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THE BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 17-28, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Rally 'Round the Hotel (Re)Flaggings, Boys…
· Delta Eliminates SkyMiles Expiration Dates
· W Hotels Opens Properties in London and Taipei
· Chase Drops ForEx Fees on a Mileage Plus Card
· Hawaiian Airlines Expands Asia-Pacific Service
· Rick Bayless Opens a Restaurant at O'Hare
· Denied-Boarding Rates Fall Below 1 in 10,000


Rally 'Round the (Re)Flaggings, Boys…
Okay, so the song (Battle Cry of Freedom) isn't really about hotel reflaggings, but this week's lodging realignments supports what I predicted about 2011 in the hotel business. As the industry struggles with abysmal occupancy rates and near-historic-low room rates, restive property owners are looking for better deals from the brand-name franchisers who take as much as 15 percent off the top of a hotel's revenue. While the franchisers are back in the black, many property owners aren't as they continue to struggle with mortgages and other financial realities. As a result, they're shopping around for new flags to fly over their hotels. The notable changes:
    Hilton has put its name on a 280-room hotel on West 26th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. The newly built property, open 10 months, is on its third flag. It has already been called the Fashion 26 and the Wyndham Hotel Chelsea and it's now branded as the Hilton New York Fashion District.
    The 349-room hotel once known as the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas has reopened after more than 10 months in mothballs and is now called Ravella.
    Holiday Inn is slapping its name on two existing hotels: the 185-room Inn on the Beach in Daytona Beach, Florida, and the 203-room Rotorua International Plaza in New Zealand.
    The Sheraton Grand Laguna Phuket in Thailand will close on July 1, get a $30 million cleanup, then reopen by the end of the year as part of the Banyan Tree chain.
    The 350-room Sonesta Sao Paulo Ibirapuera, once quite popular with upmarket business travelers because of its safe and convenient location in Brazil's business capital, is now a Park Inn hotel, a mid-market brand operated by Carlson.

Delta Dumps Expiration Dates and Carlson Dumps Gold Points
I'm not sure why frequent flyers think this is noteworthy or even good news, but Delta SkyMiles has eliminated expiration dates on miles. So here are my questions to you: Why would us business travelers ever be in a position to have our miles expire when we have so many simple, easy opportunities to keep them active? And why is leaving more of the infrequent flyers' miles in the active pot to compete for award tickets good for us? … Carlson, the parent of Radisson, Country Inns and Park Inns, is dumping the Gold Points Plus program on March 31 and launching a new loyalty program called Club Carlson. The new program will have some benefits and one tricky downside. The good: travelers will be able to cash points for stays at Club Med resorts and for products and services sold by Amazon.com, Best Buy, and iTunes. The bad: Carlson is dropping its free Internet proposition for all travelers. Now you'll have to be a Carlson Club member to get free Internet. … Chase Bank has been systematically eliminating foreign-exchange surcharges on its travel-related credit cards and another domino fell this week. Continental Presidential Plus cards now offer fee-free international charges. Chase's major hotel-related cards, those issued as part of Hyatt Gold Passport and Priority Club Rewards don't have fees. Chase also dropped forex fees on a British Airways Executive Club card and one of the United Airlines Mileage Plus cards.

Hawaiian Airlines Emerges As a Big Asia-Pacific Player
Rather quietly and without anyone much noticing, Hawaiian Airlines is becoming a big player in Asia-Pacific flights from its Honolulu hub. This week it announced another new nonstop route: daily flights to Osaka, Japan, which launch on July 12. It'll use Boeing 767-300ERs on the service. It is the third new route in four months for Hawaiian, which launched flights to Tokyo/Haneda in November and to Seoul last month. That's in addition to Hawaiian's existing flights to Sydney, Manila, American Samoa and Tahiti. … The European Community has blocked the merger of Greece's two largest airlines, Olympic and Aegean. The airlines say they must merge to survive. The EC turned them down because it noted a combined Olympic-Aegean would control more than 90 percent of the capacity to Greece and there were "no realistic prospects" that the carriers could offer remedial measures to mitigate the concentration. … US Airways says it will launch commuter flights from its Philadelphia hub to Quebec City beginning on June 2. The thrice-daily flights will operate with CRJ200s.

Another Celebrity Chef Opens an Airport Outlet
Rick Bayless, who dominates Chicago's dining scene with his Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco Mexican restaurants, has expanded into the airport arena. His Tortas Frontera sandwich shop is now open in the B Concourse of Terminal 1 at Chicago/O'Hare. Our own Mister Meatball, Ralph Raffio, was on the scene and he's posted some photos here. Raffio's report on the $8.50 egg and chorizo breakfast sandwich? "It's at least twice the size of sandwiches [they serve] at McDonald's. Half would be enough for a lot of people." Like most airport food outlets, Tortas Frontera is a franchise, run by HMS Host, which operates dozens of brands. Another Bayless restaurant operated by HMS is due to open soon in O'Hare's Terminal 3.

W Opens Hotels on Two Important Business-Travel Islands
The W Hotels division of Starwood opened two hotels on the same day on Monday (February 14). Both are on islands, but neither are resorts. The W London is a 192-room property on Wardour Street in Leicester Square. And the 405-room W Taipei is in the central business and government district of Xinyi. … The Ritz-Carlton division of Marriott opened a 267-room property on Wellington Street in Toronto. It's the first purpose-built Ritz-Carlton in Canada, the home of its arch-rival Four Seasons. (By the way, the 99-year-old Ritz-Carlton in Montreal is not aligned with Marriott's Ritz-Carlton.) … Speaking of Marriott, a 150-room Courtyard has opened in Kazan, the capital city of Tatarstan, Russia. … The DoubleTree division of Hilton has opened a 171-room property in Istanbul. It's a conversion of a commercial building in the city's Old Town district.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Here's a route you never thought much about: American Eagle, the wholly owned commuter subsidiary of American Airlines, will fly from American's Dallas/Fort Worth hub to Grand Island, Nebraska. Twice-daily flights launch June 9 using 44- and 50-seat jets. … Swire Hotels, a division of the company that owns Cathay Pacific, has opened its first property in Europe. The 61-room Montpellier Chapter, in Cheltenham, England, is housed in a landmark building that was once known as the Kandinsky Hotel. Swire Hotels also operates a boutique property in Beijing (the Opposite House) and two boutiques in Hong Kong (the Upper House and East). … During the last three months of 2010, denied boarding by U.S. carriers dropped about 30 percent to less than one passenger in 10,000 flyers. The only carriers whose denied-boarding rates increased were AirTran Airways and two commuter airlines, Mesa and ASA. … United Airlines, which flies to Bahrain, has issued a travel waiver for flyers headed to the island nation in the Persian/Arab Gulf. Several days of protest led to a bloody crackdown today (February 17) by the ruling family and the country's military. … Speaking of United, it finished emergency reinspections and retrofits of its fleet of 96 Boeing 757s this week with surprisingly few cancellations. There were some longish flight delays, however. The grounding was voluntary after United discovered it hadn't correctly inspected the air-data computers in compliance with a 2004 directive from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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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.