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THE BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 14-28, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· United Moves Aging 747s to San Francisco Routes
· A Raft of Changes You'll Hate at Marriott Rewards
· Iberia Cancels About 400 Flights Ahead of Strikes
· Eight Major Holiday Inn Hotels Defect to Wyndham
· Virgin America Adds SFO-Austin 'Nerd Bird' Flights
· New JetBlue App Allows Mobile Boarding Passes
· A Wasted-Away Hotel Becomes Margaritaville


United Moves Most of Its Aging 747s to San Francisco Routes
United Airlines is shuffling its shaky international flight operations once again. Beginning in April, it will move most of its aging Boeing 747-400 fleet to San Francisco. That means major shifts in its international route network. The 747s have already been pulled from United's Chicago/O'Hare-Tokyo/Narita run. Boeing 777-200s are on the route now. Boeing 777s also replace the 747s on the O'Hare-Hong Kong run next month. Boeing 747s will be moved onto the following routes from San Francisco in April: Frankfurt; London/Heathrow; Osaka; and Taipei. The 747s will also replace 777s on the Honolulu-Tokyo/Narita route. The 26 Boeing 747-400s in United's fleet average 17 years of activity.

A Raft of Changes You'll Really Hate at Marriott Rewards
If you're a big player in Marriott Rewards, you're going to hate the changes that the hotel family announced this week. At the literal top line, Marriott now has a Category 9 award that requires 45,000 points a night. Thirteen hotels have been designated Category 9, including full-service properties in London, New York, Paris, Boston and Santa Monica, California. Meanwhile, 36 percent of the chain's properties will be bumped up one level while just 1 percent of the hotels will drop by a level. The new Category 9 and the other changes are effective beginning May 16. Here's the complete list of changes. ... Starwood Preferred Guest players take note: The 118-room Le Meridien has opened on Bali overlooking Jimbaran Bay. ... Hilton HHonors players take note: The chain is reflagging four hotels in the Northern Territory of Australia. The properties, now managed by InterContinental Hotels brands, convert to Hilton flags on May 1. There'll be a Hilton and two DoubleTree properties in Darwin and a DoubleTree in Alice Springs.

Iberia Cancels More Than 400 Flights Ahead of Next Week's Strike
Facing 15 days of strikes in the next 45 days, Iberia has proactively dumped more than 400 flights--about 40 percent of its schedule--for the first five days of the job actions between February 18 and February 22. The complete list is here. Most of the cancellations are intra-Europe flights. ... Etihad is switching passenger-service computer systems on February 22-25, so prepare for delays. The carrier wants flyers to arrive at airports four hours before departure. All reservations channels will also be down during the period. Complete details are here.

Eight Major Holiday Inn Hotels Defect to Wyndham
Some of the best Holiday Inn hotels in major cities are switching en masse to the Wyndham brand. The hotels--on North Harbor Drive in San Diego; at the Santa Monica Pier; in the New Orleans French Quarter; on Beacon Hill in Boston; the Mills House in Charleston; on Arch Street near Philadelphia's Chinatown; and at University Center in Pittsburgh--all have the same owner, Felcor Lodging Trust. The properties represent 2,500 rooms and will switch to Wyndham on March 1. ... Hilton has opened a 162-unit Embassy Suites in Sun Valley, Utah, and an 81-unit Home2 Suites in Oxford, Alabama. ... Marriott has opened a 52-unit TownePlace Suites property in Clute, Texas.

Virgin America Heads to Austin; WestJet Expands U.S. Service
Virgin America is adding two new cities to its route map. Effective May 21, it will launch a daily "nerd bird" roundtrip between its San Francisco hub and Austin, Texas. The carrier will also add seasonal (June 6 to September 9) flights from San Francisco and Anchorage. ... WestJet, the Canadian discount carrier, is expanding south of the border. On April 29, it launches daily Boeing 737 service between Calgary and Dallas/Fort Worth. On May 2, it adds twice-weekly Boeing 737 flights between Toronto/Pearson and Myrtle beach.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
We'll call this wasted-away-hotel-becomes-Margaritaville: The long-shuttered Renaissance Grand Hotel on St. Thomas will soon get a new life. Wyndham has taken over the beachfront property and will reopen it as Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Resort. The hotel opened as the Virgin Grand in the 1980s and closed a decade ago. ... JetBlue Airways has a new app that allows customers to download and use mobile boarding passes on flights from Boston/Logan; Fort Lauderdale; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; New York/Kennedy; Orlando; San Juan; and San Francisco. ... An unprecedented wrinkle of the American-US Airways merger announced this week? Shareholders of bankrupt American will receive a 3.5 percent stake in the combined airline. That's worth about $400 million. By contrast, the change-of-control clause in American chief executive Tom Horton's contract will be worth about $20 million.

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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.