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THE BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 21-28, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· Starwood, Carlson, USAir Devalue Their Programs
· United Airlines Juggles Australia Service This Fall
· Delta Air Lines Will Launch Chicago-London Route
· Virgin America Wins Washington/National Slots
· Hilton Continues to Add Properties Worldwide
· Filling the Gap United Leaves Behind in Cleveland
· Delta and Alaska Airlines Battle On in Sea-Tac


Starwood, Carlson, USAir Devalue Programs. You're Surprised Why?
As I've frequently advised, burn points and miles as fast as you earn them and stop believing that they'll make a nice retirement nest egg. If you need more proof, how about three more devaluations? Starwood Preferred Guest leads with its annual chart reorganization. About one in five Starwood properties are changing categories. Statistically, more properties are going down in price, but the ones going up are particularly notable. W Hotels in Austin, San Francisco and Los Angeles rise in cost. Three Hawaii hotels go up one category. Four hotels in Athens and one in Rome (the St. Regis Grand) increase, too. The changes, detailed here, are effective on March 1. Meanwhile, March 15 is change day for Club Carlson and there's very little good news. Nine of the chain's best properties have been moved up to a new bucket that will require 70,000 points for a free night. The newly minted super-priced hotels include The May Fair in London and three Radisson Blu properties in Paris. Overall, about 110 properties were increased in price. Worse, Carlson is also reducing elite bonuses. Gold members will receive 35 percent (down from 50 percent) and Silver members will receive 15 percent (down from 25 percent). Complete details, including a few small improvements, are here. Finally, US Airways is sharply increasing the price of buying elite status. Alone among frequent flyer plans, US Airways Dividend Miles has allowed you to purchase status outright. With Dividend Miles almost surely disappearing into American AAdvantage next year, USAir is charging you much more (or, worse, forcing you to fly US Airways) to go elite. The complete details are here.

United Airlines Will Juggle Its Australia Service This Fall
United Airlines announced this week that it will launch a new nonstop route between its Los Angeles hub and Melbourne, Australia. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner nonstops will operate five times a week starting October 26. The new route means United will revise its current Los Angeles-Sydney-Melbourne service. It'll drop the Sydney-Melbourne part of the route and retime departures from LAX and Sydney. It'll also change its San Francisco-Sydney nonstop to allow better connections from the U.S. East Coast. ... Delta Air Lines is launching a year-round nonstop from Chicago/O'Hare to London/Heathrow on October 26. Flights will be operated with a Boeing 767-200 in collaboration with code-share partner Virgin Atlantic. ... Finnair is restoring a seasonal flight between Miami and Helsinki. Finnair dumped Miami in 2005 but will resume twice-weekly flights between December 16 and March 21.

Virgin America Buys More Slots at Washington/National
Virgin America won an auction for a big chunk of the New York/LaGuardia slots that US Airways and American Airlines surrendered as part of their settlement with the Justice Department. It has yet to announce its plans for those take-off and landing positions, but Virgin scored another merger-related win this week. Although Southwest and JetBlue won the lion's share of slots American shed at Washington/National, Virgin said this week that it has acquired some, too. There'll be enough for four new roundtrip flights. ... Intra-Florida flyers take note: A start-up public-charter carrier called Florida Express Jet says it will launch service between Tallahassee, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale on March 23. It claims it will add service to four other Florida cities later this year. More details are here. ... Frontier Airlines continues to grow at Trenton-Mercer County Airport in central New Jersey. It announced three more routes--to Milwaukee, Minneapolis/Paul and St. Louis--will start in mid-June. The service will operate three times a week. Frontier is the only carrier in Trenton.

Hilton Continues to Open Hotels Everywhere You Look
After a successful initial public offering and endless devaluations of its frequent-guest program, Hilton continues to slap its brand names on a global array of new and renovated properties. There are at least three new properties in China, including a 305-room DoubleTree in Guangzhou; a 213-room Hilton Garden Inn in Shenzhen; and a 520-room Hilton in the Optics Valley area in Hubei Province. In London, it has opened a 297-room Hampton Inn on Waterloo Road. At home, there's a 107-room Home2Hilton in Aberdeen, Maryland, and new Hampton Inns in Auburn Hills, Michigan, (102 rooms) and on the river in Owensboro, Kentucky (150 rooms). But, wait, there's more, as they say in those cheesy TV commercials. Hilton's cheesy conversion brand, DoubleTree, is slapping its name on the former Woodlands Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the former Garden Plaza hotel in Decatur, Alabama. Even the chain's slow-growing brand, Embassy Suites, has a new property. A 189-room branch has opened in Elizabeth, New Jersey, near Newark Airport. The property offers shuttle service to the airport.

Filling the Gap United Leaves Behind in Cleveland
Sensing opportunity at Cleveland where United Airlines is downsizing, Delta Air Lines and Frontier Airlines will add flights. Delta launches six weekly flights to both Indianapolis and Raleigh-Durham. Unfortunately, it'll use smaller regional jets on both routes, which launch June 6. Meanwhile, Frontier will add year-round flights to Orlando and seasonal service to Seattle. The Airbus A320 routes will run two or three times a week. ... Speaking of Seattle, Delta and hometown incumbent Alaska Airlines continue to battle for Emerald City supremacy. Effective December 20, Delta will add five daily flights to Phoenix and seasonal flights to Palm Springs, Tucson and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Alaska says it'll add routes to New Orleans and Tampa in June. And in September, it'll begin flying into Delta's Detroit/Metro hub. ... US Airways has moved its Los Angeles operations to Terminal 3 and closed its club lounge in Terminal 1. There's also an airside shuttle between Terminal 3 and 4, where American Airlines runs its flights.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The lousy weather in the last couple of weeks wasn't the only thing making for a lousy time on the road lately. On Monday (February 17), an Ethiopian Airlines flight headed to Rome was hijacked to Geneva. The hijacker? The co-pilot, who immediately surrendered to Swiss officials and asked for asylum. Meanwhile, at least nine passengers and crew were injured Tuesday when a Cathay Pacific flight from San Francisco was hit by severe turbulence over Japan. The incident came just a day after a United Airlines flight to Billings, Montana, was rocked by turbulence. Three crewmembers and two passengers were injured. And all 19 people aboard a Nepal Airlines plane were killed after a bad-weather crash near the village of Dhikura, about 125 miles from the capital of Katmandu. ... Qatar Airways says it will launch an all-business-class flight between London and Doha on May 15. The Airbus A319 will be outfitted with just 40 seats in a 2x2 configuration. ... Beginning next month, Virgin America says it will upgrade first-class food service on its transcontinental flights. ... Travelers looking online for United MileagePlus award availability will now find flights operated by Brussels Airlines.

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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 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.