A BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 9 TO 23, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli
· Meanwhile, Back at the $19.28 Hotel Promotion
· Southwest Adds Airport Priority Security Lanes
· Another Burst of New Hotels Around the Nation
· Cathay Pacific Adds Arrivals Lounge in Hong Kong
· Silver Linings for Travelers in the Financial Crisis
· Sun Country Airlines Goes Bankrupt in Minneapolis
· Your Tax Dollars at Work in the AIG Bailout
When Really Noteworthy Hotel Promotions Go Bad
When last we left the Leading Hotels $19.28-a-room promotion, the luxury-hotel reservation service was trying to dig out from a nightmare. About 150,000 people registered for the October 1 online auction and then flooded Leading's Web site with what a company spokesperson said were 15,000 clicks a second during the bidding. The result? Leading's servers melted down and none of the 6,000 room nights available for the promotion was awarded. Leading told me this week that it is currently working on a new way to distribute the rooms at $19.28 a night and hopes to announce the procedure in the next few days. As a matter of good faith, the company says that it will then destroy the 150,000 E-mail addresses it collected during the registration process. "We don't want people thinking we did this just to get their E-mails," a company spokesperson told me.
Southwest Adds Priority Security Lanes at Seven Airports
Southwest Airlines is adding priority security lanes at seven airports. The lanes, available to the airline's Business Select and A-List customers, are opening in Baltimore/Washington, Dallas/Love, Phoenix Sky Harbor, John Wayne/Orange County, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The so-called FlyBy lanes are due to expand to several more airports next month. Cathay Pacific has opened a lounge in Hong Kong for its arriving first-class and elite customers. The lounge, called The Arrival, is located between Terminals 1 and 2 and features a buffet dining area, eight shower stalls, desktop computers and WiFi connections. Speaking of lounges, Priority Pass has added lounges in Amman, Jordan; Sydney; Beijing; Boston (the US Airways Club in Terminal B); and Phoenix (the US Airways club in Concourse 4B). And Diners Club, the nearly moribund charge card now owned by the Discover card, has signed up 18 lounges at 14 airports in the United Kingdom. The lounges are operated by Servisair. Diners Club cardholders get airport club access in about 30 countries.
Still Another Burst of New Hotels Around the Nation
With business travel dropping like a stone, you'd hate to be a hotel owner now. But what choice do you have? You have new buildings in the pipeline, so your only choice is to keep the structure closed or open as planned. For the moment, at least, hoteliers are choosing the latter. So get out your scorecard and mark down these new outposts. W Hotels has opened a branch in Minneapolis. The 229-room property is in the iconic Foshay Tower modeled after the Washington Monument. Embassy Suites has opened a 283-suite property in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Mandarin Oriental has opened a 136-room/12-suite property on Boylston Street in Boston. It's adjacent to the Prudential Center. Opening rates are $525 a night on the Internet and more than $800 a night through other outlets. Staybridge Suites has opened a 118-room hotel in Las Vegas. The five-story property is four blocks off The Strip.
The Silver Lining of the Financial Crisis for Travelers
The Panic of 2008--at least I'm hoping it's just a panic and not the early days of a depression--does have something of a silver lining for business travelers. For starters, the price of oil continues to plummet and was selling this evening (October 9) as low as $85 a barrel. That rolls prices back to about where they were last October and is sure to take some financial pressure off the shaky airlines. Other developments will have a more direct benefit for international business travelers. The dollar is on a rampage against other currencies, which are being pummeled by events. The Australian dollar, trading around 90 cents to the greenback just a month or so ago, has fallen off the metaphoric table. Today it traded around 65 cents, its lowest level in five years. The euro, which peaked at $1.60 earlier this year, continues to fall, too. It's now selling around $1.36. The dollar has also reached a recent high against the British pound; it's now selling at about $1.71, down from about $2.03 earlier this year.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Clear, the security line-cut program, has opened at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. That is the 20th airport in the country with a line-cut program operated by Clear or one of its competitors. Clear, which once promised substantial security-screening bypass as part of its benefits, is also raising its price to $199 a year on October 15. It currently charges $128. Sun Country Airlines, which operates a small schedule from Minneapolis, has declared Chapter 11. It continues to operate, however. Olympic Airlines has labor problems--again. A strike grounded many of the Greek flag carrier's flights yesterday (October 8) during a nationwide transport strike. The new edition of the Michelin Guide for New York awarded its top rating (three toques) to four restaurants: Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Masa and Per Se. Seven other dining rooms received two toques.
Your Bailout Tax Dollars at Work
The federal government has now poured more than $100 billion of taxpayer dollars into AIG, the troubled insurance giant that was deemed too big to fail. After the first tranche of $85 billion last month, the company held a week-long retreat at the St. Regis resort in Monarch Beach, California. The tab: almost $400,000, including $200,000 for rooms, $150,000 for meals and $23,000 in spa charges. This week's second tranche of nearly $38 billion was due to be followed by an AIG getaway this weekend at the pricey Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. AIG executives now say that the retreat has been cancelled.
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.
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This column is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.