The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for July 9-July 23, 2015
The briefing in brief: United really, really sucks ... but you knew that. American dumping first class on two of three New York-London flights. New options in the sun for hotel-points players. Air Canada will fly to Brisbane. Why you don't see many bank ATMs at airports. And more ...

Stop Me If You've Heard This: United Airlines Really, Really Sucks
The United Airlines computer meltdown on Wednesday morning (July 8)--the carrier blamed a router--is its second digital calamity in just five weeks. For the day, only 27 percent of United's mainline flights operated on-time, according to, and nearly 60 percent of its flights ran at least 45 minutes late. Today, citing "lingering issues" in an internal message, United has cancelled 24 flights and delayed at least 500 more. Worse, the review of monthly operations for June was released today and shows how poorly United is running globally. At 70.8 percent on-time, United's network finished 44th out of 50 carriers, surpassing only third-world operators such as Pakistan International and Air India, chronically off-schedule Air China and China Eastern, El Al and Turkish Airlines. If you limit the competition to North America, United's mainline ops were just 68.9 percent on-time in June, placing it 11th out of 13 and better only than tourist-trap carriers Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air. But this shouldn't surprise you. We warned two weeks ago that United flyers faced a "summer of hell." We explained why three years ago.

Shuffles Under the Sun for Your Hotel Points
If you use your hotel points for holidays in sunny climes, pay attention to a few new destinations and one important subtraction. On the upside, Marriott Rewards members now have access to a 144-room Courtyard property in Laie, Hawaii. That's on Oahu, nearer to the more bucolic North Shore than bustling Waikiki and close to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It's a Category 7 redemption. On the negative side, however, the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Phoenix is closing later this month. But it won't leave the Marriott Rewards network. When it reopens after a renovation next year, it'll be called The Camby and be a part of Marriot's Autograph Collection. Meanwhile, Hilton HHonors players once again have access to the Hilton Los Cabos, the 375-room seafront resort closed since a hurricane last year. The Mexican property will add 65 Club-level suites next month in the final phase of the restoration. It's a Category 8 redemption.
    American Express Membership Rewards will devalue transfers to British Airways and Iberia. Effective October 1, five Membership Miles points will yield four British Airways or Iberia points. The old transfer ratio was 1:1.

Air Canada Will Fly to Brisbane, Australia, Next Year
Air Canada says it'll add another Australian dot to its route map next year when it begins flights between Vancouver and Brisbane. Service is scheduled to launch June 17 using Boeing 787-8s configured with 20 lie-flat beds, 21 premium-economy seats and 210 coach chairs.
    American Airlines is dropping first-class on two of its three roundtrips between New York/Kennedy and London/Heathrow. The airline will switch to Boeing 777-200s on December 17 from the longer-range 777-300ERs currently in use. Those 777-200s have American's latest business-class product, but no first class. The sole remaining AA flights using 777-300ERs with first class will be AA100 (eastbound) and AA107 (westbound). The 777-300ERs moved off the other London runs will be used to launch American's new Los Angeles-Sydney flights.
    OpenSkies, the British Airways subsidiary that flies between New York and Paris, has finally opened its own lounge at Orly Airport. The so-called 212 Lounge is located past security in the West Terminal.
    Norwegian, the Oslo-based low-fare/high-fee carrier, is adding several international flights from Boston. On December 3, it'll fly twice-weekly to the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. In May, it'll add flights between Logan and London/Gatwick. Norwegian uses Boeing 787 Dreamliners on its transatlantic routes and will run the Caribbean flights with 186-seat Boeing 737-800s.

Looking for a Bank ATM at the Airport? Here's Why You'll Find Fewer
A few months ago we discussed the disturbing trend of high-fee currency-exchange firms displacing banks as airport ATM providers. Now some of the economics have come to light thanks to lease discussions between Minneapolis-St. Paul and US Bank, the major ATM presence at the airport. The bank says it has lost $2.5 million in five years on the 17 ATMs it operates at MSP. According to a story by my colleagues at, the bank pays the airport an annual minimum of $636,000 plus half of the $3-a-pop fee that travelers pay for a withdrawal. US Bank paid $836,000 to the airport last year but generated only $200,000 in fee revenue. And the trendlines are all negative from the bank's perspective. As travelers use more credit and debit cards, airport ATM transactions declined 15 percent in 2015 compared to 2010. Usage is expected to drop as much as 5 percent annually in the years ahead. US Bank says it wants to remain at the airport, but at sharply reduced prices. MSP authorities put the airport ATM contract out to bid last fall, but no other bank has expressed interest.
    Cincinnati airport has a new food option: a 1,500-square-foot branch of the Smashburger chain opened this week on Concourse A. It has an abridged lunch and dinner menu, but offers breakfast items not available at non-airport Smashburger restaurants.
    St. Louis/Lambert now features three frozen custard dispensers from Ted Drewes, a popular local dessert shop. The specialty? "Concretes," a cup of custard frozen so hard that it can be served upside down. An 8-ounce concrete costs $6 and is available in six flavors.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Italy flyers take note: Italian air traffic controllers are set to strike on Tuesday (July 14) between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. And just to show you they are serious, controllers have also scheduled a second strike for September 22. Plan accordingly, something Italians are loathe to do.
    Donald Trump may be running up the poll numbers in his quixotic quest for the GOP Presidential nomination, but it's costing his hotel chain. Two star chefs who planned restaurants in the Trump Hotel being built in the Old Post Office Building in Washington have bailed on the project. Geoffrey Zakarian, best known for The Lambs Club in New York and his Food Network appearances, has dropped plans to open a brasserie in the Washington Hotel. And José Andrés, a famed Spanish chef who'd also committed to opening a Latin-themed restaurant in the hotel, also withdrew. Both men say Trump's comments about immigration offended them.
    Hampton Inn has opened its 10th hotel in Manhattan, this one in Times Square. You say Hampton already had a hotel in Times Square? Well, it fact, it had two. The newest property, a 300-room hotel, is called "Times Square Central." The others are called "Times Square North" and "Times Square South." Good luck explaining where you're headed to a New York cabbie or Uber driver.

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.