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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 10 TO 24, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· United and Continental Now Allow Mileage Swaps
· Air Canada Finally Gets Its Toronto/City Service
· Marriott Opens Side-by-Side Hotels in Washington
· Southwest's On-Time Performance Plummets
· Marriott, Starwood Realign Hotel Award Levels
· Continental Eliminates Free Snacks in Coach
· Five Airlines Slash Their 2011 Growth Plans


United and Continental Now Allow Mileage Swaps
United and Continental airlines now allow us to swap miles between frequent flyer programs. The merged carriers have not yet officially merged Continental OnePass and United Mileage Plus, but this week they quietly implemented a plan to permit members to move miles between the two plans. You can transfer miles from one program to the other once a day, in 1,000-mile increments, up to a limit of 200,000 miles per transfer. Although the official merger and consolidation of accounts won't happen until the end of the year, the immediate swap feature should allow many flyers to maximize their awards this year. Registration is required and you can get complete details here. Oh, one thing United and Continental aren't talking about: This is a backdoor way to move American Express Membership Rewards miles to a United Mileage Plus account right now. Continental exits Membership Rewards on October 1, so big OnePass players will have to decide soon what to do with their Amex points.

Air Canada Finally Gets Its Toronto/City Service Together
It's been a nasty battle by Canadian standards, but Air Canada finally gets to resume service at Toronto's close in Billy Bishop City Airport on May 1. As you recall, the owner of Porter Airlines, the Toronto/City-based start-up, also owns the terminal at Billy Bishop. He booted Air Canada's commuter operation in 2006 when he launched Porter and then Air Canada revoked his lifetime travel pass. After legal battles, tough terminal negotiations and a few fake launch dates, Air Canada can resume its Toronto/City flights. There'll be 15 daily nonstop flights to Montreal on the initial Air Canada schedule. … So much for the gold rush at Tokyo's close-in Haneda Airport. It seems like both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which launched flights earlier this year, are struggling. Delta is slashing capacity on its routes--from Los Angeles and its Detroit/Metro hub--this spring by switching to Boeing 777s from Boeing 747s. It's a 30 percent reduction in seat count. Meanwhile, American this week cut coach fares on its New York/Kennedy route to $798 roundtrip. It is also offering triple AAdvantage miles on JFK-Haneda for business- and first-class flyers.

Hotels to the Left of Me, Hotels to the Right of Me…
Hotels continue to open and reflag at a breathless pace. The only question is whether there'll be enough heads to put on those beds in the coming months. We can't answer that now, of course, so let's just add these new hotels and flag changes to our scorecards:
    Marriott opened side-by-side properties in Arlington, Virginia. The 300-room Renaissance Arlington Capital View and the 325-room Residence Inn Capital View hotels are just across the highway from Washington/National Airport and both provide free shuttle service to DCA.
    Hilton has opened two more properties in the Greater London area. The 214-room DoubleTree West End is a conversion of the former Bonnington Hotel that was once known as the Park Inn Russell Square. And after several delays, the Waldorf Astoria opened this week. The 137-room hotel is situated in Syon Park, the 200-acre home of the Duke of Northumberland. It's across the Thames River from Kew Gardens. … Less grandly, a 122-room Homewood Suites opened in the Charlotte suburb of Ayrsley.
    Starwood opened the 242-room Westin Phoenix Downtown, located inside Freeport-McMoRan Center; and the 433-room Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport, located inside Terminal 1. … Starwood also converted Memphis' Park Place Hotel into a 124-room Four Points property.
    Wyndham Garden is the new name of the 136-room former Radisson hotel in Providence, Rhode Island.

Southwest Airlines' On-Time Performance Plummets
Southwest Airlines and its flyers are paying for the carrier's entrance into major metropolitan areas like Denver, Chicago and New York. The airline's once-impeccable on-time rating has collapsed. Since last fall, Southwest has been rattling around at or near the bottom of the Transportation Department's on-time ratings. And ratings from FlightStats.com tell a similar tale: In February, Southwest managed to run just 64 percent of its flights on-schedule. A particularly sore point for Southwest is Chicago's Midway Airport, which this summer will become the airline's largest airport by number of flights operated. Things are so bad in the Windy City that Southwest admits it has moved about a dozen station managers from other cities into Midway to figure out the problems. About half of Southwest's customers at Midway are connecting passengers, an unusually high number considering the carrier's long history as a point-to-point airline.

Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest Shuffle Award Levels
The annual reordering of hotel categories for award redemptions is complete. Starwood Preferred Guest quietly moved about 170 hotels on March 1 and Marriott Rewards realigned about 440 properties on Tuesday (March 8). The Starwood move is mostly a wash, with about 90 properties moving down a level or two and about 80 hotels moving up a level or two. The Marriott changes are mostly negative. The majority (about 350) moved up at least one category and fewer than 100 moved down. The list of the Marriott changes is here. Starwood's changes are here. … The 300 hotels in the Global Hotel Alliance, which includes the Omni, Kempinski, Marco Polo and Pan Pacific chains, have introduced the GHA Discovery program. It seems to focus on "experience" benefits more than free nights. There are also recognition benefits such as late checkout, free Internet and complimentary bottled water. It won't be for everyone--or maybe anyone. Details are here.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The rampaging cost of oil is having the expected effect on airfares: They are rising fast. Carriers pushed through fare increase No. 6 of the year--this one about $10 each way--over the weekend. And today (March 10) American Airlines launched another hike: $10 roundtrip on most domestic routes and $21 on flights to Hawaii and Canada. We won't know until Monday if this one sticks. … Speaking of the effects of rising oil prices: Five airlines have now said they are trimming capacity or curbing growth they had planned for 2011. Delta Air Lines and American had already announced pullbacks. This week, Frontier, United and Continental all said they will slow or eliminate growth this year. … Continental Airlines, which ended free meals in coach last year, now has eliminated snacks, too. Effective March 1, the carrier no longer serves pretzels, peanuts or cookies with its complimentary soft drinks. Continental says the change will save $2.8 million a year. … JetBlue Airways and LAN, the big Latin American carrier, are now code-sharing on flights via JetBlue's hub at New York's Kennedy Airport.

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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.