The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for April 16-30, 2015
The briefing in brief: United ditches Priority Pass; Air New Zealand will fly to Houston; Delta cutting international flights; Southwest's phony new "wide" seats; United restores free booze to international coach flights; dicks and butts and travel scandals, oh my! And much more...

Mother of Mercy, Is This the End of Priority Pass?
Didn't mean to go all Edward G. Robinson on you, but it is a big deal that Priority Pass is losing the United Club network of 49 clubs. United, which exits on May 15, is the last of the big U.S. carriers in the Priority Pass system. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines also have pulled their clubs from Priority Pass. The reason in all three cases? The big U.S. carriers have sold exclusive rights to market club access to their credit card partners. Only Alaska Airlines Board Room lounges continue to be accessible using Priority Pass. Does that mean you should junk your Priority Pass membership, which costs $399 a year for unlimited lounge access? If you have the paid version, I'd say yes. Get an American Express Platinum card instead. For essentially the same price ($450 a year), Amex Platinum includes Priority Pass Select, the version specifically crafted to exclude United clubs. Amex Platinum also gives you access to Delta SkyClubs and its own growing network of Centurion Lounges. That's about 700 clubs worldwide. What if you need access to the United and/or American clubs? Three options: a) join the networks separately; b) get the appropriate credit card that offers the airline network you need; or c) pay the $50-a-visit fee if you only need those clubs occasionally. Of course, there's always the big-bang play: Spend $1,300 a year for the Amex Platinum, the Chase United MileagePlus Club card ($395) and the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card ($450).

Delta Cutting Flights Where Those 'Unfair' Gulf Carriers Compete
Delta Air Lines this week reported record first-quarter profits of nearly $600 million and promptly announced it would cut international capacity by 3 percent this winter. Among the chops: Moscow, which the airline will drop from the route map during the winter months. Also getting trimmed: about 20 percent of Delta's capacity to Japan and from its fast-shrinking Tokyo/Narita hub to other Asian cities. Delta won't end any routes, but will eliminate some flight frequencies and replace Boeing 747s with smaller aircraft. Most interesting is Delta's decision to reduct service by as much as 20 percent to the Middle East and Africa. That's where it competes directly with the Gulf Carriers, which Delta claims are being unfairly subsidized by their home countries. Delta doesn't want to fly to these places, but it doesn't want us flying the supposedly unfair competitors, either. So what are we supposed to do? Stay home? No answer from Delta executives, who are too busy counting their record profits to explain our options. ... Air New Zealand says it will fly five days a week between its home base in Auckland and Houston/InterContinental. Why Houston? That's a United Airlines hub and ANZ and United are partners in the Star Alliance. Air New Zealand says it'll use Boeing 777-200s on the route. Flights begin in December. ... A 210-room Hyatt Regency has opened in Ahmedabad, capital of Gujarat state in India. ... United Airlines says it will resume serving complimentary beer and wine in coach on international flights. The change is effective June 1, when the airline also promises upgraded meal service. But don't expect much. One of the new entree choices United is touting is turkey meatloaf in barbecue sauce with a side of mashed sweet potatoes. Because 50 shades of brown always looks so inviting on a tray...

InterContinental Overhauls Its Loyalty Program Again
InterContinental Hotels continues to fiddle with IHG Rewards Club, which is still unsettled and little-known after its name change from Priority Club Rewards. The big news is that there'll be a new top elite level beginning July 1. The still-unnamed level will require 75 nights of stays annually. Although all of the perks haven't been released, top-level elites will receive 100 percent bonuses on stays and can upgrade a friend or family member to Platinum level. Thresholds for other levels have also changed: Gold requires 10 nights and Platinum requires 40 nights. But there are negatives, too. Effective May, 2016, points will expire if your account has no activity for 12 months. The chain is also quietly repricing awards at about 450 hotels. Three hundred properties will increase in price while only 150 will decrease. ... Starwood Preferred Guest has added two properties that may be interesting award destinations. The newly opened, 39-room Suiran in Kyoto has joined the Luxury Collection. It's a Category 6 redemption. And Four Points is the new name on the 129-room hotel on Palos Verdes Street in Las Vegas. It was most recently known as a Baymont Suites and was originally the Blackstone Hotel. It's a Category 2 redemption. ... Curio, the "soft" brand for independent properties from Hilton, is picking up three properties that may be intriguing redemptions via Hilton HHonors. The Jewel Paradise and Jewel Dunn's River resorts in Jamaica will join Curio later this year. The Astor Hotel in Paris' 8th arrondissement lines up with Curio next year.

Southwest Promises the Widest Coach Seat. Just Watch Your Elbows.
At a trade show in Hamburg this week, airline seatmakers unveiled a wide range of new horrors they are prepared to sell to carriers intent on taking away even more of our personal space in coach. The best (worst) in show? An 11-across layout for the Airbus A380 that would squash flyers into a 3-5-3 configuration. In contrast, Southwest Airlines unveiled a new seat that it claims will be the widest in the next generation of Boeing 737s. Southwest claims the seats are 17.8 inches wide, which would be nearly three-quarters of an inch wider than other seats on 737s. But here's the scam. Traditionally, seat width is measured "between the armrests." So guess what Southwest did? It shrunk the size of the armrests so that the seat would come up with a wider width. On top of that, while the seats do seem better than the much-derided Evolve seat Southwest began using several years ago, they are of the slim-line variety. That means less padding and cushioning. And there will be no power ports or USB ports, either. A saving grace? Southwest says the new seats, which will be installed in planes delivered starting late next year, will have 32 inches of legroom. You can see the chair displayed here.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Starwood Hotels is adding another "soft brand," one of those made-up chains that act as a catch-all for independent properties. Starwood already has Luxury Collection, of course, but it is also adding a line called Tribute Portfolio for slightly less-exotic independent hotels. The first, and so far only, hotel is the Royal Palm in Miami Beach. ... Attention Charlotte travelers: Car-rental agencies have moved across the street from the arrivals area into the hourly parking area. That means no more shuttle buses to your rental car. ... India travelers take note: You can now receive a visitor visa that will be valid for as long as 10 years. But, of course, since this is India, there is no clear path to the longer visas. Everything is at the discretion of the bureaucracy.

Dicks and Butts and Scandals, Oh My!
Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is in what he calls a "personal and private" relationship with a woman who is a top lobbyist for Airlines for America, the heinous trade group that was once known as the Air Transport Association. As uncovered by Politco, Shuster has been dating the woman, Shelley Rubino, for almost a year. Shuster has been in the back pocket of the airlines for years, so moving a few inches down some lobbyist's butt is no real surprise. Especially since his father, Bud Shuster, a former chairman of the Transportation Committee, was also in the back pocket of the airlines and resigned when called on his ethical lapses. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has fired two screeners in Denver. Their offense? When the male screener saw an attractive male flyer he wanted to grope, he signaled the other screener to fiddle with the body scanner to create an anomaly. That allowed the first screener to do a pat-down of the unsuspecting flyer. Complete details of the scam and the TSA's slow response are here.

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.