The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for February 18-29, 2016
The briefing in brief: American Airlines tries to get its ground game up to international first class standards. Marriott and Starwood up award prices at hundreds of hotels. United Airlines culls small cities from the map. U.S.-to-Tokyo/Haneda flights will see the light of day. And more.

American Tries to Get Ground Game Up to International First Class Standards
With United Airlines allowing the aged first class cabins on its international flights to die a slow and ugly death, American Airlines will be the only U.S. carrier selling first. And while its newest in-flight product is generally competitive in global markets, American's ground game--its Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge airport products--isn't nearly good enough. American now promises to fix that. Starting next year, so-called Flagship Dining will allow first class international passengers to eat in the club before departure. New York/Kennedy will get the service first, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami and Los Angeles. (First class customers at DFW already get some club dining privileges.) American says first class customers flying transcontinental on three-class aircraft will also get the in-club dining perk. The airline also plans to add new Admirals Club locations in Orlando and Houston/Bush Intercontinental as well as renovate or add Flagship Lounges at six hubs: JFK, LAX, Chicago/O'Hare, DFW, Miami and Philadelphia. Notable for its absence: Charlotte, the former US Airways international hub that still hosts dozens of American overseas flights. That could signal a substantial downsizing at Charlotte in the months ahead. One more tweak: American says it also will renovate its Arrivals Lounge at London/Heathrow Airport.

Marriott and Starwood Up Reward Prices at Hundreds of Key Properties
'Tis the season for hotel chains to adjust their award charts. And the news is mixed. Award prices are going up at more than 550 hotels in the Marriott Rewards network next month. Effective March 24, the price adjustment will bump up those properties by one award category. The notable increases: The Boscolo in Milan goes to Category 8 (from 7) and the Marriott hotels in London's Kensington and Regents Park neighborhoods increase to Category 8 from Category 7. Many Florida hotels across the Marriott brand spectrum increase, too. On a positive note, three Renaissance properties in Paris each drop one category. To view the complete list of Marriott changes, surf here. Over at Starwood Preferred Guest, there are changes at nearly 300 hotels. Slightly more than half are award-category increases. Two hotels--the W in Bali and the Schloss Fuschl in Salzburg, Austria--have moved into Category 7 and many Starwood properties in Japan increase by one level. On the positive side, the Le Meridien in Bora Bora dropped to Category 6 and the St. Regis hotels in Bangkok and Lhasa, Tibet, were reduced to Category 5. Complete details on the changes, which go into effect on March 1, are here.
      Hilton HHonors members now have access to slightly discounted rates when they book directly at Hilton Web sites or apps. One example: Prices are $5-$9 per night cheaper this weekend for rooms at the Conrad New York.
      Delta SkyMiles Gold elites will no longer receive a plastic membership card or paper member packet, reports the Rene's Points blog. Silver elites lost the paper/plastic combo last year.

United Culls Small Cities, Shifts Larger Aircraft to Key Routes
Proponents of the United-Continental merger envisioned what was always a stupid idea: massive plane swaps between the networks to allegedly align demand and capacity. All it's done, however, is confuse passengers who never seem to know whether a United Airlines aircraft on a route has a particular feature or class of service. But United soldiers on, apparently convinced passengers don't know or don't care about this stuff. So don't be shocked in the months ahead if you find the odd Boeing 757 on routes between United's Denver hub and Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia. You'll also find three-class Boeing 777-300s popping up between United's Washington/Dulles hub and Los Angeles and San Francisco. And just to make you totally crazy, the specially configured Boeing 757s that ply the Newark-San Francisco-Los Angeles triangle will be joined by Boeing 777s, too. Meanwhile, United is ending service to two small cities, Elmira, New York, and Tyler, Texas.
      Chicago/O'Hare will get a new runway and American Airlines will add five new gates in coming years. The new gates will be added at Concourse L in Terminal 3. American says it'll spend as much as $75 million to add the gates. The new runway, funded by government sources, will cost an estimated $1.3 billion and is scheduled for completion in 2020.
      Raleigh/Durham gets its link to Delta's Salt Lake City hub back. There'll be one daily nonstop using Airbus A320s starting on March 2.
      San Jose continues its painfully slow recovery from the bursting of the Internet bubble 15 years ago. Alaska Airlines announced this week that it will launch three daily flights to both San Diego and John Wayne/Orange County. The routes begin June 6 with 76-seat SkyWest E175 aircraft configured with 12 first class, 12 premium economy and 52 coach seats.

U.S.-Haneda Flights Will See the Light of Day
Despite ferocious opposition from Delta Air Lines, which operates the old Northwest Airlines hub at Tokyo's distant Narita Airport, U.S. and Japanese negotiators agreed this week to allow daylight flights at close-in Haneda Airport. In essence, the deal permits the four existing U.S.-Haneda routes, which currently arrive in and depart from Tokyo at night, to move to the daylight hours. So look for timing changes on the San Francisco route flown by United Airlines, the Honolulu flight operated by Hawaiian Airlines and the LAX service run by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The deal will also allow another daylight roundtrip by a U.S. carrier and one new night run.
      Air Canada severs its last link to New York/Kennedy Airport on April 3 when it drops its six daily flights from Toronto/Pearson. Air Canada continues to serve New York via New York/LaGuardia and Newark.

Hotel Chains Throw Some Love (and New Rooms) at Bigger Cities
Major hotel chains have spent the last few years adding dots on their maps, usually building limited-service hotels in second- and third-tier cities. But it's long past time the chains threw some love to big cities. To wit: Another Four Points by Sheraton in Manhattan, this one a 261-room in the Financial District. There's also a dual-branded Aloft and Element development on D Street in Boston's Seaport District. The Aloft has 330 rooms and the Element has 180 rooms. Embassy Suites opened a 225-room hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. The hotel is located in the top 11 floors of the historic Oliver Building across from Mellon Square. And a Home2 Suites with 105 rooms opened on South Foothill Drive in Salt Lake City.
      Latin America continues to be fertile ground for U.S. chains looking to expand their respective footprints. Starwood, for example, opened a 120-room Aloft in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. A 140-room Hyatt Place opened in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. And the Autograph Collection, Marriott's soft brand, has added El Mangroove, the 85-room resort on the beach off the Gulf of Papagayo in Costa Rica.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
A clutch of new airport lounges has joined the Priority Pass program. The most interesting: the Dnata Lounge in Singapore, Lounge 19 in Mexico City and the Oman Air lounge in Bangkok. Also joining Priority Pass are two lounges at Paris/CDG: the Star Alliance Lounge in Terminal 1 and the Sheltair Lounge in Terminal 2D.
      Barcelona travelers take note: Line 9 of the city's metro line has now reached El Prat airport. A single ticket costs 4.50 euros for a ride between the airport and Barcelona city center.
      American Airlines is suing Gogo, its primary in-flight Internet provider. The move is a technical one: American was Gogo's launch client and Gogo paid to install the system on many American planes. Now the system is slow and balky and American's contract allows it to reopen contracts if there is a faster service available. Stay tuned.
      JetBlue Airways launched a pair of $3 one-way fare increases this month and both were matched by competitors.

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.