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THE BRIEFING FOR LATE SEPTEMBER, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· New MileagePlus: Low-Level Elites Lose the Most
· Hyatt Goes Back to the Future With 'Hyatt House'
· TSA Cans Dozens of Screeners in Honolulu Purge
· Delta, V Australia Code-Share Begins on Nov. 6
· American, Diners Club End Points Transfer Deal
· Air Canada Averts Strike, But Qantas Doesn't
· Avis Says It Is Out of the Battle for Dollar Thrifty


United's New MileagePlus Program Changes Are Surprisingly Modest
United and Continental airlines rolled out most of the specifics of their new MileagePlus program this week and the changes are surprisingly modest and conservative. If you're a longtime, heavy frequent flyer on either carrier, you'll be generally happy because there is a terrific "lifetime elite" program. If you're a lowest-level elite, you're going to be unhappy because you're losing a substantial number of perks. One other point: Due to the back-office complexities of rolling out the new plan, current Mileage Plus or OnePass elites will have their existing membership extended for an unspecified time beyond the original January 30, 2012, expiration date. Complete details on the new plan are outlined here. Meanwhile, here are the key bullet points:
    Elite Levels The new program, which officially begins for accruals on January 1, 2012, will have four elite levels: Premier Silver (25,000 miles or 30 segments); Premier Gold (50,000 miles or 60 segments); Premier Platinum (75,000 miles or 90 segments); and Premier 1K (100,000 miles or 120 segments). The Global Services (GS) level continues, too, but that is by invitation only.
    Bonus Miles The status bonuses are 25 percent (silver), 50 percent (gold), 75 percent (platinum) and 100 percent (1K and GS). Fare bonuses are 25 percent (Y/B in coach); 50 percent (Z/P in business class); 75 percent (J/C/D business class and F/A first class on two-cabin planes); and 100 percent (F/A first class on three-cabin aircraft.)
    Upgrades CPU (complimentary premier upgrade) is the new handle for free upgrades. Elites get upgrades for domestic two-class flights and most two-class flights to Latin America. Upgrades on these flights will clear 120 hours before departure for GS; 96 hours for 1K; 72 hours for Platinum; 48 hours for Gold; and on the day of departure for silver. All elites receive instant upgrades if traveling on Y or B fares; 1K members will also receive instant upgrades from M class fares. Elites will also get an upgrade for a companion traveling on the same itinerary.
    Economy Plus Elite gold and above flyers will get access to Economy Plus at the time they book. Silvers now only receive access 24 hours before departure.
    Baggage Elite gold and higher members will receive three free checked bags weighing up to 70 pounds each. Silvers receive one free checked bag weighing 50 pounds.
    Lifetime Status Continental and United lifetime flown miles will be combined. At one million miles, you'll receive lifetime Premier Gold status. Two million miles earns lifetime platinum. Three million miles gets you lifetime 1K and 4 million miles earns lifetime Global Services status. Current Continental "infinite elite" flyers (that status was available about 20 years ago) are grandfathered at the Lifetime 1K level. An added perk: Lifetime elite comes with complimentary status for a companion, too.

Hyatt Goes Back to the Future With Its Extended-Stay Brand
There probably aren't five people outside the hotel business who remember or care that the very first Hyatt opened in 1957 as "Hyatt House." But the brain trust running Hyatt now (and, I'm sure, their highly paid "brand consultants") apparently think the name has some residual street value. Hyatt said this week that it is renaming its 38 Summerfield Suites extended-stay properties as Hyatt House. And contrary to initial reports, the 16 Hotel Sierra hotels it recently acquired will also get the Hyatt House name. The new chain, which will compete in the lodging arena currently dominated by Marriott's Residence Inn and Hilton's Homewood Suites, will also get some product and service tweaks. The lobby's so-called Great Lounge will have new chairs with built-in digital ports and equipment resting places; sectional sofas; glass-enclosed game rooms; and a bar that doubles as a breakfast buffet and evening cocktail lounge. Outdoor patios will feature barbecue grills and firepits. Hyatt House guestrooms (there'll be studio, one- and two-bedroom suites) will also get an overhaul, complete with kitchen cabinets with glass doors and "multi-tasking islands" that sound suspiciously like a combination dining table and work desk. Hyatt's timeline envisions the switch to the Hyatt House by early next year. The physical renovations won't be done until end of 2012.

TSA Cans Almost Four Dozen Screeners in Honolulu Purge
Everything is different in Hawaii, including passenger attire and the state of security-screening checkpoints at Honolulu International. You've probably noticed the different attitudes (some good, some not) exhibited by the TSA personnel. But the TSA has decided that nearly four dozen Honolulu-based screeners weren't actually screening bags. At least they weren't properly screening luggage for explosives. So after an investigation that began late last year, the agency this week removed 28 workers and suspended 15 more. Three others resigned or retired. Early warnings: Sacramento International opens a new passenger terminal and concourse on October 6. It'll be called Central Terminal B and will be the home of Southwest, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Alaska, Hawaiian and Aeromexico. Separately, Southwest has targeted early November for a switch at Boston/Logan. Its AirTran Airways subsidiary, which currently operates from Terminal C, will move to Terminal E, next to Southwest's operations there.

Delta's Code-Share With Virgin Australia Begins November 6
Delta Air Lines has been trying to muscle into the transpacific market to Australia for several years and thus end the cozy United-Qantas duopoly on the routes. It launched its own flights on the Los Angeles-Sydney route and has now completed its efforts to partner with another newcomer, Virgin Australia. Effective November 6, Virgin Australia's flights (still marketed as V Australia) will move into Delta's T5 location at LAX. Delta will put its code on Virgin's flights from Los Angeles to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The best news there: The move expands SkyMiles award availability to Australia, which is always a difficult freebie to claim. Speaking of Delta, it has delayed the seasonal resumption of five international routes from its New York hub. Flights from Kennedy Airport to Berlin/Tegel, Copenhagen, Manchester, Moscow/Sheremetyevo and Stockholm, all suspended beginning this month, will now resume on June 1. They were due to restart on March 24, the beginning of the airline's "summer schedule." (Let's not get into why the industry's "summer schedule" actually begins at the start of spring, okay?)

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Air Canada averted a strike by its 6,800 flight attendants this week. The deal now goes to the union rank-and-file for approval, which isn't a sure thing. Flight attendants voted down an earlier agreement. Qantas hasn't been so lucky, however. Ongoing job actions by various unions led to about 30 cancellations on domestic routes on Tuesday (September 20). More strikes may occur as early as next week. The airline's workers are upset with Qantas management's plans to lay off 1,000 Australia-based employees and create new airlines with non-union staffs Avis Budget says it has given up on its year-long quest to acquire Dollar Thrifty. That clears the way for Hertz to buy the car-rental firm, although that may depend on divestiture terms imposed by government regulators. The long and painfully slow transition of the nearly moribund Diners Club to a subsidiary of Bank of Montreal will finally be completed on November 7. But that means cardholders will no longer be able to transfer Club Rewards points to American AAdvantage because American Airlines is tied to Citibank, the soon-to-be-former owner of Diners Club. The last day for transfers: November 3.

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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.