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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 20 TO 31, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· International Business-Class Deals Disappearing
· Another Huge Devaluation of Marriott Rewards
· Virgin America Dumping Its Only San Jose Route
· Go! Bails on Hawaii After a Scandal-Plagued Run
· Delta Air Lines Bulks Up Again in Los Angeles
· JetBlue Airways Will Match Your Elite Status
· Amex Platinum Adds Boingo, PreCheck Perks


Why International Business-Class Deals Are Disappearing
Business travelers who've been scoring below-market business-class deals in recent years have suddenly run into a nearly impenetrable wall of higher fares. Prices have skyrocketed in many overseas markets and the jumps can't be explained solely by capacity reductions undertaken on international routes. What's driving fares up is the increased demand. According to the monthly Premium Traffic Monitor compiled by IATA, the international trade group, up front demand rose by a hefty 4.2 percent in 2013. And, if anything, demand is increasing as prices continue to rise. Premium-class demand in January jumped 6.1 percent. Up front traffic to Europe rose 5 percent in January compared to a 2.4 percent growth rate in 2013. And in the Pacific, intra-Asia premium-class demand rose 7.2 percent in January. The fastest growth of all was on routes between Europe and the Middle East. Demand for premium-class seats rose an eye-popping 9.8 percent in January.

Marriott Sharply Devalues Marriott Rewards Again
It was just 13 months ago that Marriott engineered a huge devaluation of the Marriott Rewards plan. Effective April 8, it's imposing another brutal systemwide devaluation. When upgrades and downgrades are calculated, one in five properties will be jacked up by one category, which means 5,000 more points to score a free night. The highest-priced Category 9 (45,000 points a night) doubles in size. Introduced only last year, there'll now be 30 Category 9 hotels, up from 14. More than 200 hotels move into Category 6 from their current Category 5, an effective 25 percent reduction of that award tier. Marriott Rewards continues to destroy the value of its MegaBonus promotion by shrinking the number of hotels that will honor the free nights you earn. As recently as 2010, about 85 percent of all Marriott properties fell into Categories 1-4, which honor MegaBonus awards. Effective April 8, only 65 percent of Marriott Reward properties are in the first four tiers. For a hotel-by-hotel overview of the new prices, download this PDF. ... TrueBlue, the award program of JetBlue Airways, will match your elite status on other carriers or offer you a fast-track challenge to its Mosaic Level. But the offer isn't open-ended. You have to act by April 18. For complete details, surf here.

Virgin America Dumps San Jose, Go! Bails on Hawaii
Go!, the scandal-plagued carrier that regional airline Mesa launched in Hawaii, is pulling out of the islands. Last flights on intra-Hawaii routes will be March 31. Launched in 2006, Mesa was immediately hit by separate lawsuits from Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines. The carriers claimed Mesa misused confidential information it was given as a potential investor in the then-bankrupt incumbent Hawaii airlines. Mesa eventually paid Hawaiian $50 million to settle that suit. It paid cash and stock to settle Aloha's suit after Aloha stopped flying in 2008. In 2009, Aloha's bankruptcy judge blocked the transfer of Aloha's name to Mesa, which had planned to rebrand go! ... San Francisco-based Virgin America is bailing on its Los Angeles-San Jose route after less than a year. Los Angeles is the only destination it served from the alternate airport at the south end of the Bay Area. ... Frontier Airlines, now owned by the former major investor in Spirit Airlines, continues to add new routes. From its Denver hub, it'll add four new cities in the West. It'll also add two new routes from Chicago/Midway and three from St. Louis. The new flights will operate three times a week and begin in June.

Delta Air Lines Bulks Up Again in Los Angeles
United, American and Delta airlines are fighting for control of Los Angeles and the latest salvo comes from Delta. On June 16, it launches two daily flights to Austin using Boeing 717s. There'll also be a daily nonstop to El Salvador using a Boeing 737. Delta's commuter carrier Compass Airlines will add a daily flight to Boise on June 5 using a 76-seat CRJ-900. ... American Airlines has opened an Admirals Club in Philadelphia, a US Airways hub. The lounge is in Terminal A-East between gates A4 and A6. ... A new rental pavilion has opened in Charleston, South Carolina. The five car-rental firms serving the airport--Hertz, Budget, Avis, Enterprise, and National--now operate from the 6,200-square-foot facility.

Traveling Internationally? Look for These New Properties
Marriott has opened a 259-room hotel in Istanbul and a 360-room property in Osaka. The Osaka branch is located inside Abeno Harukas, a 60-story skyscraper. The Istanbul hotel is Marriott's seventh in Turkey's largest city and is located in the Sisli district on the European side of the Bosphorus. ... Hilton has opened two new hotels in China: a 600-room property in the Chancheng district of Foshan, Guangdong, and a 448-room outlet in Zhengzhou, Henan. ... There are two more Hotel Indigo hotels in Europe. The 64-room Hotel St. George on the Via Giulia in Rome has aligned with the brand and an 85-room Hotel Indigo opened just off the Gran Via in Madrid. ... A 279-room InterContinental has opened in Nha Trang, Vietnam. It's a 40-minute drive from Cam Ranh International, the former U.S. air base during the Vietnam War. ... A 265-room Holiday Inn has opened in the Aerocity development adjacent to New Delhi International.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Express Platinum cardholders take note: Amex announced two new benefits this week. Starting in June, Platinum cardholders will receive free, unlimited access to 700,000 Boingo Wireless hotspots worldwide. A separate registration will be required. A similar Boingo Wireless plan costs about $59 a month. The card already comes with a rebate of the $100 fee to join Global Entry, but if you join TSA PreCheck instead, Amex will reimburse that $85 fee. ... Great Lakes Airlines is dropping its final flights in North Dakota. The regional carrier has served four cities--Dickinson, Williston, Jamestown and Devils Lake--but now claims it doesn't have enough pilots to continue flights.

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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.