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THE BRIEFING FOR APRIL 10 TO 24, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· Of Course, the American-USAir Merger Will Suck
· Alaska Adds Two SEA Routes, Drops Four Others
· Terminal 5 at O'Hare Finally Gets Its Renovation
· JetBlue Drops Five Routes Before DCA Expansion
· Terminal 1 at Raleigh-Durham Opens on Sunday
· Hilton Isn't Transparent About Being Opaque
· Yes, Winter Flying Was as Bad as You Thought


Now Do You Believe No Good Will Come From the AA-USAir Merger?
If you harbored any lingering hope that some good would come from the reverse merger of US Airways into American Airlines, consider the blizzard of bad news emanating from Dallas this week:
    Travelers who buy American's most expensive coach seats (called fully flexible) are no longer exempt from checked-bag fees. Irrationally, however, travelers who buy the lower-priced Choice Plus and Choice Essential fares continue to receive a free checked bag. Travelers who claim AAnytime (full-priced) awards off the AAdvantage chart will also be charged to check bags. Complete details are here.
    American now charges $25 for the first checked bag on flights to Mexico and many Caribbean destinations.
    Without notice, American created three levels of AAnytime awards. And guess what? American won't even tell you what the third, highest level of AAnytime award will cost because, the carrier claims, they'll decide on an ad hoc basis. The three-level pricing regime is effective for travel starting June 1 and there was no chance to book awards at the old prices. The airline also imposed two-tier pricing to some of the carrier's cheaper MileSAAver awards. Complete details are here.
    The free bag allowance has been reduced for AAdvantage Gold and USAirways Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold members. All those flyers now receive just one free checked bag.
    The sweetest spot of the Dividend Miles program--a restricted business-class award to North Asia for 90,000 miles--was abruptly repriced. That award now costs 110,000 miles. Full details are here.
    Effective April 23, elite members of Dividend Miles will no longer be exempt from the $25-$300 co-pays imposed on upgrade awards. The details are here.

Alaska and JetBlue Remake Their Route Networks
In what's becoming a long, drawn-out battle for control of Seattle-Tacoma, Alaska Airlines is juggling its route network. New are daily Boeing 737 flights to Albuquerque (beginning September 18) and a new transcon route, this one to Baltimore-Washington. It launches on September 2. But Alaska is also dropping three other routes: Los Angeles-San Jose; Portland-Long Beach; and Atlanta-Portland. The airline previously said that it would also drop flights between Anchorage and Denver. The LAX-San Jose route has already ended. The other routes end during the summer. ... JetBlue Airways, which has yet to say what it will do with the Washington/National slots it won in the American Airlines/US Airways divestiture, is already clearing its map and freeing up planes. It is dumping five routes: Austin-San Francisco; Palm Beach-San Juan; and Washington/Dulles to Long Beach and Oakland. The Long Beach flight ends on September 2 and the others end on June 16. JetBlue has also decided it won't resume seasonal Buffalo-Fort Myers flights.

Renovated Terminal 5 at O'Hare Debuts, RDU Terminal 1 Due Sunday
The long overdue revamp of international Terminal 5 at Chicago/O'Hare has been unveiled. The 21-gate facility now has a spa; a branch of R.J. Grunts, the restaurant that spawned the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises empire; an outpost of Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera; and more than a dozen other shops and dining options. More complete details are here. ... Speaking of overdue, Terminal 1 at Raleigh-Durham is now expected to open on Sunday (April 13). Bad weather earlier this year delayed the opening by six weeks. The $68 million project will have nine gates. Four are assigned to Southwest Airlines and the others are reserved for future growth. There will be local restaurants and shops as well as national chains. ... With United Airlines bailing on Cleveland, the airport will close Concourse D on June 5. United's remaining flights will operate from the C Concourse. ... Phoenix Sky Harbor now has a public-entry lounge. A new branch of The Club is now open in Terminal 4. It's $35 for entry or free for Priority Pass and American Express Platinum cardholders.

Hilton HHonors Can't Even Be Transparent About Being Opaque
Hilton HHonors now says it values "transparency in our communications" after screwing members with an unprecedented series of devaluations. So it wants you to know that next week 25 hotels will be bumped up at least one reward category and 14 will be decreasing in cost. But how can Hilton claim transparency when it has made its award chart totally opaque? As you can see by its current chart, seven of 10 categories now have sliding prices that change without notice. Some categories are so opaque that award pricing can literally double whenever Hilton decides to change the amount of points you need to claim a free night. ... Club Carlson, the award program of Radisson hotels, has a notable new Caribbean property: The Radisson Trinidad in Port of Spain. The hotel was once called the Crowne Plaza and most recently was known as the Capital Plaza. ... The Alaska Airlines MileagePlan is running a double-miles promo on many routes from Seattle. Some routes will offer double miles between June 1 and December 31 and others between June 1 and September 1. For full details and registration, surf here and here. Delta Air Lines has, of course, matched and is offering double SkyMiles on its Seattle routes.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Bummed that your American Express Platinum no longer gets you free entry to American Admirals clubs? Citibank, which now has the exclusive right to issue AA credit cards, is promoting its Citi Executive/AAdvantage card. If you go to an Admirals Club and flash your Amex Platinum between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., you will get a day pass and an application for the Citi card. The promotion lasts through April. ... National Car Rental is now offering the new Kia K900 luxury sedan as part of its Premier Selection. ... A company called Royal Sprinter now operates a luxury bus service between Washington and Manhattan. The fare is $90 each way and the company uses specially configured eight-passenger Mercedes mini-buses. ... Yes, it was as bad as it seemed: The Department of Transportation says the 69 percent on-time rating for domestic flights in January and February made it the second-worst winter period in the 20 years that the government has kept records. The only year that January and February was worse was 1996.

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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT 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.

This column is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.