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THE BRIEFING FOR DECEMBER 13-27, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· American Sells Bundles of Stuff You Once Got Free
· JetBlue Challenges US Air on Philadelphia-Boston
· A Burst of Lodgings for Fast-Growing Charleston
· Virgin America Opens First Airport Lounge at LAX
· Lufthansa and AirBerlin Make Big Flight Changes
· JFK Security Guards Plan a Pre-Christmas Strike
· No One Uses It, So Qantas Dumps WiFi on A380s


American Now Sells Bundles of Stuff It Once Gave You Free
American Airlines on Wednesday (December 12) radically overhauled pricing displays on AA.com. The airline now sells tickets in bundles. The so-called Choice category is the naked, lowest-priced coach fare. Choice Essential prices are a standard $68 roundtrip higher and include a free checked bag, Group 1 Boarding and a waiver of change fees. The Choice Plus bundle costs $88 more and includes the fare; the Choice Essential perks; a 50 percent AAdvantage bonus, same-day standby privileges and an in-flight drink. The Fully Flexible fare is refundable and includes additional frills. The new regimen is designed to upsell you "ancillary" products that American and the other carriers unbundled from fares over the last several decades. But Rick Elieson, managing director of AA.com, insists that the initiative isn't only about generating new revenue. "I hope it's not" revenue neutral, he told me, "but it really does go deeper. It is about improving customer satisfaction. The [unbundled trend] we adopted as an industry in recent years was wrong. It was an adolescent phase. It isn't necessarily the way customers want to buy travel." Besides, Elieson claims, "when I present this internally, the revenue aspect is the last slide. And everyone is sold before the last slide." The bundled prices are available everywhere, not just on AA.com, but will be harder to purchase since third-party sites and bricks-and-mortar travel agents haven't traditionally quoted prices in this fashion. Read more about them here.

JetBlue Will Challenge US Airways on the Philadelphia-Boston Run
It's one of the most rapaciously priced runs in the country, but no challenger, including mighty Southwest Airlines, has ever dented US Airways' hold on the Philadelphia-Boston route. But JetBlue Airways, now the big player at Boston/Logan, will take on Philadelphia-hubbed US Airways. Effective May 23, JetBlue will launch five daily Embraer E190 roundtrips to compete with US Air's nearly hourly service between the two airports. US Air's price on the 278-mile route? Tomorrow's lowest one-way fare is $404 one-way and that is nonrefundable. JetBlue's walk-up fare is going to be $254. It also posted a promotional introductory fare of $17.76 one-way and seems to have set its standard advance-purchase price at $54 one-way. ... Virgin America continues to thrash about looking for a profitable niche and it has settled on its newest airport: Newark. It will launch three daily roundtrips from its San Francisco hub and three daily flights from Los Angeles. Flights launch April 2. Virgin America already flies nonstop from the West Coast to New York/Kennedy Airport.

A Big Burst of New Hotels for Fast-Growing Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina, is hot, hot, hot: Travel magazines love it, foodies love it, the polls say it is one of the nation's best places to retire, Southwest Airlines arrived last year, JetBlue launches next year and Boeing opened its Dreamliner 767 assembly plant last year in North Charleston. One of Charleston's only problems: lack of high-quality, big-brand hotels in the charming city center. And finding a room of any kind is tough since the downtown occupancy rate hovers around 80 percent. But about 1,500 new guestrooms are coming to town, which would increase the city's supply by nearly 50 percent. First to arrive late next month will be a 120-room Holiday Inn on historic Meeting Street. A few weeks later, a former Best Western on Lockwood Drive that has been closed for renovations since the summer will reopen as a 153-room Holiday Inn Express. A few blocks away on the Ashley River, a 141-room Hilton Garden Inn is nearing completion. Meanwhile, a long-stalled 185-room hotel near Marion Square finally got approval for construction after a court squabble over zoning. A 160-room hotel is under construction near the iconic Ravenel Bridge and 161 more rooms will be part of the conversion of the abandoned Mendel Rivers Federal Building.

Virgin America Opens Its First Airport Lounge -- In Los Angeles
Maybe this explains why chronically money-losing Virgin America is in the financial shape it's in. The five-year-old carrier opened its first airport lounge this week, but not at its San Francisco hub. The new Virgin America Loft is in Los Angeles. The club is located at Terminal 3. Day passes for Virgin flyers cost $40 a pop, although WiFi, cocktails, breakfast and snacks such as sushi, wraps and noodle dishes are included in the fee. ... Speaking of LAX, another much-needed hotel option has opened. The 143-room Hyatt Place El Segundo has opened adjacent to the Mariposa/Nash station of the Green Line. The hotel offers free WiFi and 24/7 food service in the Guest Kitchen area that is standard at all Hyatt Place properties. ... Three Pino Gelato branches have opened at Tampa International. Pino is now scooping 12 varieties at a time in Tampa's Landside building as well as Airside concourses C and E.

Lufthansa and AirBerlin Make Major Changes to Operations
If you use Lufthansa, get ready to deal with its newly rejiggered subsidiary operation on most short-haul destinations in Germany and Europe. Effective next July, the airline's Germanwings division will fly more than 60 aircraft on many former Lufthansa routes. Germanwings flyers will have a choice of three travel options: "best," which includes lounge access, two free checked bags, a guaranteed empty middle seat and complimentary in-flight drinks and meals; "smart," which includes one checked bag and snacks; and the la carte "basic," which is back-of-the-plane seating with a bone-crunching 29 inches of legroom. .... AirBerlin, Germany's other major carrier, is also retrenching. But its changes will largely be on international routes to and from the United States as it tries to coordinate with Oneworld Alliance partner American Airlines. Beginning next May, the airline will operate daily flights on its Miami-Dusseldorf route, three weekly flights on the Los Angeles-Berlin run and four weekly flights between LAX and Dusseldorf. As previously announced, AirBerlin in March will launch a nonstop between Berlin and Chicago/O'Hare. However, nonstops to Dusseldorf from Las Vegas, San Francisco and Vancouver will be cancelled.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Watch out for this one: private security guards at New York/Kennedy have authorized a strike on Thursday, December 20. That could delay dozens of flights just before Christmas because the private cops perform some security-sensitive tasks. ... On the other hand, good news on the strike front: Iberia employees have cancelled their plan for pre-holiday work actions. ... Costa Mesa travelers take note: The well-respected, 224-room Hotel Hanford, adjacent to South Coast Plaza, has been reflagged as a Crowne Plaza. ... Qantas has ended a nine-month test of in-flight WiFi and decided it will not offer the service. The WiFi was installed on six of the carrier's nine Airbus A380s that flew between Sydney, London and Los Angeles. Qantas said it dumped the WiFi because the "uptake" rate was below 5 percent.

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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.