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THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 14 TO 28, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· Airport Lounges Keep Improving and Expanding
· First Class Is Less Expensive on Alaska Airlines
· More Hawaii--and Less--With Miles and Points
· Hilton Is Growing Fastest By Getting Smaller
· Hyatt Getting a New (Old) Hotel Near LAX
· Delta Finds More Flights to Cut at Memphis
· Gogo's In-Flight WiFi Take? 75 Cents a Flyer


Airline Service Tanks, But Airport Clubs Improve and Expand
Almost everything related to flying is getting worse, but there is one bright spot: Airport clubs are improving and expanding at a rapid clip. Delta Air Lines announced this week that it has modestly upgraded free snacks and food served at SkyClubs worldwide. Meanwhile, American Express has opened a Centurion Lounge at New York/LaGuardia's dilapidated Terminal B. At 5,000 square feet, the landside LGA Centurion Lounge is smaller than the Amex clubs in Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth, but it is automatically the swankiest thing at New York's short-haul airport. There's also the now-familiar Amex mix of good food, upmarket cocktails, cool workspace and swanky relaxation areas. Meanwhile, Regus, best known for virtual-office rentals, has opened the first lounge not run by British Airways inside Terminal 5 of London's Heathrow Airport. The arrivals lounge naturally focuses on work and business services. Also at Heathrow, the two-month-old Queen's Terminal is home to the first European branch of the Plaza Premium club network. Located in the Terminal 2a departure level, the lounge features a Champagne bar, spa services and shower rooms. And the first pay-per-visit club has opened in Singapore's Changi Airport. Called The Haven, it is located in the Terminal 3 Arrivals Hall. It has lounge and shower facilities as well as short-stay "nap rooms."

First Class Gets Less Expensive on Alaska Airlines
Without any fanfare, Alaska Airlines has added some heavily discounted first-class fares. The so-called P Class fare bucket began popping up in the second quarter and is now available in 52 nonstop markets. A sample: An unrestricted first-class seat between Seattle and Chicago/O'Hare carries a $718 one-way price. But the P fare on the route is $402 one-way. That 44 percent first-class discount isn't a metaphoric free lunch, of course. P Class fares are nonrefundable, require a 21-day advance purchase and carry a $125 change fee. P Class fares generated about $8 million in incremental first-class revenue in June, says Alaska Airlines senior vice president Andrew R. Harrison and they will be rolled out in additional markets. To find P fares when booking on AlaskaAirlines.com, look for the "lowest" column under the first-class section of the carrier's pricing grid.

More Hawaii--and Less--to Claim With Miles and Points
Although there's plenty of miles-and-points access to more exotic resort destinations, Hawaii continues to drive the "aspirational" desire of most frequent travelers. And there is good--and bad--news on the Aloha State. Hawaiian Airlines says that it'll add nonstop flights to Maui from San Francisco later this year. Beginning November 20, there'll be four weekly Airbus A330 flights between SFO and Kahului (OGG) and that will ramp up to daily service on December 17. You can claim award seats via HawaiianMiles, which offers 1:1 transfers from American Express Membership Rewards. Hawaiian is also a partner of American AAdvantage as well as the JetBlue TrueBlue and Virgin America Elevate programs. On the negative side of the ledger, Marriott Rewards is losing the JW Marriott hotel in the Ko Olina resort on the west shore of Oahu. The 387-room property is closing after Marriott's management contract expires at the end of the year. The hotel will reopen in 2016 as a Four Seasons. ... Speaking of Marriott Rewards, it can boast a new property in Bali. A 290-room Courtyard has opened in Seminyak on the island's west coast. ... Hilton HHonors is picking up a Kimpton property...sorta. The 198-room Hotel Palomar in Dallas has gone independent and been reflagged as The Highland. It also joined Hilton's new Curio Collection and that means you can earn and burn via Hilton HHonors. ... Hyatt Gold Passport has picked up a hotel at Los Angeles Airport. The 580-room Concourse Hotel on Century Boulevard is now bookable via Hyatt and you can earn and burn Gold Passport points. After a renovation, the hotel will rebrand as the Hyatt Regency. The property recently traded as a Radisson, but it was built and opened as a Hyatt 60 years ago.

Hilton Is Growing Fastest By Getting Smaller
Hilton Hotels doesn't seem to be suffering any ill effects from its repeated gutting of the Hilton HHonors program. The hotel group is opening new properties with head-spinning speed and growing faster than any chain on the planet. Fastest growing of all? Hampton Inn, now nearing 2,000 properties worldwide. Among the newbies: in the Westgate area of Toledo and in Milan, Ohio; Lynchburg, Virginia; Everett, Washington; near Haywood Mall in Greenville, South Carolina; near Fort Bliss in El Paso; in Hillsboro, Oregon; in Camp Springs, Maryland; and in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There are also new Home2 Suites properties in Lehi, Utah; in the Cranberry Township suburb of Pittsburgh; and Katy, Texas. And there are new Homewood Suites hotels in San Bernardino, California, and Charlottesville, Virginia. What ties these properties together? A very small footprint. Most are in the 90-to-110-room range, none have more than 150 rooms and some have as few as 70 rooms to rent. The small size of these limited-service properties "is about putting right-sized lodging wherever there is a demand," a Hilton executive told me. "We're micro-managing, but in a good way."

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines continues to stamp out any evidence that Memphis was once a hub. Even after last year's big cuts reduced Memphis to a sixth of its size when it was one of Northwest's hubs, Delta is still finding new routes to drop. Service to Austin and Denver end next month. Flights to Las Vegas will also disappear, at least temporarily. ... Atlanta/Hartsfield flyers take note: Customs and Border Protection is testing an app that will allow returning U.S. citizens to submit their passport information and customs declaration via a smartphone or tablet. ... Marriott says mobile check-in and checkout are now available at 1,200 hotels and will be available at nearly all properties worldwide by the end of the year. ... Can't live without in-flight WiFi? Apparently the vast majority of travelers can. The "uptake rate" of Gogo, which has wired more than 2,000 aircraft, is only 6.7 percent. That translates to average revenue of 75 cents from each passenger on a flight equipped with Gogo WiFi.

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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.