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THE BRIEFING FOR FEB. 21-MARCH 7, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· How Not to Get Shafted by the HHonors Cutback
· Starwood, Wyndham Devalue Their Plans, Too
· United's Crawlout (er, Rollout) of the New p.s.
· Frontier Pulls Its Flights From Colorado Springs
· Starwood Debuts a 'Velcro' Hotel in Atlanta
· Plenty of Strike-Related Cancellations in Europe
· Diamonds Are Forever, Business Travel Edition


How Not to Get Shafted by the Latest Hilton HHonors Devaluation
Hilton officially notified Hilton HHonors members today (February 21) of next month's unprecedented devaluation, the third big cutback in as many years. Combined with the 20 percent devaluation in 2010 and the reclassification of unknown thousands of rooms out of the "standard" award category in 2011, the introduction of new award levels and seasonal pricing on March 28 has all but destroyed what was once considered the richest hotel-loyalty program in travel. The new chart--10 categories with a top price of 95,000 points for the drastically shriveled "standard room" award--means travelers hoping to claim in major business capitals and at the best Hilton resorts face price increases in the 90-percent range. And consider this: A Hilton Garden Inn in a major European capital still offers regular rooms at the standard 40,000-point level for an upcoming night. But opt for a slightly upgraded accommodation, which sells for just 10 euros more per night, and you're asked to pay a staggering 212,000 points. That means you're getting .000077 cents of value for 172,000 points you spend on the upgrade. So how do you beat Hilton? For one thing, make reservations for 2013 travel before the new award chart kicks in. Then find a new hotel program and pay $95 for a Citibank Hilton Reserve card. That'll get you HHonors Gold Elite status without ever spending a night or a dime at a Hilton Family property. If you must stick with Hilton due to company policy or your lodging patterns, change your earnings choices. Instead of HHonors points, choose airline miles. If you have elite status, choose the tangible on-property benefits (free breakfast, beverages and/or snacks) instead of bonus HHonors points.

Meanwhile, Back at the 'Normal' Frequent-Guest Devaluations
The gutting of Hilton HHonors gave cover to both Starwood Preferred Guest and Wyndham Rewards. Both are devaluating their programs, although their changes are more palatable compared to the Hilton move. The SPG annual adjustment of hotel categories means that about 20 percent of the chain's hotels will charge more for an award night in 2013. About 5 percent of SPG's properties will charge less. Notable reductions: two hotels in Egypt, where tourism has disappeared; two hotels in Greece (ditto); the W Hotel in Istanbul; and the aging Sheraton Miyako in Tokyo. Notable properties rising in cost: groups of hotels in Canada, California and Hawaii; the Danieli in Venice; and properties in larger cities and resorts in China. (View the complete list here.) Another downer: If you want to beat the price increases, you must book future stays by March 4. Meanwhile, changes in the little-noticed Wyndham Rewards plan take effect on March 14. The program will now have eight award levels ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 points a night. The chain hasn't announced what properties will change categories. But you can assume prices will skyrocket because Wyndham Rewards' most expensive award was just 16,000 points until the end of last year.

United Updates the Crawlout (er, Rollout) of the New p.s. Service
Almost two years after it first announced radical changes for the stagnant transcontinental p.s. service between New York/Kennedy, Los Angeles and San Francisco, United is getting around to giving details. The service--which will go to a business class/Economy Plus/coach configuration and drop United's old first-class seating--will finally roll out on June 6. That's the date all p.s. flights will be sold as a two-class operation. (Technically, of course, Economy Plus isn't a class.) The problem? Only a few of the Boeing 757s dedicated to p.s. will actually be retrofitted with the new p.s. configuration of 28 lie-flat business-class beds, 48 Economy Plus places and 66 coach seats. (That's a change from the initially announced "new" p.s. layout, by the way.) At least for a while longer, some aircraft will still have the old p.s. configuration of 12 first, 26 business and 70 Economy Plus. Moreover, it seems some traditionally configured United Boeing 757s will temporarily be flying on p.s. runs, too. Confused? Why are you surprised? This is United we're talking about. ... Frontier Airlines is dropping all flights from Colorado Springs. Service to Los Angeles ends March 2 and flights to Phoenix end on April 7.

Starwood Debuts a 'Velcro' Hotel in Atlanta
You know about a "Velcro hotel," right? That's a property that changes name brands so frequently that critics joke the signs are affixed with Velcro tape. Velcro hotels usually bounce between hotel families, but not so the property at 111 Perimeter Center West in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody. You may have known it as the Sheraton Hotel & Suites. But Starwood reflagged it as the W Atlanta Perimeter in 1999. In fact, it was the second W Hotel opened. Starwood pulled down the W almost two years ago and the hotel was temporarily dubbed the Atlanta Perimeter Hotel. After a still-unfinished renovation, the hotel reopened this week with another Starwood moniker. Now the 275-room joint is called Le Meridien Atlanta Perimeter. Well, at least it was called that as of 7 p.m. today. Who knows what they will call it tomorrow. ... Speaking of Starwood, it has opened a 294-room Westin in Birmingham, Alabama, near the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. ... New from Marriott this week: a 122-room Courtyard in Woodland Hills near Los Angeles; a 135-room Residence Inn in Cherry Creek, Colorado; and a 149-room Courtyard in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington. ... A 277-room Holiday Inn Express has opened near Patong Beach on Phuket Island in Thailand. ... Hilton has slapped its name on a 259-room hotel in Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates. The property has been known as the Corniche Al Buhaira Hotel.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has slashed the checked-bag allowance for international business-class customers. Business flyers are now permitted to check two bags free, down from the previous three-bag limits. Extra bags (or overweight or oversize bags) cost an eyebrow-raising $200. There is no exception for elites. ... Boingo Wireless has added five more Japanese airports to its system. Boingo is now valid for Internet access at Tokyo/Narita; Tokyo/Haneda; Sapporo; Fukuoka; and Nagoya. ... Southwest Airlines now offers on-demand movies on aircraft configured with Row 44 Wi-Fi. ... Hundreds of Iberia flights were cancelled this week during the first tranche of 15 days of strikes by employees unhappy with management plans to reduce the Spanish carrier's workforce by about 20 percent. Striking workers even clashed with police at Madrid/Barajas Airport on February 18. Meanwhile, dozens of Lufthansa and Air Berlin flights were cancelled this week due to a strike by airport security workers in Hamburg, Cologne and Dusseldorf. ... After failing last week to push through a $10 roundtrip increase on tickets purchased within seven days of departure, Delta Air Lines has successfully led other carriers to embrace the fare hike.

Diamonds Are Forever, Special Business Travel Edition
A diamond heist was at the heart of 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, that last "official" James Bond film to star Sean Connery. More than 40 years later, it's pretty clear that diamond heists are also forever. You've surely heard about the amazing $50 million caper on Monday (February 18) at Brussels Airport. Crooks hit the cargo hold of a flight headed to Zurich just moments before its departure. But there was also a diamond "smash and grab" theft worth about $167,000 on Saturday (February 16) at New York's Four Seasons hotel. There's no proof frequent travelers were involved in either incident. Blofeld, SPECTRE, Doctor Evil and Number 2 were not ruled out as suspects, however.

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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.