A BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 18-31, 2008
By Joe Brancatelli
· Just What We Needed: More International Flights
· Just What We Needed: More Hotel Openings
· DOT Raises Lost-Bag Reimbursement to $3,300
· American Airlines Ups Its Game at Logan
· Amex Says Fewer Miles and Points for You
· Delta's In-Flight Internet Limps Into Service
· A Fast New Train for the Rome-Milan Run
Just What the World Needed: More International Flights
International premium-class business is plummeting. According to IATA, the global airline trade group, front-of-the-bus traffic fell 8 percent in September, 6.9 percent in October and "early indications for November point to further large declines." As business travelers know, if you can't fill the front of the plane, there's really no reason to run the flights, since all the profit comes from first- and business-class flyers. So how are the airlines responding to the sudden disappearance of profitable international traffic? By adding flights next year, of course. In just the last few days we've seen new service announcements from Air Canada (Montreal to Rome); American (Dallas/Fort Worth to Madrid); Continental (Houston/Intercontinental to Frankfurt); Delta (Los Angeles-Sydney and Los Angeles-Sao Paulo); and Northwest (Detroit to Rome). And as if new service wasn't enough, airlines are resuming flights they had already cut. This week brought news that British Airways will resume its flights from London to Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Air Canada will return to the Toronto-Rome and Montreal-Martinique routes: and KLM will restore Calgary-Amsterdam nonstops, a route abandoned 12 years ago. And you wonder why the airlines almost never make money
Just What the World Needed: More Hotel Rooms
The global hotel industry is melting down--an industry analyst said this week that a record number of new lodging projects are being abandoned--but there are still lots and lots of properties in the pipeline. And not a day passes when a new one doesn't open. This week's crop: The Doubletree Guest Suites Fort Shelby has debuted inside the shell of the long-abandoned Fort Shelby Hotel in downtown Detroit. It's the second high-profile opening in Detroit this fall. Westin recently brought the Book-Cadillac back to life. Fairmont has a 150-room hotel in the Battery Wharf district of Boston. It's the second luxury hotel opening in Boston this fall. The Mandarin Oriental opened in Back Bay in October. Marriott has opened a 648-room hotel near Hong Kong's International Airport. The SkyCity Marriott is in the SkyCity development near the AsiaWorld Expo. It's a 25-minute train ride from Central. The former Atlantic hotel in Nice, France, has been renovated and reopened as the Boscolo Exedra Nice. The 113-room property, which dates to 1913, is operated by the Boscolo chain of Italy. A 169-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened at the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica. Liberia is the closest airport to the increasingly popular Guanacaste Peninsula.
American Airlines Ups Its Game at Boston/Logan
Boston/Logan is suddenly hot again. After Virgin America and JetBlue announced more flights there in recent weeks, American Airlines jumped in this week with its own plans. It will launch a daily nonstop to San Diego on April 7 and resume seasonal flights to Paris/CDG on May 1. American is also adding frequencies on its existing routes to Los Angeles, its Dallas/Fort Worth hub and London/Heathrow. American said it was "strengthening its leadership position" at Logan, which must come as a surprise to JetBlue, the market leader in Boston, and Delta, which was Logan's former kingpin The mixed-blessing of "consolidated rental facilities"--one big building that houses all car-rental firms at an airport and that is serviced by a combined shuttle-bus service--has been gaining ground in recent years. But the trend has run smack into the financial realities of the credit crunch. The first casualty? Seattle-Tacoma has suspended work on its $400 million consolidated rental center. BAA, the company that operates London's major airports and several in Scotland, is getting new marching orders from British regulators. The much-criticized subsidiary of a heavily indebted Spanish firm called Ferrovial has been ordered to sell two of its London holdings, Gatwick and Stansted, and the airport in Edinburgh. However, BAA will retain Heathrow, the world's most important international flight hub.
American Express Says Fewer Miles and Points for You
Holders of American Express cards tied to the Hilton HHonors and Delta SkyMiles programs take note: Amex has changed how it awards points and miles for many purchases. The result? Lower earnings for most non-travel categories. The Internal Revenue Service has set the 2009 per-mile driving rate at 55 cents. That means you can deduct 55 cents for each mile of business-travel driving you do. Effective on December 22, the Department of Transportation (DOT) raises the minimum domestic lost-baggage reimbursement rate to $3,300, up $300 from the current limit. Of course, most airlines adopt the DOT minimum as their maximum reimbursement rate, so it's a matter of semantics--unless you sue the airline when it loses your bags.
Delta's In-Flight Internet Limps Into Service
When Delta Air Lines and Aircell announced earlier this year that Delta would wire its entire domestic fleet for WiFi services, there were grandiose promises: as many as 70 planes in service by the end of the year and the entire domestic Delta network wired by next summer. But as travelers have learned whenever in-flight Internet is involved, the hype always exceeds the reality. On Monday (December 15), Delta announced it has launched WiFi on just six aircraft and will only have ten wired by the end of the year. Full domestic coverage is now promised for "late 2009" rather than the summer. (On the plus side, however, Delta says it will wire Northwest planes sometime next year, too.) At the moment, you can find Delta and Aircell's in-flight wireless on five MD-88s on the New York/LaGuardia-Boston/Logan Shuttle and on a Boeing 757 that roams the domestic network. Prices range from $9.95 for three hours of access and $12.95 for longer flights. Bmi has equipped one of its Airbus A320s for E-mail and text-messaging service. The six-month trial is being conducted with the OnAir subsidiary of Airbus.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Here's some good news: the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai will partially reopen on Sunday (December 21). The hotel announced that its Tower Wing and several of the complex' restaurants are ready to go. The Heritage Wing was badly damaged in last month's Mumbai terrorist attacks and remains closed. Hertz is beginning a car-sharing club in New York, London and Paris. The program, Connect By Hertz, has an annual membership fee and hourly rental rates start at about $8.50. Starwood Preferred Guest and Clear, the sputtering security "line cut" program, have struck a deal. Platinum level members will receive a free year of membership and other members will receive three free months if they enroll in the $199-a-year Clear plan. Just two weeks after they said they were exploring a merger, British Airways and Qantas have decided they'd rather just stay friends via the Oneworld Alliance. Thai Airways has reduced the free baggage allowance for coach passengers to 50 pounds a bag from the previous 70 pounds. The Italian railways have a fast new link on the Rome-Milan run. The new Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) trains connect Italy's political and financial capitals in three hours and 30 minutes, which shaves an hour off the previous travel time. Brussels Airlines is joining the Star Alliance.
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.