The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for February 8-22, 2018
The briefing in brief: Marriott jacks award prices at 20 percent of hotels. Air France and KLM join PreCheck. El Al flies to San Francisco. WestJet adds flights to Paris and London from Halifax. More hotels in Middle America. Delta adds in Cincinnati, cuts in Tokyo. And more.

Marriott Jacks Award Prices at 20 Percent of Hotels, But Starwood Changes Are Mixed
Marriott has treaded softly in frequency programs ever since it snatched Starwood out from under Hyatt in early 2016. But that changed today (February 8) when it announced its annual "category" changes for award nights in Marriott Rewards. Effective March 6, more than 20 percent of all Marriott-branded properties around the world are going to cost more and going up at least one category. That means around 1,000 hotels will cost more when you're claiming an award night. Only 5 percent of Marriott's vast portfolio will decrease in cost. Changes at Starwood Preferred Guest are more balanced, however. According to SPG's new chart, about the same number of Starwood-branded properties are declining in cost as rising in price. You can examine the Marriott changes here and the SPG adjustments here. Notable on the granular level? Several W Hotels, part of SPG, are going down in price, including properties in New York, Miami and Las Vegas. Several Ritz-Carlton hotels--they play in Marriott Rewards--are dropping in price, too. Many full-service Marriott-branded properties in New York, Washington and Orlando are going up. So are Marriott's best hotels in Ireland and Costa Rica and many hotels in China.

TSA Adds Five More Airlines, Including Air France and KLM, to PreCheck
The TSA continues to fumble and bumble around the nation's airports alternately threatening us with even more security kabuki and trying to induce us to join PreCheck. On the inducement side of the equation this week: Five additional carriers are now approved to offer PreCheck. The big news: Air France and KLM are in, meaning travelers on the carriers can use PreCheck lanes. Also permitted to use PreCheck: flyers on Brussels Airlines, the Belgium-based subsidiary of Lufthansa; Philippine Airlines; and World Atlantic, a Florida-based charter carrier that focuses on Caribbean service. That means 47 domestic and international carriers are now part of PreCheck. Separately, however, it looks like Orlando Airport is once again threatening to dump the TSA and go to private security. That is legally permitted and was baked into the 2001 law that created the TSA after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, Homeland Security and the TSA regularly bring bureaucratic pressure to bear to keep airports in line. The Orlando Sentinel has the latest blow up between TSA and the airport.

El Al Adds San Francisco, WestJet Will Fly From Halifax to Paris and London
Flights to Tel Aviv generate a surprisingly diverse passenger base--Jews and Evangelical Christians, religious tourists and upscale leisure travelers--but nonstops from the United States continue to be relatively scarce. One U.S. legacy carrier, American Airlines, even dropped its Philadelphia-Tel Aviv route in 2015 under bizarre circumstances. In the spring of 2016, however, United Airlines launched a San Francisco-Tel Aviv route. Now El Al, Israel's flag carrier, is headed to San Francisco, too. Beginning November 18, El Al will offer three weekly flights using 282-seat Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners configured with business class, premium economy and coach.
      WestJet is going all-in on Europe flights from Halifax. On April 29, WestJet adds a daily flight to London/Gatwick, replacing Gatwick flights from St. John's. Effective May 31, there will be daily nonstops from Halifax to Paris/DeGaulle. The bad news? Both routes will be served with packed-to-the-gills Boeing 787-8 MAX aircraft configured with 174 chairs, including three rows of Plus seats, the airline's premium economy service.
      OpenSkies, the boutique division of British Airways that flies between New York and Paris, has scheduled its final operations for September 2. The airline is being replaced with more flights from Level, BA's low-fare operation based in Barcelona.

Delta Adds a Few Flights at Cincinnati, But Continues Cutting at Tokyo/Narita
Delta Air Lines once operated a 600-flight hub at Cincinnati, but the complex has been shrinking for more than a decade. So take Delta's announcement of two "new" flights from CVG with gigantic truckloads of salt. Beginning November 4, Delta will launch a daily Boeing 737-800 to Phoenix. On May 1, it will resume flying to Austin, a route it dropped in 2011. This time the daily roundtrip will operate with CRJ-700s regional jets. Even with the two new routes, there'll be just 82 daily Delta flights at Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Delta continues to deconstruct the once-mighty Tokyo/Narita hub it inherited in the Northwest Airlines merger. The latest cuts: flights to Saipan and Koror on Palau. Both routes end May 7.
      Guam is also losing flights, this time via United Airlines, which inherited the hub in the Continental Airlines merger. Flights to Shanghai and Sendai, Japan, end in spring. Some flights to other Japan airports (Tokyo/Narita, Nagoya and Osaka) are also being cut.
      Calgary won't be getting WestJet commuter service next month after all. The launch of flights to five cities is now delayed until at least June.

Middle America Gets a Burst of New Hotels
After a spate of hotel-building in major coastal cities that has moderated nightly rates--weekend prices at some chain properties in New York dropped below $100 this month--we may be in for some relief in Middle America, too. Hotel openings have ramped up in the middle of America. In Jackson, Michigan, for example, Hilton has opened a Home2 Suites off Interstate 94. It also opened a 94-room Homewood Suites in downtown Milwaukee. The property is located in the circa 1892 Button Block building. Meanwhile, Marriott opened an AC Hotel in Oklahoma City; a Fairfield Inn in Carmel, Indiana; a TownePlace Suites in Liberty, Missouri, a Kansas City suburb; and a Courtyard in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis. There's also a new Moxy in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood, the first new hotel in decades in that district.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has been taking a shellacking on its Basic Economy fares, losing millions of dollars in an attempt to ... well, who knows what United is doing besides aping Delta Air Lines. The latest change in United Basic Economy? You can now buy the fare and buy a seat assignment 24 hours before departure. That change went into effect on February 1. So be sure to compare the standard coach fares to the Basic Economy bucket with that in mind.
      Silvercar, the all-Audi, all-app rental car firm, is adding another airport location. By the end of this month, you'll be able to use the firm for cars at Tampa International airport.
      Primera Air, a new transatlantic discounter hoping to launch flights this summer, is already cancelling routes. The airline's plans to begin flights from Boston/Logan to Birmingham, England, are now cancelled.
      Airfares aren't going up despite the best efforts of the airlines to raise fares. At least six attempts to jack up prices in the last 60 days have failed. According to an airline analyst for JP Morgan Chase, the last across-the-board price increase was October 10.

This column is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2018 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.