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A BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 6 TO 20, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli
· Blast From the Past: At-the-Gate Upgrades
· BA Will Charge to Check a Second Bag
· Is That Your Development Pipeline Or ...
· JetBlue's Revenue-Based Frequency Program
· Three New Gimmicky Credit Cards From United
· US Airways Slaps Its Code on ANA Flights to Tokyo
· Holiday Inn Goes Back to the Future in Memphis
Blast From the Past: At-the-Gate Upgrades Are Back
At-the-gate upgrades all but disappeared when airlines began tying a move to the front of the bus to a traveler's elite status. Even in traditional down times, there were so many elites vying for so few available upgrades that airlines rarely had any space left for other flyers. But in this startling downturn, which has depressed business travel and premium-class flying much more than back-of-the-bus coach flying, up front seats on many flights are going begging. So airlines have revived the practice of selling comparatively low-priced upgrades "at the gate" just before departure. Sometimes carriers post signs at the departure gate that say "upgrades available" and sometimes not. Sometimes airlines load upgrade opportunities into the check-in kiosk and sometimes not. Sometimes upgrade opportunities show up when you check in online and sometimes not. The one sure way to know if a cheap (or maybe free) upgrade is available is to ask at the podium when you arrive at the gate. And remember, be polite and humble. That works much better than bluster when dealing with the increasingly harried gate personnel. The availability of at-the-gate upgrades is growing so fast that some carriers have even codified them in their rules. Look here to see how Continental Airlines explains its policies and procedures.
BA Says It'll Charge to Check a Second Bag on International Flights
The question wasn't if major carriers would start charging to check bags on international flights, but when and which airline would be the first to try. We now have the answers: Effective October 7, British Airways says that it will charge coach passengers on U.S.-originating flights $60 to check a second bag. The fee is $48 if you pay online. On U.K. flights to the United States, the fee is 40 pounds at the airport and 32 pounds if paid online. The long lead time before the charge goes into effect indicates that BA is informally signaling other carriers of its intentions. If others don't match or if they come in at lower prices, BA will adjust. But BA has an additional problem: Terminal 5 at London/Heathrow is not equipped to handle payments at its bag-drop stations located beyond the check-in kiosks. If you have two bags to check, you'll first be required to drop the free bag and then take the second bag to another counter to pay the fee. And lots of luck deciphering BA's new rules and fees as posted on its Web site. BA's premium-economy, business-class and first-class passengers will still receive a minimum allowance of two free checked bags on international flights.
Is That Your Development Pipeline or Are You Happy to See Guests?
The unprecedented downturn in travel has caught the hotel industry with its development pipeline hanging out. Despite plummeting nightly room rates and falling occupancy rates, new hotel projects, planned upwards of three years ago, continue to gush from the pipeline. This week's newbies include a wide range of lodgings in all price ranges. So get out your scorecard: St. Regis opened a 189-room property in the La Reforma district of Mexico City. … Candlewood Suites opened a 188-unit property near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. … Sheraton opened a 300-room hotel in the Incheon Free Economic Zone in Seoul, South Korea. … Country Inns & Suites opened a 70-room outpost in Covington, Louisiana. … Shangri-La opened a 301-room branch of its Traders Hotel chain in Abu Dhabi. … Marriott added a 179-room Residence Inn in Portland, Maine, and an 85-room Fairfield Inn in South Boston, Virginia. … Cambria Suites opened five properties: in Madison, Wisconsin; Traverse City, Michigan; Noblesville, Indiana; Maple Grove, Minnesota; and Aurora, Colorado.
JetBlue Launches Revenue-Based, Not Mileage-Based, Program
Since its first flights in February, 2000, JetBlue Airways has done most things right. But one glaring deficiency was its dreadful TrueBlue program, which is irrelevant even to many of the airline's most frequent customers. Now everything but the name is being jettisoned when the carrier revamps TrueBlue on September 28. The biggest news is that TrueBlue 2.0 will be revenue-based, not a traditional mileage-based program. In other words, like hotel programs, you'll earn points based on the amount of money you spend. Program basics include three points for every dollar spent on tickets--and six points per dollar if you purchase the ticket on JetBlue.com. While there are no elite levels, JetBlue flyers will receive bonuses for each 3,000 points they accrue. There's also a bonus for booking transcontinental flights. On the award side, there are no blackout dates or capacity controls. If there's an empty seat, you can claim it for points. But award levels are also based on dollars. The higher the cash cost of the ticket, the higher the number of points required to claim it. One-way awards start at 5,000 points and increase in 100-point increments. JetBlue executives say the vast majority of its seats will be available for 10,000 points or less. Points won't expire if you fly JetBlue or use your JetBlue American Express card once a year. Some, but not all, of the details of the program are available here.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
US Airways and ANA, the Japanese carrier, have forged a code-sharing deal. US Airways will put its code on ANA's flights to Tokyo/Narita from San Francisco, Chicago/O'Hare and Washington/Dulles. … Remember the go! flight that overshot its Honolulu-Hilo routing because both pilots fell asleep? The National Transportation Safety Board has now officially ruled that the pilots were exhausted from overwork and the captain also suffered from sleep apnea. … United Airlines and its JP Morgan Chase partner have introduced three more gimmicky credit cards. One includes free Red Carpet Club membership, one includes access to United's EconomyPlus seats and the third offers enhanced Mileage Plus earning opportunities. Details on the new cards are here. … Verizon has been dragged kicking and screaming into the WiFi era. It now offers most of its wired high-speed Internet and FIOS customers free WiFi access, too. Verizon's network of free WiFi hotspots is built on Boingo, but there are some notable exceptions. Verizon's version excludes all of the McDonald's locations and many other venues. To see if you qualify for Verizon's free WiFi and to register, surf here.
Holiday Inn Goes Back to the Future in Memphis
After "soft opening" in June, the seventh Holiday Inn in Memphis celebrated its "grand opening" last Saturday (August 1) and that would normally be a snooze of a news item. But the 133-room Holiday Inn Memphis-Wolfchase Galleria represents an intriguing back-to-the-future bit of history. The property is just a few miles from the site of the world's first Holiday Inn, which was opened in 1952. It is owned by the family of Kemmons Wilson, the man who created Holiday Inn. The hotel is decorated with dozens of photos detailing the history of Holiday Inn. And, of most historic interesting, the hotel has a display that includes memorabilia from the first Holiday Inn, including an original bed, desk, lamp and chair. Sounds like it's got everything but the baseball cards I left in a Holiday Inn on a family vacation in the 1960s…
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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.