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THE BRIEFING FOR OCTOBER 20-31, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Hilton's Big Devaluation Comes With Obfuscation
· Porter Flies to Vermont, Frontier Tries Washington
· Qantas Service Down Under Goes Down Under
· AAdvantage Flyers Can Now Burn Miles on Etihad
· British Airways Adds Bronze Entry-Level Elite Tier
· Hyatt Opens Andaz, Its Fourth Hotel in Shanghai
· Domestic Airlines Raising Fares $4-$10 Roundtrip


Hilton's Secret Devaluation Comes With Obfuscation, Too
Hilton HHonors spent the week issuing weird and misleading rationalizations that did little to allay suspicion the chain has cloaked a massive devaluation inside a new "benefit." As you'll recall from last week's Tactical Traveler, the new HHonors "premium room" award allows members to claim upgraded accommodations and suites for more HHonors points. But just as the premium program was unveiled, "standard" rooms available for lower-priced "standard" HHonors awards virtually disappeared. Hilton first claimed that "only two" hotels had a "technical issue" that prevented standard rooms from being booked. Then it insisted that there were just a "handful" of hotels affected and finally admitted to "a select number" of properties. In fact, however, there was a systemwide disappearance of standard rooms at many full-service Hiltons, upscale Conrad and Waldorf Astorias and even some mid-market DoubleTree and Embassy Suites hotels. As of early today (October 20), all hotels in the system do show standard rooms again. But there are dozens and perhaps hundreds of upmarket HHonors properties that have reclassified many formerly "standard" room types as available only at "premium award" levels. That's important because HHonors' new "premium award" prices are atrocious. One representative example: A "premium" King Deluxe at the London Hilton Green Park is priced at 279 pounds a night on November 1. A "standard" Double costs 239 pounds. HHonors requires 50,000 points to claim the Double, but an astonishing 138,539 points for the King Double. That's a mind-blowing 88,539 additional points to cover just 40 additional pounds on the nightly rate. The bottom line: HHonors points are worth much less today than they were before Hilton announced the premium-award "benefit."

Porter Will Fly to Vermont, Frontier Tries Washington
Porter Airlines, the fast-growing Canadian carrier that flies from its hub at Toronto/City Airport, has a new destination: Vermont. Beginning December 15, Porter will fly twice-weekly from Burlington. The service will continue through April. Frontier Airlines, the increasingly desperate mashup of Midwest Airlines and the former Frontier, is remaking its flight schedule--again. Out are two more routes from Midwest's former Milwaukee hub. Flights to Pittsburgh and Boston/Logan end in January. The airline also warns that there will be "other frequency and day-of-week" cuts around the system, too. What's new? Nonstops to Washington/National from two unlikely places: Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin. The routes will operate three days a week beginning in January using Airbus A319 aircraft. At the same time, Frontier will also begin seasonal flights between Kansas City and Orlando.

Service Down Under Goes Down as Qantas and Unions Squabble
Qantas grounded four Boeing 737s and a Boeing 767 due to maintenance delays that the airline is blaming on an ongoing squabble between the carrier and its unions. The grounding will lead to the loss of 60,000 domestic seats in the next few months and the cancellation of 400 flights. The cuts are atop periodic work stoppages by Qantas unions outraged because the carrier wants to create new airlines based outside Australia, but lay off about 1,000 Australian workers and cut international flights originating in Australia. For his part, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says the unions are "continuing to cause us real damage." Of course, Joyce doesn't mention that he's moved aircraft to its low-cost Jetstar division and dumped the acquisition costs and other losses on the international division of Qantas. He then complains about the poor results of the international service, slashes its route network and lays off employees. These are not fun times Down Under regardless of which side of the dispute you're on.

AAdvantage Members Can Now Burn Miles on Etihad
These haven't been fun times for American AAdvantage members, either, as they hear of the continuing losses at and possible bankruptcy filing by AMR Corporation, American's parent entity. But there is a little good news this week: AAdvantage members are now able to use their miles to claim awards on select flights operated by Etihad, the well-regarded carrier based in Abu Dhabi. AAdvantage members have been able to earn miles on Etihad flights for several months. Just before its rumored award-chart devaluation next month, the British Airways Executive Club has created a new entry-level elite tier. Prosaically called the Bronze Tier, it will require 25 flights or 300 tier points. That's about half the requirement for the Silver Tier, the airline's current entry level. Bronze members will be able to check in at business-class counters, select seats seven days before departure and earn a 25 percent status bonus. Marriott Rewards members take note: the Bay Point Resort in Panama City, Florida, is no longer in the system. The hotel converted to the Wyndham chain last week.

Shanghai Gets Another Hyatt, This One an Andaz in Xintiandi
Two of the most recognizable buildings in the Shanghai skyline--the side-by-side skyscrapers that look like a bottle and a bottle opener--each house a Hyatt hotel. But Hyatt apparently feels there's room for more rooms in the city and it has opened a 307-room Andaz Hotel in the Xintiandi district. Unlike the Grand Hyatt in the 88-story Jin Mao Tower and the Park Hyatt in the 128-story Shanghai World Financial Center, the Andaz is just 28 stories high. But since Xintiandi and the nearby French Concession are both low-rise districts in the heart of downtown Shanghai, the views should be pretty nifty. And in case you've forgotten, Hyatt has a hotel on the Bund, too. Hilton has opened its fifth Home2 Suites property, this one a 79-room property in West Valley City, Utah. Did you know that West Valley City is the second-largest in Utah? Neither did I. Pennsylvania is suddenly getting a burst of lower-priced hotels. A 75-room Fairfield Inn by Marriott has opened in Slippery Rock and a 113-room Country Inns and Suites by Carlson opened in State College. I guess both hotels will be useful when Penn State takes on those scrappy teams from Slippery Rock. And why does all of this remind me of William Bendix?

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Remember Steven Slater, the wacko JetBlue Airways flight attendant who got his 15 minutes of fame when he grabbed a beer, cursed out a passenger and deployed an emergency chute to exit the aircraft? He escaped jail time for his stunt this week by pleading guilty to a reduced charge and agreeing to undergo counseling and substance-abuse treatment. He also got a year of probation and said he would move to California. You'd think California already had enough to worry about. It looks like the airlines have successfully raised airfares $4-$10 each way this week. Delta Air Lines initiated the increase yesterday (October 19) and Southwest Airlines matched last evening. That pretty much seals the deal. But you might want to avoid buying a ticket this weekend until the fare dust clears. Verizon sold virtually all of its remaining 50,000 public pay phones last week. The exact sale price wasn't announced, but it couldn't have been much more than the cost of a new iPhone or Droid. After all, when was the last time you used a pay phone?

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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.