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A BRIEFING FOR JULY 24 - AUGUST 7, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· More Frequent Flyer Money for Them, Less for Us
· A Good Week for Starwood Preferred Players
· This Week's Cuts From Delta, United and JetBlue
· Midwest Airlines Burns the Furniture in Milwaukee
· BA Will Move Its Last Flights to T5 in October
· Watch Out for More Strikes at Lufthansa
· A New Airline for the No-Fly List: Spirit


More Frequent Flyer Program Money for Them, Less for Us
If you doubted that frequent flyer programs are stacked against you, then consider this week's news. First there was the announcement from United Airlines that it would get a much-needed infusion of cash by pre-selling $600 million worth of Mileage Plus points to Chase, which issues the Mileage Plus credit cards. (Chase, which processes United's credit card sales, also sweetened its lifeline by returning $350 million in "holdbacks.") This comes just a month after Continental Airlines beat about $400 million from Chase for the right to continue issuing One Pass credit cards. But does all this cash flow mean the airlines are making their frequent flyer programs more attractive? Of course not. Two more notable devaluations have come from Continental and Alaska Airlines. Continental has increased fees, including those for award changes and redeposits; awards claimed within 21 days of departure; and the upgrade co-pay. (Details on the changes, effective August 17, are available here.) And today (July 24), Alaska Airlines announced a substantial devaluation of Mileage Plan beginning November 1. The basic award will rise 5,000 miles to 25,000 miles and there will be a $25 fee for claiming a partner award. Most importantly, Alaska is switching to a three-tier award structure. The new top level, Full Flex, will be unrestricted, but awards will require substantially more miles than ever before. Alaska's new award charts are here.

A Good Week to Be a Starwood Preferred Guest Player
Starwood Preferred Guest travelers take note: The chain has opened a laundry list of new hotels this week. The new lodgings include three new Sheraton properties: a 135-room hotel in Columbia, South Carolina; a 285-room hotel in Garden Grove, near Disneyland; and a 159-room hotel in Jacksonville, Florida. Also new: an aloft hotel at Chicago/O'Hare Airport. And, no, I still don't know what an aloft is. Ritz-Carlton will take over the St. Regis Fort Lauderdale on August 10. Hawthorn Suites no longer participates in the Hyatt Gold Passport program.

Here Are This Week's Service Cuts
JetBlue Airways says it will slash its capacity by about 10 percent this fall and doesn't expect to grow at all next year. Most notable casualty: Flights to Ontario, California, from its New York/Kennedy hub. United Airlines now says it will be 20 percent smaller by the end of the year. The latest cuts from the amazing shrinking airline: Denver-London; Los Angeles-Frankfurt; and San Francisco-Nagoya. On the domestic front, United will drop two routes from its Chicago/O'Hare hub (Spokane, Washington, and San Jose, California); two routes from its Los Angeles hub (Austin and Oakland); and the Denver-Charlotte and San Francisco-Atlanta routes. Delta Air Lines continues to trim, too. Its latest cuts: New York/JFK-Houston/Intercontinental; Miami-Tallahassee; and Cincinnati-Springfield, Missouri, all on September 2. Also going: Orlando-Key West on October 16. Aeromexico is dropping service to three cities from Mexico City: Los Angeles, Phoenix and Austin.

Midwest Airlines Burns the Furniture in Milwaukee
After Midwest Airlines said a few weeks ago that it would retire about a third of its fleet, we knew big cuts were coming. But Midwest seems to be burning the furniture in a desperate attempt to survive. Effective September 8, its primary hub in Milwaukee will shrink dramatically. Gone will be flights to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers, Florida; San Diego; Los Angeles; and Seattle. And Orlando will only be served on a seasonal basis. Also gone will be commuter flights from Milwaukee to eight cities: Baltimore; Hartford, Connecticut; Louisville, Kentucky; Muskegon, Michigan; Raleigh/Durham; St Louis; San Antonio; and Wausau/Stevens Point, Wisconsin. It didn't take long for Midwest's competitors to fill some of the gaps. AirTran Airways, which tried to buy Midwest last year, will add Milwaukee-Fort Lauderdale flights. And Northwest, which bought a minority interest in Midwest last year, will launch nonstops between Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
British Airways says that its remaining flights to London from North America will switch to Heathrow's Terminal 5 on October 22. The move from Terminal 4 affects flights from Boston; Calgary; Denver; Montreal; and Seattle. The proposed merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines has its challenges. The European Union briefly suspended its review and now has extended its initial examination period into August. It could extend the review for four months before making a judgment. And a federal judge has set November 5 as the trial date on a lawsuit to block the merger brought by a group of passengers. WestJet, the big Canadian discount carrier, says that it will begin offering assigned seats, but there'll be a C$10-C$15 fee. About a thousand Lufthansa flights were cancelled earlier this week due to a wage dispute with pilots. Another strike could happen as early as tomorrow (July 25). Meanwhile, the Lufthansa Web site now claims that it is "generally compulsory" to keep your seatbelt fastened while in flight. The site notes that Lufthansa graciously will allow you to "stretch your legs or visit the toilet." Nice of them, don't you think?

Must to Avoid: Spirit Airlines
Ever since Spirit Airlines was taken over by the former "Killer Bs" of US Airways, the carrier has been heading south in customer service, in-flight quality--and simple honesty. In recent years, Ben Baldanza, the chief executive, and Barry Biffle, the chief marketing officer, have given full head to their passenger-repugnant policies. The latest: a $10 roundtrip charge for the privilege of making a reservation on the Spirit Web site. The fee was slipped into the contract of carriage, but never disclosed to travelers buying tickets on the Spirit site. The so-called "web convenience fee" was withdrawn this week after it generated negative media publicity, but I think it's time to put Spirit on your own personal no-fly list.
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.