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THE END-OF-THE-YEAR BRIEFING
By Joe Brancatelli

· The Ghost of Computer Meltdowns Yet to Come
· US Airways, Air Canada Juggle Fees and Perks
· Delta's Two-Hub, 12-Mile New York Strategy
· BA Gets BMI From Lufthansa. The Fun Begins.
· Another Burst of New Hotel Openings in China
· American Grounds American Eagle's Turboprops
· And to All a Good Night ...


The Ghost of Airline Computer Meltdowns Yet to Come
Two months after it moved from a jury-rigged computer network to the widely used Sabre system, Virgin America continues to inconvenience and infuriate passengers. Virgin's meltdown is much longer than, if not as severe as, the Ghost of Meltdowns Past, the US Airways fiasco of 2007. Most of all, however, Virgin's woes remind us of the Ghost of Potential Airline Computer Meltdowns Yet to Come. Early in March, United Airlines will move to the computer systems currently hosting Continental Airlines. The transition is due just a few weeks before the implementation of what the global airline industry euphemistically calls its "summer schedule" during the last weekend of March. The folks I've talked to at United and Continental are circumspect about the switchover, yet insist that they'll be ready. But consider: It's not for nothing that the computer change, an incredibly complicated operation, is virtually the final task United and Continental have on their merger calendar. And consider that the United-Continental combination will be the largest in the airline world. A computer glitch could get extraordinarily ugly extremely fast. My advice: Circle March in your nifty new 2012 date books and think long and hard before booking a United/Continental itinerary in March.

US Airways, Air Canada Juggle Upgrade Fees and Perks
US Airways is almost always the last with the very least, but this time its Dividend Miles program is only following the leaders. Both American and United airlines already charge co-pays on their upgrade awards and now US Air has followed suit. But its new fee, $25-$150 per flight for domestic, Canada and Mexico flights, may not be all bad. In the past, the airline charged a flat 15,000 miles for all upgrades, regardless of length. But the new co-pay scheme, effective February 15, charges fewer miles for short hops, the core of US Airways' business. Upgrade awards now cost as little as 5,000 miles. And since Dividend Miles elites and full-fare flyers are exempt from the co-pays, the price of an award has actually declined for the most frequent US Airways flyers. You can examine the new structure here. ... There are other Dividend Miles changes, too. The phony-baloney $75 "close-in ticketing" fee for awards kicks in 21 days before departure instead of 14 days. That's also effective on February 15. Top-level elites remain exempt, however. ... Air Canada has published details of its 2013 Aeroplan elite levels and it very much resembles the changes that its Star Alliance partner, United Airlines, announced for the 2013 MileagePlus program. In other words, marginally improved benefits for Air Canada Top Tier elites and substantially reduced benefits for entry- and mid-level elites. You can examine the changes here.

Delta's Two-Hub, 12-Mile New York Strategy
After a tough, multi-year battle to acquire more than 100 of US Airways' slots at LaGuardia Airport, Delta says it plans to build a second New York hub just a dozen or so miles from its existing hub at Kennedy Airport. Delta's decrepit JFK facilities house mostly international flights, of course. At LGA, Delta claims it wants to run a domestic hub by lashing its existing structure to the US Airways terminal with a 600-foot covered walkway. The destinations to be served by Delta from LGA? Mostly hub airports of competitive carriers. For example, Delta will add flights to places like Miami and Dallas-Fort Worth (American hubs); Houston, Denver and Cleveland (United/Continental); and Charlotte (US Airways). Also on Delta's LGA radar: flights to upstate New York (Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse) currently dominated by JetBlue Airways from its JFK hub. With so much focus on routes already served by other airlines, Delta will be severely slashing service to smaller cities that have had US Airways flights. The biggest losers include Albany and Ithaca, New York, Hartford and Providence. Also getting a haircut: LGA service to Maine, Vermont, the Carolinas and Virginia. You can view details of Delta's LGA plans here. ... Hilton has opened two new hotels in the The Squaire complex at Frankfurt Airport. The Hilton has 249 rooms and the Hilton Garden Inn has 334 rooms. Both properties are above the ICE Railway Station, which has direct service into the downtown Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.

BA Buys BMI From Lufthansa. Now The Fun Begins.
IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, signed a definitive deal this week to buy British Midland International from Lufthansa. If approved, the $271 million transaction will give BA more than 50 percent of Heathrow's coveted slots. Virgin Atlantic, which finished a distant second to BA in the bidding, is already screaming foul and complaining that the BMI deal will give BA too much control at Heathrow. It'll be very interesting to see what British and European Community regulators think. Needless to say, folks, this one ain't over by a long shot. ... The year ends with another burst of major hotel openings in China. Get out your scorecard: St. Regis opened a 257-room property in Shenzhen. Marriott opened a 720-room property on Xizang Middle Road in Shanghai. Hilton has opened its second hotel in a month in Nanjing, this one a 411-room property on the Yangtze River, about 10 miles from the central business district. And Hilton's DoubleTree division has opened a 295-room hotel in Langfang in Hebei province and a 253-room property in Taizhou in Jiangsu province.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines will ground the 21 ATR turboprops in the American Eagle commuter fleet. Some Eagle routes currently flown with props will switch to regional jets, but the ATR grounding means the end of some routes: Miami-Fort Myers; Chicago/O'Hare-Tri Cities, Tennessee; Miami-Savannah; and Dallas/Fort Worth-Augusta. ... Kingfisher Airlines, the financially troubled Indian carrier, will join the Oneworld Alliance in February. Assuming it lasts that long, of course. ... Part one of my 2012 airport dining guide has just posted, but three new restaurants of note have just premiered: a branch of the Nate 'n Al Deli has opened in Terminal 2 at LAX. And celebrity chef Cat Cora has opened a restaurant in Terminal E at Houston/Intercontinental. She opened her first airport restaurant in Terminal 2 at San Francisco a few weeks ago.

And to All a Good Night...
Yes, it was Dickensian on the road this year. But life on the road is always Dickensian. I hope you're at home now. I wish you the happiest of holidays. Whether you celebrate Chanukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, or none of those, enjoy your time off the road. And please have the most joyous New Year. The Tactical Traveler will return on January 5. Dickens and I will see you then.

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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.