The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for June 11-25, 2015
The briefing in brief: American tries flying to Australia for the third time. New hotels worthy of your points. Delta opens private check-in and lounge at LAX. A shake-up at the top of Philadelphia's lodging scene. Marriott adding Netflix to in-room hotels. And much more ...

American Hopes Third Time's the Charm for Australia Flights
American Airlines returns to Australia on December 17 when it launches nonstop service between its smallish Los Angeles hub and Sydney. American will use Boeing 777-300ERs configured with eight first-class beds, 52 beds in business class, 30 Main Cabin Extra seats and 220 coach chairs. The service, which will eventually run six days a week, replaces one LAX-Sydney flight currently operated by Qantas, American's Oneworld Alliance partner. This is American's third crack at flights Down Under. It ran some Australia service in the 1970s and tried again in 1990 with a Dallas/Fort Worth-Honolulu-Auckland-Sydney flight. That run lasted only two years. Meanwhile, Qantas is taking the Boeing 747-400s freed up by turning an LAX flight over to American and returning to San Francisco. Qantas ended SFO service in 2011 in order to launch flights to Sydney from American's Dallas-Fort Worth hub. Qantas says it'll eventually fly six days a week on the restored SFO-Sydney run, which begins again on December 20.

New Hotels Worldwide Worthy of Cashing Your Points
Looking for new places to cash your hotel points? Here are some intriguing new options.
    Hyatt Gold Passport members have a new Florida option: the 105-room Hyatt Centric in Miami Beach. The former apartment building at 1600 Collins Avenue is a Category 6 redemption.
    Starwood Preferred Guest has a property in Lake Como, Italy, now that Sheraton converted the Grand Hotel Como. The 116-room property is a Category 4 redemption.
    Hilton HHonors will have a property in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii when DoubleTree converts the 388-room Naniloa Hotel. It'll undergo a much-needed renovation--the $18.5 million price tag seems low--before joining the Hilton system in December.
    Marriott Rewards becomes the frequency program of Delta Hotels on June 18. Marriott purchased Delta earlier this year and is phasing out the existing Delta Privilege program.

Delta Opens a Private Check-In Lounge (With a Secret) at LAX
Delta Air Lines has put the finishing touches on Terminal 5 at Los Angeles and the public star of the $229 million refresh is a private check-in service and lounge for Delta One customers. There's a dedicated curbside entrance, a segregated check-in desk and a lounge hidden behind frosted glass. The lounge has its own dedicated security checkpoint. Who gets to use the Delta One operation? According to the airline, business-class passengers to New York/Kennedy; first- and business-class international flyers on SkyTeam flights and business-class customers on longer Delta international flights. But, wait, there's more. A $350-a-pop service called VIP Select will meet passengers on the tarmac at LAX and drive them from their arriving flight through a secret gate to an unmarked airport exit somewhere on Century Boulevard. The service is obviously aimed at Hollywood types looking to duck paparazzi when they return to Los Angeles.

A Shakeout at the Top of Philadelphia's Lodging Scene
If you check TripAdvisor's ranking for Philadelphia hotels, you might be surprised that the city's two big-name luxury properties, the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton, aren't even ranked among the top hotels in town. Which may explain why the 32-year-old Four Seasons on Logan Square closed its doors this week. And why the 15-year-old Ritz, located in a former bank, is getting a top-to-bottom renovation starting this fall. The former Four Seasons is getting a makeover and is due to reopen in November as The Logan, an independent property aligned with the Curio by Hilton soft brand. Four Seasons won't return to the Philadelphia market until at least 2018 when it is scheduled to occupy the top floors of Comcast Center, a 59-story tower currently under construction.
    Marriott has opened a 116-room SpringHill Suites in Kennewick, Washington; a 110-room Courtyard in Canfield, Ohio, and a 100-room Residence Inn in Dublin, Ohio.
    Starwood has opened a 128-room Four Points in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, and a 292-room Sheraton in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro.
    Hilton has opened a 214-room Hilton Garden Inn near the convention center in downtown Nashville; a 116-room Homewood Suites in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, and a 346-room Hilton on Fuxian Lake in Yunnan Province, China.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
    United Airlines is raising the price of membership in the United Club network. On August 18, annual fees rise to $550 for general customers. The complete price list is here.
    Marriott says that six hotels now offer direct access to Netflix from the in-room television system. Marriott is promising 100 Marriott-branded properties will have on-screen Netflix access by the end of the year.
    TAP Air Portugal is being sold by the Portuguese government to a consortium led by David Neeleman. If that name sounds familiar, Neeleman founded JetBlue Airways and currently runs Azul, the Brazilian airline he launched after being ousted from JetBlue.
    U.S. airlines paid $1.94 a gallon for jet fuel in April, down $1.02 compared to April, 2014. The energy savings have dropped right to the airlines' bottom lines since fares have not come down as oil prices fell.

And Now for Something Completely Different...
A dispatch from Chris Barnett, our San Francisco-based columnist. "So I'm gloating that I scored an aisle seat with an empty middle seat on an otherwise packed United Airlines flight to Houston when the captain takes to the loudspeaker 10 minutes past our departure time. 'I'm afraid we have a delay,' he says. 'United's main computer at headquarters is down. All United flights on the ground are being held. Unfortunately, we have no idea when the problem will be resolved.' In the past, United's flight crews have been tightlipped on delays. Not this time. A flight attendant named Frank Dean kept us continually updated and was genuinely apologetic for inconveniencing a planeload of people, most of whom were connecting at Houston. Once we were in the air, Dean worked the aisle, informed every connecting passenger of the flight's ETA and the gate number of their connecting flight. I haven't experienced that level of customer service on a United flight for a long, long time."

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.