The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for September 1-14, 2016
The briefing in brief: Lots more flights will let you cruise over Trump's Mexico wall. Delta devaluates SkyMiles again. Hyatt ups the award price of timeshare properties. Marriott grows fast without Starwood merger. Delta moves all London/Heathrow flights to Terminal 3. And more.

The Air-Bridge Over the Mexico Wall That Trump Wants to Build
You may agree or disagree with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's plan to build a "great" wall between the United States and China. You may or may not think the wall will ever be built if Trump is elected. But here's an irony: A new air service agreement between the United States and Mexico will mean a wave of new flights between the two nations. The agreement, which went into effect on August 21, eliminates most limits on airline service between the two countries. And U.S. carriers especially are wasting no time in loading up on new flights. Starting December 4, Southwest Airlines will fly to three new Mexican destinations from Los Angeles: Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta. On December 15, American Airlines will add daily flights from LAX to both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Two days later, Delta Air Lines says it'll add daily nonstops from New York/Kennedy to Cancun and between LAX and Los Cabos. There'll also be a weekly Delta flight between Kansas City and Cancun.

Delta Devalues (Secretly), Hyatt Devalues (Clumsily) and WestJet Will Match Status
We've been explaining for months that Delta Air Lines' "sales" on SkyMiles awards are phony because the airline claims there's no longer an award chart with set prices. And you can't have a "sale" if you don't have "regular" prices. That said, however, Delta does have an award chart. They just won't show it to us. The last time Delta did publish prices, however, the cheapest available business class award to Europe cost 125,000 miles. But guess what? Effective January 1, it looks like the cheapest business class seats on Europe flights you'll be able to book will cost 140,000 miles. The "new" prices were turned up by a blogger named Laptop Travel. Ironically, you'll still find 125,000-mile Delta redemptions using Air France/KLM Flying Blue or the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
      Hyatt Gold Passport includes 16 Hyatt timeshare properties that have units with as many as three bedrooms. For years, the timeshares also had their own Gold Passport award chart and prices ranged from 12,000 points per night to 30,000 points nightly for the largest, three-bedroom accommodations. Clumsily, however, and with no advance notice, Hyatt has scrapped the timeshare chart and folded the properties into the general Gold Passport pricing structure. The problem? Prices have skyrocketed and now range from 15,000 to 48,000 points per night. Worse, you can no longer choose the number of bedrooms in your unit. You only have a choice between "standard" and "suite" and the timeshare controls what you get.
      WestJet Rewards is now status matching. You can obtain WestJet Gold status if you apply by September 23, prove your existing credentials on another carrier and fly one WestJet flight by October 31. Details are here.

Who Needs Starwood? Marriott Expands Rapidly on Its Own
The Marriott merger with Starwood appears stuck in Chinese bureaucratic approval hell, but that isn't stopping the chain from growing quickly on its own. In the second quarter of the year, Marriott opened 53 new properties just in the United States, according to a major lodging analyst. That's more than any other chain during those three months. And the third quarter is moving along at the same brisk clip. In the last few days, the Fairfield Inn division has opened properties in Cincinnati; Durango, Colorado; and Lucknow, India. Marriott's Courtyard chain has new outposts on City Avenue in Philadelphia; in Reno, Nevada; and in Bellevue, Nebraska. There are new Residence Inn hotels in Anaheim and Pasadena, California. An 87-room TownePlace Suites has opened in Troy, Michigan. A 188-room AC Hotel opened in Guadalajara, Mexico. A 348-room Marriott has opened in the Qiangjiang New Town business district of Hangzhou, China. And the Hotel Xenia, an independent property on the Cromwell Road in London, has joined Marriott's Autograph Collection. The three-year-old Xenia, carved from a row of Victorian mansions, is across from the existing Marriott Kensington hotel.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic Are Finally Shacking Up at Heathrow
Nearly four years after Delta Air Lines purchased a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic, the two carriers are finally shacking up at London/Heathrow Airport. Although Delta's flights from New York/Kennedy, Boston/Logan and Seattle-Tacoma already operate from Terminal 3, Virgin's home base, Delta is finally moving the rest of its service from Terminal 4. Effective September 14, Delta flights to Heathrow from its Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Salt Lake City hubs will operate at Terminal 3. So will Delta's daily Philadelphia-London service.
      Xiamen Airlines will launch the first nonstop between New York/JFK and Fujian, China, on February 15. There'll be three weekly flights using Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Xiamen is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance.
      Cathay Pacific is boosting its Boston-Hong Kong nonstop route to daily service effective March 27. The route is operated with four-class Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
On Monday (August 29), United Airlines named a new president, 49-year-old Scott Kirby. Name sound familiar? That's because he was president of American Airlines until Sunday, August 28. Kirby, in fact, was American chief executive Doug Parker's right-hand man at both America West and US Airways before they merged their way to the top of American. How does a guy defect from American to United in an overnight lateral move? American claims Kirby was told to leave because the airline's board of directors decided it couldn't keep the existing management team and chose to elevate 52-year-old Robert Isom to president from chief operating officer. But insiders insist Kirby first had the United offer and couldn't squeeze better terms from American. Either way, Kirby makes out like a bandit, er, I mean, airline executive. As a parting gift from American and his old pal Parker, Kirby received $3.8 million in cash and a total exit package worth an estimated $13 million. From United, he received $5 million in stock as a signing bonus and an annual base salary of $875,000.
      The Transportation Department fined four carriers--American, Southwest, Alaska and United--for failing to accurately inform passengers of compensation rules if they are bumped from flights or lose their luggage. The total of the fines--$160,000--is 4 percent of what Scott Kirby received as a cash parting gift from American Airlines. And you wonder why passengers hate airlines ...
      London travelers take note: After almost three years of delays and labor disputes, overnight service has begun on the London Underground. The Central and Victoria lines now run 24/7. Three more lines--Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly--will get so-called Night Tube service sometime in the autumn. It is the first time in the 153-year history of The Tube that the system operates around the clock.

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.