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THE BRIEFING FOR THE END OF THE YEAR
By Joe Brancatelli

· 2014: The Year of the Program Devaluation
· Old-Fashioned Hub War Between Delta, Alaska
· American Switches to Banked Hubs Next Year
· Hyatt Opens an Andaz on Peninsula Papagayo
· Hilton Returns to Central Paris Late Next Year
· Southwest Juggles Coast-to-Coast Schedules
· Delta Will Retire Its Last DC-9 on January 6


Welcome to 2014, The Year of the Program Devaluation
Even before the year starts, it's fair to call 2014 The Year of the Frequent Travel Program Devaluation. Many airlines and hotels chains have already announced they will reduce the value of their award charts in 2014. Worse, we can expect more cutbacks as lodging chains announce annual changes that move specific hotels around the award charts. The comparative silver lining? You still have some time to claim many awards now at the existing levels for travel later in 2014. Here's a company-by-company rundown:
    Air Canada increases the price of many international awards by 20 percent on January 1, a brutal coda to a massive devaluation of the Aeroplan award charts in 2011. Not many real values left.
    Alaska Airlines raises the award price of some last-minute and premium-class tickets effective January 14.
    Delta Air Lines has already announced two 2014 award-chart devaluations, the first effective on February 1. But Delta imposed the changes immediately, so no chance to score any deals.
    Hilton has cut the value of HHonors so frequently in recent years that it's hard to imagine things getting worse. Still, the official 2014 "category readjustment" has yet to be announced. Cash out now while you can.
    Hyatt is raising the price of its best properties via higher award levels and a new top category. Suite awards are also going up substantially. But you have until January 7 to claim awards for 2014 stays at the old rates.
    Marriott has yet to announce its annual chart adjustments. Last year's changes were especially brutal, so claim as many 2014 awards as possible now.
    Southwest Airlines increases the cost of Wanna Get Away awards by about 15 percent on March 31. Book before the prices rise.
    Starwood hasn't announced award-chart changes yet, either, but you can bet they won't be happy ones. Claim 2014 awards now.
    United Airlines increases international premium-class awards by 30-80 percent on February 1. But you can claim seats at the old prices now for travel well into 2014.
    US Airways exits the Star Alliance on March 30. If you have your eye on Star partner awards, book now. However, US Air bars first-class redemptions on Lufthansa effective January 1.

It's an Old-Fashioned Hub War Between Delta and Alaska
Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines are battling big time now that Alaska Air has responded to Delta's Seattle-Tacoma incursion with new flights at Salt Lake City. And there's no sign either carrier is ready to surrender. Alaska announced last week that it'll add still more flights at Delta's Salt Lake hub. Alaska will add three new nonstop destinations--Boise, Las Vegas and San Francisco--starting on June 16. Meanwhile, Delta adds still more service at Alaska Air's Sea-Tac hub. The new destinations--Vancouver and Fairbanks--begin on May 29 and June 5, respectively. ... More than a decade after moving to a rolling hub system of flights, American Airlines is going back to traditional banks of incoming and outgoing flights. American's new president, Scott Kirby, told the Dallas Morning News that the traditional system of flights arriving and departing at the same time increases revenue. The new/old scheduling method begins next August at American's Miami hub.

Hilton Will Be Back in Central Paris Late Next Year
More than a year after it lost its only central Paris hotel, Hilton will be back into the heart of the City of Light before the end of 2014. The Concorde Opera in the 8th Arrondissement will be rebranded the Hilton Paris Opera. The 266-room hotel opened in 1889 and will be renovated before hoisting the Hilton flag. Hilton's parent company, Blackstone, paid about 150 million euros for the property earlier this year. ... The "boutique" brand of Hyatt, called Andaz, has opened a 153-room property on the Papagayo Peninsula of Costa Rica. The hotel on 28 oceanfront acres was designed by Ronald Zurcher, who also created Papagayo's Four Seasons resort. ... Marriott has opened a dual-branded hotel in a new Midtown Manhattan high rise located at 1717 Broadway. The two hotels--a Courtyard and a Residence Inn--have a combined 639 rooms.

Southwest Airlines Juggles Its Schedule From Coast to Coast
Southwest Airlines continues to make major revisions to its schedule. After picking up slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport as part of the US Airways/American Airlines divestiture, Southwest says it'll add frequencies on its existing LGA routes to Chicago/Midway, Houston/Hobby, Nashville and Akron/Canton. The new flights begin on May 11. Southwest will also mount another expansion at San Diego, with new nonstop routes to Orlando, New Orleans, Seattle/Tacoma and Portland, Oregon. Those flights will launch starting in April. But at least a half-dozen nonstop routes are being chopped next year, including three runs from Atlanta (Dayton, Louisville and Norfolk). Many of the deletions are part of the ultra-slow-motion transition of AirTran Airways flights to Southwest.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Lufthansa will permit gate-to-gate use of personal electronic devices on its Boeing 747-8 aircraft starting on January 1. ... The TSA last week opened PreCheck security bypass lanes at Burlington, Vermont. It also opened a PreCheck enrollment center in Nashville. The branch is located at the north end of the ticketing lobby. ... Delta Air Lines says the last flight of its DC-9 aircraft will be on January 6 from Minneapolis/St.Paul to Atlanta. The first Delta DC-9 went into service in 1965, but Delta phased out the plane in 1993. Delta then inherited a large number of DC-9s in the 2008 Northwest Airlines merger. Delta's last flight will end the scheduled availability of the DC-9 in the Untied States.

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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.