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THE BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 6-20, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· San Diego Isn't an Airline Orphan Anymore
· Award Alert: Starwood Adds Luxury Properties
· Austrian Airlines Resumes O'Hare-Vienna Route
· Air Canada Adds Flights to Seoul and Istanbul
· United Raises Annual Fees at Its Airport Clubs
· US Airways Starts a Charlotte-Heathrow Run
· Mitt Gets Upgraded to the Presidential Suite


San Diego Isn't Necessarily an Airline Orphan Anymore
The nation's six largest cities each have at least one airline operating a hub there. So does Dallas-Fort Worth, the ninth-largest metropolitan area. But San Antonio (it's number seven) and San Diego (number eight) are airline orphans. Good news for San Diego flyers, however. Alaska Airlines is bulking up at Lindbergh Field. On March 29, Alaska will launch a daily nonstop to Boston/Logan. Then, on June 7, Alaska will begin a San Diego-Kauai nonstop. That flight is scheduled for four times weekly, but it will operate daily between the launch and August 24. Alaska Air won't dominate San Diego with the new routes--Southwest controls nearly 40 percent of traffic at SAN--but the Seattle-based carrier will be at 160 weekly flights to a dozen cities by next summer.

Award Alert: Starwood Adds a Raft of Luxury Destinations
Starwood Preferred Guest is the favorite of many savvy business travelers, but it's dwarfed by Marriott Rewards, Hilton HHonors and Priority Club from InterContinental. But SPG has a great niche in the luxury-property arena and that's where the chain is bulking up. The St. Regis division officially opened a 172-room beachfront resort this week on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. The Luxury Collection division this week added a 171-room property in Shanghai called Twelve at Hengshan. The newly built hotel is in the leafy French Concession on the Hengshan Road, one of the city's most popular nightlife centers. And two more Luxury Collection branches will be coming back online next year. After 15 months of renovations, the 82-room Gritti Palace in Venice will reopen on January 31. A two-year remake of the 203-room Prince de Galles in Paris should be completed in time to reopen during the second quarter. ... Hilton HHonors continues to change rules in secret, without the courtesy of notification. Hilton is jacking up the requirements for its gold and diamond elite level next year for 2014 status. The latest devaluation means it'll take 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 base points to reach the gold level for 2014. The diamond level will require 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 base points. Complete details were slipped onto the Hilton site (see here).

Austrian Airlines Returns to O'Hare, Air Canada Bulks Up In Asia
Austrian Airlines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, says that it will resume flying between its Vienna hub and Chicago/O'Hare. Beginning May 17, there will be five weekly flights using Boeing 767 aircraft configured with the carrier's new flat-bed business-class seats. Austrian dropped O'Hare in 2008. ... US Airways has obtained some slots at London/Heathrow and will launch daily nonstops from its Charlotte hub in March. The Airbus A330 used on the route will originate in Miami, meaning the service is actually a Miami-Charlotte-Heathrow run. US Airways currently operates a Charlotte-London/Gatwick service and, while the airline didn't say it, expect that route to disappear when Heathrow flights begin. ... Air Canada is looking East. Beginning June 3, the airline will begin a daily Boeing 777-300ER nonstop from its Toronto hub to Seoul. Two days later, it will begin three weekly flights between Toronto and Istanbul using Boeing 767s. The airline also says it will add frequencies on its existing routes to Beijing from both Toronto and Vancouver. And Air Canada's Calgary-Tokyo/Narita service will bump up to daily flights on May 1.

United Airlines Raises Membership Fees at Its Airport Clubs
The merger of United's Red Carpet Club and Continental's Presidents Club networks hasn't gone as badly as the airline's combination in general. But the name United Club does not mean much since it is a peculiar mashup of former United locations that desperately need upgrading and some once-great Continental branches. That isn't stopping United from jacking up membership fees for next year, of course. Effective January 1, annual rates for individuals increase by $25 and fees that include spouse-membership privileges jump by $100. United is also eliminating the three-year membership tier. Complete details are here. ... This won't surprise you, but Delta Air Lines is putting another hurting on its Memphis hub. By January 3, there will be just 94 daily flights at the airport, down from 115 now and 225 when Memphis was a Northwest hub. Flights to two cities--Birmingham, Alabama, and Jacksonville, Florida--will end. Service to 10 other cities around the South and Midwest will be trimmed by one flight a day. And Delta has dropped its Memphis-Amsterdam route after initially planning to maintain it as a summer run.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Here's a way to get even: After getting tossed out two years ago as manager of the Madison Hotel at the corner of M and 15th Streets in Washington, Loews Hotels has bought the 356-room property. ... Lufthansa says that it will bow to the inevitable and add a premium-economy section on its intercontinental fleet. It'll take at least two years before premium economy sections appear at the German airline, however. ... Alaska Airlines says it will no longer check bags all the way through on an itinerary written on separate tickets. Delta Air Lines and US Airways adopted the more-restrictive policy earlier this year. ... You've surely heard: Delta is sniffing around the 49 percent share of Virgin Atlantic currently owned by Singapore Airlines. Gonna be interesting to watch. ... Speaking of Delta, it has agreed to buy as many as 70 regional jets now that the manufacturer, Bombardier of Canada, has agreed to take back 60 of Delta's aging 50-seat CRJ200 aircraft. The new planes will be outfitted with 12 first-class seats, 12 premium-economy chairs and 52 coach seats.

At Least He'll Get Upgraded to the Presidential Suite...
Marriott International has a new board member: Mitt Romney. Surprised that Romney has landed at Marriott? Don't be. It'll be his third stint there. Romney was on the Marriott board before he became governor of Massachusetts and returned in 2009 after his term ended. He resigned again last year when he announced his presidential run. Besides, Mitt's actual first name is Willard and he's named after J. Willard Marriott, founder of the chain.

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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.