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 The Tactical Traveler

joe JOE BRANCATELLI'S BUSINESS-TRAVEL
BRIEFING FOR MARCH 16 - MARCH 30, 2006

Meanwhile, in the Hotel Circus Ring…
It's difficult to focus on the shenanigans of the hotel industry while the Big Six airlines have been indulging in ritual suicide. But here is an eye-popping number: More than $21 billion worth of hotel properties were bought and sold last year, almost double the $12 billion worth of buildings that changed hands in 2004. What's it all mean for you? An endless and frustrating series of brand realignments and confusing name changes. This week is no exception. A large investment fund called Blackstone recently bought both the La Quinta and Baymont chains. Now it has decided to switch more than 100 Baymonts to the La Quinta flag and then sell off the Baymont brand to Cendant, a conglomerate that owns chains such as Wyndham, Ramada, Wingate and Days Inn. Want micro rather than macro? Then here's this week's individual reflaggings: Marriott is taking over the 782-room Sofitel Paris Rive Gauche and has already slapped its name on the 352-room Harbourfront Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Westin will put its flag on the 157-room Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida; and Loews, which recently lost its two Washington hotels, the Jefferson and the L'Enfant Plaza, has gotten a replacement. The Madison, which underwent a major restoration just two years ago, will begin flying the Loews flag on April 1.

Frontier Drops the Other Shoe on Unrestricted Rewards
Frequent flyers hate redeeming at the unrestricted levels, which often costs about twice the number of miles of restricted awards. Well, the Frontier Early Returns plan has a new twist: Effective April 1, you won't even be able to redeem unrestricted awards unless you are an elite Frontier traveler. Standard-level Early Returns members at the Ascent and Summit levels will have to settle for hard-to-claim restricted awards or nothing at all. … Say goodbye to Moments, the frequent-stay program of Le Meridien hotels. Now a part of the Starwood chain, Le Meridien is switching members to the Starwood Preferred Guest program beginning tomorrow (March 17). For details, click here. … The swanky resorts in Hilton's recently launched Waldorf-Astoria Collection--the Arizona Biltmore, La Quinta and the Grand Wailea Resort--will soon be joining Hilton HHonors. You'll be able to earn points and claim rewards at the Biltmore and La Quinta on June 1. The Grand Wailea Resort on Maui joins HHonors on September 5. Hilton has not yet established the earning rate or the cost of rewards for the properties, however.

This News Comes From the Land Down Under
Qantas is returning to San Francisco after a gap of almost 12 years. The Australian carrier says that it will resume three weekly flights between SFO and Sydney on March 29 using Boeing 747-400s configured with three classes. During the summer, Qantas will also offer a same-plane Vancouver-San Francisco-Sydney itinerary. … OzJet is gone. The all-business-class carrier launched four months ago. … Speaking of Sydney Airport, many international passengers have been complaining about long departure delays caused by late-loading of luggage and a disproportionately large amount of lost bags on arriving flights. The airlines have blamed the airport and the airport has blamed the airlines for scheduling too many flights at the same time.

Southwest Breaks Its Own Fare Cap
Southwest Airlines raised its fares $2-$10 across the board this week. The $10 bump is on the airline's unrestricted walk-up fares, which had been capped at $299 each way for almost four years. … JetBlue Airways continues to add service. On May 3, it will launch flights to Sacramento from its hub in Long Beach, California. It will also add a unique transcontinental route on June 30: Burbank to Orlando. Also new on June 30: Burbank-Las Vegas flights. That'll put JetBlue in direct competition with Southwest on the route. And lest you think the fast-growing--but now unprofitable--airline is finished, watch for JetBlue to announce service to two new cities as early as tomorrow (March 17).

Does Any of This Surprise You?
The U.S. Labor Department is now investigating how Northwest Airlines has handled its underfunded employee pension plans. The airline filed for bankruptcy a day before it was due to make a $65 million payment to its pensions. The employee pensions are underfunded by more than $5 billion. .. Delta Air Lines is paying a lawyer $695 an hour to negotiate with its pilots union for additional wage concessions. What's odd about that? The lawyer is also essentially acting as the airline's general counsel. On an annualized basis, the rate works out to almost $1.5 million a year. The lawyer's firm recently billed Delta a total of $834,000 for services rendered between the September 14, 2005, bankruptcy filing and January 31.

Business-Travel News Your Need to Know
The big airline alliances keep growing. Swiss International, now a vassal of Lufthansa, joins the Star Alliance on April 1. Two weeks later, Aeroflot joins SkyTeam. You can make your own jokes about which alliance got the better partner. … Orbitz.com has added a new feature to its TLC Alerts program. It will automatically inform as many as six people when a traveler's flight is delayed. The contacts must be in your Orbitz profile, of course. … Skybus hopes to launch all-coach service from Columbus, Ohio, and it received Transportation Department approval last week. The airline apparently doesn't have funding, however.

No Comment Necessary
In case you've been held incommunicado in an airport club this week: A Transportation Security Administration lawyer who disregarded a judge's order and coached Federal Aviation Administration witnesses in the sentencing phase of the Zacarias Moussaoui trial has been placed on paid administrative leave. The judge has also disallowed testimony from the tainted witnesses, effectively gutting half of the government's death-penalty case. Moussaoui is the only person charged in the United States with crimes related to the 9/11 attacks and he has already pleaded guilty. The trial was due to resume on Monday (March 20), but that is now in doubt.

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.