The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for July 2-July 16, 2015
The briefing in brief: JetBlue adds its checked-bag fee and tries to sell you a rose garden. Delta adds more widebody aircraft to the Transcon Triangle. Virgin Australia's game of inches in premium economy. More Hiltons worldwide. Puerto Rico's big sales-tax hike. And much more ...

JetBlue Jacks Fares $15-$25 and Promises You a Rose Garden
Seven months after appeasing mad-dog security analysts by promising to add a first-bag fee, JetBlue Airways officially dropped the hammer on Tuesday (June 30). When you purchase its lowest-priced tickets (now called Blue Fares), the first checked bag will cost $20 if you pay during Web check-in or at an airport kiosk or $25 at an airport check-in counter. The bag fee is part of a wider restructuring of coach fares. The Blue category also carries $70-$135 change fees and a $50 charge for same-day changes. Blue Plus fares, generally speaking, cost at least $15 more and include a free checked bag and slightly lower change fees. Blue Flex fares cost at least $85 more, are refundable and include two free checked bags. (Several JoeSentMe members say the fare spread is substantially higher for year-end holiday travel dates they've checked.) To try to camouflage this week's blowback from its long-term decision to cheapen its product with bag fees and less legroom, JetBlue timed a positive announcement for Wednesday (July 1). That's when it officially opened the T5 Rooftop, a 4,000-square-foot open-air garden and lounge space atop Terminal 5 at New York's Kennedy Airport. The post-security space is open to all passengers and features seating for 50, free WiFi, food kiosks and carts, a dedicated children's area and a 400-foot dog-walk area.

Now Delta Ups Its Game in the Transcon Triangle
Dominos continue to fall as a result of United Airlines' decision last month to move Transcon Triangle flights to its Newark hub from New York/Kennedy. You'll recall that last week JetBlue announced it would add its transcon-only Mint service on Boston/Logan nonstops to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now Delta Air Lines is making its moves. Beginning in November, it is going to ten daily flights on the JFK-LAX route and four will be flown with widebody Boeing 767s. It'll also put 767s on three of its daily JFK-San Francisco flights. Most existing Delta transcon flights are operated with narrowbody Boeing 757s. Delta is also promising a new Sky Club will open next month in San Francisco.
    Los Angeles flyers take note: One of the airport's four runways closed on Monday (June 29) and isn't scheduled to reopen until October 19. Prepare for delays because airlines pay no attention to physical realities.
    London/Heathrow on Monday (June 29) shut Terminal 1. The 47-year-old building housed some British Airways flights to Europe and the Middle East. The Europe flights relocated to Terminal 3 and the flights to Amman, Beirut and Cairo moved to Terminal 5, good news for travelers connecting on BA from the United States.

Virgin Australia Plays a Game of Inches on Premium-Economy Service
Virgin Australia is playing a game of inches with its new premium-economy service. Effective in November, it'll increase legroom to 41 inches, allowing it to claim more space than Qantas and giving it three more inches than competing premium-economy offerings from Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa as well as the soon-to-be-launched cabin at Singapore Airlines. Virgin Australia also says premium economy on its Boeing 777 fleet will offer a plated meal service and self-service snacks and beverages. There'll also be dedicated check-in, priority boarding, amenity kits and higher checked-luggage allowance. Also worth noting: the cabin size will be reduced to 24 seats from its current 40. Seat configuration remains 2x4x2, however.
    Qatar Airways is dropping its all-business-class flights between London/Heathrow and its Doha hub. The deletion, effective October 24, is another blow to the all-business-class concept. As we discussed in April, all-business-class is a great idea for us, not so profitable for airlines.
    United Airlines says it'll pay $100 million for a five percent stake in Azul, the Brazilian carrier launched by JetBlue founder David Neeleman. Azul last month fronted a successful offer to buy a controlling interest in TAP, Portugal's troubled flag carrier. TAP is partners with United in the Star Alliance, so assume Azul will join Star eventually.
    Air Canada says it'll add new transatlantic flights next year. Effective June 16, it'll fly up to five times weekly between its Montreal hub and Lyon, France, using Airbus A330s configured with 37 business-class and 228 coach seats. The airline's "rouge" division will add daily seasonal flights between Toronto and London/Gatwick beginning May 18 and use Boeing 767-300ERs configured with 24 premium-economy seats and 256 coach chairs.

Everywhere You Turn (or Fly), Another Hilton Has Opened
The massive expansion of the major chains worldwide has been a story we've tracked for the last few years. But no company is expanding faster and more relentlessly than Hilton, which has found willing developers to build out many of its brands, especially the limited-service Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn chains. As evidence I give you this week's newbies from Hampton: a 74-room property in Cortez, Colorado; an 80-key branch in Kennewick, Washington; a 102-unit hotel in Fort Mill, South Carolina; and an 86-room outpost in Shelby, North Carolina. From Hilton Garden Inn, you'll find new branches near the University of Rochester in New York (136 rooms); in downtown Seattle (222 rooms); in Dandong, China, on the Yalu River across from North Korea (202 rooms), and in Malaga, Spain (155 rooms).
    Marriott has opened a 95-room TownePlace Suites on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign and a 121-room branch in Portland, Texas. It has also opened a dual-branded operation five miles from Raleigh-Durham Airport. The property houses a 128-room Courtyard and a 128-room Residence Inn.
    Hyatt has opened another hotel in its hometown of Chicago. The 206-room Hyatt Place is at 28 Franklin Street in The Loop. Hyatt has also opened a 294-room Hyatt Regency in Naha on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Puerto Rico travelers take note: The sales tax jumped by 4.5 percent this week to 11.5 percent on goods and services. The big hike is part of the commonwealth's desperate efforts to deal with its looming financial crisis.
    Global Entry eventually will expand to Brazil, according to comments made at a Washington press conference this week conducted by President Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. That means U.S. travelers flying into Brazil would be able to bypass the country's onerous entry procedures. (In fairness, Brazil's requirements are a quid pro quo response to U.S. measures imposed on Brazilian travelers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.) Stay tuned.
    San Francisco is the priciest hotel town in the world, according to a study conducted by Bloomberg News. Some observers dispute the findings because one of Bloomberg's reservation periods overlaps with the 2016 Super Bowl, which will be held in Santa Clara. But that hiccup aside, the general thrust--that San Francisco hotel prices are outlandish--merely confirms a column Chris Barnett wrote in February.

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.