The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for December 14-31, 2017
The briefing in brief: United bails on another China route. Accor folding Fairmont Presidents Club. Beware traffic at Washington/National. New U.S. flights to Milan. WestJet jilting American for Delta. San Jose and Worcester, Massachusetts, get nonstop flights to New York. And more.

United Airlines Bails on Another China Route
China is the fastest-growing passenger market in the world and smart airlines are staking claims, launching routes and pursuing code-shares in hopes of being properly positioned to profit from the boom. United Airlines, of course, is anything but smart, which explains why it continues to shrink its Chinese footprint. During the otherwise ham-fisted Jeff Smisek era, United wisely decided to begin flying to so-called "secondary" Chinese cities to woo customers who would otherwise connect in Beijing and Shanghai. But United's current management, short-sighted and obsessively focused on quarterly earnings and propping up United-Continental's share price, is reversing that plan. Earlier this year, United dropped the three weekly nonstops from its San Francisco hub to Hangzhou, the metropolitan area of 21 million people located about 100 miles from Shanghai. And this week United announced it would dump seasonal nonstops between San Francisco and Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province. The city of 9 million, best known in the West for its terracotta warriors, is about 90 minutes by air from Beijing.

Accor Folds Fairmont Into Its Frequent Guest Program
Accor Hotels, the French hotel giant, purchased the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel chains 18 months ago. But it pointedly left the chains out of its unimpressive Le Club frequency program. That changes on July 2, however, when all three are added to Le Club. That means the end for the Swissotel Circle and Fairmont Presidents Club plans. The loss of the latter may be of special interest to Canadian travelers, where Fairmont operates a string of well-regarded luxury hotels and iconic resorts. The Fairmont program also had a comparatively rich suite-upgrade component for elite guests, something that Accor's LeClub does not offer. Details of the transition are here.
      Starwood Preferred Guest loses two notable properties at the end of the year. Le Parker Meridien hotels in New York and Palm Springs are out.
      World of Hyatt has changed the award price of nine properties. Most notable: Two properties in Orlando jump to Category 2 redemptions and the Confidante Hotel in Miami Beach drops two rungs to Category 4.
      Miles and More, the frequency program of Lufthansa-controlled carriers, is going revenue-based. You can still earn mileage-based credit for Lufthansa flights in United MileagePlus. But that'll probably disappear in March, when Miles and More switches to awarding miles based on ticket price.

January Brings Major Traffic Disruptions at Washington/National
The rolling upgrade of Washington/National Airport will kick into a higher gear after the holidays and that means plenty of disruptions. Airport officials are predicting "significant impact" to ground traffic from January through mid-2019. Worst impact: the roadway between the Metro Station and Terminal B/C. Inside, there will be a new security checkpoint and a commuter concourse to replace the much-despised Gate 35X collection of exposed-to-the-elements hard stands. For details of the construction and to sign up for alerts, surf here.
      San Jose, which struggles to position itself as the airport of the Silicon Valley, gets a big one. Delta Air Lines says it will launch a daily nonstop to New York/JFK. Flights start June 8 with Boeing 737-800s.
      Worcester, Massachusetts, also gets a big one. JetBlue Airways says it'll launch a nonstop to Kennedy on May 3 using EMB-190 aircraft. JetBlue is Worcester's only carrier and it already flies to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. In case you were wondering, Worcester is 48 miles from Boston/Logan (where JetBlue also dominates) and 175 miles from JFK.

With Alitalia Drowning, Milan Is Suddenly Getting Lots of Attention
During one of the many failed rescue attempts of Alitalia, the Italian flag carrier abandoned its hub at Milan/Malpensa Airport even though Milan is Italy's financial and fashion capital and gateway to the country's most prosperous provinces. Alitalia still flies to the United States nonstop from Malpensa, as do the three U.S. carriers. Also in the market: Emirates, which is the only carrier to offer a first class cabin on its New York/JFK-Malpensa flights. But next year will bring lots more service to Milan. Meridiana, now 49 percent owned by Qatar Airways, says it will launch daily flights to JFK and four weekly flights to Miami. Those runs start in June using Airbus A330s. (Meridiana will also offer connecting service via Malpensa to Naples, Palermo, Catania and Lamezia Terme.) And Norwegian, the fast-growing discounter, says it will launch four weekly flights to Milan from Los Angeles. Service begins June 16 using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flights configured with coach and a spacious premium economy cabin.
      United Airlines may be bailing on China (see above), but says it will launch flights to Tahiti. There'll be three weekly flights to Papeete from its San Francisco hub using Boeing 787s beginning on October 30. At the moment, Air Tahiti Nui and Air France offer the only nonstops to Tahiti from the U.S. mainland. Both fly from Los Angeles. Hawaiian Airlines flies from Honolulu.
      WestJet is changing partners. The WestJet-American Airlines deal ends July 31 and WestJet and Delta Air Lines are beginning a joint-venture deal. The two carriers will coordinate schedules and offer reciprocal frequent flyer program arrangements. To make up for its loss of the WestJet connection, American will add flights from its Chicago/O'Hare hub to Calgary and Vancouver. It will also bulk up schedules to Eastern Canada from Washington/National and New York/LGA.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
KLM flyers take note: A long-running dispute between management and the airline's flight crews has taken an ugly turn. Crews say they will strike on January 8.
      Qantas ends in-flight duty-free sales on December 31, something U.S. carriers did several years ago.
      Sun Country Airlines, the small carrier based in Minneapolis, has been sold to a New York investment group.
      Lufthansa dropped its bid for low-fare Austrian carrier Niki this week and the carrier promptly stopped flying. The Niki purchase was part of Lufthansa's bid to buy up most of defunct Air Berlin, but regulators signaled it wouldn't approve that buy if Niki was included. Niki's founder, former Formula One champion Niki Lauda, has expressed interest in scooping up the remnants of the airline.

Pick the Marriott ATM Joke You Like Best
The Houston Chronicle reports this week that three Marriott hotels in three nights were robbed of their freestanding ATMs. I don't know how to react to that news other than to make some jokes:
      Super-elite SPG members are really pissed off at the treatment they're getting from Marriott and they're trying to get some extra value.
      A lot of Marriott Rewards members really dislike that elite benefits don't include free breakfast at Courtyards.
      Leave the towels. Take the ATM. (You gotta say that last one like Clemenza in The Godfather.)

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.