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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 6 TO 20, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli
· Lufthansa Rolls Out Premium-Economy Class
· Delta Plays Five-Card Monte With Award Charts
· American Airlines Guts 'Choice' Fare Offerings
· JetBlue Adds Three More Cities to DCA Network
· Israel's Dan Hotels Offers Guests Free Internet
· Hawaiian Airlines Drops Two Routes to Asia
· Wichita Likes Ike and Changes Airport Name
Lufthansa Goes All In With Its New Premium-Economy Class
If you had lingering doubts about the staying power of premium economy, consider Lufthansa's announcement this week that it will add the cabin on its long-haul international fleet of 106 aircraft. Lufthansa already has more planes with first class than any other carrier. Its business-class cabins are huge, including 98 seats on Airbus A380s. To wedge premium economy into that mix, Lufthansa will reduce the number of traditional coach seats by about 11 percent, says Deborah Horn, chief of premium and specialty sales in the United States. And Lufthansa worked hard to make premium economy a "completely different compartment," explains Horn. The all-new seats will offer 38 inches of legroom compared to 31 inches of pitch in coach. The chairs will be also an inch wider and have greater recline. There's also an extra-wide center console between seats and "a clearly designated armrest space for each chair," explains Horn. Each chair will have a dedicated power outlet, 11- or 12-inch video monitor, bottle holder and extra storage. Premium-economy flyers will receive an amenity kit and cabin-specific meals served on porcelain plates. Horn says the "average" price will be $600 above coach, but advance-purchase premium-economy fares will often be less than walk-up coach. Route-specific prices will be announced in May and the first flights offering premium economy begin in November. Reconfiguring the entire fleet--aircraft will have 21 to 52 premium-economy seats--will take about a year. Another new perk: Premium-economy customers will be able to buy their way into Lufthansa's airport lounges for about $25. Until now, Lufthansa reserved its clubs for business- or first-class flyers or travelers with elite status.
Delta Plays Five-Card Monte With Its Award Charts
More than a week after Delta Air Lines refused to show us the 2015 award charts along with its new revenue-based earning structure, it produced the goods today (March 6). The upshot? A five-card monte structure that is perfectly suited for moving whatever availability there is at the existing "saver" and "standard" levels into even higher price categories. Although peak-priced awards (now called Level 5) will cost about the same in 2015, a new Level 2 has been slipped in between the saver (now called Level 1) and standard (now called Level 3) awards. And a new Level 4 has been tucked in between the standard and peak levels. Moreover, the charts as published feature a very notable fib. Prices listed for 2014 awards are the rates after two interim increases Delta is imposing this year. One example: the business-class saver award to Europe. That award costs 100,000 miles today. After the 2014 price hikes, the award will cost 125,000 miles. That allows Delta to claim its 2015 Level 1 award will still cost 125,000 miles. Moreover, the 2015 chart includes a Level 2 award at 160,000 miles. Logic--and Delta's actions after it added a third award tier in 2008--indicates that today's 100,000-mile award will effectively end up costing you 160,000 miles in 2015. One other thing: Delta is playing up its decision not to change the lowest-price domestic award. It remains 25,000 miles. But consider: To earn 25,000 miles in 2014, a non-status traveler essentially has to fly five coast-to-coast flights. Next year, assuming tickets costs an average of $500 roundtrip, travelers will have to fly ten coast-to-coast roundtrips to earn 25,000 miles.
American Airlines Guts 'Choice' Offerings--and Raises Prices, Too
When American Airlines rolled out Your Choice fares in 2012, it claimed the three coach price buckets offered travelers more, um, choice at reasonable rates. Whether you believed American or not, however, that claim is now clearly meaningless. Thanks to a radical repricing and downgrading that kicked in last week, American's Your Choice packages are now ridiculous given what they include. The new Choice Essential bundle ($58 above the lowest fare) strips out the change-fee waiver and now only includes a free checked bag and priority boarding. The Choice Plus option, which does include a change-fee waiver, has nearly doubled in price, to $160 a ticket from $88. Unless you absolutely must have the ticket-change flexibility, pass on this, too.
JetBlue Adds Three Cities to Its Washington/National Network
JetBlue Airways announced this week what it will do with several of the Washington/National take-off and landing slots it acquired from American Airlines as part of the Justice Department merger agreement. On June 19, it'll add two daily flights to Charleston, South Carolina; two daily flights to Hartford; and a daily trip to Nassau. All of the new routes will be served with 100-seat EMB-190 jets. ... Wichita airport has a new name. Out is sobriquet "Mid-Continent" and in comes "Dwight D. Eisenhower National." But Wichita's three-letter code will remain ICT, so you can't say you like IKE--even if you are old enough to know what that means. ... Notable airport food news: The Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar has opened airside of Terminal 4 at Phoenix. It is a recreation of a much-admired Phoenix nightspot that closed last year. And if you're into casual chains, you'll want to know that the first airport branch of LongHorn Steakhouse has opened in Concourse C at Atlanta-Hartsfield.
Dan Hotels in Israel Now Offers All Guests Free Internet
Israel remains a comparative desert for major lodging chains, so many business travelers (and business travelers on holiday) book one of the 14 Dan Hotels that dot the country. There's good news on that front: Dan says it now offers free Internet access to all guests in rooms and public areas. ... Speaking of WiFi, a new site called Hotel WiFi Test claims to rate the speed of the Internet you receive in specific properties. Take it all with a grain of salt, however. ... The Art Deco New Yorker hotel a few steps from New York's Penn Station has joined the Wyndham chain. The 1,080-room hotel is owned by the Unification Church (aka The Moonies) and was used as a dorm by the church before a recent renovation.
Hawaiian Airlines Drops Two Asia Routes From Honolulu
Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines has made a play for big-carrier status in recent years thanks largely to a rapid buildup in routes to Asia. But it has hit a bit of a bump. Two Asia routes--to Fukuoka, Japan, and to Taipei--are being dumped. The last Fukuoka flight is in June. Taipei disappears next month. ... Alaska Airlines is in a big battle with its frenemy Delta Air Lines at its hometown hub of Seattle-Tacoma. The latest shot has been fired by Delta: Although you can still get SkyMiles for Alaska Airlines flights, you no longer can book Alaska Air tickets on Delta.com. ... Virgin America says it will move its existing Dallas/Fort Worth flights to Dallas/Love Field and launch additional flights at Love if it gets the two gates American Airlines is selling at the close-in Dallas airport. But Delta and Southwest, which is based at Love Field, are also bidding for the gates, which American must shed as part of its merger deal with the Justice Department.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
From the much-ado-about-nothing file: United Airlines implied to media outlets that it was cracking down on carry-on bags beginning March 1 thanks to new bag sizers it installed in airports. The facts are 1) United's carry-on bag rules haven't changed; 2) There's no indication that any reasonably sized bag is being refused; and 3) Few customer-facing United employees seem willing to be bag monitors. ... Priority Pass has added the Plaza Premium Lounge in Bangalore to its network of airport clubs. ... From the never-mind file: Iceland-based carrier Wow Air says it won't launch flights between Boston/Logan and London/Gatwick this spring after all.
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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.
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