The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for October 6-20, 2016
The briefing in brief: Don't feed--or talk to--the bearded man in the O'Hare United Club. Amex Platinum giveth--and taketh away. Another clutch of new international routes. Houston gets what it doesn't need: more hotels. Strange political bedfellows. And more.

Don't Feed--or Talk to--the Bearded Man in United's O'Hare Club
Noticed a new attitude around United Airlines, especially among flight crews and airport agents? The lightened mood comes directly from president and chief executive Oscar Munoz. Two customer service agents I spoke to at United's Chicago/O'Hare hub echoed comments I'm picking up from flight attendants around the system. One claimed the attitude has "dramatically" changed since Munoz took control last year after former chairman and chief executive Jeff Smisek was ousted. Munoz "comes by and talks with us." The other agent agreed: "Smisek would walk by and never say a word to anyone. Completely ignored us." Yet Smisek isn't totally gone from the scene. As part of the $37 million separation package negotiated after his abrupt dismissal, Smisek received lifetime flight benefits on United. "He's grown a beard so no one will recognize him" when he travels, one of the agents explained. "But in the United Club the other day, a passenger came right up to him and said, 'You should be ashamed of yourself.' He just looked at her and didn't say a word." -- Chris Barnett

American Express Platinum Giveth (a Little) and Taketh (a Bit)
The American Express Platinum Card is great for business travel perks, but lousy for earning American Express Membership Rewards points. But faced with brutal competition from both Chase and Citi in the premium-card market, Amex is bumping up the earnings potential of Platinum. Beginning today (October 6), cardholders who book flights with Amex Travel will receive five points per dollar. On the flip side, however, Amex is cracking down on late-paying Platinum cardholders. Effective January 1, if you make a late payment, you'll forfeit any Membership Rewards points you earned that month. And, no, there'll be no way to pay to reinstate the forfeited points.
      Hilton HHonors is raising award prices again on several dozen hotels and lowering prices on about three dozen others. Most notable: Miami-area and Istanbul hotels move down a category and properties in the San Francisco Bay area ratchet up a category.
      New warm-weather hotels to claim: Hampton Inn has opened a 91-room beachfront property in Clearwater Beach, Florida. It's a Category 6 Hilton HHonors redemption. And a 119-room Aloft Hotel has been created from the former Miami Dadeland Hotel on Kendall Drive in Miami. It's a Category 3 redemption in Starwood Preferred Guest.

What the World Apparently Needs Now Are More International Routes
Airlines are moaning about low load factors and low fares on international routes. So what are they doing? Adding more, of course. KLM, for example, says it'll revive the Minneapolis-Amsterdam route it dropped in 2001. There'll be daily flights using Airbus A330-200s starting on March 27. Meanwhile, LOT Polish says it'll revive Newark-Warsaw nonstops and launch flights to Los Angeles, too. The new LAX-Warsaw run starts April 3 using Boeing 787 Dreamliners. There'll be four weekly flights. The Newark route will operate with Boeing 767-300s four times a week starting on April 28. LOT hasn't flown from Newark for at least five years. And Icelandair says it'll begin flights to its hub in Keflavik from both Tampa and Philadelphia. The twice-weekly Tampa flights start September 6. The Philadelphia run will operate four times a week starting on May 30. Both routes will operate with Boeing 757s.

What Does Houston Not Need? More Hotels. So More Hotels Open.
With the energy economy in serious recession since the collapse in oil prices, Houston is in a quagmire. And the hotel segment is naturally hurting. Occupancy has plunged to the 65 percent range and prices continues to plummet. More than 10,000 new rooms have poured into the market since last year and that further depresses nightly rates and occupancy. So what doesn't Houston need? More hotels. But what is Houston getting? More hotels. An 84-room Fairfield Inn has opened on Gessner Road. A 134-room Four Points has opened on Katy Freeway. And a 104-room Residence Inn has opened in Pasadena, 10 miles from Houston/Hobby Airport.
      Small-town America is getting some new properties. Fairfield Inn branches have opened in Sheridan, Wyoming, and Sidney, Nebraska. A 116-room Residence Inn opened in Woodbury, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul. And Hilton has opened a 144-room Home2 Suites in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
      Faraway places are also getting their share of new chain properties. A DoubleTree by Hilton has opened in Wroclaw, Poland. A 254-room Marriott has opened in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. And a 180-room Hilton opened in Podgorica, capital of Montenegro.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Air marshals are now working commercial flights to Cuba. As explained last month, the TSA promised Congress that no scheduled flights to Cuba would be allowed until the Cuban government permitted U.S. air marshals on the flights. But that was a lie. Service did start without marshals. But now the TSA insists there's a deal with Cuba and marshals are on the flights.
      Turkish Airlines has opened its first lounge at a U.S. airport. The 5,000-square-foot facility at Washington/Dulles is located near Gate 43 in Concourse B. Regular IAD flyers will recall that space was formerly used by Virgin Atlantic and Emirates.
      Strange political bedfellows report. Remember Michael Chertoff? He was Homeland Security Secretary under George W. Bush and later used his influence to sell the TSA faulty full-body scanners that emitted excess radiation. He is back in the news because he has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. That's weird because he was Republican counsel to the Whitewater Committee, the first of many investigations of the Clintons. When she was U.S. senator, Clinton was the lone no vote against Chertoff's appointment as head of the criminal division of the Justice Department and his subsequent nomination as a U.S. appeals court judge. Full details here.

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.