The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for January 21-31, 2016
The briefing in brief: This is why Delta is kicking ass against domestic competitors. Starwood, Hyatt change top elite benefits while United throws you a bone (or a snack pack). Air Canada builds a business class check-in "lounge" at Pearson. And much more.

And This Is Why Delta Is Kicking Ass Against Its Domestic Competitors
Desperate to ditch its huge fleet of tinny, passenger-repellant and inefficient 50-seat regional jets, United Airlines today (January 21) announced an order for 40 full-sized Boeing 737-700 aircraft. However, those aircraft won't start flying for United before the middle of next year and United will still have around half of its 50-seaters in service by 2019. The price tag for the Boeing 737s? At retail, as much as $3 billion, although United is surely getting a huge discount and the real cost is probably about $2 billion. But compare this to how Delta Air Lines handled its 50-seat jet problem. In 2012, as Southwest was acquiring AirTran Airways, Southwest was desperate to ditch AirTran's fleet of Boeing 717s. That plane is a derivative of the DC-9s that are configured in a 2x3 layout. Delta stepped up and took 88 of the aircraft--but only if Southwest paid $100 million to reconfigure the jets to Delta's specifications and paint them in Delta's livery. The last of the former AirTran planes entered the Delta fleet last year. In other words, Delta got a two-year jump on replacing its 50-seaters and convinced Southwest Airlines to foot the bill while United did nothing and is now spending around $2 billion for a too-little-very-late solution.

Starwood, Hyatt Change Top Elite Benefits, United Throws You a Bone (or a Snack Pack)
Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport are both making changes to their benefits packages for top-tier guests. At Hyatt, the best-loved Diamond benefit--four confirmed suite upgrades per year for up to seven nights each--is being trimmed. The upgrades that'll be deposited in Diamond member accounts on March 1, 2016, are valid only for a year and must be used for hotel stays ending by February 28, 2017. Previously, the upgrades were valid indefinitely so long as reservations were made within the membership year. Over at Starwood Preferred, members who stay 50 or more nights will now get to choose from a wider range of benefits. You can still choose suite upgrades or gifting a Gold membership, but you may also select a free car rental, elite-qualifying credit or a discount off a Starwood-branded hotel bed. Complete details are here.
      United MileagePlus Global Services and Premier 1K members will now receive a free food item if they are seated in coach on flights in North America, Central America or the Caribbean. GS and 1Ks can choose from any item from the Choice Menu selections normally sold to coach flyers. United recently began offering GS and 1K members complimentary alcoholic beverages when riding in coach.
      Marriott Rewards members have a new lodging option in Montreal. A 142-room Renaissance has opened downtown at the corner of Cathcart Street and Robert-Bourassa Boulevard. It is a Category 7 redemption.
      Hilton HHonors members have a second Homewood Suites redemption option in Savannah. A 142-room property has opened on the riverfront of the city's historic district. It is a Category 7 redemption.

American Fires Back at Delta's Expansion at LAX
The never-ending battle for dominance at LAX, the second-busiest market in the United States, has recently favored Delta Air Lines. It opened a snazzy private terminal for premium class flyers and added flights in key markets. But American Airlines continues to be the Number 1 carrier and has about 18 percent of the market compared to fading United (16.6 percent), Southwest (16 percent) and Delta (15.3 percent). American hopes to bolster its position later this year with 20 new flights from LAX. It'll launch daily year-round service to Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Kansas City, Omaha and Hartford. There'll also be seasonal flights to Anchorage and ski destinations in Colorado and Wyoming. The carrier previously announced new flights to Tokyo/Haneda and Auckland, New Zealand. The problem with all the new service? Lack of space at American's primary LAX location in Terminal 4. American says it'll add two gates in T4 by rejiggering its existing operations. But there will be some cuts, including the end of the LAX-Tampa route.
      San Diego flyers take note: The airport this week opened a new consolidated car-rental facility. That means all 14 rental brands will operate out of the same building and you'll have to catch a common-use shuttle bus to reach it.

Air Canada Builds a Business Class Check-In 'Lounge' at Pearson
Air Canada claims it has opened a "lounge" for business class check-ins at its Toronto/Pearson hub. The truth is more prosaic, however. The airline has remade the area around Aisle 1 on the departure level with 15 check-in counters, two self-service kiosks, two customer service desks and some dedicated seating. Who can use the new area? Business class international and domestic flyers, travelers in premium economy or premium route cabins on Air Canada rouge, Elite 50K or higher Altitude members and Star Alliance Gold customers. Altitude Super Elite 100K members will have separate counters and service desks within the business class area.
      Air India is dumping the first class cabin on its newly launched flights between San Francisco and Delhi.
      Delta Air Lines says it'll launch seasonal flights from its Minneapolis hub to Reykjavik, Iceland. Daily flights will launch May 26 with Boeing 757 aircraft configured with 20 business class seats, 29 chairs in Comfort+ and 150 coach seats.

More Big-Name American Brands in China, India, London--and Middle America
The slowdown of the Chinese economy is roiling world markets, but it's nearly impossible to shut the China hotel pipeline until it disgorges all of its new properties. Which pretty much explains why three more big-name hotels have opened in Greater China this week. Hyatt, for example, opened a 427-room Hyatt Regency in Changchun, the capital of Jilin province in the Dongbei region of Northeast China. Meanwhile, Marriott opened a 251-room Renaissance in Nanjing. Located in the Jianye district, the hotel is near the city's Olympic Sports Centre. Marriott also opened its first Courtyard on Taiwan. The 465-room property is in the Nangang District of Taipei.
      DoubleTree by Hilton, the Hilton "conversion" brand, has converted two more properties in London. The 203-room former Regency Hotel in Queen's Gate in Kensington is now flying the Doubletree flag. So is the former 66-room Ramada hotel adjacent to the ExCel convention center in the Docklands.
      InterContinental has opened a 105-room resort in Mahabalipuram, about 40 miles from the center of Chennai. And Hyatt has opened a 147-room Hyatt Place in Candolim, a beach town and tourist resort in Goa.
      Hilton has opened a spread of hotels in Middle America, including a 90-room Home2 Suites in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Hampton Inn branches in Pratt, Kansas, and Sioux City, Iowa. And the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, has joined Curio, Hilton's "soft brand" of independent properties.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
London travelers take note: The seemingly endless scrum over the London Underground's decision to launch night trains means more strikes as labor and management wrangle over terms. Various unions are planning one-day strikes that start on the evenings of January 26, February 15 and February 17.
      Russian travelers take note: The ruble has dropped to record lows against the U.S. dollar. One greenback now buys more than 80 rubles.
      Brookstone, the gadget retailer, has opened a concept store at Salt Lake City. Called Carry On, it sells travel-specific products and clothing. The shop is in the Delta terminal just after security.

This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2016 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.