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A BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 11-18, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli

· Hertz Changes Refueling Policy Without Notice
· Guess What? More Hotels Change Brand Flags
· Virgin America and JetBlue Go to War in Boston
· Delta Aligns SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks
· A New Lounge Opens at LAX' Bradley Terminal
· Heineken Opens a Bar in Newark's Terminal C
· Advantage Closes Almost Half Its Locations


Advance Notice? We're Hertz! We Don't Give No Stinkin' Notice.
I'm shocked to learn that some frequent travelers still rely on car-rental firms to refill the gas tank when they return a vehicle. The refueling fee (or whatever euphemism the firm adopts to make it sound like it's doing more than just pumping a few gallons) is always rapacious and the most egregious rip-off in travel today. But judging from the furious E-mails I've received since Hertz changed its refueling policy on December 1 without notice, lots of you still let rental firms rip you off. As you recall, Hertz in June went from a straight per-gallon outrage (often $7.50 or more) to a system where it charged about the market rate for gas plus a $6.99 service fee. But last week Hertz switched back to the high per-gallon rates without warning customers. Notices sent to members of its #1 Club Gold program and posted on the Hertz Web site weren't available until the old policy was restored. Some JoeSentMe members even told me that they were dinged mid-rental. I made several attempts this week to get a satisfactory explanation from Hertz about why it made the change without advance notice, but the company's answers were convoluted and unconvincing. Bottom line: None of us should allow Hertz or any other rental firm to put us in the position of paying exorbitant above-market rates for gasoline. Fill up before you return and then you don't have to worry about refueling-charge idiocies and car-rental policies that change without advance notice.

Virgin America and JetBlue Go to War in Boston
After months of promising to launch flights to Chicago, Virgin America has bailed, claiming that it couldn't find gate space at O'Hare Airport. Instead of Chicago, Virgin Atlantic on Monday (December 8) said it would try Boston. The 17-month-old carrier said it will begin twice-daily flights from Boston to both Los Angeles and San Francisco on February 12. That announcement drew an immediate response from JetBlue Airways, which has emerged as the new power player at Boston's Logan Airport. After abandoning its nonstops from Boston to both San Francisco and nearby San Jose in September, JetBlue announced today (December 11) that it would restore a seasonal summer service to San Francisco beginning on May 1. JetBlue has continued flying its Boston-Oakland route and it also flies from Logan to Long Beach near LAX.

Get Our Your Scorecard: It's Hotel Reflagging Time Again
With occupancy and daily rates falling, hotels are stepping up their efforts to reflag their properties. So get out your scorecard to see if one of your favorite properties is changing names. The former Wingate Inn near Albany Airport in New York is now the Hotel Indigo Albany-Latham. Meanwhile, the Radisson hotel in Bloomington, Indiana, has switched to the Crowne Plaza flag. And there are two notable changes overseas. The Trianon Palace in Versailles, France, is dumping the Westin brand on December 31 and switching to Hilton's latest luxury moniker, Waldorf-Astoria. On the other hand, the Nile Hilton in Cairo is shedding the Hilton name. It will run as an independent property during a two-year renovation and then plans to fly the Ritz-Carlton flag.

Delta Lining Up SkyMiles and WorldPerks Before the Mileage Merger Delta Air Lines, which gobbled up Northwest Airlines this year, is moving to absorb Northwest's WorldPerks program into Delta's SkyMiles plan, too. The official mileage merger won't hit until late next year, but a few changes become effective at the beginning of the year. Most notably, SkyMiles will allow members to qualify for elite status with segments as well as miles. Silver Medallion will require 25,000 miles or 30 segments; the Gold level will require 50,000 miles or 60 segments; and Platinum will need 75,000 miles or 100 segments. Meanwhile, WorldPerks will adopt a three-tier award structure that mimics the SkyMiles award chart. From what I've seen, that means higher prices for most WorldPerks awards. And both SkyMiles and WorldPerks will offer a minimum of 500 miles for each segment flown. United Airlines is selling still another perk once reserved for premium-class flyers and elite members of Mileage Plus. The so-called Premier Line option allows non-elite United flyers to use elite access lines at check-in, security and the boarding gate. The price per flight starts at $25. SuperShuttle, the shared-van airport transportation service, has joined the Delta SkyMiles program and now offers 50 miles in each direction.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Advantage Rent-A-Car has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and closed almost half of its locations. A pay-per-visit lounge called reLAX has opened in the Bradley International terminal at LAX. The entry fee ($10-$35, depending on length of stay) covers club access; snacks and beverages; and free Internet. Here's something you don't hear too often: Grenada wants American Airlines to fly there less frequently. The island helps subsidize American's daily flights from Miami and is afraid that the travel downturn would convince American to drop the route. Grenada tourism officials want American to cut Miami-Grenada flights to three each week beginning in February. United Airlines continues to sell anything not nailed down to stay afloat. It has sold and leased back 15 Boeing 757s for $150 million. Heineken has opened its first bar in the United States at Newark Airport. The so-called Heineken Lounge is located in Terminal C. Air France has made a free stopover in Paris a part of connecting itineraries over its Paris/CDG hub. ... A note for full-fare Continental Airlines flyers: The carrier's Web site apparently has been malfunctioning lately and refusing to issue automatic refunds on refundable fares. Instead, the site mistakenly says the value of the ticket can only be applied to future travel. If you cancel a refundable fare, make sure you get your refund.
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.