The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Briefing for January 8-January 22, 2015
The briefing in brief: Hertz is becoming United--and United is getting worse. Delta's award-booking is still broken in Delta's favor. American, US Airways link frequency plans. A burst of new Chinese hotels. Global Entry members can use Nexus lanes at Canadian airports. And more...

Hertz Is Becoming United Airlines--and United Is Getting Worse
Business travelers still loyal to Hertz will tell you that Big Yellow has been a big bust lately. The fleet is aged, service is awful and prices are high. Hertz also spent recent years pursuing acquisitions instead of product improvement. The yellow poo hit the fan last year when an accounting crisis toppled Mark Frissora, the much-disliked chief executive who'd run Hertz since 2007. You'd think it couldn't get worse--but it has. John Tague, the former president of United Airlines who was ousted after the merger with Continental Airlines, succeeded Frissora late last year. Tague's first major act was to raise prices across the board effective January 1. And this week he reached for an old friend for his first major hire. Hertz's new senior vice president and chief revenue officer is Jeff Foland, United's chief marketing and strategy officer who once also ran MileagePlus. So look for Hertz to act even more like United in the months ahead. Back at United, Foland's departure has led to a C-suite shuffle that's sure to make things there even wackier. The new head of "customer care" is general counsel Brett Hart--because it always makes sense to have a lawyer running customer service. The new head of strategy? Chief financial officer John Rainey, the man who told MileagePlus members they were "over-entitled."

Account Linking at American AAdvantage and the Same-Old Same-Old at Delta
American Airlines says it will combine American AAdvantage accounts and US Airways Dividend Miles later this year and today (January 8) the first tangible signs appeared. If you log into your AAdvantage or Dividend Miles account, you'll be offered the chance to link programs. My advice? Do it. It'll lead to a smoother transition no matter what lies ahead. ... The new, revenue-based Delta SkyMiles program began on January 1, but the awards side of the equation is more of the same-old same-old. The online booking engine is basically broken--and, of course, broken in Delta's favor. Despite Delta's claim that it was repaired and synced with the new five-tier award chart, the Delta site continues to misprice (specifically, overprice) a huge amount of awards. My advice? Print out the award charts and, if you try to claim an online award and are quoted a higher price, call Delta. The agents--who, by the way, don't seem any better trained in the five-tier chart than the old three-tier one--may insist that whatever price is quoted on the Web is correct. Push back (politely) and insist they book seats at the prices posted on the charts. ... A new perk for a tiny slice of United MileagePlus members. Global Services travelers who fly first class on United from Frankfurt and Munich now have access to Lufthansa First Class Lounges.

It's a Chinese World and We're Just Checking Into It
Major hoteliers have been telling us for years that they were pivoting their development efforts toward China, the world's most populous country with a growing cadre of business travelers. And they are now opening hotels in bursts across the country, many in places Westerners don't know. From Starwood, for example, there are four new outposts: a 326-room Sheraton in Xishuangbanna (Yunnan Province) near the border with Burma and Laos; a 361-room Sheraton in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province; a 242-room Four Points in Guangxi Province, in the Lingui district of Guilin; and a 193-room Aloft in Dongguan in central Guangdong Province. ... Meanwhile, Marriott has opened a 258-room branch in the Shunde district of Foshan in Guangdong and still another hotel in the Sanya resort on Hainan island. The 458-room hotel overlooks the beach and ocean. ... And there are two more from Hilton: a 427-room DoubleTree in Heyuan in Guangdong and a 301-room Hilton in Tianjin's Eco-City development. ... Delta Air Lines is already deconstructing Northwest's old hub at Tokyo/Narita and now it is dropping another part of its Northwest legacy. Effective March 27, Delta is dropping the Amsterdam-Mumbai route.

United's Baggage Handling Collapses in Denver
Those screams you may have heard echoing from the Rocky Mountains are most likely emanating from United Airlines customers who are waiting hours for their checked luggage in Denver. In a typically pennywise move, United fired its incumbent baggage-handling firm at Denver International last fall and replaced it with a cheaper outfit. The company? A U.S. division of Menzies, an operation notorious for inefficient baggage handling at British airports. Menzies also made a hash of Alaska Airlines' baggage handling in Seattle nearly a decade ago. As usual, of course, United is blaming passengers for the hours-long delays, claiming that "higher than normal checked bag volumes" is contributing to the problem. Denver airport executives are desperately trying to alert the public that United owns the problem. ... Global Entry members take note: Your credentials now give you access to the Nexus security bypass lines at Toronto/Pearson, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver airports.

Back to the Future at a High Point's Largest Hotel
We usually only hear about lodging in High Point, North Carolina, when the annual spring furniture market comes to town. But the city's largest hotel, a 252-room property at 135 South Main, is going back to the future. It will once again fly the Radisson flag after dumping the brand in 2008. It's been known as the Best Western and also run as an independent during the six years that it wasn't a Radisson. Meanwhile, not far away in Hickory, a 113-room Hampton Inn has opened. ... Speaking of Hilton brands, a 105-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened in Gallup, New Mexico, which we only hear about when someone plays Route 66. And I've never heard of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, which now can boast about its new 78-room Hampton Inn. I have heard of the Providence Biltmore, a 294-room hotel that has seen much better days. Nevertheless, it's now part of Hilton's Curio Collection. ... Speaking of places that have seen better days, Newark, New Jersey, at least has a new hotel. A 108-room Hotel Indigo has opened inside the 102-year-old First National State Bank Building. ... On the other side of the Holland Tunnel, in lower Manhattan, Marriott has opened a 243-room Residence Inn at 170 Broadway. The hotel is housed in an 111-year-old building between Liberty Street and Maiden Lane.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
After days of endless coverage on the cable-news networks when there was no news, there were significant developments in the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501 just as the world's focus was on the terrorist attack in Paris. On Wednesday (January 7), the tail section of the plane was discovered lying upside down and partially buried on the ocean floor. The plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have not yet been located, however. Forty-four bodies have been recovered. The Airbus A320 disappeared on December 28 with 162 passengers and crew on board. ... The dollar had a record year in 2014, jumping 31 percent against a market basket of currencies. And the good news (at least for international travelers) is that the good news isn't over. This week, the euro fell to its lowest level, $1.18, in almost a decade. That's within a whisker of the currency's launch rate in 1999. Meanwhile, the dollar has been surging against the Canadian loonie, too. One U.S. dollar is buying about $1.18 Canadian. And the British pound has fallen to $1.51.

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.