The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for March 12-26, 2015
The briefing in brief: Delta and Alaska Air keep battling at Sea-Tac. Now they open more warm-weather hotels. South America routes come and go. JetBlue keeps growing at Fort Lauderdale. Hilton opens two hotels in Palo Alto. United tests p.s. service at Logan this summer. And more...

Dispatch From the Sea-Tac Front: Delta Goes to Kona, Alaska Flies to JFK
Those increasingly antagonistic frenemies, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines, are up each other's butts again. And you have to wonder how much longer these guys can remain marketing partners as Delta builds a Seattle-Tacoma hub in Alaska's hometown and Alaska responds with its own attacks. What's new at the front? Delta says it'll launch Seattle nonstops to Kona, Hawaii, beginning December 19. Hawaii, of course, is Alaska Air's largest single market, accounting for more than 18 percent of its capacity. Delta is also launching more seasonal flights to Alaska, Mexico and Southern California, all key markets for Alaska Air's own Sea-Tac hub. Alaska is responding with new nonstop flights to New York's Kennedy Airport, Delta's key international hub. Alaska already flies into Newark, so the Kennedy flight, which launches on September 16, is an undisguised attack on Delta's flank. Alaska is also responding with frequent flyer program promotions: introductory double miles on the JFK flight; double miles on routes where it already competes with Delta from Seattle and Delta's Salt Lake City hub; and a triple-miles promo and as much as $1,000 off flights on Emirates, the airline that Delta has targeted for political attacks. Of course, Delta is fighting back on the mileage front with its own trademarked approach: a devaluation of Alaska's participation in SkyMiles. Effective April 1, no Alaska Airlines flights will earn MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars) and some coach tickets will earn fewer MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles).

Where Were All These Warm-Weather Hotel Award Destinations Last Month?
The Plains states, Midwest, Northeast and MidAtlantic are finally thawing out and now the hotel industry decides to bring more warm-weather hotels into their frequent guest plans? I suppose we could start planning for next winter. ... Starwood Preferred Guest, for example, has three new hotels in Florida. The 139-room Element Miami Doral, a Category 3 redemption, has opened as part of the same complex that houses the existing Aloft Doral. Meanwhile, the 393-room Royal Palm on Collins Avenue in the South Beach area of Miami has signed up with the Luxury Collection as a Category 6 redemption. Until last week, the Royal Palm had been a James Hotel and, in previous incarnations, was a Crowne Plaza, a Melia and an Affinia hotel. And the 40-cottage Sunset Key in Key West has shifted to the Luxury Collection from the Westin brand. It's now a Category 7 redemption. ... The 56-room Triada in Palm Springs, California, has joined the Autograph Collection and that means it's available via Marriott Rewards. The hotel, a Category 7 redemption, was called the Spanish Inn in Hollywood's glory days. Built in 1939, it was renovated and restored last year. And Residence Inn has opened a 105-room property in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. The hotel is a Category 6 award. ... Finally, the IHG Rewards Club gets the 157-room Oceanfront Inn & Suites on Jekyll Island, Georgia, because the property rebranded as a Holiday Inn Resort. It's a 25,000-point redemption. ... Delta SkyMiles has made a few marginal upgrades. Awards on Gol, the Latin American carrier, are now bookable online. And some one-way domestic awards are available until the end of the year for 10,000 miles--assuming you hit a 21-day advance purchase restriction, which Delta continues to insist is not the new de facto standard on all low-priced awards.

South America Routes Come and Go Without Much Notice
American Airlines is dropping flights between New York/Kennedy and Viracopos, an alternate airport for Sao Paulo, Brazil. It launched the route six months ago. Last flight is March 29. ... Meanwhile, Avianca, the Colombian carrier, is poised to revive its flights to Bogota from Los Angeles. Flights resume four times weekly on July 1 using Airbus A330s. ... Here's a route you didn't see coming: Air Canada says it will launch four weekly flights between its Toronto/Pearson hub and Atlantic City. The route will run between May 22 and September 7 using 74-seat Q-400 aircraft. Why would the Canadian carrier fly into the struggling gambling resort? It has nothing at risk. The city's casino authority is underwriting the flights and promising to subsidize its losses up to $705,000 for the season. ... Hilton has opened a 160-room Hampton Inn on Neville Street in Newcastle, England. ... The Marriott Autograph Collection has added the 446-room Habtoor Grand Resort located in Dubai's beachfront community. ... Speaking of Dubai, Hyatt has opened a 464-room Hyatt Regency on the Dubai Creek. It has also opened a 67-room Park Hyatt on the Indian Ocean beachfront in Stone Town, a UNESCO heritage site in Zanzibar.

JetBlue Keeps Growing in Fort Lauderdale
JetBlue Airways continues to grow in Fort Lauderdale as an alternative to American Airlines' gigantic (and not particularly efficient) hub in Miami. Latest additions: twice-daily flights to Baltimore/Washington and daily flights to Albany, New York. Both routes begin in November, although specific dates haven't been announced. ... Speaking of Miami, the airport is the second in the nation to accept Mobile Passport, an app that allows you to handle passport formalities and customs clearance via smartphone. ... United Airlines has updates and slightly improved complimentary food and snacks menus at its United Clubs. The airline is also promising to renovate at least four of its clubs this year as well as build new lounges in Atlanta and San Francisco. ... Los Angeles flyers take note: Runway and taxiway renovations have begun and will continue through 2018. (Yeah, 2018...) Prepare for delays. More details are here.

Hilton Opens Two New Hotels in Palo Alto
Two new Hilton-branded properties opened within a half-mile of each other in Palo Alto in the heart of the Silicon Valley. The 174-room Hilton Garden Inn and the 138-room Homewood Suites are both on El Camino Real Drive. ... Speaking of Hilton, it is also able to claim a rarity: new openings for its slow-growing Embassy Suites chain. There's a 149-room branch in Saratoga Springs, New York, and a 154-room outpost in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. ... Starwood has opened a 188-room Aloft in the 29-story converted office building at 225 Baronne Street in New Orleans. ... A 105-room Hyatt Place has opened in Canton, Ohio. ... Marriott has opened a 96-room Fairfield Inn about a half-mile from Arundel Mills Outlet Mall in Hanover, Maryland.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
More than a decade after it launched its so-called p.s. service, United Airlines has been unable to grow it out of the Transcon Triangle routes that link New York/Kennedy with Los Angeles and San Francisco. But once again, it is giving the service a test on the Boston-Los Angeles run. Between July 2 and August 17, a p.s.-configured Boeing 757 will operate on United Flight 528 (LAX-BOS) and Flight 717 (BOS-LAX). United tried p.s. flights on the route for about a week last fall. ... Venezuela flyers take note: The Venezuelan government without advance warning last week began requiring U.S. visitors to have a visa. You can get more information here, but be prepared for plenty of glitches since the change caught the Venezuelan embassy and consulates in the United States off-guard, too. ... Etihad is putting an Airbus A380 on one of its two daily flights between New York/Kennedy and Abu Dhabi. That means travelers on Flights EY102/103 beginning December 1 will have access to Etihad's new business- and first-class products, including the much-discussed Residence, a 125-square-foot cabin for two that includes butler service and a shower.

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.