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A BRIEFING FOR NOV. 19 TO DEC. 5, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli

· If at First a Surcharge Succeeds, Then Pile On…
· Anyone Care If US Air Devalues Dividend Miles?
· Iron Chef Morimoto Designs 'Skewers' for Airports
· A Whole Bunch of New Hotels You Need to Know
· A Whole Bunch of Airport News You Need to Know
· Warning: A Series of Strikes Planned at Iberia
· Free In-Flight WiFi on Delta, Compliments of eBay


If At First You Succeed a Little, Pile On…
What started as an annoying little $10 surcharge on Big Five airfares for a day or two around the holidays has suddenly become the hot new way to raise fares. The legacy carriers have now expanded the outrageous hidden charge to about 40 days between the end of the month and Memorial Day. And the surcharge has now reached as high as $50, which applies to travel on February 8, the day after the Super Bowl. There are several reasons why this "busy travel day" surcharge is suddenly popular: The legacy carriers don't have to file new fares with the various clearing houses; they don't have to worry about Southwest Airlines or other low-fare competitors matching because the surcharge is hidden from the base fare comparison; surcharges raise more money because corporate discounts don't apply; and, probably most importantly, it's another way for the Big Five to make believe their fares are lower than they really are. Of course, this flavor of gamesmanship rarely pays off in the longer term. It eventually drives more and more travelers to carriers that offer cleaner, more transparent fare structures.

Does Anyone Care Anymore if US Airways Devalues Dividend Miles?
Unless you're a prisoner of one of US Airways' remaining hubs, you probably don't pay much attention to Dividend Miles, the carrier's mostly gutted frequent flyer program. But even gutted programs can get devalued, so US Airways is doing it again. The airline's new award chart, effective January 6, has four price levels (off-peak, low, medium and high). So that means, for example, a business-class seat to Europe will cost 60,000, 100,000, 200,000 or 350,000 miles. But wait, it gets better: Even the whopping 350,000-mile level is both capacity controlled and subject to blackout dates. In other words, US Airways miles are mostly worthless. But they were mostly worthless before, too, just a little less annoying. … United Airlines has backed off and restored "regional upgrades" for 1K members of Mileage Plus. The airline eliminated that popular upgrade when it realigned its entire upgrade regimen to make it more harmonious with Continental Airlines' OnePass program. (Continental joined United in the Star Alliance last month.) … Speaking of Continental and United, the carriers made a non-announcement announcement this week: Elite flyers will be eligible for upgrades on both carriers thanks to the new Star Alliance hookup. Why is that a non-announcement announcement? The specific date the reciprocal upgrade program goes into affect wasn't announced and the carriers didn't announce the pecking order for the upgrades. Hey, but otherwise, it's everything you need to know about your upgrade privileges. … Hilton HHonors members take note: The Hilton Kauai Beach resort is going independent on January 1. That means no more free HHonors stays, of course.

A Whole Bunch of Airport News You Need to Know
Wanna eat? A Dunkin' Donuts has opened in Cleveland/Hopkins. And Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is developing a "concept" for airport restaurants. The chain will be called Skewers and feature a mash-up of Asian dishes in smaller-than-traditional-size portions. … Wanna find your flight? American Airlines has moved its check-in area and security checkpoints into the North Terminal of Miami airport. And the airline moved commuter-flight check-in to its main check-in areas at Boston/Logan. There are also new priority-access facilities at Logan for elite members of American AAdvantage. Meanwhile, Continental Airlines has moved to Terminal 1 at Paris/DeGaulle to be with its new partners in the Star Alliance. … The new Larnaca International has opened on Cyprus. The new facility is four times larger than the old airport. … Want a new place to sleep? A 136-room Hyatt Place has opened in Cascade Station, a mixed-use development one mile from the airport in Portland, Oregon. And a 300-room Westin has opened a mile from Washington/Dulles Airport. … Want a new club? Priority Pass members can now use the Air France Business Class Lounge at Los Angeles International.

A Whole Bunch of New Hotels You May Want to Know About
You know the drill. We don't need more hotels. The hotel industry doesn't need more hotels. But the pipeline of properties launched several years ago continues to spit out a huge flow of products. So buckle up and take good notes. … From Marriott, the chain's first Courtyard in the center of Rome. The 162-room property is in the Monte Mario district not far from the Vatican. … From Starwood, a 503-room Sheraton adjacent to the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan and a 202-room Le Mιridien in Philadelphia. ... From Hyatt, a 148-room Hyatt Place in The Forum, a mixed-use development in Fort Myers, Florida. ... From InterContinental, a 100-room Hotel Indigo in Asheville, North Carolina; and a 95-room Candlewood Suites in Kalamazoo. … Hilton has converted and expanded the Terraces Hotel at Lake Taupo, New Zealand. The property is a three-hour drive from Auckland. I'm not sure, but Travel Insider David Rowell might be the only guy we know who knows how to get there.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Expedia and Choice Hotels have settled their pricing dispute and you'll once again find Choice-branded properties on booking sites controlled by Expedia. … More free in-flight WiFi. eBay will sponsor free Internet sessions on Delta Air Lines between November 24 and November 30. … Just in time: a firm called the Holdup Suspender Company has introduced a line of airport-friendly braces. The company claims the suspenders will not set off the alarms as travelers pass through the security checkpoints. … Iberia travelers take note: unions plan to strike the Spanish carrier on November 30, December 1, 2 and 14-18.

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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.