The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for July 16-July 30, 2015
The briefing in brief: Hainan Airlines announces a new nonstop route into China. Delta screws SkyMiles flyers again. Helsinki/Vantaa gets a direct-rail connection to downtown. California hotels switch brands. BA's parent company closes in on Aer Lingus. And much more ...

Finally, Another City Added to the China Route Map
The rapid rise of Chinese business travel hasn't been accompanied by an expansion of nonstop service between the United States and China. The vast majority of U.S.-China operations are centered on Beijing and Shanghai and a few flights to Guangzhou. United Airlines and China Eastern now also serve Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. That's an appallingly weak roster for nonstops between the world's two largest economies. But here's some good news: If all goes according to plan, privately owned Hainan Airlines this fall expects to launch a nonstop between Los Angeles and Changsha, capital of Hunan Province. "We look for the niche markets," says Joel Chusid, Hainan's executive director of North America. Of course, that's stretching the definition of niche since Changsha has a population of seven million and is home to a hub of China Southern Airlines. Nevertheless, Hainan service will launch with two weekly flights using Boeing 787 Dreamliners configured with coach and business class. "You normally never fly a business market only twice a week," explains Chusid. "But in a pioneering situation, travelers adjust their schedule a day or so either way to take advantage of the nonstop flight." Hainan Airlines might not be a familiar name to many U.S. business flyers, but its in-flight service is highly rated and the carrier already operates nonstops to Beijing and Shanghai from Boston, Chicago, Seattle and San Jose.

Delta Changing SkyMiles Again--And You Get Screwed. Again.
Delta Air Lines unveiled another round of changes to SkyMiles and, guess what, you get screwed again. For starters, it finally confirmed that its lowest-priced awards now require a 21-day advance reservation. (Delta's sop? A few routes now offer one-way awards at a 7,500-mile level.) And without advance notice (as usual) Delta says award prices for travel after next May are no longer predictable since they change "based on destination, demand and other dynamics." In other words, Delta will jack up award prices whenever it thinks it can get away with it and, since they made the award charts disappear earlier this year, you have no recourse. SkyMiles upgrade awards are also being raised in price. (Check this FlyerTalk thread for what appears to be the latest pricing.) Even its one minor improvement--Platinum and Diamond elites will be able to use regional upgrade certificates for transcontinental flights--is more mirage than reality. Why? During its second-quarter earnings call, Delta executives boasted that they have fewer seats available than ever for upgrades. The airline has raised paid domestic premium-class load factor to 57 percent, an 8 percent year-on-year increase. And it currently hopes to get load factors up to 70 percent. That leaves precious few seats for the complimentary upgrades you earn with your loyalty, which seems more misplaced than ever.
    Starwood Preferred Guest players have a few more Luxury Collection hotels in prime locations. In Prague, the 100-room Augustine is now open as a Category 5 property. In Portopiccolo on Italy's Adriatic Coast, the 65-room Falisia Resort is due to open Saturday (July 18) as a Category 5 redemption. In the Turkish resort community of Bodrum, the 84-room Caresse opens July 24 as a Category 7 property. And in Bratislava, Slovakia, the 231-room, 5-star Kempinski River Park goes independent and joins the Luxury Collection as a property called the Grand Hotel. No pricing has been set.

Intermodal City-Airport Transit Gets a Boost in Denver and Helsinki
It's a simple idea, really. Use trains to connect city centers to airports. But simplicity sometimes eludes urban planners, politicians and all sorts of other "stakeholders." Still, we are making progress. In Helsinki, the city's Ring Rail Line now stops at Vantaa airport. Well, sort of. Since the station directly at the main terminal won't open until the fall, a shuttle bus runs to the railroad's Tietotie entrance. Complete details are here. In Denver, testing is now underway on the rail link between Union Station and Denver International. The service, designated RTD Line A, has eight stops and is due to open to passengers early next year. The 23-mile line will take travelers from Union Station to DIA in about 40 minutes and cost $9 each way. The latest details are here.
    New York/LaGuardia gets several more American Airlines routes this year. Effective November 5, there'll be daily flights to Akron/Canton and Memphis. On December 17, American will add flights to Jacksonville, Florida. All routes will operate with regional jets.
    Toronto/Pearson has a new dining option. Canadian celebrity chef Lynn Crawford has opened The Hearth in Terminal 1. She's promising locally sourced cuisine similar to Ruby Watchco, her restaurant in Toronto's Riverside neighborhood.
    Honolulu has a new lounge. Hawaiian Airlines has opened the Plumeria Lounge on the third floor of the Interisland Terminal. The club is a perk for business-class travelers booked on Hawaiian's international flights. Others can access the lounge for $40 a visit.

Are You Dreaming About California Hotel Conversions?
Okay, so, the Mamas & the Papas reference is a stretch. But there have been some notable hotel conversions in California this week. In the heart of the Silicon Valley, Starwood has taken over the 171-room St. Claire and renamed it the Westin San Jose. Down in Beverly Hills, a 260-room former Crowne Plaza received a modest renovation and reopened as the Beverly Hills Marriott. In the Inland Empire, Hilton has shifted its 251-room eponymous property in San Bernardino to the DoubleTree brand. And there is some new construction to report as well. A 170-room SpringHill Suites has opened near beautiful downtown Burbank. It's three miles from Burbank/Bob Hope Airport.
    Autograph Collection, Marriott's "soft brand" of independent properties, has added a hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland. The 30-room boutique property is called--wait for it--The Hotel. Honest, the hotel is called The Hotel.
    Hyatt has scored one of the nicest properties in China, the 330-room PuYu Hotel and Spa. The hotel in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, has been assigned to the Hyatt Regency brand.
    InterContinental has opened a 127-room Holiday Inn in Chandigarh, Punjab, India.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The parent company of British Airways and Iberia is almost at the finish line in its attempt to purchase Aer Lingus. The European Commission and the U.S. government approved the $1.4 billion deal this week. Ryanair, which owns 30 percent of Aer Lingus, and the Irish government, which is a 25 percent stakeholder, have already agreed. Expect the deal to close in the next few weeks.
    Delta Air Lines has reduced the free checked-bag allowance for first-class travelers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Travelers are now permitted to check two bags up to 70 pounds each. Elite SkyMiles members flying first continue to have a three-bag allowance.
    Dubai is the fastest-growing airport in the world, according to statistics released this week by OAG. It's expected to host 29.7 million flyers this summer compared to 24.8 million last year. Number 5 on the list is Seattle-Tacoma, where Delta and Alaska Airlines are battling for supremacy.

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.