The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Business Travel Briefing for January 5-19, 2017
The briefing in brief: Southwest will fly to Cincinnati, but drop Canton and Dayton. Hong Kong Airlines launches Vancouver route. A burst of frequent travel plan changes for the new year. Marriott grows Fairfield Inns. Another British Airways strike ahead. Global train talk. And more.

Southwest Invades Cincinnati, Bails on Akron and Canton
Ohio just can't catch a break. The most populous state in the union without a viable hub, Ohio should be gleeful that Southwest is cruising into Cincinnati, challenging the shell of what had been Delta Air Lines' 600-flight-a-day operation in the Queen City. But Southwest's announcement today (January 5) that it'll arrive on June 4 with service to Baltimore-Washington and Chicago/Midway comes at a high cost. When Cincinnati flights launch, Southwest will drop all service at Akron-Canton and Dayton, two Ohio cities cultivated by AirTran Airways, the carrier Southwest acquired in 2010. Still, any news of new flights is good news for Cincinnati, which, ironically, has its airport across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky. CVG has been contracting for years as Delta pulled down service and folded its Comair commuter carrier. Two of CVG's three terminals were torn down last year to make way for a car rental facility. And one of the three concourses in Terminal 3, the last to serve passenger flights, is due for demolition later this year.

Hong Kong Airlines Will Launch Daily Nonstops to Vancouver
It may not be common knowledge in the United States or Canada, but Hong Kong isn't a one-horse (er, airline) town. Yes, Cathay Pacific has a worldwide footprint and a global reputation for quality in-flight service. Yet Hong Kong is also home to Hong Kong Airlines, a 10-year-old carrier best-known for regional flights and a short-lived all-business-class route to London/Gatwick. Now Hong Kong Airlines is expanding across the Pacific, to Vancouver, home to many Hong Kong ex-pats and a city favored by rich mainlanders as a place to stash cash. Effective June 30, Hong Kong Airlines says it'll launch daily nonstops with Airbus A330s configured with business and coach cabins.
      Hilton has opened a 193-room DoubleTree hotel in Minsk, capital of Belarus.

Airlines and Hotels Juggle Frequency Plans. Prepare to Be Confused.
What would a new year be without a raft of changes to your airline frequent flyer and hotel frequent stay programs? Because, you know, you don't have more important things to do. But pay attention because some of these changes may have a major impact on your day-to-day life on the road.
      Southwest Rapid Rewards has temporarily backed off plans to make the Companion Pass harder to obtain. Without notice, the airline originally announced it would no longer consider transfers from hotel or car rental programs as part of the 110,000 points you need to score the pass. But now it has backed off and you have until April 1 to make certain qualifying transfers. Complete details of the partial climb down and the new restrictions are here.
      Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan says the transfer ratio for points from Virgin Elevate is 1:1.3. You'll receive 1.3 Alaska miles for every Virgin point transferred. There'll be more details on the Alaska-Virgin transition released Monday (January 9). Meanwhile, Alaska says you'll pay less for one-way coach awards for flights shorter than 2,100 miles. Elite members are also eligible for upgrades on award travel, too. And as previously announced just before the end of the year, the partnership with Delta SkyMiles ends on April 30. Also worth noting: If you hold elite status in Virgin Elevate, that status automatically will be extended through 2017.
      IHG Rewards Club has raised the award prices on about 500 hotels and lowered the price on about 125 others. The details are in this PDF. The price changes are effective on January 15.
      Hilton HHonors has changed some award prices, effective January 11. Most notable adjustment: The Hilton Oakland Airport jumps two rungs to a Category 6 redemption.
      American AAdvantage changes the confirmed upgrade seat bucket to "C" from "A" starting on Wednesday, January 11. (That coding is important if you're scanning inventory for seats eligible for upgrades.) That change also coincides with what looks like another wide-ranging decline in the number of upgrades available on domestic flights.

Marriott Rapidly Expands Fairfield Inn, Its Budget Brand
Marriott grew dramatically last year when it completed its merger with Starwood Hotels. But that has obscured Marriott's dizzying organic growth. An example: Fairfield Inn, Marriott's economy brand. It now has more than 800 locations and continues to grow rapidly. Latest openings: Butte, Montana; Folsom, California; Schaumburg, Illinois; Stow, Ohio; Troy, Michigan; Rockport, Texas; Chillicothe, Missouri; and near Charlotte-Douglas Airport. A new Fairfield Inn is scheduled to open Monday (January 9) in Dickson, Tennessee.
      Hilton also continues to open properties at a breakneck pace. There are new Hampton Inn hotels in Dearborn, Michigan; Amarillo, Texas; and Medellin, Colombia. A 115-room Homewood Suites opened in Concord, North Carolina, and a 112-room Home2 Suites opened in Destin, Florida. Meanwhile, DoubleTree, Hilton's conversion brand, has remade and reflagged two more properties in California: a 202-room former Radisson in Whittier and a 158-room former Hyatt House in Rancho Cordova.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
We warned you that Alitalia was coming apart at the seams again and now we're beginning to see the first signs of an inevitable contraction. The airline is dropping flights to Bucharest and Valencia and slashing service to Marseille and Moscow. Also noteworthy: Alitalia is reducing frequencies on its Rome/Fiumicino-Tel Aviv run by about 35 percent.
      British Airways faces a 48-hour hour strike starting on Tuesday, January 10. BA promises contingency plans and cancellations here. Meanwhile, a three-day strike is threatened on the Southern Line, a network of trains that includes the Gatwick Express between the airline and London's Victoria Station. Details on that job action, also due to start January 10, are here.
      Global Entry and other computer-based activities of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency were disrupted on Monday (January 2). Passengers entering the country were delayed for several hours. CBP says the problem was related to a software upgrade, not hacking or a mechanical failure.
      Southwest Airlines is bulking up in Florida in June. There'll be new flights from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington/Dulles plus new Tampa-New York/LaGuardia frequencies.

Pardon Me Boys, These Ain't the Chattanooga Choo-Choos
You surely heard about the first three stations that opened along New York City's Second Avenue Subway line, a project so many decades in the making that most people thought it was an urban legend. But while New York was taking worldwide bows and reaping global publicity for three stations, hardly anyone was paying attention to the fact that eight Chinese cities opened new systems or expanded existing operations. Of course, it is easier to do mass transit in China: The government seizes the land it wants, commandeers workers, spends the money and builds without regard to environmental, aesthetic, engineering or other considerations. That method does have its downside, however. Check out these photos of a high-speed Shanghai-to-Beijing train after traveling through one of China's legendary "red alert" fogs.

This column is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2017 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.