The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for Apr. 23-May 7, 2015
The briefing in brief: United remaking its fleet--and that is good news. Why chains keep opening limited-service hotels. Citi really wants you to take a credit card and earn ThankYou points. Delta will fly to Colombia from Atlanta. A luxury bus now links Dallas and Houston. And more...

United Is Remaking Its Fleet Again--and That's Good News
United Airlines has been an operational mess since long before its merger with Continental Airlines. But now, after years of morale-sapping equipment chaos, there is some good news. In short, United is beginning a wide-ranging "upgauge" on many routes. That's industry jargon for using larger aircraft. After years of narrowbodies on international runs and a plague of 50-seat RJs domestically, that's nothing short of miraculous. For starters, United has decided to keep and refurbish its fleet of widebody Boeing 767s. You'll fly them in place of the narrowbody Boeing 757s that United uses (and its predecessor Continental used) on flights from its Newark hub to Barcelona, Hamburg, Madrid and Berlin/Tegel. Those switches should be completed by October 25. Some international Boeing 777-200s and those Boeing 757s will be repurposed for domestic routes as well as flights to Hawaii and Latin America. Those planes will replace United's smaller Boeing 737s. United is also on track to retire about 150 of its smallest regional jets this year.

A Bazillion New Limited-Service Hotels Because ... Profit
Want to understand why the business-travel landscape is increasingly littered with limited-service hotels? Consider the obvious answer: profit. At Marriott, for example, "revPAR" (revenue for available room) of its limited-service chains grew 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 compared to just 6.7 percent for full-service properties. And even though the room count is skyrocketing, Marriott's limited-service occupancy rate grew 4.3 percent compared to less than one percent at its luxury brands. With that introduction, here's this week's seemingly endless list of new limited-service outposts. From the aforementioned Marriott, there are new Fairfield Inn branches in Pembroke Pines, Florida; Keene, New Hampshire and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. TownePlace Suites have opened in Billings, Montana; Florence, South Carolina, and Carlsbad, New Mexico. And a Courtyard has debuted in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Hilton has opened its usual tranche of Hampton Inn properties, including branches in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin; Marion, Arkansas; Poplar Bluff, Missouri; Orangeburg, South Carolina; and in the Aksarben area of Omaha. InterContinental has opened a Holiday Inn Express in Colonie, New York, near the Albany airport. A Hyatt Place has opened in The Vista district of Columbia, South Carolina. And Starwood has opened an Element hotel in Fargo, North Dakota.

Citibank Takes Another Stab at Reviving Its Points Program
As airlines and hotels become less reliable loyalty partners due to constant devaluations, credit card plans such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards become important buffers. The card plans allow you to stash points you've earned and move them into travel programs only when you need to claim an award. Now the segment's laggard, Citi ThankYou Rewards, is upping its game. Although it still doesn't have its primary airline partner, American AAdvantage, as a transfer option, you can move ThankYou points into a growing array of programs operated by international airlines. And Citi is currently pouring on the points in an attempt to convince you to carry one of their cards. You'll get 50,000 points for a relatively modest amount of spend if you take the Citi ThankYou Premier. The $95-a-year card also has two impressive perks: triple points for all travel charges, including gasoline purchases, and double points for dining and entertainment charges. And check your snail mail to see if you're being offered the extraordinary 100,000-point bonus for taking a Citi Prestige card. It's being positioned as competition to the Amex Platinum and Chase United Club Card. For its $450 annual fee, you receive access to American Admirals lounges as well as Priority Pass Select membership; a $250 annual airline credit; three free rounds of golf each year and the Premier card's points-earning structure.

Delta Launching Flights to Colombia From Its Atlanta Hub
Delta Air Lines will launch service to Medellin and Cartagena, Colombia, from its mega-hub at Atlanta. Daily flights to Medellin begin on December 19. Thrice-weekly Cartagena service begins the same day. Delta will use Boeing 737s on both routes. ... Speaking of Cartagena, InterContinental has opened a Holiday Inn Express in the city. The 200-room hotel is in the Bocagrande district. ... Hilton has opened two more Hampton Inn branches in Canada: a 95-room outpost in Bolton, Ontario, and a 100-room location in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Hilton's DoubleTree brand has opened a 226-room property in Santiago, Chile. Hilton has also opened a 167-room Hilton Garden Inn in Ufa, Russia. No, I don't know where that is, either, but apparently a million Russians live there. ... Meanwhile, Marriott has opened a 197-room hotel in Georgetown, Guyana, the impoverished South American nation best known for the 1978 Jonestown massacre when more than 900 people died. The hotel is not without controversy, either. The country's Parliament had rejected the deal, so the country's president, Donald Ramotar, unilaterally suspended the body and pushed through the development. It's the first internationally branded hotel in Georgetown, Guyana's capital.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Vonlane, the Texas operation that runs a luxury bus service between Dallas and Austin, is expanding to Houston. There are now two daily departures between the DoubleTree hotel across from Dallas/Love Field and the Sheraton hotel at Houston/InterContinental. Vonlane shuttles are outfitted with 16 leather seats, free WiFi and wireless printers. The 3.5-hour runs are usually priced at $100 each way, but the introductory rate is $69. ... Hyatt has opened its first Centric hotel, a brand that may or may not be for millennial travelers. (I can't tell from the blizzard of jargon and buzzwords.) What I can explain is that the 257-room hotel in Chicago's Loop District is housed in a 22-story Art Deco building at the corner of Clark and Monroe streets.

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.