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A BRIEFING FOR JULY 31-AUGUST 14, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· Delta Restores a SkyMiles Perk--for a Price
· Hotels Keep on Opening--and Switching Flags
· OpenSkies Adds a Destination and Dumps a Class
· All Sorts of New Fees and Charges Keep Coming
· American Adds Food Service at Admirals Clubs
· Malev Ends All of Its Flights to North America
· Frontier Gets Funding, But Sells Itself Cheap


Delta Restores a SkyMiles Perk--And Charges for the Privilege
When Delta Air Lines slapped restrictions on its unrestricted-level awards late last year, it attempted to slip the game-changing rules past SkyMiles members without an official announcement. But now that it is bringing back last-seat-availability awards, the change merits headlines atop the Delta press release. But the restoration of last seat award availability--not to mention the restoration of SkyMiles as a viable currency--comes at a very high price. Delta's new frequent flyer program will have three levels: a heavily restricted tier that is almost identical to the old SkySaver category; a somewhat less-restricted tier that is priced at about the same as the old unrestricted SkyChoice awards; and the last-seat-availability, unrestricted award level. The domestic prices: 60,000 miles for a coach seat; 100,000 miles for a first-class seat; and 90,000 miles in coach and 180,000 miles in first class to Hawaii. Internationally, an unrestricted business-class seat to Europe will cost 350,000 miles and an unrestricted business-class seat to Asia will cost 370,000 miles. A small benefit: you can mix and match awards at all three levels.

Hotels Keep on Opening--and Switching Flags
Another burst of hotels tied to Starwood Preferred Guest has opened this week. There are newly built Sheraton hotels in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Quebec City, Canada, and another new aloft property in Charleston, South Carolina. After a $12 million renovation, Hilton picks up the Key Largo Grande Hotel in the Florida Keys. The 200-room beachfront resort was most recently an independent property and is probably best known as the former Sheraton Key Largo. Dorchester, the luxury group built around the eponymous hotel on Park Lane in London, will now manage two more hotels in the United States. It has taken over at the New York Palace and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles.

OpenSkies Adds a Destination and Dumps a Class
For a tiny subset of a gigantic airline, OpenSkies, the British Airways boutique carrier, is certainly making a lot of news. This week it announced its second route: New York/Kennedy-Amsterdam, which is due to launch on October 15. (The carrier currently flies JFK-Paris/Orly and its new subsidiary, L'Avion, flies Newark-Orly.) Then it announced a major change in its in-flight configuration. It is dumping coach and concentrating on its business class with lie-flat beds and prem+, a near-business-class product with reclining leather chairs that offer 52 inches of legroom. The airline's Boeing 757s will now offer 64 seats, 24 in business and 40 in prem+. Speaking of BA, it and Iberia are once again in merger talks. This time, the carriers envision an Air France-KLM type of arrangement where the airlines are jointly owned by a parent corporation but retain their individual identities. Say goodbye to Malev, the Hungarian carrier. It is dumping its only two routes across the Atlantic. The Budapest-Toronto route ends September 21 and the Budapest-New York service disappears on October 25.

All Sorts of New Fees and Charges Keep Coming
Get out the scorecard because that's the only way you'll be able to keep track of all the new fees that the carriers are inventing (or increasing). Beginning in mid-October, for example, Virgin America will charge up to $100 for the privilege of choosing a seat in a bulkhead or exit row. The seats have extra legroom (38 inches) and the new charge, dubbed "Main Cabin Select," includes complimentary food and beverages as well as free pay-per-view entertainment on the seatback audio-video system. Along with Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines continues to offer all travelers one free checked bag. But it announced this week that it would up the second-bag charge to $50. Frontier Airlines has eliminated its free standby travel. Travelers looking to stand by will receive a confirmed seat if available, but will have to pay any applicable fare difference. Frontier's ticket-change fee will also rise to $150. Hawaiian Airlines will now charge $10-20 for tickets purchased by phone and $25 for airport ticketing. It will also charge $15 for the first checked bag on flights to and from the mainland, although the first checked bag will remain free on inter-island flights. Northwest Airlines has raised fares from its Detroit hub by as much as $80 roundtrip.

American Adds a Paid Food Program at Admirals Clubs
American Airlines is rolling out a new pay-to-snack program in its Admirals Club airport lounges. The so-called Amora scheme offers breakfast items, salads, sandwiches, wraps and other items. There is also food packed to go. The program is already available in Austin, Chicago/O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles. A Servisair lounge has opened beyond security at Montreal Airport. Walk-in guests pay $30 a visit. Sofitel has opened a 605-room hotel at Heathrow Airport in London. It is connected by a bridge to T5, the airport's newest terminal. A Delta Air Lines flight to Las Vegas last Saturday (July 26) was delayed for seven hours on the tarmac at New York/Kennedy airport. Delta eventually cancelled the flight, refunded the passengers' fares and made new arrangements. But it hotly disputed the claim that the plane was delayed by seven hours. Delta insists it was only five hours.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines and its pilots are squabbling again. United has sued the pilots union and four of its pilots. The airline claims the union and the specific pilots organized sick-leave abuses. It also claimed the union was urging pilots to turn down overtime. The pilots and the union deny the charges. As you'll recall, a fight between United and it pilots led to the airline's meltdown in the summer of 2000. Frontier Airlines has finally secured a commitment for $75 million in debtor-in-possession (DIP) funding, more than three months after it declared Chapter 11. But the cost is ferocious: The private equity group providing the DIP funds can purchase 80 percent of the reorganized airline for just $100 million. It was a very bad week for flying. A Cathay Pacific flight suffered mid-air damage as it was landing Tuesday (July 29) at Vancouver Airport. A day earlier, China Southern passengers on three flights stuck overnight in Kunming, Yunnan, rioted after they were told to sleep on the plane or in the departure hall. Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, blamed the airline staff's "inappropriate working attitude." And it seems as if everyone on the planet has heard about the Qantas jet that landed in Manila after losing a huge chunk of its fuselage. At the moment, investigators think the incident was caused by an exploding oxygen canister. ... Lufthansa cancelled 10 percent of its flights today (July 31) as an open-ended strike reached its fourth day. Lufthansa has been forced to cancel more flights each day as the strike has progressed.
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.