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THE BRIEFING FOR OCT. 27 TO NOV. 9, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Delta Adds Premium Economy Seats to Entire Fleet
· An $800 Strategy for Global Airport-Club Access
· Air France Workers Launch Strike This Weekend
· AA Offers Curbside Check-In for Overseas Flights
· Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Transfer to United
· Amtrak Delays Between New York and Boston
· Flooding to Reach Central Bangkok This Weekend


Delta Expands Premium Economy Service to Its Entire Fleet
Introduced in 1999, Economy Plus kept the old United afloat during the awful times, the bankruptcy times and the we-gotta-merge-with-somebody times. It was also a no-brainer decision to expand the product, which offers as much as five inches of extra legroom to front-of-the-back-of-the-bus coach seats, to Continental's fleet. Now it is clear that Delta Air Lines has embraced the premium economy idea with similar gusto. Back in February, Delta announced it would add Economy Comfort chairs on longer-haul international flights. And now that there's room for it to fall, Delta has dropped the other shoe: Economy Comfort will be added to the carrier's entire fleet of 550 traditional jets and 250 regional jets. Delta is promising seat pitch of at least 34 inches at every Economy Comfort chain and will install the service in at least three and as many as five rows per aircraft. The rollout schedule is also aggressive. The first domestic aircraft with Economy Comfort will go into service in November and Delta says the entire fleet will be remade by next summer. Domestic and short-haul international Economy Comfort seats will carry a $19-$99 surcharge each way. But it will be a free upgrade at the time of booking for SkyMiles Diamond, Platinum and Gold members and full-fare flyers. Silver elites get a 50 percent discount at the time of booking or free access to remaining seats at check-in.

New Strategies and Tactics in the Airport Club Wars
It's been a month since Continental Airlines and American Express parted company, leaving Amex Platinum customers without access to Continental's lounges, now part of the United Club network. What's surprising, though, is how many travelers are still looking for an airport-club strategy. Here's one: Get an Amex Platinum Card and a Chase Continental Presidential Plus card. Those two cards (total investment of about $800 annually) offer virtually universal airport-club coverage. Amex Platinum offers Amex's own access plan (day-of-travel privileges at American Admirals Club, Delta SkyClub and US Airways Club) and the Priority Pass Select card, which offers access to Alaska Airlines Board Rooms and hundreds of other lounges. The Presidential Plus card covers United, USAirways and several hundred Star Alliance clubs. Delta Air Lines is quietly selling SkyClub access through Groupon. You can buy a single visit for $25--Delta usually sells walk-ups for $50--or a five-visit punch card for $89. Philadelphia has a "new" US Airways Club, located in Concourse A West. That's because the Envoy Lounge, once limited to USAir's business-class flyers, will be converted to a standard Club lounge.

Here We Go Again: Air France Faces a Strike This Weekend
Air France staffers have called a strike that is expected to last from October 29 (Saturday) through November 2 (Wednesday). Don't expect much advance warning from Air France. Although the airline says it is "compelled to reduce our flight schedule," it hasn't listed the cancellations. The airline also conveniently warns that it does "not exclude 'on the spot' cancellations as well as delays." If you're interested in these vague, Gallic updates, surf here. American Airlines now offers curbside check-in for international flights at 28 airports. That includes countries that require a visa. The service is already available at AA's major international gateways (Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago/O'Hare, Miami and New York/Kennedy) and the carrier says curbside check-in will expand to a total of 59 airports in November. For details, surf here. Lufthansa adds three weekly flights between Toronto and Dusseldorf this weekend, the start of most carriers' "winter" timetable. Ritz-Carlton has opened a 493-room hotel in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. The property is adjacent to the city's convention center.

Comings and Goings (and Bonuses) Roil Frequent Travel Plans
It's not just Hilton HHonors devaluing its program with no advance notice. Although it's not on the scale of the HHonors takedown, Marriott Rewards has eliminated its "all-inclusive" awards without notice. Effective October 17, you can no longer claim the rewards at seven Marriott resorts in Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean. The all-inclusive rewards included five- or seven-nights of accommodation, meals, beverages and many resort activities. Speaking of HHonors, the program's "double dip" option (claiming HHonors points and airline credit for stays) is losing Southwest Airlines. Effective January 1, you won't be able to collect Rapid Rewards points on Hilton stays. Chase says that its Ultimate Rewards points, which you collect by using several Chase credit cards, can now be transferred on a one-for-one basis for United MileagePlus miles.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Amtrak riders take note: Repairs on tracks between New York and Boston will lead to a substantial number of cancellations next weekend (November 5 and 6). After pushing up airfares $4-$10 roundtrip last week, airlines tried another fare increase this week. It failed. The price bump was initiated by United Airlines and promptly matched by Delta, American and US Airways, but it collapsed when Southwest and JetBlue refused to increase their fares. ... Megabus, the fast-growing intercity bus service, says it is adding a hub at Atlanta. The bus firm says that it'll serve 11 cities in Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina from the MARTA Civic Center station in downtown Atlanta. The Thai government says it can't stop floodwaters from entering the central business districts of Bangkok. The worst flooding is due this weekend. Rising waters have already closed Don Muang, the domestic airport. Hotels in Bangkok are urging guests to use the Skytrain link to and from Suvarnabhumi, the city's main international airport. The elevated rail line is expected to keep running even if flooding swamps the streets of central Bangkok.

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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.