The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for Mar. 26-Apr. 9, 2015
Weekend of reckoning for the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles merger. Emirates keeps growing despite pressure from the U.S. Big Three. More hotels gush from the Hilton pipeline. JetBlue tries its Mint service on island flights. Surprise! Spirit and Frontier are awful. And more...

It's the Weekend of Reckoning for AAdvantage and Dividend Miles
It's the weekend of reckoning for American AAdvantage and the US Airways Dividend Miles program. In the early hours of Saturday (March 28), American will begin eliminating Dividend Miles and folding it into AAdvantage. Gary Leff's View from the Wing blog has a good backgrounder of how AAdvantage executives expect the massive data merger will go. It's worth your time. has already created a post-merger forum. Consider it the Internet canary in the frequent flyer coal mine. If things start going wrong, the weeping and gnashing of metaphoric teeth will be there first. And things will go wrong because no data merger of this size is glitch-free. On the other hand, this shouldn't affect your weekend flying because it's a merger of frequency programs, not the "passenger service systems," the airline industry's somewhat-ironic name for ticketing and reservations computers. Still, don't be an innocent bystander while American grinds through the process. Before the merger begins, print out or electronically capture all relevant details of both your AAdvantage and Dividend Miles accounts. That includes mileage balances, details of status, lifetime balances, flight and related activity, future award reservations and upgrade minutia. The more information you have and can prove, the faster you can reconcile any errors and solve any problems that may arise.

Take That, U.S. Big Three: Emirates Adds Fights in Orlando and Seattle
The Big Three U.S. airlines guessed wrong if they expected the Big Three Gulf carriers to back off after the release of a 55-page report alleging government subsidies. Emirates this week announced a new route--Orlando to Dubai--and a second daily flight on its Seattle-Dubai run. Flights from Orlando launch September 1 using 266-seat Boeing 777-200LRs. The second daily nonstop from Seattle, also using Boeing 777-200LRs, begins on July 1. Emirates launched the Seattle route in March, 2012. ... Austrian Airlines will begin five weekly flights between Miami and its Vienna hub on October 16. The route will be something of an outlier for the Star Alliance carrier and Lufthansa subsidiary. Until now, Austrian routes to North America have been confined to Star hubs such as New York, Toronto, Chicago and Washington. ... International lodging news of note: The Marriott Autograph collection of independent properties has added properties in Nice (the 112-room Boscolo Exedra) and Zurich (the 245-room Kameha Grand). Four Seasons has opened a 273-room resort on a man-made island in Bahrain. And DoubleTree by Hilton has slapped its name on the 105-room property formerly known as the Nottingham Gateway in Nottingham, England.

JetBlue's Mint Premium Product Heads to the Islands--and That's Not Good News
JetBlue Airways will test its Mint transcontinental product on runs to Barbados and Aruba this winter--and that may not be good news for transcon travelers hoping to see the service on their routes. New York/Kennedy flights to Aruba and Barbados outfitted with Mint will operate on Saturdays between November 7 and April 30. There will also be daily flights with Mint between December 19 and January 4. Introducing Mint to a leisure market rather than transcon runs from Boston, where JetBlue has a sizable operation, raises eyebrows. A decade before he helped create Mint, JetBlue executive vice president Marty St. George was a key player in United's decision to remake its Kennedy-San Francisco-Los Angeles routes into the p.s. Premium Service. For years after its 2004 launch, United and St. George insisted p.s. would be added to other transcon markets. It never was. (Ironically, this summer United will test p.s. on the Boston-Los Angeles route.) JetBlue may be learning that Mint, like p.s. before it, has limited appeal beyond the Transcon Triangle of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. ... Alaska Airlines is returning to the Boise-Spokane route it dropped in 2010. Effective August 24, there will be daily service using 76-seat Q400 aircraft.

The Hilton Pipeline Keeps Gushing New Hotels
Say what you want about the convoluted and endlessly devalued Hilton HHonors program, but it sure isn't slowing the growth of the chains under the Hilton umbrella. Now with about 4,500 hotels and 750,000 rooms worldwide, the Hilton development pipeline accounts for about 18 percent of the industry's total growth. That's a long-winded (if fact-filled) way of saying there are a lot of new Hilton properties to cover this week. There are new Home2 Suites properties near Washington's Bellingham Airport (105 rooms) and the Austin suburb of Round Rock (91 rooms). Hampton Inn has added branches in Hibbing, Minnesota (78 rooms); on Lenior Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida (100 rooms); in Broussard, Louisiana (80 rooms), and on Sam Houston Parkway near Houston/Intercontinental Airport (82 rooms). Hampton has also opened a 100-room outpost in Yopal, Colombia. Hilton Garden Inn has new hotels near the Wolfchase Galleria mall in Memphis (124 rooms) and two blocks from the King Street Metro Station in Alexandria, Virginia (109 rooms). Finally (at least for this week), there's a 105-room Homewood Suites in Houma, Louisiana.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
California travelers take note: The apparently endless drought in the West means new water regulations that will affect residents and visitors. Restaurants and bars will only serve water on request and hotels must proactively offer guests the option of not having towels and linens laundered daily. ... Aeroplan now offers awards for the premium-economy section of Air Canada flights. ... Five new lounges at Chinese airports are now available to Priority Pass cardholders. ... Delta says SkyMiles members can now book awards on Aeroflot and Vietnam Airways online. How much do the awards cost? Who knows now that Delta has pulled the award charts and you must rely on the oft-broken award calendar. ... American Airlines has ended duty-free sales on international flights. Delta Air Lines did the same last year. ... Copa Airlines of Panama, a big player in Central America, has launched its own frequent flyer plan called ConnectMiles. Full details are here.

And This Surprises You Because...
Spirit Airlines has made its debut in the Transportation Department's monthly
Air Travel Consumer Report and the results are about what you should have expected. Spirit had the second-highest rate of customer complaints per 100,000 passengers and was third from the bottom in on-time performance. Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines, now owned by the former money man behind Spirit, continues its march to the bottom of the airline barrel. As The Denver Post reports, the airline's switch to outsourced employees at its Denver hub and a cheaper passenger reservations system nationwide have caused chaos and outrage. Not that your options with the traditional airlines are guaranteed to be much better, of course, but you fly these twin terrors of terrible service at your own risk.

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.