The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Briefing for January 1-January 14, 2015
The briefing in brief: British Airways adds first class to four American routes. Marriott Rewards grabs classic Big Island resort. The battle over Delta's Seattle-Tokyo/Haneda route. After digesting AirTran, Southwest grows again. New names for old hotels, new rail links and more.

British Airways Adds First Class to Four American Routes
British Airways is one of the few international carriers committed to a traditional first-class cabin. And the carrier's refreshed first class will appear (and reappear) in 2015 on four additional North American routes. The current Denver-London/Heathrow nonstops use three-class Boeing 777 aircraft, but will switch to four-class Boeing 747s in March. It'll be the first time the Denver run has had a first-class cabin. First class will also return by the end of October on three routes--Phoenix, Las Vegas and Vancouver--where BA had dropped first. Adding a Boeing 747 with a 14-seat first-class cabin "is a better overall fit for the Denver market now," says Sean Doyle, BA's executive vice president for the Americas. "We're happy with the premium demand there." The return of first to the three routes that lost it last year is a byproduct of BA's decision to upgrade all of the remaining 747s in its fleet. The new first--complete with a better in-flight entertainment system, quilted mattresses and cotton duvets, more privacy and la carte dining--"is a cabin I think the first-class flyer will like." And who's the first-class flyer these days? "Senior leadership," says Doyle, "and the definition of senior leadership varies by sector. In Denver, the passenger mix looks very much like Seattle and other tech markets."

Marriott Rewards Grabs a Classic Big Island Resort
Good news for Marriott Rewards members looking to burn points in Hawaii. Effective January 14, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel joins Marriott's Autograph Collection as a Category 7 redemption. The Kohala Coast property sits on what is probably the best beach in Hawaii and was built in 1965 by RockResorts. Westin took over the 252-room resort in 1980 before the property was sold in 1989 to Prince Hotels of Japan. ... Starwood Preferred Guest members take note: The Hotel Pulitzer, the Luxury Collection property in Amsterdam, leaves the system on April 15. It's currently Starwood's only property in Central Amsterdam although an Element Hotel is due later this year. ... The revenue-based Delta SkyMiles program begins today. That means two changes for awards booking. Delta now offers one-way redemptions, but it also has eliminated free stopovers on awards. ... Hilton HHonors continues to tinker with its extraordinarily devalued award charts. The latest changes--12 hotels rise in price, four decrease--are effective on January 14. The complete list of changes is here.

The Battle Over Delta's Seattle-Tokyo/Haneda Route
The Wall Street Journal would have you believe that the Japanese government's international expansion at Tokyo's close-in Haneda Airport is a rip-roaring success. And it is--if you take the macro view. But routes between the United States and Haneda have been a financial failure, partially because of weak U.S.-Japan traffic and partially because U.S. carriers were assigned dreadful Haneda take-off and landing times. American dumped its New York/Kennedy-Haneda route in 2013. (The Transportation Department reassigned the slots to United, which now operates a San Francisco-Haneda route.) Delta's initial attempt to fly between its Detroit/Metro hub and Haneda failed, too, and it moved flights to Seattle, where it is building an international hub. That hasn't worked, either, and Delta has essentially abandoned the route, running just a few flights a month in an attempt to circumvent DOT use-it-or-lose-it rules. Delta's gambit has elicited the ire of competitors, who want the DOT to seize the route and reassign it. American wants to operate a Los Angeles-Haneda route (without explaining how that would work better than its JFK run). Hawaiian, which flies from Honolulu to Haneda, is also unhappy with Delta's move. American claims Delta is trying to bury the Haneda route to protect its hub at Tokyo's Narita Airport. The problem with American's logic? Delta is cutting back at Narita and will only offer five intra-Asia routes this year, down from a dozen in 2009. The DOT is looking into all the claims and could rule soon. Stay tuned.

After Finally Digesting AirTran, Southwest Starts Growing Again
It took the airline-industry equivalent of forever and a day for Southwest Airlines to digest its 2011 purchase of AirTran Airways. In fact, the merger process didn't officially end until Monday night (December 29) when the last-ever AirTran flight ran from Atlanta to Tampa. But now Southwest seems to be in growth mode again, announcing seven new domestic routes and plans for new service to three Central American nations. Here at home, Southwest has tabbed June 7 as the launch date for four routes: two from Los Angeles (to Portland, Oregon, and Indianapolis) and two from Oakland (to Nashville and New Orleans). On June 28, it'll begin flights from Austin to both Orange County and St. Louis and between Indianapolis and Boston/Logan. South of the border, it has filed to fly from Houston/Hobby Airport to three cities in Mexico (Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos); to San Jose, Costa Rica; and Belize City, Belize. The international routes require government approval and guess who's objecting? United Airlines, which flies to Central America from its hub at Houston/Intercontinental. United also opposed the construction of the soon-to-be-completed, $156 million international terminal at Hobby. ... Alaska Airlines has hired commuter carrier SkyWest to operate three new routes. Beginning July 1, Alaska and SkyWest will fly Embraer E175s from Seattle to both Milwaukee and Oklahoma City and a route between Portland, Oregon, and St. Louis. The Alaska/SkyWest E175s are configured with 12 seats in first class and 64 chairs in coach.

A Bunch of Old Hotels With New Brand Names
So what goes with a new year? Old hotels with new names, of course. So get out your erasers and mark these changes on your hotel scorecard. ... The 30-year old hotel at 247 24th Street in Ogden, Utah, is once again flying a Marriott flag. It opened as the Ogden Marriott, converted in 2013 to the name Summit and is now known as the Courtyard. ... The 410-room building at 333 Poydras Street in New Orleans is now called the Le Meridien. It most recently was known as the Hotel New Orleans, but has also been called the W Hotel, the Crowne Plaza and the Four Points by Sheraton. ... The 231-room annex of Denver's iconic Brown Palace Hotel, located across Tremont Place, is now called the Holiday Inn Express. It opened in 1959 as the Brown Palace West and most recently has been known as the Comfort Inn. ... The former Radisson hotel at 855 Wellington Road South in London, Ontario, is now flying the Holiday Inn flag. It has 143 rooms. ... Speaking of brands run by InterContinental, it has added two hotels in Portugal via rebrandings of Park Atlantic properties. The 331-room hotel in downtown Lisbon that opened as a Le Meridien and has most recently been called the Park Atlantic is now an InterContinental. And in Porto, the 203-room Park Atlantic has become a Crowne Plaza.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Baltic travelers take note: Lithuania adopts the euro effective January 1. That means all three Baltic states are now on the European currency. ... Hong Kong travelers take note: The Island Line of the MTR has been extended west to add two new stations: HKU and Kennedy town. Sai Ying Pun, another stop just west of the Central and Sheung Wan stations, is expected to open during the first quarter. ... Speaking of public rail, MARTA of Atlanta has opened a new 2.6-mile, 12-stop tram. It runs from Centennial Olympic Park west to the Martin Luther King National Historic site. ... The Korean Air executive who forced a New York-Seoul flight to return to the gate to put off a flight attendant has been arrested. Heather Cho, daughter of the chief executive and former vice president of in-flight service, created worldwide news when she intimidated the in-flight staff for serving macadamia nuts in a bag instead of in a bowl.

This column is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2015 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.