The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for March 10-24, 2016
The briefing in brief: Delta leads American and United down the comfort and frequent flyer rabbit hole. More SPG award choices in Paris and new Hilton HHonors options in California. United and American add two more China routes. A lot more U.S.-branded hotels for Canada. And more.

Delta Leads American and United Down the Rabbit Hole
We talked back in January about Delta Air Lines' decision to bring a de facto end to free SkyMiles upgrades. But that isn't enough for the boys in Atlanta. Delta also insists on trying to rewrite history by claiming the old upgrade system left customers dissatisfied and didn't profit the airlines. Both claims are flat-out lies, of course, and illogical, too. If flyers were unhappy when they didn't get upgraded in the old days, as Delta claims, how are we going to be happier when we can never get an upgrade as a reward for our loyalty? Unfortunately, Delta's competitors are following it right down the rabbit hole. Both American and United airlines confirmed at investment conferences this week that they will launch versions of Delta's Basic Economy fare and that most elite benefits, especially upgrades, will not apply to those prices. The airlines also continue to slash legroom. Delta this week said it'd add a row of seats to many of its commuter jets. First up are the 65-seat CRJ-700s, followed by the EMB-170s and EMB-175s. And United announced 19 of its 74 Boeing 777s will go to 10-abreast seating from its current 9-across configuration. The extra-crowded 777s--American already configures some 777s at 10-across--will fly on United's domestic runs. So let's summarize: fewer upgrades, fewer fares that permit upgrades and more cheek-by-jowl seating. But fear not: Delta, American and United know you have a choice when you fly and they appreciate your continued loyalty to their oligarchy.

Now It's Easier to Spend April in Paris on SPG Points
Starwood Preferred Guest has two new options in Paris via new entrants into Starwood's Tribute Portfolio soft brand. Le Metropolitan is a 58-room property and Le Dokhan's has 45 rooms. Both have recently been operating as part of the Radisson Blu chain. Both properties are in the 16th arrondissement and open as part of SPG on April 1. They are each Category 6 redemptions.
      Hilton HHonors has added two properties in prime California holiday destinations. The 115-room Hampton Inn Napa is two miles from downtown. It is a Category 7 redemption. And the 129-room Homewood Suites in Aliso Viejo is 10 minutes from Laguna Beach. It is a Category 5 redemption.
      British Airways has been fined $40,000 for not accurately disclosing all taxes and fees applied to award tickets. BA did not contest the incident that created the offense, but claimed the online glitch had been fixed within 72 hours.

American and United Add New Routes to Greater China
The economy of mainland China has slowed dramatically and that's sending shockwaves around Greater China, too. But it isn't stopping U.S. airlines from adding routes. American Airlines said this week that it would launch a Los Angeles-Hong Kong run starting September 7. The daily route will operate with Boeing 777-300ERs configured with first, business and coach classes and Main Cabin Extra. The oddity: The route will be operated as a joint venture with Oneworld Alliance partner Japan Airlines and will put American in direct competition with Cathay Pacific, its other Oneworld partner. Meanwhile, United Airlines continues to use its Boeing 787 Dreamliners to launch nonstops to secondary and tertiary mainland cities. The latest: Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province. There will be three weekly flights from United's San Francisco hub starting on July 13.
      Jetstar, the low-fare Qantas operation, is dropping flights between Honolulu and Brisbane. Service ends October 29.
      American Airlines is once again ending flights between New York/Kennedy and Caracas, Venezuela. American only resumed the service in December after a long suspension caused by a fight over repatriation of profits. American says the last flight will be April 4.

Oh, Canada! There Sure Are a Lot More U.S. Hotels
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Washington this week visiting with U.S. President Obama. Besides joking over beer and hockey, they presumably discussed important transborder matters. But they probably didn't talk about how the Canadian lodging scene suddenly looks a lot more like the hotel landscape south of the 49th. For instance, there are two American newbies in Regina, Saskatchewan: a 147-room Residence Inn on Pasqua Street and a 127-room Four Points by Sheraton on Dewdney Avenue. There are also two U.S. newbies in Ontario. A 95-room Hampton Inn has opened in Point Edward and a 116-room TownePlace Suites has opened its doors in Kanata.
      Hilton is beefing up its footprint in the South. It has opened branches of its Home2 Suites chain in Gulfport, Mississippi (107 rooms), and Gainesville, Florida (95 rooms). It has also added two properties in Alabama. A second Hilton Garden Inn has opened in Montgomery, this one a 112-room branch on EastChase Parkway. And Birmingham's Redmont Hotel has joined the Curio Collection, Hilton's soft brand of independents.
      Marriott continues to bulk up its limited-service brands. There are new TownePlace Suites in Dickinson, North Dakota (90 rooms), and Hattiesburg, Mississippi (94 rooms). It opened new Fairfield Inn hotels in Afton, Wyoming (62 rooms), and Lincoln, Nebraska (88 rooms). A 95-room SpringHill Suites opened in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. And new outposts of Courtyard, Marriott's original limited-service operation, have opened in Holland, Michigan (140 rooms) and Raipur, India (108 rooms).

Business Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has rehired 13 flight attendants fired when they refused to fly on an aircraft marred by graffiti they thought might have presaged a bombing or terrorist attack. On July 14, 2014, United Flight 869 from San Francisco to Hong Kong was marked with the letters "BYE BYE" and smiley faces. The pilot deemed the aircraft safe, but the flight attendants disagreed. The flight was cancelled and the employees terminated. They filed a whistle-blower complaint in 2015 and reached a settlement this week with the airline.
      Erin Andrews, the sportscaster, was awarded $55 million in damages this week in her case against the Nashville Marriott and a man who shot a nude video of her. A jury ruled that the man, who took the adjoining room next to her in 2008 and shot the video through a peephole, was equally liable with the hotel's then-owners and managers. The stalker, Michael David Barrett, already had been sentenced to 30 months in prison. Marriott Hotels was previously dismissed from the civil case.
      Taxes? Airlines don't pay 'em. Two of the three legacy carriers, American and United, reported negative income tax expenses in 2015. Because, you know, they aren't subsidized or anything ...

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.