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THE BRIEFING FOR MAY 12 - MAY 26, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Frontier Airlines, the Amazing Shrinking Carrier
· Welcome to the Airport, the Land of $9 Gasoline
· Another Mess of Hotel Openings and Reflaggings
· National's Emerald Club Adds Enterprise Rentals
· Marriott Rewards Offers Free Internet in Asia
· The Battle Lines Harden on Routes Down Under
· Southwest Will Convert AirTran to One Class


Frontier, the Amazing Shrinking Airline
Frontier Airlines, the very unhappy marriage of the former Frontier and the old Midwest airlines, continues to shrink. Banged together in shotgun fashion in 2009 after commuter giant Republic Holdings snapped up both airlines during bankruptcy court proceedings, Frontier is shedding routes, aircraft and, not coincidentally, cash. Although Republic's commuter division this week reported near break-even results in the first quarter, Frontier lost $55 million, a whopping amount for such a small carrier. As a result, Frontier next month will drop more routes from its Milwaukee hub. Gone will be flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Raleigh-Durham. Frontier will also drop Milwaukee-St. Petersburg, although it claims those flights will resume in November. Republic is also dumping planes from the Frontier fleet. The carrier's Airbus A318s are gone and 14 of its 70-seat Embraer 170s will be shifted to flying as part of Republic's Delta Connection operation. What will replace the full-size jets and larger regional jets at Frontier? You guessed it: tinny, tiny 50-seat planes that Republic had been flying as part of its Continental Express operation.

Welcome to the Land of $9 Gasoline
After dropping $15 a barrel last week, the price of oil remained under $100 on New York commodities markets on Thursday (May 12). That should translate to lower prices at the pump soon enough, but don't expect car-rental firms to pass the savings along. Hertz is now charging a breathtaking $9.29 a gallon at locations at major airports. Avis, Budget, Dollar and Thrifty are charging about $8 a gallon. The rental firms operated by Enterprise--National, Alamo and Enterprise--tend to be in the $6 a gallon range. Bottom line: fill up before returning your vehicle. Baltimore/Washington has an airport club again: The independent Airspace Lounge has opened on Concourse D. Entry is free for American Express Platinum members, $17.50 a visit for others. The former US Airways Club in Terminal 1 at Raleigh-Durham has been converted to The Club at RDU. Entry is $25 a visit. Meanwhile, JetBlue Airways has moved to Terminal 2. That leaves only Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways in Terminal 1. But, hey, it has a club now.

Another Mess of Hotel Openings and Reflaggings
What can you say about an industry that sells half of its perishable inventory on any given day? You can say it's the hotel industry and it can't help itself. So let's just get through this week's openings and reflaggings. Starwood has added The Chatwal in midtown Manhattan to the Luxury Collection. Just over the 59th Street Bridge in the borough of Queens, it has opened an 88-room Four Points property. And Starwood has slapped the Westin name on the 406-room Paradisus Playa Conchal Resort in Costa Rica. Hilton has opened a property on Zamalek Island in Cairo. It has 88 rooms and 76 suites. Marriott has opened a 124-room Residence Inn in Monroeville, near Pittsburgh. InterContinental has converted a former Comfort Inn into a 66-room Holiday Inn Express. It's located in Midvale, on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. Worth noting: the historic, 70-room Hotel Hana on Maui has converted to an all-inclusive resort called the Travaasa Hana.

National's Emerald Club Adds Enterprise Now, Alamo Eventually Emerald Aisle is best known as the counter bypass program of National Car Rental. It's also well-liked by business travelers because of it's "pick any car on the lot" flexibility. But Emerald Aisle is part of the Emerald Club loyalty program and it is clear that National's owner, Enterprise Holdings, has tabbed Emerald Club as a company-wide frequency plan. Effective immediately, you can earn Emerald Club rental credits at 6,600 Enterprise locations. It's probably inevitable that Enterprise's third rental brand, Alamo, will eventually adopt Emerald Club, too. Marriott Rewards members can now designate JetBlue Airways as their airline earnings partner. You can earn one JetBlue TrueBlue point for every dollar spent at Marriott, JW Marriott, Renaissance, Edition, Ritz-Carlton and Autograph Collection hotel. You'll receive one point for each $2 spent at Marriott's other brands. Speaking of Marriott Rewards, all members, not just elites, now receive free in-room high-speed Internet access at the chain's Asia-Pacific properties.

The Battle Lines Harden on Routes Down Under
All of the Virgin-related Australia and New Zealand airline franchises--Virgin Blue, Pacific Blue and V Australia --are rebranding under one name: Virgin Australia. And Virgin Australia and Delta Air Lines have finally won approval for extensive code-sharing and transpacific cooperation. The alliance, almost two years in the making, was approved this week after Delta and Virgin Australia made some consumer-friendly concessions. Just hours later, American Airlines and Qantas announced that they want to do a "joint business agreement" that will allow them to coordinate their transpacific operations. The two carriers are already code-share partners in the Oneworld Alliance. The deal will require approval by governmental bodies in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Curacao-based InselAir next month launches twice-weekly Charlotte-Curacao flights. InselAir also flies to Miami.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Southwest Airlines officially closed on its purchase of AirTran Airways. Immediately after the closing last week, Southwest moved in a squadron of its own managers. Although specifics of the combination are still sketchy, Southwest reaffirmed that AirTran will be converted to Southwest's service concept: one-class flights with open seating. However, AirTran will continue to operate independently until at least next year. But a route will have to be dropped quickly: Due to an incredibly complex agreement involving flights at Dallas/Love Field, Southwest will close down AirTran's Atlanta-Dallas/Fort Worth service. Legacy carriers failed in their 12th attempt at a fare increase this year. The $10 roundtrip bump is the fifth failure of the year. Seven others got through. The first attempt was on January 9 when oil was selling for $88 a barrel. The Red Lion hotel in Concord, California, has closed unexpectedly.

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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.