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THE BRIEFING FOR JAN. 31 - FEB. 14, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· Embassy Suites Has Another Idea for the Atriums
· The Euro Is on the Rampage Against the Dollar
· Life After the Great Recession for Chicago Hotels
· The New Number Six in Europe: Istanbul Airport
· Loews Hotel Snaps Up Boston's Back Bay Hotel
· Star Alliance Opens a Lounge in Buenos Aires
· American, Hyatt Offer Bonus for Points Purchase


Embassy Suites Has Another Idea to Remake Those Silly Atriums
More than three years ago, Hilton's Embassy Suites chain announced plans to expand more quickly by offering third-party developers cheaper building options, including a prototype hotel that had one-room "suites" and sharply downsized atriums. But small rooms and half-height atriums apparently haven't worked out so well since Embassy Suites now only has 211 properties in the Americas, just 21 more than when it decided to go small in 2009. Now the all-suite chain has a new idea: make the atriums a "social lobby space" complete with multiple public seating areas, new landscaping and water features and artwork from local sculptors and artisans. The chain is also upgrading its free breakfast offerings and introducing a concept called Blackstones Grill. Blackstones will use the chain's existing breakfast area and operate as a casual lunch and dinner restaurant with brick pizza ovens, open-pit grills and rotisseries. (The little in-joke? Hilton is owned by Blackstone, the gigantic global investment firm.) Hilton says the "self-service" Blackstones restaurants won't supplant Embassy Suites' evening manager's reception, which usually offers free beer, wine and appetizers.

American and Hyatt Offer Big Bonuses for Miles and Points Purchases
It's come and gone several times recently, but American AAdvantage has revived its 50 percent mileage bonus. That means you can purchase as many as 60,000 Advantage miles and earn a 30,000-mile bonus. The 90,000 miles--more than enough for a restricted business-class roundtrip to Hawaii and almost enough for a business-class freebie to Europe--will cost about $1,700 when taxes and fees are added. Smaller mileage purchases earn a smaller bonus and this deal expires on February 28. The promotion is handled by Points.com and can be arranged here. ... Speaking of Points.com, it is also hosting a bonus of as much as 30 percent on purchases of Hyatt Gold Passport points. Purchases can be arranged here for as much as 40,000 points (with a 12,000-point bonus) before February 6. ... Speaking of Hyatt, look for it to announce tomorrow (February 1) that it will rebrand four hotels in France in the next few months. There'll be two in central Paris, one in Cannes and one in Nice. More next week.

The Euro Is on the Rampage Against the Greenback Again
Given the struggles of the Eurozone just to keep itself together and to ensure some member economies don't collapse, you would think that the euro itself would be in the world currency dustbin. But not so much. The euro hit $1.36 today (January 31) on currency markets, its highest level against the dollar since November, 2011. It also has gained against the dollar for six consecutive months, its longest hot streak in about a decade. Given fees and levies, that means a euro will cost you about $1.40 when you change currency and almost as much when you make a credit-card payment in the Eurozone. What's it mean in real terms? A 200 euro-a-night room in Paris, London or Frankfurt would have cost about US$250 last July. Now the same 200-euro room will cost US$280.

There's Life After the Great Recession for Chicago Hotels
If you've noticed your nightly room rate creeping up in Chicago, it's because the Windy City lodging industry has finally shaken off the last effects of the Great Recession. Occupancy rates in 2012 rose to 75.2 percent, up three points from 2011 and the city's highest since 2007. Nightly rates are up, too. The average rate jumped almost $10 in 2012 to $187.27 a night compared to $177.33 a night in 2011. ... Loews Hotels has made its third big-city move in recent months. It has purchased the 225-room Back Bay Hotel in Boston. That's the hotel carved out of the former Boston Police Department headquarters. Loews recently purchased the 356-room Madison Hotel in Washington and reflagged the former Renaissance on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The chain is also building properties in Chicago and Orlando. ... Notable new Hyatt hotels: a 103-room Hyatt Place in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the 439-room Hyatt Regency Qingdao in Shandong province, China. ... Two reflaggings of note: An old motel near the airport in Charleston, South Carolina, has been renovated into the 149-room DoubleTree by Hilton. And a former Hampton Inn in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, has been converted to a 141-room Holiday Inn Express.

The New Number Six in Europe: Istanbul
Despite its inability to handle heavy luggage loads in summer or snowflakes in the winter, London/Heathrow retained its title of Europe's busiest airport in 2012. Dominated by British Airways and its Oneworld Alliance partners, LHR inelegantly handled 69.9 million passengers. Paris/Charles DeGaulle, home to Air France, Delta and the SkyTeam Alliance, was in second place with 61.6 million customers. Frankfurt, the home of Lufthansa and the Star Alliance, was third at 57.5 million. The new number four? Amsterdam/Schiphol, the home base of KLM, now part of Air France. It handled 51 million flyers. Hurt by the sharp economic decline of Spain and Iberia, its hometown carrier, Madrid/Barajas slipped to number five with 45.2 million flyers. That was an eye-popping 9 percent decline in traffic. The big gainer in Europe last year? Istanbul jumped into sixth place with 44.9 million customers, a 20 percent jump from 2011. Not only is Istanbul home to fast-growing Turkish Airlines, its Star Alliance partners see Turkish Air and Istanbul as a bulwark against fast-growing Gulf airlines such as Emirates, Qatar and Etihad.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Toronto travelers take note: There are now two Swiss Chalet restaurants at Pearson International. The newest location of the popular Canadian chain is pre-security on the departures level of Terminal 1. The existing outlet is in Terminal 3. ... Star Alliance carriers have opened a joint lounge at Buenos Aires International. Located on the second level of Terminal B, it is open to first- and business-class customers as well as Star Gold cardholders. ... Cape Cod travelers take note: Cape Air says it will operate seasonal flights between Westchester Airport (HPN) and Hyannis. The commuter service will run from June 14 to September 2.

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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 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.