeks; Alaska and American versus Delta and United in the frequency game; EVA Air and Air Canada add Texas flights; swanky new airport clubs in Sydney and Los Angeles; Memphis and Cleveland lose more flights; and more.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for Big City Hotel Rates)
Airlines won't give us dignity for Christmas and you can be sure that the TSA will search our carry-on bags for coal, but hotels have a nice gift: the cheapest rates of the year. From now through February, most big-city properties--especially those in the cold Northeast and Midwest--will be discounting heavily during the week and all but giving it away on weekends. Some random examples: I need to be in Manhattan early next week and booked two nights at the new Hyatt near Herald Square for just $120 a night. In mid-January, the Grand Hyatt atop Grand Central Terminal is going for as little as $180 and the much-admired Andaz on Fifth Avenue is as low as $257. In Chicago, mid-January nightly rates fall as low as $109 at the Palmer House and $205 at the Conrad just off North Michigan Avenue. In Atlanta, mid-January rates are as low as $169 at the Marriott Marquis and just $179 on some weekend nights at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead. And in Boston, it's $106 a night at the Le Meridien in Cambridge and $201 at the Westin Copley Plaza. Why the rate meltdown? Easy. Business travel plunges in January and February and leisure travelers are more interested in ski and sun destinations. That leaves city hotels desperate for customers. You'll find less drastic, but still notable, discounts in most large Europe and Asian cities, too.

It's American and Alaska Air Versus Delta and United in the Frequent Flyer Wars
With Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus switching to revenue-based mileage accrual in 2015 and frequent flyers grumbling about the devaluations the carriers snuck in, American AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan smell opportunity. American and Alaska each think they can steal flyers and both are using the same weapons: huge bonuses in their own programs, which remain rooted in the traditional one-mile-flown-equals-one-mile-earned accrual method. Two weeks ago Alaska bumped up the class-of-service and fare-class bonuses it offers and American this week announced a similar strategy. For all of 2015, AAdvantage will offer extra bonuses of 250 to 12,000 miles a flight atop existing base miles, class of service bonuses and elite-status bonuses. The size of the bonus is based on fare class and length of flight on American, US Airways or any American or US Air code-share flights operated by British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines or Qantas. Complete details are here. ... A couple of weeks ago, Hertz became the exclusive rental partner of United Airlines and members got Hertz Gold Plus status. Apparently, Hertz is allowed to date other airlines because it announced a similar deal this week with Delta SkyMiles. Complete details on the Hertz-Delta hook-up are here.

EVA and Air Canada Go Deep in the Heart of Texas
Texas is big. It's already got several hubs. But there's still plenty of traffic to capture. EVA Air is launching three weekly flights between its Taipei hub and Houston/Intercontinental, the hub of its Star Alliance partner United Airlines. The route launches on June 19 using Boeing 777-300ERs and goes to four weekly flights on July 2. Meanwhile, Air Canada is resuming a daily flight between its Toronto hub and Austin beginning May 18. The airline will use two-class, 75-seat CRJ-105s. ... Bogota, Colombia is suddenly a hot place for hotel development. InterContinental has opened a 99-room Holiday Inn Express in the financial district. And Starwood has opened a 168-room W Hotel near the Usaquen District and a 140-room Four Points in the financial district. ... Another hotel change at London/Heathrow. Hilton has converted the 364-room Jurys Inn near Terminal 4 into a Hilton Garden Inn. ... Two more lounges at Sydney Airport. An American Express Lounge and a SkyTeam lounge have opened near Gate 24 of Terminal 1. The Amex lounge is free for Centurion and Platinum cardholders. Other Amex cardholders pay A$55. The SkyTeam club is open to Elite Plus level flyers or to the public for A$77.

Abandoned Hubs Kicked While They're Down by Their Former Airline Masters
It hasn't been easy being Memphis in the years since the Delta-Northwest merger. The new masters at Delta decided Memphis didn't fit the master plan and its schedule has been slashed mercilessly. And after years of cuts, surprisingly, Delta has found even more flights to dump. On January 5, Delta will eliminate three more nonstop routes: to Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Dallas/Fort Worth. And in April, the Washington/National route will disappear, too. ... Cleveland, abandoned as a hub earlier this year by United Airlines, will also be getting another round of cuts. On March 5, the DFW nonstop gets chopped. Then, on April 7, routes to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Tampa go. But hope springs eternal in Cleveland--because, you know, LeBron--and some new service is coming to Hopkins Airport. On April 30, JetBlue Airways will launch a daily nonstop to its Boston/Logan hub. And American Airlines will revive its Cleveland-New York/LaGuardia route. Three daily regional-jet flights start on March 29. ... Qantas has opened a lounge for first-class passengers adjacent to its business-class club in the Tom Bradley International terminal at Los Angeles. The lounge includes a 74-seat restaurant and bar with a menu designed by Australian celebrity chef Neil Perry. The club is also open to first-class passengers on British Airways and Cathay Pacific as well as super-elite Oneworld flyers. ... A new restaurant in the Humphrey Terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul is named Minnesota Wild and it's built around the hockey club of the same name. Gives a whole new meaning to the complaint about burgers tasting like hockey pucks.

A Barrage of New Hotels for Your Year-End Consideration
There are so many new hotels that have burst from the development pipeline that we just don't have time for anything more than a fast rundown. So buckle up and keep good notes. ... From Hyatt, there are three new Hyatt Place properties: at the Faro Blanco Lighthouse in Marathon, Florida (125 rooms); near Baltimore's Inner Harbor development (208 rooms); and in Columbus, Ohio (99 rooms). ... From Starwood, a 136-room Aloft has opened in the former David Whitney Building in downtown Detroit; a 120-room Element in Lebanon, New Hampshire; and a 300-room Le Meridien in the North Tower of Center City development in Charlotte. ... From Hilton, there's a 117-room Hilton Garden Inn in Roanoke, Virginia; Homewood Suites in Saint Marys, Minnesota (108 rooms), and near the University of Arizona in Tucson (122 rooms); and a 168-room DoubleTree in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. ... Marriott has opened a 120-room Courtyard in Walla Walla, Washington; TownePlace Suites in Newnan, Georgia (89 rooms), and Missoula, Montana (90 rooms); and a 105-room Residence Inn near the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The much-used TripIt app is now licensing ground-transportation data from the Airport Transit Guide, the authority on options for getting from a city to its airport. ... Brandenburg, the new airport for Berlin that was supposed to open in 2011 and was just weeks from premiering in June, 2012, continues to be delayed. Amazingly, the opening has now been pushed back to the second half of 2017. ... In case you haven't seen it, here's in-flight video from the American Airlines flight this week that hit severe turbulence near Japan. At least 14 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 777 were injured. ... Trenitalia, the Italian railroad network, is now operating several direct trains each day to the station at Rome/Fiumicino Airport from Venice, Padova, Bologna and Florence. It's a four-hour run from Venice's Mestre station and a little more than two hours from Florence.

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.