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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 6-20, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Mother of Mercy, Is This the End of OpenSkies?
· Marriott Is Adding Hotels in Bunches Overseas
· How to Launder Amex Points to Continental Now
· A Record Year (Already) for Flight Cancellations
· Hotel Mergers and Reflaggings and Openings
· How to Get Accor Platinum Status for Free
· No, Your AAdvantage Miles Are Not At Risk


Mother of Mercy, Is This the End of OpenSkies?
OpenSkies almost secretly announced the end of its Washington/Dulles-Paris/Orly route last Friday (September 30) and then wowed frequent flyers this week with a $315 one-way business-class fare for the last month of the Dulles-Orly service. But the softly-softly approach followed by a dazzling discount can't disguise the hard question: Is a one-route airline, even a boutique carrier owned by gigantic British Airways, long for this world? With the demise of the Washington service, 40-month-old OpenSkies has now abandoned three of the four routes it has tried. (Also gone is New York/Kennedy-Amsterdam and JFK-Orly.) All the carrier has left now is Newark-Orly, which it acquired in the 2008 purchase of L'Avion, the French all-business-class airline. OpenSkies' original business plan of at least six routes never materialized. All of the company's start-up team, including founder Dale Moss, are gone. And BA has already tried unsuccessfully to sell the airline. Given the limited range of OpenSkies' Boeing 757 aircraft, it's hard to see where else the airline can open a potentially profitable route. Besides, business-class travel across the Atlantic has never recovered from the 2008 financial meltdown and advance fall bookings are very weak. When I suggested to one of OpenSkies' key start-up executives that it was difficult to see how the airline could survive the industry's traditionally slow winter season, his one-word response was "Exactly."

Marriott Is Adding Hotels in Bunches Overseas
As the U.S.-based hotel families race to expand their "distribution footprint" around the world, it's interesting to watch how Marriott is doing it. The firm is adding hotels in bunches, "brand ganging" and shoehorning several of its chains into the same buildings and complexes. In Munich's upscale Haidhausen residential district, for example, Marriott last week opened two of its brands in connected structures. The 227-room Courtyard Munich City East is adjacent to the 125-unit Residence Inn Munich City East. (All of the Residence Inn's guestrooms are studios and it's the brand's first appearance in Europe.) Meanwhile, in Doha, the capital of Qatar, Marriott has stuffed three brands into two skyscrapers. There's a 257-room Renaissance Hotel, a 204-room Courtyard and 123-unit branch of Marriott Executive Quarters. The hotels are on the first seven floors of the 48-story towers. The towers themselves are part of the massive Doha City Center mixed-use development, which includes a 340-shop mall.

How to Launder Your 'Orphaned' Amex Points to Continental Now
Missed last week's deadline for converting Amex Membership Rewards points into Continental OnePass miles? Desperate for a way to send the points to the now-departed OnePass? It can be done, but beware: The penalty for "laundering" Amex points to Continental now is ferociously high and you'll have to make a few connections along the way. The simple strategy is this: Transfer your Amex Points to Priority Club Rewards points. You'll be able to convert one Amex Point to one Priority Club point. The next step is transferring those newly minted Priority Club points to OnePass--and that's where you take a big hit. The conversion ratio is a brutal 5:1, so if you start with 100,000 Amex Points and transfer them to Priority Club, you'll then have to convert those 100,000 Priority Club points into just 20,000 OnePass miles. There is a better conversion rate available, but the math is more complicated and you have to act fast to catch the prevailing bonuses. Amex currently allows you to convert 750 Amex Points into 333 Starwood Preferred Guest points. You can then send SPG points to OnePass at a 2:1 ratio plus a number of bonus miles for every 20,000 SPG points converted. Here's a best-case scenario: Take 99,750 Amex points and convert them into 44,287 SPG points. With the bonuses that SPG is currently offering, you'll come away with 27,144 OnePass miles. As I say, either option exacts a very heavy penalty for missing last week's official deadline for direct Amex to OnePass transfers.

Mergers and Reflaggings and New Hotels, Oh My!
Two much-admired boutique hotel chains--Joie de Vivre, which operates mostly in the West, and Thompson, best known in major East Coast cities--plan to merge. The group manages 45 properties under a variety of names. The new company, tentatively called JT Hospitality, is apparently planning some sort of global rebranding. Two dozen Ramada Jarvis hotels in the United Kingdom are being reflagged as Mercure, one of the mid-market brands of Accor, the French lodging giant. Hilton and its Indian partner, Eros, have opened a 168-room room hotel near the DND Flyway between Delhi and the Noida high-tech commercial hub. Hilton has also opened its fourth Home2 Suites, this one a 128-suite hotel in San Antonio. Holiday Inn has two newbies, too. One is a 114-room property outside the city limits of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. (It's okay to admit you didn't know Red Deer had city limits.) The other is a 140-room hotel in Cartagena, Colombia.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
It usually takes 60 stays a year to earn Platinum status with the Accor A-Club frequent guest program. But there seems to be a backdoor entrance to a promotion mounted by the HSBC bank and you can get Platinum Status simply for the asking. I'd jump on this one fast before the loophole gets closed. Click here. (An update on Friday afternoon, October 7: This backdoor may have closed. Members are reporting only about a 40 percent success rate.) This week's speculation that AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines, would declare bankruptcy drove down the share price. It also whipped up a frenzy among some frequent flyers worried about the value of their American AAdvantage miles. There isn't anything to worry about. No airline has ever defaulted on its frequent flyer liability as long as it continued to fly. And no one is talking about American collapsing, just ducking into Chapter 11 as a way to restructure its debt. Lufthansa has refurbished its two lounges at Boston/Logan Terminal E. ... This already has been the worst year for flight cancellations in a decade. Flightstats.com says that nearly 105,000 flights were scrubbed through September 21. When you consider the insane weather--bad snow and ice storms all winter in many parts of the country, vicious Midwest storms and tornadoes in the spring and the East Coast's paralyzing, days-long Hurricane Irene in August--the number actually isn't that surprising.

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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.