The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Business Travel Briefing for Early July, 2018
The briefing in brief: Marriott releases award chart for its to-be-named-later new program. United opens Polaris Lounge in Houston. Hyatt and Chase roll out a credit card with better benefits. British Airways dumps Oakland flight permanently. El Al cracks down on bigots. And more.

Marriott Releases Its New Award Prices and the Verdict Is: To Be Determined
When Marriott unveiled its new name-to-be-determined combined plan with Starwood earlier this year, the chain decided we only needed to know the earning side of the equation. Like Delta Air Lines several years earlier, it concluded we were stupid and wouldn't care about the award charts. A week later and after substantial blowback, however, it grudgingly released prices for 100 hotels and promised the complete award chart by the end of June. If nothing else, Marriott made good on that promise this week and it released a searchable list of the new award prices. Rates go into effect in August although a new top tier, Category 8, will be added next year. It will take a while to sift through all of the changes and the Starwood-to-Marriott conversions, but Marriott says 70 percent of the properties remain at previous award prices. It also says 6,300 hotels can be claimed for 35,000 points or less--a key price point since the free nights awarded with Marriott's new credit card are valid up to 35,000 points. Bad news: Marriott's package-deal rates have been gutted and sloppy bloggers are inaccurately claiming the new prices are a bonanza for the most-expensive, most-exotic properties. And a reminder: The award chart is something of a moving target since Marriott has admitted it will convert to revenue-based redemptions sooner than later. But the proof, good or bad, is in the claiming. I've gathered the favorites from several JoeSentMe members and we'll do real-traveler comparisons of current and new pricing levels in the weeks ahead.

United Airlines Opens a Polaris Business Class Lounge in Houston
The slower-than-molasses rollout of perks for United Airlines' Polaris business class flyers continues to dribble. United has opened a Polaris Lounge at its Houston/InterContinental hub. The smaller-than-it-should be club features 191 seats, six shower suites and a private dining room that seats 28. It is located in Terminal E next to the existing United Club near Gate E12. The Houston club is the fourth Polaris Lounge and United promises to open a fifth in Los Angeles in the fall. But there aren't even opening dates for the other four Polaris clubs United claims to be opening in airports such as Washington/Dulles and Hong Kong.
      Shenzhen Airport, just across the border from Hong Kong, has a new hotel. The 335-room Hyatt Regency is about a five minute (indoor) walk from the main arrival and departure hall.
      Rome/Fiumicino now has a Star Alliance lounge. It is located on the upper level of Terminal 3 near Boarding Area D. First and business class flyers using Star Alliance carriers and Star Alliance Gold cardholders can use the lounge.

Hyatt and Chase Roll Out a New Credit Card With Better Benefits
Among the many things wrong with the World of Hyatt is the weak benefits of the Hyatt Card, the Chase credit card introduced in 2010. (That's like 100 years in frequency program years.) The new World of Hyatt card, also from Chase, offers four points per dollars spent at Hyatt properties; two points at restaurants; two points on fitness club and gym memberships; and two points on local transit and ride-share spend. Like the existing Hyatt Card, you'll get Discoverist (entry-level) elite status. The new card will also award five nights bonus credit each year and two more nights bonus credit for each $5,000 you spend on the card. The big lure: a 40,000-point acquisition bonus after $3,000 in spend in the first three months and 20,000 additional points if you spend $6,000 in six months. The bad news: Chase won't approve you for the new card if you have the existing Hyatt Card. Chase will give a 2,000-point bonus to upgrade, however. The new card has a $95 annual fee. More details are here.

British Airways Bails on Its Oakland Route. Again.
British Airways launched its Oakland-London/Gatwick route last year as part of a flood the zone strategy of flying almost everywhere to convince U.S. travelers to connect through London. But while cities such as New Orleans, Austin, Fort Lauderdale and San Jose seem to be working as gateways, Oakland isn't cutting it. BA already had decided to turn Oakland-Gatwick into a seasonal run and flights were off the schedule from October 21 to March 31. Now comes news that the route won't resume in 2019 and is permanently cancelled. But the Oakland cancellation is only the latest cut from BA. Level, a discount carrier owned by IAG, British Airways' parent company, later this year moves its Barcelona route to San Francisco from Oakland.
      El Al is reversing a policy of allowing ultra-Orthodox travelers to demand women flyers be moved to accommodate their religious beliefs. Chief executive officer Gonen Usishkin said this week that "any traveler who refuses to sit next to another traveler will be immediately removed from the flight."
      VivaAerobus, a low-cost Mexican carrier, will launch daily flights between Mexico City and New York/Kennedy beginning October 18. The airline will use Airbus A320s on the run.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines now has one aircraft equipped with its new international premium economy cabin. The Boeing 777-200 is flying on test routes. The cabin is configured 2x4x2 with 37 inches of seat pitch. Seats are trimmed in purple and premium economy flyers receive upgraded meals, Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and small amenity kit. United says it will officially introduce the premium economy cabin later this year.
      Courtyard by Marriott continues to open properties it claims are "airport" hotels. So if you think the Courtyard at 13715 Sayward Boulevard in Herndon, Virginia, is at the "airport," hop on the shuttle to Washington/Dulles. Ditto for the Courtyard Denver Airport. It is located at 4343 Airport Way, 13 driving miles from the airport terminals.

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.