The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for Apr. 30-May 14, 2015
The briefing in brief: New York remains the center of the business-travel universe. Alaska Airlines takes the battle of Seattle to Delta's backyard. The Ritz-Carlton Chicago converts to ... a Ritz-Carlton. New airport clubs from Virgin Atlantic, Aer Lingus and LATAM. And more...

A Gentle Reminder: New York Is the Center of Our Universe
Whenever someone says the travel world pays too much attention to New York, its (not great) airports and (too expensive) hotels, I have to remind that person of the facts. Like it or not, New York is where the money and the business travel is. The latest bit of evidence comes from a study of 2014 business-travel trends conducted by American Express. Its data shows that four of the five busiest domestic routes involve New York. LaGuardia-Chicago/O'Hare is first, followed by Boston/Logan-LaGuardia and Kennedy-San Francisco. The fourth spot belongs to DFW-O'Hare, but the fifth-busiest route is Atlanta-LaGuardia. Internationally, the top three routes touch New York. Kennedy-London/Heathrow is first, followed by Newark-Heathrow and LaGuardia-Toronto/Pearson. As for New York's uber-pricey lodging landscape, you can at least take heart that two more limited-service hotels have pitched their tents in the area. A 183-room Hilton Garden Inn opened this week in Long Island City in the borough of Queens. And Hyatt Place opened a 155-room branch smack in the middle of the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers, 16 miles from Columbus Circle, the putative center of Manhattan.

Alaska Airlines Takes the Battle for Seattle to Delta's Backyard
The battle between incumbent Alaska Airlines and interloper Delta Air Lines for control of Seattle-Tacoma airport is entering its fourth year and now Alaska Air is attacking Delta's backyard. Alaska announced this week that it will fly nonstop to three new cities: Nashville, Raleigh-Durham and Charleston, South Carolina. Nashville flights will be daily and launch September 23. The Raleigh-Durham flights begin October 1 and will also operate daily. The Charleston service premiers on November 16 and will run four days a week. Check this week's deal page for details on Alaska's introductory fare sale, which starts at $139 each way, a pretty good bargain for transcontinental flights. Delta doesn't serve any of those cities nonstop from Sea-Tac, but all three are in the Atlanta-based carrier's normal sphere of influence.

There Are Never Enough Good Airport Clubs, So More Are Always Better
This week's Seat 2B column concentrates on airport lounge access and doesn't touch on the relative quality of any particular club. But there's good news on that front, too. Virgin Atlantic this week opened a proprietary lounge at Los Angeles. Located in on the mezzanine level of Terminal 2, the 4,000-square-foot facility features food designed by buzzworthy LA restaurant Hinoki & the Bird. Meanwhile, Aer Lingus has opened its own lounge in Terminal 5 of New York/Kennedy Airport. Aer Lingus moved into T5, better known as the JetBlue terminal, in 2012 and has been using the public Airspace Lounge while its private club was being built. The Aer Lingus lounge is open to the carrier's business-class customers and Gold Circle members. And in South America, LATAM, the amalgam of LAN of Chile and TAM of Brazil, has opened a two-story lounge at LAN's Santiago hub. The 23,000-square-foot facility has 28 restrooms, 10 showers and a 180-foot long buffet area serviced by a 1,500-square-foot kitchen. ... Marriott has opened a 584-room JW Marriott just one kilometer from Mumbai Airport. ... Hilton has opened a 95-room Hampton Inn on Gibford Drive, the major access road to Ottawa Airport. It offers a free shuttle to the terminals.

SPG Points Now Gets You a Jekyll Island Freebie. Hyatt? Not So Much.
Starwood Preferred Guest players take note: You now have an option on Georgia's laid-back Jekyll Island. An oceanfront, 200-room Westin has opened close to the barrier island's convention center and next to the Beach Village development. A Hyatt Place hotel was due to open in front of the Westin, but that property will eventually be built with another (and as yet undetermined) brand. Of Jekyll Island's eight traditional lodging options, only four are tied to major brands. Besides the new Westin, there's a Hampton Inn (Hilton HHonors), a Holiday Inn (IHG Rewards Club) and a Days Inn (Wyndham Rewards). ... Speaking of Hilton HHonors, it has picked up another sun destination in the East (a 90-room Hampton Inn in downtown Vero Beach, Florida), but lost one out West. The Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort in California has shed the Hilton branding and become an independent property. ... Bad news for Club Carlson players: The only Radisson in Puerto Rico, the Ambassador Plaza in San Juan, has closed. ... Another intriguing option for Marriott Rewards members. The newly opened, 391-room Sortis Hotel in Panama City, Panama, has joined the Autograph Collection. ... The Alaska Airline Mileage Plan is offering 1,000 bonus miles to travelers who self-tag checked luggage. Complete details on how to print your own luggage tags and who qualifies for the bonus are here.

The Watergate Hasn't Reopened Yet, But Other Washington Hotels Have Arrived
The Watergate Hotel--yeah, that Watergate--closed seven years ago, but a $125 million renovation is nearly complete. The 338-room property begins taking reservations tomorrow (May 1) for a planned reopening this fall. (See the Web site here.) But that is hardly the only hotel news from in and around the nation's capital. Hyatt this week opened a 164-room Hyatt Place at 1522 K Street NW, just two blocks from the White House. It also opened a 300-room Hyatt Regency in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Marriott opened a 192-room AC Hotel at National Harbor, a mixed-use development on the Potomac River in Prince George's County, Maryland. And Hilton opened a 123-room Homewood Suites hotel in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and a 141-room Hilton Garden Inn in Woodbridge, Virginia. ... Speaking of Hilton Garden Inn, a spate of those properties has opened elsewhere around the country, including downtown Rochester, New York (106 rooms); Mount Pleasant, South Carolina (133 rooms); Bristol, Virginia (104 rooms), and Bettendorf, Iowa (115 rooms).

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
TAP Air Portugal flyers take note: The airline's pilots are scheduled to begin a 10-day strike tomorrow (May 1). A strike late last year basically grounded the airline and snarled traffic at its Lisbon hub. ... Here's the strangest hotel conversion you may ever encounter: The Ritz-Carlton Chicago is becoming, well, a Ritz-Carlton. Although the hotel, adjacent to Water Tower Place, has carried the Ritz name since its 1975 opening, the property is actually part of the Four Seasons chain. But Four Seasons, which operates a hotel across North Michigan Avenue, is giving up management of the 423-room Ritz on July 31. The next day, it becomes a traditional Ritz-Carlton, which means it'll also be part of the Marriott Rewards program.

Department of Nice Work If You Can Get It
You shouldn't look at knee-cracking coach seats, high fares and indifferent airline service as a purposeless misery. All of the penny-pinching is for a good cause: big raises for the chief executives of the Big Three. According to Associated Press calculations, Delta Air Lines chief executive Richard Anderson got a 22 percent raise last year and earned $17.6 million in total compensation. United Airlines chief executive Jeff Smisek gave himself a 39 percent raise and his total 2014 compensation came to 11.3 million. American chief executive Doug Parker earned $12.3 million last year and announced this week that his entire 2015 salary will be taken in company stock.

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.