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THE BRIEFING FOR JAN. 24 TO FEB. 7, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· Failed Fuel Surcharges and Cowardly Carriers
· The Hotel Rush Continues Around the World
· Southwest Airlines Is Growing Again in Denver
· Alaska Air and Virgin America Battle in Seattle
· The Dollar Hits a Three-Year Low Against the Yen
· Dollar Invents a New Surcharge on Car Rentals
· A Concourse Extension and New Gates at Dulles


Cowards and Fuel Surcharges and Lemmings, Oh My!
Just try to follow the string of domestic fuel surcharges that the Big Six have tried and failed to impose during the last two weeks. On Friday, January 11, United Airlines added a $50 roundtrip surcharge. But only where United didn't compete with the low-fare carriers. The other Big Six carriers matched over the weekend, but by Monday, January 14, Continental Airlines backed away. So the rest of the Big Six lemmings did, too, and the domestic surcharge dropped back to the previous level of $10-$20 roundtrip. On Thursday, January 17, American Airlines tried to increase the surcharge to $40 roundtrip. Once again the Big Six matched--but only where they didn't compete with low-fare airlines. The other Big Six rushed to match over the weekend. By Monday (January 21), however, the Big Six began rolling back the surcharge to the original $10-$20 roundtrip level. And that's where it stands now (Thursday, January 24 at 3 p.m.). But the failures haven't stopped the clueless fools at United from talking up their supposedly tough, new stand on fares. Despite its cowardly and continued unwillingness to move alone on price and surcharge issues that United chief executive Glenn Tilton called "necessary to pay for rising fuel costs," Tilton insists that United will focus on "superior execution" of its "fare actions." This kind of double-talk shouldn't surprise anyone, of course. When it exited bankruptcy two years ago, United's five-year plan predicted oil would average $50 a barrel. That bizarre prediction came when oil prices were already over $60 a barrel. Update on Sunday, January 27: Continental Airlines raised its fuel surcharge to $40 roundtrip on Friday morning. The other Big Six carriers matched.

Comings and Goings in the Hotel World
Even with the economy slowing, new properties continue to open with surprising speed. Consider this week's worldwide crop. Hampton Inn has opened a 116-room property in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. Westin has opened the Sohna Resort, a 97-room property that is the chain's first location in India. It's about 90 minutes from New Delhi Airport. Ritz-Carlton has reopened its property in the Kapalua Resort on Maui, Hawaii. The 445-room property has undergone a $160 million renovation. A 226-unit Embassy Suites has opened in East Peoria, Illinois. The waterfront property is connected to the Riverfront Conference Center by a glass-enclosed walkway. The Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, has reopened after a two-year, $24 million renovation. The 130-year-old hotel was headquarters to most of the media during the Clinton Administration.

Southwest Is Growing Again in Denver
After years of a self-imposed boycott of the Mile High City, Southwest Airlines tiptoed back into Denver two years ago with just 13 flights. Now it operates 56 daily flights in with competition United's Denver hub and Frontier Airlines, the city's hometown carrier. And guess what? Southwest isn't done. The 800-pound gorilla of discount airlines is tweaking its nationwide network in the spring and that will result in flights to six more cities from Denver. Beginning May 10, Southwest will add five daily flights to Los Angeles; three each to San Antonio and St. Louis; two to Philadelphia; and a daily flight to both Raleigh-Durham and San Jose, California. JetBlue Airways will begin flying from Fort Lauderdale to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, on February 15. Luton Airport in London now permits travelers to carry on two bags, so Silverjet, which flies between Newark and Luton, has changed its policy to match. The new allowance is effective immediately.

Virgin America and Alaska Will Fight It Out in Seattle
Virgin America is entering the Seattle market and Seattle-hubbed Alaska Airlines is slapping back. Virgin's decision to launch flights from Seattle to Los Angeles and San Francisco on March 18 has provoked Alaska into flying near-shuttle frequencies into California. Effective April 27, it will fly 15 times a day between LAX and Seattle; eight times a day between Seattle and San Francisco, Virgin America's hometown; and seven times a day between Seattle and both San Jose and Oakland. A $137 million extension of Concourse B has opened at Washington/Dulles airport. The addition includes 15 gates (B62 to B79), accessible by a shuttle service beyond the security checkpoints. At least five carriers--AirTran, JetBlue, Virgin America, American and Delta--will begin using the gates during the year. A NASCAR-themed airport shop has opened in Charlotte. Charlotte is a major stop on the NASCAR circuit, of course. I mentioned earlier this month that Terminal Two had opened at Mexico City, but there is still some confusion for Delta and Aeromexico passengers. To transfer between terminals, they'll need to cab it or find the T1-T2 shuttle bus, which is still unmarked and costs 10 pesos. The monorail connection between the two facilities is only for ticketed passengers and, as JoeSentMe member Karen Reel learned, travelers who have cleared customs to reach the monorail are no longer considered ticketed passengers.

Here's a New Surcharge You'll Surely Hate
Are you careful to fill up your rental car before you return it? Of course you are, because who wants to pay the $6-9 a gallon the car-rental firms charge for their "refueling service"? Even if you fill up before returning your car, however, some New England outlets of Dollar Rent A Car have invented a fee with which to ding you. A new $2 top-off fee is imposed on renters who return their Dollar rentals with a full tank of gasoline. The U.S. dollar hit a three-year-low against the Japanese yen this week. It has dropped to about 106 yen and some experts--if there is such a thing in the currency markets--expect the yen to reach the magic 100-to-the-dollar mark soon. Gotten a big, strange-looking and complicated packet of information concerning foreign-exchange fees on credit cards? It's not phony. It's part of a class-action settlement with several large credit card issuers that have agreed to reimburse cardholders who claim they were overcharged on currency-exchange fees when they made foreign-currency charges. If you qualify, you may get $25 or more returned for fees paid between 1996 and 2006. Complete details are at the CCF Settlement Web site.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Southwest Airlines says it will test full-strength, in-flight Internet access this summer. The satellite-delivered Wi-Fi will initially be installed on four aircraft. Meanwhile, American Airlines says that its first aircraft enabled with a version of Wi-Fi access is ready to go. However, the Boeing 767, which will use the old Airfone mobile-telephone bandwidth, will only offer data communications. There'll be no Internet access. American says the price will be $10-$13 a flight. Three Alitalia passengers were arrested on a flight from Milan this week after they refused to turn off their mobile phones. Full-fare passengers on Eos, which flies between New York/Kennedy and London/Stansted, now receive free helicopter transportation to and from Manhattan. Ryanair, Europe's largest low-fare carrier, is raising the price of its add-on fees--again. It will cost passengers as much as $15 for each piece of standard-weight checked luggage and up to $6 for check-in done at the airport. The British Airways 777 that crash-landed at Heathrow last week did not lose all power to its engines. At least that is the initial conclusion of British investigators. The high-speed Spanish AVE train is now running between Madrid and Barcelona. That knocks an hour off the formerly four-hour run between Spain's two most important cities.
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 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.