A BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 5 TO 19, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli
· Continental's Transition to Star Remains Unclear
· Shangri-La Offers Free Internet at All Hotels
· Delta and Northwest Link Frequency Programs
· Hilton Picks Up More Warm-Weather Resorts
· The Greek Tragedy That Is Olympic Airlines
· US Airways Will Charge for Blankets, Too
· Dirt and Death Go Hand in Hand at Wyndham
Continental's SkyTeam-to-Star Transition Remains Unclear
Continental Airlines says it will exit the SkyTeam Alliance after the last flight of the day on October 24 and it obviously would love to launch its previously announced tie-ups with United Airlines and the Star Alliance on October 25, not coincidentally the first day of the airline industry's "winter" schedules. But Continental needs approval for both the United and Star Alliance arrangements and that has run into some low-level flak in Congress. And with the Transportation Department in transition along with the rest of the government less than three weeks into the Obama Administration, there is no guarantee that Continental will be able to manage a seamless leap into Star. Continental has already made the appropriate schedule moves, slashing some service to SkyTeam hubs such as Atlanta and Minneapolis and bulking up its presence at some United hubs. But exactly when--or if--United, Continental and Star can start meshing frequent flyer programs, airline lounges and upgrade regimens remains unknown.
A New Definition of Shangri-La: Free Hotel Internet
Shangri-La, the luxury chain that operates 60 hotels and resorts, most of them in Asia, now offers free Internet access to all guests. The free wired and WiFi access includes guestrooms, public areas, restaurants and function rooms. Radisson SAS, which operates most of the Radisson properties overseas, is changing its name to Radisson Blu. Why the change? The company is no longer owned by SAS airlines. Why the switch to Blu? Well, SAS' logo includes a blue box and some branding genius apparently though the ersatz term "blu" is an appropriate replacement. The Royal Hawaiian hotel in Waikiki has reopened after a multi-million-dollar renovation. The beachfront property is part of Starwood's Luxury Collection. But Starwood is out at the Atlantic resort in Fort Lauderdale. That's the second Starwood loss in Fort Lauderdale in the last year. The St. Regis there became a Ritz-Carlton in August. However, Starwood expects to open a W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale next month. Elsewhere in Florida, Hilton's Waldorf-Astoria Collection has picked up two properties in Key West. The Casa Marina and The Reach resorts underwent more than $80 million of renovations last year.
Delta and Northwest Link Programs, Allow Free Mileage Transfers
As Delta Air Lines slowly integrates its systems with Northwest Airlines, it has announced that travelers can now link their SkyMiles and WorldPerks accounts. Better yet, travelers can now freely transfer miles between the two programs once they are linked. If you link your accounts before March 15--which will save Delta the trouble of doing it when WorldPerks ends later this year--you'll receive 500 bonus miles. You can access the link-and-transfer process from here on the Delta site and here on the Northwest site. Hilton is bulking up in warm-weather island destinations and that's good news for HHonors members searching for free vacations in the sun. For starters, Hilton is now flying its flag over three Polynesian resorts that bolted from Starwood early last month. The former Sheratons in Tahiti and Moorea and the Luxury Collection property on Bora Bora are Hiltons now. Half a world away, Hilton has picked up its third property in Sicily. The 19th century Excelsior Palace joins the historic Villa Igiea (both in Palermo) and the newly built Hilton Portorosa in Funari. (BTW, beware of the seafront Portorosa property when it reopens for the season in March. It is just down the mountain road from the village of Longi, from whence the Brancatellis apparently originate and I can't vouch for any of them.)
Now New Yorkers Won't Have Tahiti or Paris
When Air Tahiti Nui launched flights from New York in 2005, it offered nonstop flights to Paris as well as a groundbreaking seasonal nonstop to Tahiti. Now both routes are dead. The New York-Paris run, which gained a reputation among bargain hunters, ended early in 2008. The New York-Tahiti run died last summer, a victim of stratospheric oil prices. But Air Tahiti Nui made vague promises to renew that route this summer if oil prices declined. Oil has--but Air Tahiti Nui won't. The airline announced this week that it will fly 13 weekly flights to Tahiti this summer--but all of them from Los Angeles. The New York run, which the airline actually promoted with a low-priced weekend package, is now permanently dead. US Airways continues to cannibalize service at its former hub in Pittsburgh. The airline said that it will end its Newark-Pittsburgh nonstops on March 7.
Chapter ∞ in the Greek Tragedy That Is Olympic Airlines
Olympic Airlines, nee Olympic Airways, which has been troubled since the time of Socrates (or thereabouts), has reached still another crisis point. After an endless stream of government bailouts (some judged legal, others not by the European Commission), several relaunches and name changes, a new attempt to privatize the carrier has failed. The highest bidder, a start-up company called Athens Airways, offered just 24.5 million euros, or about half of what the government had set as the minimum acceptable price. Turkish Airlines says it plans to add ten routes from its Istanbul hub this year, including nonstops to Washington/Dulles and Toronto. And the airline's existing Chicago-Istanbul route will go daily effective in April. Etihad Airways, the flag carrier of Abu Dhabi, says it will launch three weekly nonstop flights to Chicago on September 2. The service, using three-class Airbus A340-500s, goes daily on October 1. Air Canada and its Jazz commuter carrier are bulking up its transborder service from Alberta. Effective May 15, it will launch daily Calgary-San Diego service. Nonstop service to Portland, Oregon, begins on June 15.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines has opened a new Admirals Club at Washington/Dulles airport. It's in Terminal B, where American flights have been operating since June. Alaska Airlines is adding two new routes this summer. Flights between Portland, Oregon, and Maui begin on August 7. Flights to Austin from Alaska's Seattle hub begin on August 3. US Airways continues to strip its in-flight service of any free services. Beginning February 16, it will charge coach passengers $7 for pillows and blankets. The so-called Power-Nap Sack is a take-home kit that includes a $10 gift certificate for SkyMall purchases. Skype has released a new version of its software that includes a much simpler, integrated interface and more powerful video-calling service.
Death and Dirt Go Hand in Hand at Wyndham
You may have already heard that the grungy Hotel Carter in New York's Times Square topped TripAdvisor.com's Top Ten list of dirtiest hotels for the third time in four years. But what you may not have heard is that five of the ten worst hotels are part of the Wyndham family of hotels. Among Wyndham's despicably dirty places: the Days Inn Cleveland Airport (5th); Days Inn Airport/Stadium in Tampa (6th); the Travelodge in Bangor, Maine (7th); and the Days Inn in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (10th). Number 9 on the list was Wyndham's Ramada Plaza hotel at New York's Kennedy Airport. That's particularly poignant because the Ramada Plaza is also known as the "Death Hotel." It is where families are herded after a fatal crash of a flight that originated at or was headed to Kennedy.
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 © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.