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THE BRIEFING FOR JULY 28 - AUG. 11, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· US Airways Beats Southwest in Philadelphia
· Gold Passport Giveth (to Diamonds) and Taketh
· The IRS Says You Should Get a Travel-Tax Refund
· JetBlue Expands, Southwest Redraws Route Map
· United Upgrades Now Valid on Continental Flights
· Delta and US Airways Get the DCA-LGA Slot Swap
· American Revives Its Fort Lauderdale-LAX Flights


Man Bites Dog: US Airways Beats Southwest in Philadelphia
Here is one version of the travel world since deregulation: Southwest Airlines invades an airport, US Airways takes a pummeling and eventually withdraws. The paranoia about Southwest at US Airways has been so great over the years that one-time chief executive David Siegel even proclaimed that Southwest is "coming to kill us." Siegel was specifically referring to Southwest's 2004 decision to launch flights at US Airways' Philadelphia hub. But guess what? Seven years later, and a year after Southwest revamped its Philadelphia operation, US Airways has caged the 800-pound gorilla of low-fare carriers. Effective with its winter schedule, which begins in January, Southwest is dropping flights from Philadelphia to four cities: Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Manchester and Providence. That means US Airways will once again be the monopoly carrier on those four routes. Fares, now as low as $59 each way, are likely to soar again when Southwest departs. Southwest is also reducing frequencies on its Philadelphia-Boston and Philadelphia-Raleigh runs. Southwest's only upgrades in Philadelphia will be extra winter flights to Florida destinations.

Gold Passport Giveth (to Diamonds) and Taketh (From Everyone Else)
As Hyatt races to expand its global footprint, it continues to tweak its Gold Passport frequent guest plan. The latest changes are good news for Hyatt's Diamond Level members and bad news for all other Gold Passport players. The good news for Diamond members: a 4 p.m. check-out time and new amenities at Hyatt Place (an alcoholic beverage) and Hyatt Summerfield Suites (a $5 credit at the in-house markets). If a Diamond member doesn't want the new Hyatt Place or Summerfield Suites amenity, they can still choose the 500-point bonus. The bad news: a revised reward chart that increases the award price at 25 hotels. Going up one reward level are hotels such as the Hotel Victor in Miami, Andaz Wall Street and the Hyatt Regency Hakone (to Category 6 from 5); and Hyatt properties in Mumbai and Goa, India; Canberra; and Hangzhou and Hua Hin, China (to Level 4 from 3). About 18 hotels are going down in price, however, mostly Hyatt Place properties and Hyatt hotels in Eastern Europe. MileagePlus members take note: Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) are now valid for flights on Continental metal. However, you'll have to call the airline directly to claim the upgrades.

The IRS Says You Should Get a Travel-Tax Refund
The economic squabble that closed down the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday night has led to a messy situation on airline taxes. A raft of fees you pay on airline tickets expired when the FAA shut down and that led to last weekend's foolish media speculation that travelers would get a windfall of reduced fares. That didn't happen, of course, because most carriers promptly raised prices. But what about the taxes you paid on tickets you purchased for future travel? The Internal Revenue Service says that you're due a refund. It has even put up some guidance on the topic with a complete list of expired taxes. Remember last month when I skewered the self-important bureaucrat atop the ATA who was whining about (and lying about) the taxes on airline flights? He was adamant that the high taxes he claimed were being imposed on airlines were killing the industry. So when airlines swooped in this week to substitute price hikes for the higher taxes, Forbes blogger Kelly Phillips Erb belatedly came to the same conclusion I did last month: The ATA is full of crap.

JetBlue Expands as Southwest Redraws Its Route Map
JetBlue Airways is adding flights to warm-weather destinations this fall. On November 17, it will fly four days a week from its New York/Kennedy hub to Liberia, Costa Rica. It will also add flights between Westchester/White Plains and Nassau, Bahamas. That daily route starts on November 15. Moreover, the airline has cut a deal with Qatar Airways. Qatar, which flies to Doha from Kennedy, Houston and Washington/Dulles, will interline with JetBlue at JFK and Dulles. Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways have published their first joint schedule and there are several new routes and a bunch of deletions. Besides the four dumped routes from Philadelphia (see above), Southwest is also dropping Seattle to Spokane and Kansas City; Boise to Reno, Salt Lake City and Seattle; Birmingham-Louisville; and Manchester-Las Vegas. New to the network are: Nashville-Fort Myers; Denver-Providence; Fort Lauderdale-Manchester; Fort Lauderdale-Milwaukee; and Long Island/Islip-Fort Myers. The changes kick in starting in January.

Delta and US Airways Get Their Washington-New York Slot Swap
I guess the zillionth time's the charm: The Department of Transportation has signed off on the Delta Air Lines-US Airways slot swap at New York/LGA and Washington/National Airport. (The background is in this column from several weeks ago.) Delta will get 132 slot pairs in LaGuardia and US Airways will get 42 slot pairs at National. The airlines will surrender 24 slot pairs in a blind sale to carriers that currently don't have much service at the two airports. Neither carrier has said when the swap will take place. A bunch of airport hotel changes. The former Hampton Inn at Los Angeles International has converted to a Wingate Inn. Meanwhile, the former Cambria Suites at San Antonio Airport has become a Country Inns & Suites. And the old Comfort Suites just outside Fort Lauderdale airport has become a Holiday Inn Express. In the new-build world, the airport in Lafayette, Louisiana, now has a 129-room Homewood Suites. And if you are interested in a hotel a 10-minute drive from Bogota Airport in Colombia, a 191-room Holiday Inn has opened its doors.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
JetBlue Airways has launched three all-you-can-fly passes for travelers in Boston and Long Beach. The prices and restrictions mean the value is in the eye of the flyer. American Airlines says it will restart flights between Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles on November 17. Delta Air Lines recently dropped its FLL-LAX service. Hawaiian Airlines is raising the price of first checked bags on inter-island flights to $17 from $10. The fee bump is effective on September 1. Some provisions of the Transportation Department's latest passenger rights regulations have been delayed. Originally scheduled to be in place by August 23, the DOT has given carriers until January 24 to comply.

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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.