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THE END-OF-THE-YEAR BRIEFING
By Joe Brancatelli
· TSA: No Good Deed (PreCheck) Goes Unpunished
· Marriott Rewards Changes Lifetime Member Rules
· Southwest: AirTran Will Survive Two More Years
· Note to AAdvantage Players: Iberia Cuts Routes
· A Burst of New Properties in Asia to End the Year
· Hyatt Juggles Award Prices for Some Top Hotels
· Don't Expect Year-End News on AA-US Air Front
No Good Deed (Like PreCheck) Goes Unpunished at TSA
After a decade of ludicrous security theater at airport checkpoints, business travelers have enthusiastically embraced the TSA's PreCheck program. And why not? PreCheck permits frequent flyers to use separate lanes; keep their shoes, belts and jackets on; and leave laptops and toiletries in carry-ons. And TSA has been as good as its word on deployment, rolling out PreCheck at dozens of airports this year. Two more facilities went live this week: Terminal A at John Wayne/Orange County and the East Checkpoint at Fort Lauderdale. What's the bad news? (And you knew there'd be bad news...) Apparently, if you apply to participate in PreCheck and are rejected, you go on a special watch list. The TSA's logic, as detailed in the Federal Register, is that those of us who don't pass PreCheck muster may "have been involved in violations of security" in the past and thus merit the extra scrutiny. The new watch list went live without public notice last month, but the TSA insists that rejected PreCheck applicants will not face additional security checks. Which begs the question: Why have a "watch list" if you're not going to watch those on the list more carefully?
Marriott Rewards Changes Lifetime Membership Requirements
Marriott Rewards has adjusted the requirements for lifetime membership. Lifetime Silver Elite will now require 250 nights and 1.2 million points. Gold Elite will require 500 nights and 1.6 million points. The highest tier, Lifetime Platinum Elite, will now require 750 nights and 2 million points. Those levels represent fewer nights than in previous iterations of the lifetime program. Another positive change: Marriott dropped the requirement that you be a Rewards member for at least 12 years before reaching a lifetime level. ... Hyatt Gold Passport is the first program to announce 2013 award chart changes and the good news is that adjustments are minor. Of the 17 property changes, in fact, 10 are downward adjustments. Most notable: the Park Hyatt Toronto and Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California, were reduced to Category 4 (15,000 points) from Category 5 (18,000 points). The bad news: the Hyatt 48 Lex, Hyatt's only Category 4 hotel in New York, is bumped up to Category 5. And the Grand Hyatt Tokyo goes to Category 6 (22,000 points). The changes are effective on February 7. ... Speaking of desirable Hyatt award hotels, a squabble between Hyatt and the owners of its Curacao property means the 350-room Hyatt Regency is apparently out of the chain, at least for now. If you have holiday stays booked either with dollars or Gold Passport awards, check with Hyatt.
Southwest Says AirTran Will Survive Two More Years
Southwest Airlines cut the deal to purchase AirTran Airways more than two years ago, but the Atlanta-based carrier will survive as an independent entity at least until the end of 2014. Although Southwest has converted some AirTran routes, a host of computer and other operational issues has delayed a total integration. Southwest does say code-sharing between the two airlines will launch sometime next year, however. ... Separately, Southwest says it expects to raise fees and add new optional services next year in an attempt to raise upwards of $100 million in new revenue. Southwest's two-bags-free policy won't change, but fees will be raised for checking additional or overweight bags. AirTran, which does charge for checked bags, will raise its fees, too.
AAdvantage Players Take Note: Iberia Cuts Key Routes
Iberia is cutting a slew of routes next month and that is very bad news for American Airlines flyers who often claim AAdvantage awards using Iberia. Effective January 10, Iberia is dumping routes from its Madrid hub to Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin and Stockholm. Two days later, Madrid-Istanbul dies and Madrid-Cairo ends on January 21. ... US Airways says it will launch daily nonstops to Sao Paulo from its Charlotte hub on May 5. The airline will use Boeing 767-200s configured with 18 business-class and 186 coach seats. ... Hawaiian Airlines says that it will launch flights between its Honolulu hub and Taipei in July. Other than saying the route will be serviced with Airbus A330-200s, however, Hawaiian hasn't provided other details. ... Surprising no one, Terminal 2 at London/Heathrow will be the home of Star Alliance carriers when it opens in 2014. All 7.7 billion Star airlines will move into the new digs eventually. If puffery about new terminals impresses you, surf here.
A Burst of New Hotels in Asia to End the Year
Get out that multilingual hotel scorecard because many new properties have opened this month.... In Bali, a 203-room Sheraton has opened in Kuta and the Marriott Autograph Collection added the 308-room Stones Hotel in Legian. ... In China, a 300-room Holiday Inn Express has opened in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The property sits atop the Tseung Kwan O MTR rail station. And a 244-room Four Points by Sheraton has opened in Luohe City, Henan Province. ... In India, a 115-room Hyatt Place has opened in Karnataka. Seven of the rooms have private plunge pools, a nifty amenity for a mid-tier hotel chain. And a 173-room Holiday Inn Express has opened in Ahmedabad.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Here's the tally of airline costs due to Superstorm Sandy: United Airlines says it reduced revenue by $50 million in November. Delta Air Lines says it cost $30 million. US Airways says the storm nicked November earnings by $20 million. American Airlines says November revenues dropped by $25 million. Southwest Airlines says the storm will take a $15-$20 million bite out of fourth-quarter profit. JetBlue Airways didn't disclose cumulative numbers, but said its PRASM (passenger revenue per available seat mile) dropped 5 percent in November. ... Don't expect a year-end surprise concerning a potential American-US Airways merger. The next likely date for any real developments is January 9, when the board of bankrupt American is scheduled to meet. ... The euro hit a seven-month high against the dollar this week and has been trading north of $1.32 on world markets. ... Isn't there always a storm in the Midwest just in time to complicate Christmas travel? This year's model has led to more than 300 cancellations and 570 delays as of 6 p.m. local time today (December 20) at Chicago/O'Hare. There were about 90 cancellations at Chicago/Midway, 95 at Kansas City, 44 at Detroit/Metro and 43 at Milwaukee.
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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.