The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for December 10-24, 2015
The briefing in brief: Accor will gobble up the Fairmont chain. American will launch an international premium economy cabin. SPG loses two key hotels and picks up two ski-area properties. United says, "Let them eat stroopwafel!" Gogo introduces cheap in-flight messaging. And more ...

Accor Bulks Up in North America by Gobbling Up Fairmont
The lodging industry equivalent of the "How big is your dick?" game continues apace. Less than a month after Marriott announced it was buying Starwood to create a 5,500-hotel behemoth, France's Accor Hotels said this week it would pay $2.9 billion in cash and stock to gobble up Fairmont Hotels. Accor has 3,800 properties worldwide, but is nearly invisible in North America and weak at the luxury end of the market. The Fairmont acquisition helps with both problems. The Fairmont group is a mash-up of three higher-end chains: Swissotels, created by Nestle and the defunct Swissair; Raffles, originally of Singapore, but with properties around Asia and the Middle East; and Fairmont itself, which manages icons such as The Savoy in London and the Plaza in New York. Fairmont also brings about four dozen upscale hotels in Canada, the United States and Mexico since it operates a slew of properties once aligned with the old Canadian Pacific, Fairmont and Princess Resorts chains. Accor is buying Fairmont, with about 115 hotels open or under development, from FRHI Holdings, itself a mash-up of Qatari and Saudi Arabian royal interests and the real estate arm of a Canadian provincial government pension fund. Confused yet? Wait until the deal closes later next year and the pedestrian frequent-stay program of Accor (LeClub) gobbles up the Fairmont Presidents Club, which is chock full of upmarket goodies.

American Airlines Will Introduce an International Premium Economy Class
American Airlines downgraded its Main Cabin Extra two months ago by installing an extra seat in each row. But now there's some good news. American will become the first U.S. carrier to offer a full-fledged international premium economy. Beginning late next year, the airline says that premium economy buyers will receive 38 inches of legroom, larger video monitors, noise-reducing headphones and at-seat AC power and USB ports. Premium economy fares will include two free checked bags and priority boarding. American is also promising premium economy flyers will receive upgraded meal options and an amenity kit. The premium economy on American's Boeing 787 Dreamliners will be configured with three rows of seats laid out in a 2x3x2 pattern. American says premium economy will also be added to its Boeing 777s, Airbus A330s and the upcoming Airbus A350s. Although the rollout will begin late next year, it'll be three years before the entire international fleet will get the product. Americans 767s won't be retrofitted because they'll be retired and the airline made no comment about the aging Boeing 757s it flies on many international routes. American's promotional Web site for the new cabin is here.

SPG Loses Two Key Redemption Hotels, Gains Two Marginal Ski Properties
Starwood Preferred Guest may not be long for this world, so every small change in product alignment may impact how you burn your points before they disappear into the maw of Marriott Rewards. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you were hording SPG points for stays in Madrid or Orlando, your life just got trickier. In the Spanish capital, the Sheraton chain has lost its Mirasierra Resort. (It's now trading as a Eurostars.) That leaves you with just one SPG option, the Category 5 Westin Madrid Palace. Also gone is the Westin Orlando Universal Boulevard. That becomes a Hilton time-share property at the end of the month. At least there are 11 other SPG-eligible hotels in the Orlando area, however. If you're looking for good news, consider: Sheraton is the new name on the door of the former Kiroro Resort in Japan. The 140-room, Category 3 Sheraton Kiroro is in the Kiroro ski resort on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. And a 113-room Element hotel (Category 4) has opened in Basalt, Colorado. That's about 20 miles from either Aspen or Snowmass Village.
      MilleMiglia, the frequency program of Alitalia, will not expire as originally announced on December 31. It'll now continue until August 31 and then accrued miles will roll over into a new program. That's a departure for Alitalia, which traditionally trashed points when a MilleMiglia edition expired. Meanwhile, an exit question: What are you doing accruing points in MilleMiglia anyway?

United Airlines Says, "Let Them Eat Stroopwafel!"
United Airlines has fallen so far and so fast that the essentially leaderless carrier seems unable to do anything more than promote gimmicks and make token changes to its operations. Last month, for example, United announced that it would switch to Illy, a better brand of coffee than it currently serves. This week, it's trying to win your favor by restoring free snacks in coach on flights in the United States, Canada and Latin America. On flights departing before 9:45 a.m., United will offer coach flyers a stroopwafel. That's a popular Dutch confection composed of two round layers of waffle crackers with a center of caramel-like syrup. Coach flyers on later flights will receive salty snack mixes. Meanwhile, United is matching a Delta Air Lines initiative for corporate buyers. It'll promise that United flights will run as reliably as Delta or American or corporate clients will receive credits for flight upgrades and fee reimbursements. The so-called "global performance commitment" is phony, however. There are so many restrictions and exceptions that Dave Hilfman, United's senior vice president of worldwide sales, admitted to Bloomberg News that chances are "slim to none" the airline would ever pay out anything.

China? Ohio? Texas? Anywhere You Look, New Hotels
The war-of-scale being waged by the world's major hotel chains (see above) also explains the frenzy of new locations spewing out of the development pipeline. So get out your scorecard and make note of this week's slew of newbies.
      China has a new Hilton (the 140 room Hilton Garden Inn in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province); a new Sheraton (a 140-room hotel in Harbin, the most populous city in northeastern China); and a new Marriott (a 340-room property in Shenzhen, atop the SCC Building).
      Ohio has a couple of new properties. A 90-room Four Points by Sheraton has opened in West Chester and a 97-room Homewood Suites has opened in Sheffield Village near Oberlin College.
      Texas has its new outposts in Irving (a 93-room Home2 Suites), the Westchase district of Houston (a 112-room SpringHill Suites) and Katy (a 121-room Homewood Suites).

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Struggling with limited acceptance, miserable customer experience and prices roundly rejected by flyers, Gogo has introduced a cheaper WiFi product. The so-called Messaging Pass allows you to use messaging apps for $3 or less per flight.
      Delta Air Lines says a longtime assistant to two senior vice presidents embezzled more than $250,000 from the company. Between February, 2007, and September, 2014, Delta claims the employee used a Delta-issued credit card to buy food, gas, gift cards and other personal items. The woman now faces federal wire-fraud charges.
      Crude oil fell to a six-year low today (December 10) ending at $36.76 a barrel on New York markets. And the Transportation Department said this week that airlines paid an average of $1.65 a gallon for jet fuel in October. That compares to $2.68 a gallon in October, 2014.

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.