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A BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 3-17, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli

· If Less Is More, More Hotels Must Be Insane…
· The Continental/United Upgrade Order Game
· Back to the Future at London's Paddington Station
· Brutal Times for the Dollar on Currency Markets
· Cincinnati Is Delta's Odd Airport Hub Out
· Air France Adds Airbus A380 on Paris-New York
· Air Canada Adds Bag Fees on International Flights


If Less Is More, More Hotels Must Be Insane…
It cannot be said frequently enough: The global hotel situation is dire. Room rates and occupancy rates have plummeted, more hotels are behind on their mortgages or in default than homes and there is very little help on the way. In fact, things continue to worsen as more and more properties spill out of the development pipeline, which lags two to three years behind contemporary lodging trends. The end-of-the-year rush of new properties is especially startling since so many of them are in the upscale resort and luxury hotel segments, which have suffered the most in the current bad economic climate. Still, you should know that these new options now exist. In Barcelona, for example, there's now a 98-room Mandarin Oriental. In China, Hyatt has opened a 491-room Grand Hyatt in Shenzhen's Luohu District, the city's primary financial center. In Florida, Westin has opened a 254-room property in Lake Mary, just north of Orlando. It's one of six properties Westin says that it will open between mid-November and the end of the year. In Deer Valley, Utah, the St. Regis luxury division of Starwood has opened a 181-room resort. And Ritz-Carlton, the hard-hit luxury arm of Marriott, is opening three new properties this month. A 170-room resort in Lake Tahoe opens next week, followed by a 250-room hotel north of Tucson, Arizona, and a 54-villa property in Krabi, in South Thailand.

Following Orders: The Continental/United Upgrade Game
The integration of Continental Airlines into the Star Alliance has gone fairly smoothly considering it is the first-ever on-the-fly (so to speak) switch in the history of alliances. And now one of the last pieces of the puzzle--the order in which flight upgrades will clear--seems to be set. For travel on Continental Airlines flights, first priority goes to Continental OnePass Platinums, followed by United Mileage Plus super elites (Global Services and 1K), followed by Continental Gold, United Premier Executive, Continental Silver and United Premier. On United flights, the order is reversed. United's top elites get first crack at upgrades, followed by Continental Platinum, United Premier Executive, Continental Gold, United Premier and Continental Silver. … And while we're speaking of award opportunities and Star Alliance carriers, consider the following: Bmi is dropping several longer-haul destinations from its London/Heathrow hub. Gone next month are flights to Tel Aviv, Kiev and Aleppo, Syria. Also gone are bmi's seasonal runs from Heathrow to Venice and Palma, Spain. On the positive side, however, United says it will operate seasonal flights between Chicago/O'Hare and Rome between May 1 and August 31. … Delta SkyMiles members take note: Delta adds daily flights from San Diego to Honolulu on June 3. It will also resume Detroit-Honolulu nonstops, a route Northwest Airlines abandoned in 2004. The DTW-HNL flights will run three times a week beginning June 2. … Speaking of Hawaii, Hilton HHonors members take note: Hilton's Kauai property is dumping the Hilton name on January 1 and thus will be out of HHonors.

Back to the Future of Check-In at London's Paddington Station
When Heathrow Express trains launched in 1998, the Paddington Station terminus offered airline check-in and checked-bag desks for major carriers serving London/Heathrow. Those desks disappeared after 9/11, but now some check-in services are resuming at Paddington. This time it's in the form of automated, common-use check-in kiosks that will spit out your boarding pass and allow you to drop checked bags at fast-bag-drop stations at Heathrow. The machines currently offer boarding passes for Delta, United, Finnair and Iberia flights, but other carriers, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, are expected to eventually permit check-in and boarding-pass services, too. And here's a concept: The terminal even has flight boards so you know where your flight is departing from at Heathrow and whether it's on-time. The check-in kiosks and the info boards are located on the platform between Tracks 6 & 7. (By the way, there's no reason why you can't use the check-in services if you travel on the much cheaper and slightly slower Heathrow Connect trains that usually use Track 12.) You can get more information on the new services here.

The Term You're Looking for Is 'Brutal'…
The U.S. dollar continues to get pounded on world currency markets and, depending on where you're traveling, you're looking at near-record lows. The greenback has sunk to around 88 Japanese yen to the dollar and about $1.50 to the euro. Those are the quoted commercial rates, of course, and you'll pay even more for currency exchange. (One example: I paid my bank $1.54 on December 2 for a wire transfer denominated in euro.) The dollar is also hurting against the Australian dollar (now worth 92 U.S. cents); the New Zealand dollar (now worth 78 U.S. cents); the Swiss franc (a buck now buys less than a franc); and the Canadian dollar (now worth 95 U.S. cents). And while it has lost ground to British sterling all year, the pound at $1.66 remains well within historical norms. … Continental Airlines switched to a cashless cabin on Tuesday (December 1), meaning all in-flight purchases must now be made with a credit or debit card. … Air Canada is joining British Airways and the U.S. legacy carriers in charging for a second bag in coach on international service, including U.S. cross-border flights. The price is C$30 for a second bag on flights to the United States and C$50 on flights to Europe and Israel. Full-fare coach and business-class passengers and elite Air Canada frequent flyer members are exempt from the fees, which kick in on January 19. … Cathay Pacific is now selling exit-row seats in coach to all comers. The price on long-haul flights is $100 or 20,000 Marco Polo miles. Previously, only elite Marco Polo club members could book the seats.

Cincinnati, Delta's Odd Airport Out
When Delta and Northwest merged, travelers looked at the combined carrier's big hubs in Detroit and Atlanta and then glanced at the airline's small hubs in Cincinnati and Memphis and realized that something would have to give. And despite Delta's repeated claims that it had no plans to close any hubs, it is clear that Northwest's old hub in Memphis is relatively safe and the big loser is Delta's Cincinnati hub. Even before the merger, Delta had been downsizing in Cincinnati, where it once operated more than 400 daily flights. Now five additional destinations are going atop the previously announced cutbacks planned for February. Gone will be nonstop flights to Montreal; Oklahoma City; Des Moines; Providence, Rhode Island; and Tri-Cities, Tennessee. By February, that will reduce what was once Delta's second-largest hub to around 180 or so daily flights and service to 70 nonstop destinations, down from 120 cities just four years ago. … The FlyAway bus service to Los Angeles Airport has a new destination: Irvine Station in Orange County. Irvine Station is also home to Amtrak and several Southern California rapid transit services. The Irving-LAX nonstop route has six daily nonstops using 22-seat buses. … Attention San Jose flyers: Beginning today (December 3), JetBlue will use Terminal A. Continental and United shift to Terminal A on December 9.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Continental Airlines has shut down its fledgling service that offers live TV service on seatback monitors. The system, the same owned by and offered on all JetBlue Airways flights, still has a few installation glitches. … Air France is now using an Airbus A380 configured with 538 seats on its Paris/CDG-New York/JFK route. The flights are AF 007 (JFK-CDG) and AF 008 (CDG-JFK). … Business-class passengers on United Airlines p.s. service flights between San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York are now given lounge access as part of the ticket purchase. … ATA, the airline-industry trade group, says U.S. domestic capacity will drop 6.9 percent in 2009 compared to 2008. That is the largest capacity decline since 1942, the first full year of U.S. involvement in World War II.

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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.