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A BRIEFING FOR SEPTEMBER 10 - 24, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli

· Continental Morphs OnePass to Sync With Star
· Airlines Add Sun and Snow Destinations for Winter
· Three 'Liquid Bomb' Plotters Convicted in Britain
· Yes, Virginia, They Keep Opening New Hotels
· United and Frontier Raise Baggage Fees...Again
· Avis and Budget Ban Smoking in Their Rental Cars
· Vancouver Airport Gets a Downtown Rail Link


Continental Morphs OnePass to Sync With Star Alliance
Continental Airlines' switch to the Star Alliance on October 27 has already resulted in a substantial number of route changes as the new kid in Star severs connections to SkyTeam hubs. But Continental today (September 10) also unveiled a wide-ranging series of changes to its OnePass program. The changes are too numerous to fully detail, but Continental has posted a decent enough update here. In summary, look for some reduced fees (no same-day ticket charges for Platinum Elite members or $100 co-pays on upgrades from B class tickets) and relaxed rules (no Saturday-stay requirement on awards), a simplified reward chart (but slightly higher prices to places like Hawaii), a reduction of some bonuses (Y class fares will now earn only 1.5 elite-qualification points instead of 2 points) and improvement in some earnings (all fares now qualify for full elite mileage credit). And, naturally, earnings and awards partners will shift: Out are SkyTeam airlines, in are Star carriers. The changes will be phased in during the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Continental has also quietly waded into the double elite-qualification battle being waged between American and United. If you register here and travel before December 15, you'll receive double elite-qualification miles.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter (Cue the Sun and Snow)
Desperate to find somewhere to make a few bucks, airlines are stepping up their routes to snow and sun destinations for winter travel. These additions come despite record cutbacks in their schedules elsewhere. AirTran Airways, for example, is adding flights between Orlando and Key West on December 17. AirTran will also launch nonstop flights to Nassau, Bahamas, and Montego Bay, Jamaica, from Baltimore/Washington, Atlanta and Orlando. The flights begin on December 17 (Nassau) and February 11 (Jamaica). JetBlue Airways is also flying into Montego Bay from both Boston/Logan (January 9) and Orlando (February 8). Air Canada is launching a nonstop between Calgary and Honolulu on December 5. American Eagle, the commuter carrier of American Airlines, will bulk up its Caribbean hub in Miami on November 19 with new service to three destinations in the Bahamas: Treasure Cay, Harbour Island and Governors Harbour. And on the snowy side of things, Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines' commuter carrier, will launch new flights to Mammoth Mountain, California, that will operate between December 17 and April 11. The flights will depart from Reno, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Jose.

The Irony of Timing and the Liquids Ban
Just days before the eighth anniversary of 9/11, three British citizens were found guilty on Monday (September 7) of plotting to blow up transatlantic flights headed from London to the United States. The 2006 plot, allegedly tied to al Qaeda, led to the liquids ban that is now in place around the world. A total of eight men were arrested in August, 2006, and British prosecutors claimed they were planning to use explosives hidden in soft-drink bottles. Four men were acquitted this week and the jury could not reach a verdict on the eighth defendant. British police said the plotters were just days away from executing their plan to bomb flights leaving from Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport. SkyEurope, a low-fare carrier based in Slovakia, folded earlier this month. An Aeromexico flight was briefly hijacked yesterday (September 9) as it traveled from Cancun to Mexico City. No one was injured and the hijacker was identified as a former drug addict who found significance in the day 9/9/09, the reverse of 666. The Canada Line has opened and slashed mass-transit travel time between Vancouver Airport and downtown Vancouver to 25 minutes. The airport station is in the Link Building between the domestic and international terminals. The train serves nine stops in Vancouver and four in suburban Richmond.

Yes, Virginia, They Keep Opening Hotels
Awash in excess room inventory and plagued by plunging nightly rates, the lodging industry has responded by opening still more hotels. So get out your scorecard for the following new properties: a 220-room Marriott in Macon, Georgia; a 193-room Starwood Aloft property across from the Dallas Convention Center; and a 125-room Hotel Indigo in the Research Triangle Park in Durham, North Carolina. Holiday Inn Express added two locations near Los Angeles Airport. The 120-room property at 8620 Airport Blvd. is a conversion of a Howard Johnson hotel; the 120-room hotel at 11436 Hawthorne Blvd. is a new build. The iconic Hotel National in Moscow has joined Starwood's Luxury Collection. The hotel was one of the first upgraded properties in post-USSR Moscow and another renovation will start next year. Meanwhile, two major developments in the resort world. The Maui Prince hotel will change names and management later this month. Prince, the current managers, announced it would pull out of the property, which is in default of its mortgage. Meanwhile, the shuttered Four Seasons hotel on Great Exuma in the Bahamas, which closed in May, has been bought by Sandals. It will reopen as a couples-only, all-inclusive resort in January.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines continues to ramp up its baggage fees in a never-ending attempt to shore up its constantly crumbling bottom line. Its newest charges: It matched the $50 second-bag fee on flights to Europe that was pioneered by Delta and British Airways. It also added a $30 fee for second bags checked on flights to Mexico and the Caribbean. Frontier Airlines has been busy on the fee front, too. It has raised its first checked bag fee to $20 and its second checked bag fee to $30. It also lowered some of its ticket-change fees. And the supposedly fee-free carrier, Southwest Airlines, has invented an optional new charge. For $10, you can get so-called Early Bird Check-In, which will get you a spot on the boarding line behind Business Select and A-List customers. Avis and Budget say they will ban smoking in all rental vehicles beginning October 1. The U.S. dollar plunged against the euro this week and is now selling for about $1.45. Pinkberry, the frozen-yogurt chain, has opened at Los Angeles airport, the group's first airport location. The shop is in Terminal 1 after security.

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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.