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THE BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 2-16, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli
· Free Platinum Status From PriorityClub Rewards
· Denver Gets New Airport Club and a Revived Clear · United Backs Off the Upgrade Cutbacks for Elites
· Amex's New Platinum Benefit Less Than It Seems
· A Rash of Reflaggings at Full-Service Hotels
· Some Signs of Life for In-Flight Internet
· Can America Afford Israeli-Style Security?
There Are Some Signs of Life for In-Flight Internet
The long and winding road to in-flight WiFi still seems to end well short of profit for both the airlines and the sponsors of the service. But there are definitely some signs of life. After essentially running out of legacy-carrier aircraft to add to its network (United, Continental, US Airways and American have all stopped adding planes), Gogo Internet has received an additional commitment from its prime customer, Delta Air Lines. Delta has already wired about 550 of its mainline jets and has now committed to add WiFi to 233 regional jets, too. Delta says it will wire all of those Delta Connection planes by the end of 2011. Delta says that'll make about 80 percent of its total fleet WiFi compatible. Meanwhile, Lufthansa has rolled out the first of its aircraft equipped for WiFi. Actually, it's a reintroduction since Lufthansa was the leading partner and most enthusiastic supporter of Boeing's Connexion service, which tanked in 2006. This time, Lufthansa has partnered with Panasonic to relaunch what the carrier calls FlyNet. The service is now available free on select Lufthansa flights from Frankfurt to New York/Kennedy, Detroit and Atlanta. The freebie lasts until January 31, after which Lufthansa says it will charge €10.95 an hour or €19.95 for 24 hours. The airline says it plans to reintroduce FlyNet on all of its long-haul aircraft by the end of 2011.
Free Platinum Status for the Asking From PriorityClub Rewards
Here's some unalloyed great news: InterContinental's PriorityClub Rewards is giving a year of Platinum Elite status just for the asking. Register here. The benefits include room upgrades, 72-hour guaranteed room availability and a 50 percent bonus on base points. InterContinental will even throw in a $25 gift card if you complete five stays within 90 days of becoming Platinum. PriorityClub Platinum status usually requires 50 nights of stays a year. United Airlines has backed off its plan to reduce certain upgrade benefits in 2011 for top-level elite members of Mileage Plus. The changes, which we discussed here, have been pushed back to 2012, when the combined United-Continental frequent flyer program is due to debut. American Airlines and Kingfisher Airlines have entered into a code-share and frequent flyer deal. AAdvantage members will be able to earn and burn miles on code-share Kingfisher flights beginning next year. Delta SkyMiles is awarding as many as 5,000 elite-status miles for donations to select charities. The information is at the Hudson Crossing blog.
Time to Play Musical Flags at Full-Service Hotels
The long downturn in the hotel industry is leading to a spate of "reflaggings," which is what happens when a property changes its chain affiliation. The big action this week is at the full-service level. Try to keep up: A former Radisson 20 minutes from the Mall of America has been converted to the 253-room Crowne Plaza Minneapolis West. And a Radisson in Texas has become the Crowne Plaza Fort Worth South. A former Holiday Inn has become the 179-room Doubletree Tinton Falls in Eatontown, New Jersey. And Starwood converted the former Albuquerque Grand Airport Hotel to a Sheraton. And, yes, there are new hotels this week, too. Please note: a 210-room Hilton Garden Inn in Konya, Turkey, and a 302-room Hilton on Pattaya Beach, Thailand. Speaking of Thailand, a 268-room Four Points by Sheraton opened in Bangkok's Sukhumvit entertainment district. The 105-room Radisson Petra La Dehesa has opened in Santiago, Chile. A 90-room Staybridge Suites opened in South Bend, Indiana.
Denver Gets a New Airport Club and a Revived Clear
It's been a busy week at Denver International Airport. American Airlines has opened a new Admirals Club in Terminal A. The 5,100-square-foot facility replaces an older club that American operated at Terminal C. The new club is closer to the Terminal A gates used by American and its code-share and Oneworld Alliance partner British Airways. Meanwhile, the revived Clear registered-traveler program that reopened in Orlando last month, has opened its second location. It's in the Jeppesen terminal at Denver. There are Clear lanes at the Jeppesen North and South security checkpoints. A renewed deal between T-Mobile and Boingo, the network of hundreds of thousands of WiFi hotspots worldwide, will expand Boingo's reach to many more Hyatt hotel WiFi systems and to WiFi hotspots in airport clubs operated by American, United, US Airways and Delta Air Lines. ... Heavy snow in Northern Europe and Britain this week played havoc with airports. Gatwick Airport in London has been closed for several days and there have been long delays and/or closures at other major airports in Britain, Germany, France and Switzerland.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
SkyTeam picks up two more airlines: Garuda Indonesia and Aerolineas Argentinas. Both will join in 2012. Qantas has resumed flying its Airbus A380 aircraft a month after an uncontained engine failure near Singapore grounded the entire fleet. But the Australian carrier has not restored the A380 to its Los Angeles-Sydney route. In-flight WiFi is free on Alaska Airlines flights through December 9. The service is sponsored by American Honda Motors. American Express Platinum cardholders take note: Remember that odd and glossy packet of "new benefits" you received a while back? And remember Amex's claim that it'll give you a $200 credit for ancillary airline charges like baggage fees? Well, it turns out the "benefit" is much less than meets the eye. You can only receive the credit for fees on one airline and you can only change the carrier you choose once a year. Get full details (the ones that the glossy brochure didn't mention) here.
What I Said
When I said last week in my TSA Primer that Israeli-style security is not scalable for an air-transportation system the size of the U.S. commercial network, several of you continued to insist otherwise. Okay, then, consider statistics presented by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post in his column that focused solely on Israel's security efforts. He notes that El Al spends more than $56 a passenger on security compared to around $7 a passenger in the United States. Matching El Al spending would add about $38 billion to the TSA budget of $5.3 billion. And if you think TSA's workforce of about 60,000 is already too high, consider that we might need 3 million agents if we duplicate Israel's policy of interviewing every passenger before departure.
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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 © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.