The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for November 12-26, 2015
The briefing in brief: It will be less awkward to get to Auckland. Hyatt adds online options for award booking. The government sues to stop a slot transfer to United at Newark. New clubs at Sea-Tac and Orlando. Lufthansa's strikes throw lifeline to Air Berlin. And much more ...

It'll Be a Lot Less Awkward to Get to Auckland in the Months Ahead
Airlines are like lemmings: If one carrier does it, most follow suit. So it is with flights to Auckland, New Zealand's largest city. American Airlines announced this week that it'll launch flights from its Los Angeles hub starting in June. American's daily service is essentially a replacement for LAX-Auckland nonstops that its Oneworld Alliance and joint-venture partner Qantas dropped in 2012. American will use Dreamliners configured with 28 business class beds, 55 Main Cabin Extra seats and 143 coach chairs. American's announcement comes only a month after United Airlines said it would return to Auckland on July 1 with Dreamliner flights from its San Francisco hub. Those two routes are in addition to a new nonstop launching next month from United's Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand. On December 15, ANZ starts three weekly Boeing 777-200 flights from United's Houston/Intercontinental hub. And yes, all these new seats should cause transpacific fares to plummet. In fact, Air New Zealand is already selling coach seats on the Houston-Auckland run for as little as $1,398 roundtrip next May and June, the slack season at the end of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

Hyatt Makes Upgrades and Points + Cash Awards Easier to Book
The extremely valuable and quite liberal Hyatt Gold Passport program has always been hobbled by weak technology. It required you to call to claim points for room upgrades or cancel bookings or to make reservations with cost-cutting Points + Cash awards. But a systems upgrade means all of those functions can now be accomplished online. now displays room rates--and allows you to book--in cash, points or the points/cash combination. You can use the site to cash points to upgrade to Regency or Grand Club rooms from paid reservations. And one final (if not tech-oriented) upgrade: The chain has extended Guest of Honor privileges for Diamond members through December 30, 2016. That program permits top-level members to gift awards--and the perks that Diamond members themselves would receive.
      Starwood Preferred Guest players will soon have two new options in Las Vegas. The SLS Vegas, until last week aligned with Hilton's Curio soft brand, is defecting to Starwood. One of its three towers will become a 298-room W Hotel. The other two become part of Starwood's Tribute Portfolio soft brand. The W should be ready next year after a renovation and the other two towers will affiliate with Tribute next month.

The Feds Sue to Stop Slot Transfers to United at Newark
When United Airlines abandoned New York/Kennedy last month by moving its Transcon Triangle flights to its Newark hub, United and Delta Air Lines, a big JFK player, arranged a slot swap. Delta wanted the take-off and landing positions United was jettisoning at Kennedy and traded for them by giving United some of its Newark slots. The problem with that deal? While Delta only controls about 25 percent of the traffic at JFK, United and its commuter carriers control nearly 75 percent of the action at Newark. So the Justice Department this week announced it was suing to stop United's attempt to acquire those 24 Delta slots. The 21-page complaint filed in New Jersey federal court notes that United doesn't even use all of its existing Newark slots. In fact, the Justice Department claims, United already warehouses more slots (82) each day than any of its Newark competitors use. Meanwhile, Delta is already in possession of the former United slots at JFK and began using them on November 1.
      Seattle/Tacoma now has a second Alaska Airlines Board Room. It is located in the North Satellite and supplements Alaska's primary lounge in the Main terminal. Both lounges are open from 5 a.m. to midnight.
      Orlando has another third-party lounge. The Club, the rather prosaic name of the lounges operated by the folks who operate Priority Pass, has opened near Gate 91. The 8,000-square-foot lounge operates from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Lufthansa's Endless Strikes Throw a Lifeline to Air Berlin
With the possible exception of Alitalia and eternally hopeless Olympic of Greece, the mash-up that is Air Berlin has been the most consistent money loser in Western Europe. But now that Lufthansa demands we book only at its Web sites unless we want to pay an $18 penalty and needlessly provokes scheduling-crushing strikes, Air Berlin is looking like a good alternative. The Berlin-based carrier's reorganization efforts seem on track and this week it announced several new U.S. gateways. On May 6, it will resume four weekly nonstops from San Francisco to Dusseldorf. The next day, it'll add four weekly flights to Dusseldorf from both Boston/Logan and Dallas/Fort Worth. Air Berlin will also bump up frequencies on its existing LAX and New York/Kennedy runs to Dusseldorf. Air Berlin flies Airbus A330-200s configured with 19 business class seats and 40 premium economy seats as well as standard coach. Meanwhile, the Lufthansa cabin crew strike that began last Friday (November 6) continues unabated. The airline has been forced to cancel a total of about 4,700 flights through Friday (November 13) and there's no sign of a settlement. Lufthansa tried and failed to get a court injunction to stop the job action this week and the airline's schedule is now so unreliable that chief executive Carsten Spohr was seen flying Air Berlin between Berlin and Munich.

Starwood 'Adds' a New Brand by Aligning With Design Hotels
Starwood Hotels is desperate to grow its global footprint because, at about 1,250 properties, it's a fraction of the size of Hilton, Marriott, Intercontinental, Accor of France or budget chains such as Choice and Wyndham. Starwood's latest growth strategy? Align with the Design Hotels brand, a collection of 270 style-oriented independent properties. The first few Design Hotels properties will be bookable next week via and will earn SPG points. It's unclear whether all or just some of the Design properties eventually will join the Starwood reservation system or participate in Starwood Preferred Guest. A rather clumsy FAQ about the clumsy SPG-Design hookup is available here.
      Marriott has opened a 380-room Residence Inn in Chicago's 100-year old Roanoke Building at the corner of LaSalle and Madison streets. It has also opened a 332-room Courtyard hotel adjacent to the Shin-Osaka Bullet Train Station in Osaka, Japan.
      Hyatt has opened Hyatt Place properties in Lehi, Utah (131 rooms), and on Le Jeune Road about a mile from Miami Airport (135 room). There's already a Hyatt Place on Northwest 82nd Avenue near the airport.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The U.S. dollar is rising quickly again against the euro. The euro is now around $1.08 and some currency traders think it'll reach $1.05 soon. It touched that level earlier this year before rebounding against the dollar.
      Chase has jacked up the cost of cash advances and balance transfers on its credit cards, which include cards issued for United and Southwest airlines as well as Hyatt, Marriott and InterContinental hotels. Balance transfer fees were hiked 2 percent to 5 percent and cash advance interest rates rose more than 5 percent to 24.99 percent from 19.24 percent.

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.