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THE BRIEFING FOR JANUARY 6-20, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· The New Rapid Rewards Is All About the Money
· New Hotels Are Off on the Road to … Wherever
· Southwest Gears Up to Fly to Hawaii and Mexico
· Singapore Air Will Add A380 to LAX-Tokyo Run
· Continental Will Put Lie-Flat Beds on Boeing 767s
· Weird But True: The 'Hijacker' Drank Coffee
· Weirder But Also True: Take This Plane to Oslo


Southwest's New Rapid Rewards Program Says 'Show Me the Money'
Southwest Airlines on Thursday (January 6) unveiled details of its new, long promised and long-overdue Rapid Rewards program. The big news: It is a totally dollar-based plan and travelers earn and burn points based on the price of tickets. The new program doesn't launch until March 1 and Southwest has launched a new Web site to explain the changes. But here are some highlights:
+ Travelers earn six points per dollar for each ticket purchased at the cheapest (Wanna Get Away) fares, 10 points per dollar paid for Anytime fares and 12 points per dollar for Business Select fares.
+ Any seat available for purchase can be claimed as an award without capacity controls, blackouts or other restrictions. If a seat is available at Wanna Get Away fare levels, it will require 60 Rapid Rewards points for each dollar. Anytime seats are available for 100 points for each fare dollar. Business Select fares are available for 120 points per dollar. You won't be able to combine cash and points for a ticket, but you can purchase additional points for $25 for 1,000 points.
+ The A-list level will now require 25 one-way trips (or 35,000 of the new Tier Qualifying Points) and a new A-list Preferred level will require 50 one-way trips or 70,000 TQPs.
+ The much-desired free Companion Pass continues and will require 100 paid one-way trips in a calendar year.
+ Rapid Rewards Points will not expire as long as there is some account activity in a 24-month period.
"The new program is all about your financial value to Southwest," a Southwest executive told me today. "The more you spend with us, the more you get. It isn't about the number of flights you take or the number of miles you fly. It's about rewarding you appropriately based on the financial contribution you make to the airline."

They're Off on the Road to … Wherever
Whether you need these new international properties for business travel or are looking for a new place to cash some hotel awards, here are the latest newbies: Hyatt has opened a 290-room Hyatt Regency in Dusseldorf. The property is on the Media Harbour Peninsula. … InterContinental has opened a 252-room InterContinental Hotel in Maracaibo, Venezuela; a 184-room Hotel Indigo on the southern tip of the Bund in Shanghai; and has put its Crowne Plaza flag on the 241-room former Pan Pacific in Bangkok. … Starwood opened a 160-room Le Meridien in the Xinyi District of Taipei; a 313-room Westin in Hefei in Anhui Province, China; and has added the 70-room Villarrica Park Hotel in Chile to the Luxury Collection. … Shangri-La, the Asia-based chain, has opened its first European property. It's an 81-room hotel in the 16th arrondissement in Paris.

Southwest Gears Up for Flights to Hawaii and Mexico
Not totally unrelated to its revamp of Rapid Rewards (see above), Southwest Airlines is gearing up for flights to Hawaii and Mexico. The Mexico service is being handled by Southwest's new Mexican partner, Volaris, and the airline has launched a daily service between Guadalajara and Chicago/Midway, a Southwest hub. And how do we know about Southwest's secret plans for Hawaii? The airline is advertising for an ETOPS manager. ETOPS (extended-range twin-engine operational performance standards) is industry jargon for long overwater flights that operate far from a convenient diversion airport. Since Southwest's current fleet of two-engine Boeing 737s don't have the range for flights to Europe, the only other logical place for an ETOPS operation would be Hawaii. So watch this space for more details. … AirTran Airways will fly seasonal service to Bermuda from its Baltimore-Washington International and Atlanta hubs. The BWI flights will operate from April 7 to October 24 and the Atlanta service will run between May 26 and September 6.

Los Angeles Will Be Getting Lots of Airbus A380 Flights
Singapore Airlines will bring its version of the Airbus A380 to Los Angeles on March 27. The super-jumbo, configured with 12 private first-class suites, 60 business-class seats and 399 coach chairs, will fly on SIA's Los Angeles-Tokyo nonstop route. Meanwhile, Qantas will probably resume flying the A380 to Los Angeles by the end of the month. The planes have been off the route since an uncontained engine failure on a Qantas A380 flight in the fall. … Condor started life as a charter carrier for the German branch of Thomas Cook. Then it was the charter airline for Lufthansa. Now Condor belongs to Thomas Cook again and that means it can take on Lufthansa directly. Which explains the carrier's decision to launch twice-weekly flights between Seattle and Frankfurt on June 23. … Continental Airlines says it has completed the installation of lie-flat beds on all of its international Boeing 777s. The carrier also says it will put lie-flat beds on most of its 767s in 2011. There was speculation that Continental might retire the old Boeing widebody.

The Hijacker Drank Coffee…Or Take This Plane to Oslo
Strange times in the skies this week. United Airlines Flight 940 from Chicago to Frankfurt on Monday (January 3) was diverted to Toronto after a Code 7500 alert was broadcast from the cockpit. Code 7500 means there is a hijacking in progress. It turns out a coffee spill created the inadvertent alert, however. "During light turbulence, one of the crew members beverages spilled, which then caused issues with the communications equipment," a United spokesman explained later. Meanwhile, passengers on a Turkish Airlines flight on Wednesday said they foiled a hijacking. They claimed they overpowered a man who tried to force his way into the cockpit saying "I have a bomb." He didn't have a bomb and a Turkish news agency reports the alleged hijacker, Cuma Yasar, is legally disabled. Oh, one other thing: Passengers claimed Yasar demanded the plane be flown to Oslo. Which is weird because Turkish Airlines Flight 1753 was headed to Istanbul … from Oslo.

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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 © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.