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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 1 TO 15, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· American Rolls Out Specifics of Premium Economy
· Marriott Rewards Devalues Hotel Award Chart
· United Now Collects Upgrade Co-Pay in Advance
· Hilton Opens Three More Properties in China
· Nine Months Late, W Opens Its Hotel in Paris
· Fare Hike Fails, So Airlines Start Cutting Routes
· TSA's PreCheck Security Bypass Open at JFK


American Finally Rolls Out Specifics of Its Premium Economy Service
American Airlines leaked word of its premium economy service in November, just a day after it announced its bankruptcy filing. But it's taken until this week for the airline to reveal any substantial facts. American now says that its newly delivered Boeing 737-800s will have the enhanced seats this fall. It'll then add the product, called Main Cabin Extra, to Airbus A319s and A321s and the new Boeing 777-300ERs and 787s. (That notably leaves out the airline's large number of B757s, 767s and MD-80s.) American says seats in Main Cabin Extra will have 4 to 6 inches of additional legroom. They'll be available free of charge at the time of booking to super-elites (American AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Platinum members) and to flyers paying the full coach fare. AAdvantage Gold travelers will get the perk until at least the end of 2013. Other travelers will pay $9 to $108 a segment depending on flight distance. Main Cabin Extra seats will also come with priority boarding privileges. For more details and other specifics, surf here.

Marriott Devalues Its Rewards With Its 2012 Hotel Category Changes
Marriott Rewards released its annual list of changes in award categories this week and there is bad news, worse news--and a really tricky bit of awful news. The bad news: More than 500 hotels, about 15 percent of the chain's properties, are getting more expensive by moving up one category. Only 100 hotels are getting cheaper by moving down a category. The worse news: Virtually all London full-service properties are now in Category 8, Marriott's most expensive. Every Marriott in the Boston area is moving up one category and Philadelphia had a half dozen increases, but no decreases. Downtown New Orleans full-service hotels are now all in Category 6. The tricky news: Nearly 100 hotels are moving from Category 4 to Category 5. That's important because the free nights you earn in Marriott's MegaBonus promotions are only valid at Category 1-4 hotels, thus putting those nearly 100 up-priced properties out of your reach. The category changes are effective on March 15. You can examine the complete list of adjustments at this .pdf. ... Regardless of how United's computer transition goes this weekend, we already know there's one bit of bad MileagePlus news that'll hit us on March 3: United will demand the co-pay on your upgrade awards in advance. That means as much as $1,100 up front on the off chance that your upgrade clears. If the upgrade doesn't come through, only then will United return your money. No other carrier collects a co-pay in advance of awarding you the space for an upgrade. ... The Hyatt credit card tied to Hyatt Gold Passport has begun updating its cards to include the EMV chip (chip-and-pin technology) that is used in most places around the world. Existing Hyatt Card holders will be issued replacement cards.

Hilton Opens Three More Hotels in China, W Finally Opens in Paris
Hoteliers' endless taste for properties in China continues unabated. This week, it's Hilton, which added three more hotels this week alone. Two of the hotels are in Dalian: a 170-room Hilton and the 210-room Conrad. The hotels are adjacent to each other in the city's East Harbor district. Separately, DoubleTree put its flag on the former Sofitel in Shanghai. The twin-towered, 850-room property is in Pudong. ... Nine months behind schedule, W Hotels opened its 91-room property in Paris. The hotel is located in the 9th arrondissement, just off the Boulevard Haussmann near the Opera Garnier. ... Marriott has opened a 99-room TownPlace Suites in Bridgeport, West Virginia. ... A 114-room Holiday Inn Express has opened in Buenos Aires and it claims to be the closest hotel to BA's Ezeiza Airport.

A Whole Lot of Route Droppin' Going On...
As I told you in last week's Portfolio column (read it here), rising oil prices would lead the airlines to try additional fare increases. (They attempted a $10 roundtrip fare increase after the column posted.) And then when the market pushed back on prices (the increase failed), airlines would have no choice but to start cutting flights. Delta, for example, will drop its Miami-London/Heathrow and Miami-London/Gatwick routes. American is dropping a raft of Caribbean routes from New York/Kennedy. Gone will be service to Aruba, St. Maarten, Turks and Caicos and San Jose, Costa Rica. Overall, American's capacity will drop 5 percent in June compared to last year and its July capacity will be 7 percent lower than July, 2011. The combined United-Continental network will be about 1.3 percent lower this summer compared to last year. Air France is dumping three U.S. routes (Newark, Orlando and Seattle) to Paris, although Delta is taking over the Seattle-Paris service. Even Southwest says it won't be growing this year. By the way, oil was north of $108 a barrel on New York markets tonight (March 1).

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The TSA says it has expanded its PreCheck program to Kennedy Airport in New York. The bypass plan, which allows travelers to keep their shoes, belts and jackets on and permits them to leave laptops in their bag, is only available to select elite members of the American and Delta frequent flyer programs. ... Alamo Rent A Car has opened a rental station in Central Waikiki. It's located on Kaiulani Avenue. ... A recent change in the perimeter rules that limit flights at Washington/National airport has led American Airlines to announce new flights between National and Los Angeles and United to plan flights from National to San Francisco.

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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 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.