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THE BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 15-30, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli

· Delta Shifts: Less Europe, More Latin America
· Not a Guest? Hyatt Still Wants Your Dining Dollars
· Chase Extends Ultimate Rewards to Southwest
· Bankrupt American's $30 Million London 'Home'
· Airlines Keep Trying--and Failing--to Hike Fares
· Hertz Rents Maseratis and Ferraris in England
· Someone Please Check the Hotel Bar for Whitey


Delta Shifts Again: Less Europe, More Latin America Next Year
Ever since it declared bankruptcy in 2005 and began remodeling itself as an international carrier, Delta Air Lines has furiously added and dumped flights in Europe and searched for a long-term profit strategy. But with the European economy flagging, the Euro tanking and transatlantic premium-class business travel falling, Delta is once again planning big service cuts. Meanwhile, the carrier will be ramping up again in Latin America, reviving a strategy it's been fiddling with since it purchased huge chunks of Pan Am in the early 1990s. Here are the latest ups and downs:
    A 7 percent cut in transatlantic capacity in 2012, which is atop sharp cuts in Europe flights this fall and winter. Permanently gone are four routes from Atlanta--to Athens, Copenhagen, Moscow and Prague--that previously had only been grounded for the winter. Delta is also permanently eliminating three routes it has run seasonally from New York/Kennedy: Manchester, Budapest and Berlin.
    Delta is making a $100 million investment in GOL, the largest airline by market share in Brazil. Flyers will receive reciprocal lounge privileges; GOL already participates in Delta's SkyMiles program.
    Delta is beefing up its own Brazil service. It is putting Boeing 767-400s on flights to Sao Paulo from JFK and Atlanta. That'll not only bring full flat-beds in business class to the routes, but also boost capacity by 15 percent. Moreover, Delta's Detroit/Metro-San Paulo and Atlanta-Brasilia routes now operate daily.
    Delta is buying a 4 percent stake in Aeromexico, Mexico's last remaining full-service carrier.
    Delta has permanently cancelled its Atlanta-Shanghai and Atlanta-Tel Aviv routes.

Hyatt Wants Your Dining Dollars, Even If You're Not Staying There
Hyatt's Gold Passport program has an interesting new perk: points for food and beverage and spa services even if you're not a hotel guest. The program is beta testing now--so much so that the Web site that explains it all still isn't functioning. As it's been explained to me, however, a select number of properties already offer the perk and there'll be a full rollout at all Hyatt properties by the summer. The program seems a bit clunky (you'll have to show a photo ID as well as know your Gold Passport number), but many Hyatts have terrific restaurants and bars, so you should be able to run up a lot of points. Starwood Preferred Guest is the only other hotel frequency plan that allows you to earn dining points when you're not registered at the hotel. ... Pay attention to this one, folks. Chase's proprietary Ultimate Rewards program will allow you to transfer UR points to Southwest Rapid Rewards beginning on January 5. Chase recently added United MileagePlus transfers to the mix and you can also transfer Ultimate Rewards points to the InterContinental, Marriott, Hyatt, British Airways and Amtrak plans. And when you consider that some Chase cards using Ultimate Rewards points also offer double points for all travel spending, it may mean that you're now better carrying something like the Sapphire Preferred instead of airline- and hotel-specific cards. ... Marriott Rewards members take note: You can now claim points for flights on Virgin America. You'll also be able to transfer credits back and forth between Marriott Rewards and Virgin America's Elevate program.

Your Fare Dollar at Work: American's $30 Million London Townhouse
Guess what's buried in American Airlines' bankruptcy filing? Its parent firm, AMR Corp., owns a $30 million townhouse in the tony Cottesmore Gardens section of London's pricey Kensington district. The five-story home is empty now and all American will say about the property is that it was purchased in the 1990s and has been used to house senior executives and to hold corporate functions. This from an airline that said it had exhausted all available cost-cutting measures before filing for bankruptcy last month. ... The bankruptcy filing put a temporary kibosh on American's efforts to spin off its American Eagle subsidiary. ... On November 30, the day after it declared bankruptcy, American rolled out plans for its soon-to-be-delivered fleet of Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Beside the usual corporate-speak and promotional babble was this little nugget: American will outfit the aircraft with four cabins, including a premium-economy section. But don't expect practical details any time soon. When I asked American for specifics about the new service, they admitted there were none. In other words, they made it up and have yet to figure out what the service will look like. The first 777-300ER is due for delivery sometime next year.

Get Out Your Scorecard and Keep Up With the Changes
Baltimore/Washington flyers take note: Delta Air Lines moved to Terminal D from Terminal C. ... Beijing flyers take note: SkyTeam airlines, including Delta, Air France/KLM, Korean Air, China Southern and China Eastern, now operate from a central facility in Terminal 2. ... American Eagle, American's commuter carrier, is adding three routes from its Chicago/O'Hare hub. Twice-daily flights to Kitchener, Ontario, begin on June 14. There will also be daily flights to Sioux City and Waterloo, Iowa, in the spring. All three routes will use 44- or 50-seat regional jets. ... Alaska Airlines is reviving flights from Portland, Oregon, to Long Beach. Alaska dumped the route in April, 2010, but is restoring daily service on March 12. ... Boingo, the WiFi aggregator, has added service at two more airports: Rome/Fiumicino and Rome/Ciampino.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Airlines keep trying to raise fares and the market keeps swatting them down. Last week, US Airways tried an across-the-board $6 roundtrip hike. This week Delta Air Lines is trying for a $4-$10 increase. The other legacy carriers matched Delta, but Southwest and JetBlue haven't, so it, too, will probably fail. ... The euro briefly dropped below US$1.30 this week and is now trading around $1.30, its lowest level in almost a year. ... TSA Administrator John Pistole says that the new "trusted traveler" program will expand to some United Airlines elite travelers next year. The so-called PreCheck plan is currently testing with some elite Delta and American travelers in Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami and Atlanta. ... Hertz now offers super-luxury cars at the airports in London, Manchester and Birmingham. Included are vehicles such as Maserati, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Porsche and Ferrari. Details and (astronomical) prices are here. ... Ethiopian Airlines has joined the Star Alliance.

Will Someone Tell Whitey the Hotel Is Changing Names Again?
The largest hotel in Albany, the capital of New York State, is having another identity crisis. Opened in 1981 as a Hilton, the 384-room property converted to a Crowne Plaza several years ago as its physical condition and service declined. But it'll become a Hilton again next year and embark on a $10 million renovation. Last time I was there, about a decade ago, I was drinking at the bar with Hall of Fame pitcher (and Hall of Fame imbiber) Whitey Ford. He might still be there ... and I can guarantee that he won't remember the name of the hotel.

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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.