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THE BRIEFING FOR SEPTEMBER 15-24, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Clock Ticks on Delta-Amex-Continental-Chase Play
· Big Silicon Valley Hotel Is Changing Names (Twice)
· Bet You Didn't Expect These International Routes
· Orange County Building Nightmare (Almost) Over
· Google's New Flight Search Engine Has a Big Flaw
· Another Politics-Inspired FAA Shutdown Averted
· Was Swissair 111 Crash Caused by Explosives?


The Clock Ticks on the Delta-Amex-Continental-Chase Transfer Puzzle
If you're trying to figure out whether to stay with Delta Air Lines and American Express or transfer your Amex Membership Rewards points to Continental OnePass, the clock is ticking. Continental leaves Membership Rewards on September 30 and that will not only end the transfers, but it also means that Amex Platinum and Centurion cards will no longer get you access to Continental's Presidents Club airport lounges. Delta and Amex have at least two offers to keep you with them: One is a 40 percent rebate of Membership Rewards points when you transfer them to Delta SkyMiles (see here). The other is a 50 percent bonus of SkyMiles and as many as 25,000 Delta MQMs for first-time transfers from Membership Rewards (see here). Both incentives end on September 30. Continental and Chase, which issues Continental and United's credit cards, have no incentives to move Amex points to Continental. Complicating the equation: OnePass ends on December 31 and United/Continental has yet to announce the specifics of the new Mileage Plus program that begins on January 1, 2012. If you're a conspiracy buff, you could suggest that United is withholding details until after the Continental-Amex split because we won't like what's coming. One more small and tangentially related nugget: Virgin America joins the Membership Rewards program on October 5.

A Big Silicon Valley Hotel Is Changing Names (Twice)
The Crowne Plaza name has come off the hotel across from San Jose's Convention Center. The 40-year-old property, a familiar landmark in the "capital" of Silicon Valley, now operates as the Convention Center Plaza hotel. In January, however, after a $7 million renovation of the 239-room property, it will reemerge as a Hyatt Place hotel. … Westin has opened a 221-room hotel in Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco. … The rest of the hotel news this week involves properties that business travelers might logically target as places to burn frequent guest rewards. In Gold Coast, Australia, for example, Hilton has opened the Surfers Paradise complex. The A$700 million development includes 169 guestrooms and 250 one- to three-bedroom residences. … Marriott has opened a 204-room Renaissance hotel in Tlemcen, Algeria, the arts capital of that North African country. … And Holiday Inn has opened a 246-room resort on the northwest coast of Phuket, Thailand.

Bet You Didn't See These Routes Coming…
You can never be sure what airlines are thinking when they add international routes. Consider this one, for example: Icelandair will be launching nonstop service between Denver and Reykjavik. Four weekly flights begin next May. … Hawaiian Airlines is adding daily flights from its Honolulu hub to Fukuoka, Japan. The route, which launches next April, is Hawaiian's third Japanese destination after Tokyo and Osaka. … Copa Airlines will add daily flights between Chicago/O'Hare and Panama City, Panama, on December 15. … Watch this one, folks: Lufthansa might be ready to dump British Midland International (BMI), Britain's second-largest airline. BMI's prime asset: more take-off and landing slots at London/Heathrow than any carrier except British Airways. Both BA and Virgin Atlantic say they're interested.

Orange County's Long Building Nightmare Is (Almost) Over
There's finally light at the end of the construction tunnel at John Wayne Orange County Airport. Under nearly continuous renovation since 2006, the airport has now opened the so-called North Commuter Terminal. The three-gate facility is the first of two big changes coming before the end of the year. Terminal C and a new south commuter terminal are due for completion in about two months. … Priority Pass, the global airport lounge program, has added clubs at the airports in Nassau, Bahamas, and Kingston, Jamaica. It also added clubs in Terminal 1C in Mumbai and the international terminal of the airport at Lagos, Nigeria.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Google has released its first airline-related product since the purchase of ITA Software, the well-regarded fare-search engine. Google Flight Search seems promising, but it's hobbled by a huge drawback: It only lists proprietary airline Web sites, not third-party travel agencies that might have lower fares. … Another shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration was averted tonight (September 15) when Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn stopped holding up the short-term reauthorization of the agency's budget. … Alaska Airlines has been fined $590,000 by the FAA for operating more than 2,100 flights with a Boeing 737-400 that wasn't in compliance with safety regulations. If Alaska accepts the FAA's judgment in 30 days, it can pay a reduced fine of about $100,000. … Several flights on September 11 were met by police when they landed, but no terrorist-related events were claimed or charges filed against anyone detained for suspicious behavior. On the other hand, a New York woman was arrested for phoning in a false bomb threat. She said she "did not want her mother and brother flying around the anniversary of the September 11 attacks."

Is Swissair Flight 111 a 'Blast' From the Past?
The Canadian Broadcast Company airs a documentary tomorrow (September 16) that raises questions about the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 in Nova Scotia. Some retired investigators interviewed in the documentary claim the actual cause of the crash was an incendiary device in the cockpit. You can read about the awful week that Swissair 111 crashed in my column from September, 1998. Information on the CBC documentary is here.

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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.