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THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 15 TO 29, 2013
By Joe Brancatelli

· Justice Says 'Sorry' for Approving Other Mergers
· Delta Raises the Price of Business-Class Awards
· Aerolineas Argentinas Resumes JFK-Buenos Aires
· June: One of the Worst Flying Months in 18 Years
· King of Spain Is Suddenly a Consumer Advocate
· United Opens a New Club Lounge in San Diego
· How Much Is That Maggot in My Sandwich?


Justice Department Says 'Sorry' for Approving Those Other Mergers
The Justice Department's lawsuit to stop the merger of US Airways and American Airlines doesn't say so explicitly, but it's clear the government regrets approving some or all of the earlier mergers between Delta and Northwest, United and Continental and Southwest and AirTran. Over and over in the 56-page filing with the U.S. District Court in Washington, the DOJ hammered away at the industry's concentrated market share and its affinity for organized fare and fee hikes. Approving a USAir-American merger would "leave three very similar legacy airlines that past experience shows increasingly prefer tacit coordination over full-throated competition," the complaint said. "By further reducing the number of legacy airlines and aligning the economic incentives of those that remain, the merger of US Airways and American would make it easier for the remaining airlines to cooperate, rather than compete, on price and service." If you want your worst fears about how the big airlines work and think confirmed, read the government filing.

Delta Raises Price of Cheapest Business-Class International Awards
Even Delta Air Lines executives admit that the weakest link in its otherwise fast-improving operations is the SkyMiles program. The program is stingy with reasonably priced awards, the Web booking engine is often broken and few of SkyMiles' international partners reveal their seat availability online. And Delta's latest change won't improve our impression of SkyMiles, either. The airline announced this week that it is raising the "low" mileage redemption prices for international business-class awards. The biggest hit is for flights to Europe, where "low" roundtrip awards jump to 125,000 miles from the current 100,000 miles. Business-class awards to Asia rise to 140,000 from 120,000 miles. Awards in business class to South America will be 160,000 miles, up from 140,000 miles. Australia business-class awards, the best value in SkyMiles, get the most modest increase. They'll cost 160,000 instead of 150,000 miles. One small saving grace: The new award levels are effective for travel beginning June 1, 2014. That means you can still fly at the existing low-level rates--assuming you find seats, of course--for about nine more months.

Aerolineas Argentinas Restores Its New York-Buenos Aires Flights
More than five years after it dumped the route, Aerolineas Argentinas is resuming flights between New York/Kennedy and Buenos Aires/Ezeiza. Daily service--night flights each way--begins December 15. The SkyTeam carrier will use Airbus A330-200s configured with 22 business-class and 242 coach seats. ... The new Terminal Two West at San Diego gets even more amenities. United Airlines this week consolidated its gates and ticket counters in Terminal 2 West and opened a new United Club. The 5,900-square-foot lounge is on the mezzanine level, above the Sunset Cove atrium. Also new at SAN: five more dining options, including branches of Qdoba Mexican, Peet's Coffee and the Red Mango yogurt shop. ... Air Canada says it will launch daily, year-round flights between its Toronto/Pearson hub and Sydney, the secondary airport on Cape Breton Island. Fifty-seat RJ flights begin on December 14. ... Speaking of Air Canada, it says daily Montreal-San Francisco service will operate year-round starting in November. ... A traveler found maggots in a sandwich he purchased at Cafe Intermezzo, a well-respected restaurant at Atlanta/Hartsfield airport. The flyer told a local Atlanta television station that he initially thought the maggots were specks of parmesan cheese--until they started moving. The restaurant blamed its bread supplier and says it has changed vendors.

What's the Name of That Hotel Again?
The hotel industry continues to play whack-a-mole with its brand names and properties are switching names with blinding speeds. This week's changes: Starwood slapped the Sheraton name on the 600-room former Marriott connected to the Cook Convention Center in Memphis. Carlson has converted a former Clarion hotel in Marietta, Georgia, into the 218-room Radisson Hotel Atlanta Northwest Marietta. (And doesn't that name roll off the tongue!) And Wyndham has hoisted its flag over the 219-room Hamilton Park Hotel in Floral Park, New Jersey. ... You have to go all the way to Ras Al Khaimah, one of the United Arab Emirates, to find a newly built property this week. A 346-room Waldorf Astoria has opened there.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
No, you're not crazy. June was a dreadful month to fly. According to the Department of Transportation, just 72 percent of flights in June arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time. That ranked it 194 of the 222 months tracked by the DOT. In other words, June was one of the least on-time months in the last 18 years. The worst-ranking airport in June? Chicago/Midway, where just 58.5 percent of flights were on-time. In fairness, bad weather around the country in June is to blame for most of the tardiness. ... JetBlue Airways and British Airways have cut an interline agreement for flights in Boston, New York/Kennedy, Orlando and Washington/Dulles. ... Delta Air Lines this week tried to raise the price of tickets purchased within seven days of departure by $20 roundtrip. The price hike failed when other carriers refused to matched. It is the ninth fare-hike attempt of the year. Only two have succeeded.

The King of Spain Is Suddenly an Airline-Consumer Advocate
Retired American Airlines chairman and chief Bob Crandall is no friend of the traveling public. He once agreed to a cease-and-desist consent order after he tried to coerce a rival airline boss to raise fares. And no carrier was more predatory on smaller competitors then the mighty American Airlines during Crandall's tenure. But guess what? The 78-year-old Crandall, who retired in 1998, now fancies himself a consumer advocate on the matter of airline mergers. Just hours after the Justice Department announced that it would sue to stop the merger of American and US Airways, Crandall appeared on CNBC to decry the move. His logic: Since the government had permitted earlier mergers, it must allow the American-US Airways deal. But then he added: "If I had been the King of Spain, I would never have approved any of these mergers."

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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.