The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for June 22-July 6, 2017
The briefing in brief: Marriott and Starwood stand alone on 48-72-hour cancellation rules--and it's not competitive. Delta starts flying A350s configured with premium economy in the fall. Virgin Atlantic cuts its frequency plan. Qatar Airways wants to buy into American. And more.

A Week In, No Chain Has Matched Marriott's 48-72 Hour Cancellation Rules
A week after Marriott and its Starwood vassal surreptitiously changed cancellation rules for U.S. properties to at least 48 and as much as 72 hours before check-in, the cheese literally stands alone. No other chain has matched the Marriott move--and that can't make Marriott executives happy. But they aren't talking--nor are many of Marriott's competitors. Even given Marriott's market strength, it's doubtful the company can afford to stand alone for long. Not just because business travelers will book away, but also because Marriott's franchisees and owners will rebel against being placed in such a noncompetitive position. And if you want to understand exactly how uncompetitive Marriott properties are right now, consider Aberdeen, South Dakota, a market I chose at random. For a booking on Monday evening, June 26, the Marriott-affiliated TownePlace Suites in Aberdeen is charging $151 and demanding 48 hours advance cancellation or it will charge a penalty north of $160. But the nearby Hampton Inn (a Hilton brand) in Aberdeen is charging just $116 and only imposes a 24-hour advance cancellation rule. If you want to pay north of $150 for a room, the Holiday Inn Express (an InterContinental brand) in Aberdeen is charging $154 on Monday night--but it allows you to cancel until 6 p.m. on Monday evening without penalty. Stay tuned, folks--and don't book a Marriott or Starwood hotel if you can avoid it.

Delta Will Fly Premium Economy From Detroit Starting in the Fall
Delta Air Lines has started taking delivery of its Airbus A350 aircraft, the first outfitted with its new international premium economy cabin. The so-called Premium Select service will start from Delta's Detroit hub as early as October 30. That's when a daily Detroit-Tokyo/Narita service will fly with the A350. On November 19, alternate days on the Detroit-Seoul run will get Premium Select. That service goes daily on December 16. The third route is Detroit-Beijing. It'll be available on alternating days in January and go daily on February 23. Delta has configured its A350s with 32 business class beds, 48 Premium Select chairs and 226 coach seats.
      United Airlines is dumping flights to Venezuela on July 1. The political chaos and economic chaos there has basically devastated demand for the Houston/Intercontinental-Caracas route.
      Priority Pass has added the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 4 at London/Heathrow and the Levity Lounge in Nice/Cote d'Azur airport. It has also cut a deal so cardholders will receive an A$36 credit to use at seven restaurants and bars in Sydney Airport.

Virgin Atlantic Is Cutting Its Frequent Flyer Plan
Despite a few award-chart sweet spots, Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club has never been particularly rich or rewarding. And now that the carrier is 49 percent owned by Delta Air Lines, the program is getting even less generous. The major change, effective September 1, is standard and peak-season pricing for awards. The result? Substantial increases in prices for premium cabin awards. You can view all of the changes here.
      Starwood Preferred Guest has added two properties in Italy. The Visconti hotel in Rome has been rebranded as a Le Méridien. And the Cristallo hotel in Cortina d'Ampezzo has become part of the Luxury Collection. The latter was part of the 1956 Winter Olympics and featured in the original Pink Panther movie.

Get Out the Popcorn! Qatar Airways Says It Wants 10 Percent of American Airlines
Facing a nasty blockade from other Gulf States and suffering from the laptop ban-inspired decline in travel to and from the United States, Qatar Airways announced today (June 22) that it wants to buy 10 percent of American Airlines. Qatar already owns 20 percent of International Airlines Group, the parent company of American's Oneworld Alliance partners British Airways and Iberia. The IAG investment was consensual, however, and American Airlines made clear that it isn't welcoming the offer. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, American said "the proposed investment was not solicited." In fact, American noted, its rules of incorporation prohibit any entity from acquiring more than 4.75 percent of the company's stock without board approval. American said Qatar Airways would spend $808 million to buy AA shares on the open market. American chief executive Doug Parker called the Qatar Airways move "puzzling," especially since American, Delta and United have been clamoring for restrictions on the ability of the Big Three Gulf Carriers to fly to the United States. There are a myriad of political, economic and aeronautic reasons why Qatar might want to buy in--or seem to want to buy in--to American Airlines. Those will become apparent in time. But it's American Airlines that is immediately in a box. American's shares, listed on NASDAQ, rose marginally after the Qatar Airways announcement. If AA's stock continues to rise, how can American tell existing shareholders that it opposes Qatar Airways' potential investment? Stay tuned, folks, this could be very interesting indeed.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Attention summer travelers! If you're headed to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York for the racing season, be aware that Hilton has opened a 113-room Homewood Suites in the village. And Marriott has opened a 120-room Courtyard in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a favorite for family travel.
      American Express has improved the car-rental insurance coverage if you rent using a Platinum Card. Effective September 1, the card's secondary coverage has been extended to rentals in Ireland, Israel and Jamaica. A wider range of vehicles, including vans, trucks, sport-utilitys and some exotic and expensive cars, are also covered. Call 800-854-9783 to discuss specifics if you are planning to use the new benefit.
      Etihad Airways is eliminating the complimentary car service transfers that had been part of its first and business class tickets. The only exception is for travel in its Abu Dhabi hub. The change is effective on July 3. More details are here.

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.