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THE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 7 TO 21, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· Airlines Increasing Delays to Increase Profits
· Southwest Adds Bay Area Nonstops From Love
· Big Changes in Chicago's Lodging Landscape
· American Trims Domestic First-Class Meal Service
· Frontier Guts Elite Levels of Frequent Flyer Plan
· Marriott Opens Still More Limited-Service Hotels
· Delta Dumps Duty Free on International Flights


Take It to The Bank: Airlines Increasing Delays to Increase Profits
U.S. carriers are reveling in record profits, but one of the many things they have sacrificed to get into the black is their on-time operations. According to Transportation Department figures released today (August 7) as part of the Air Travel Consumer Report, on-time performance for the first six months of the year averaged 74.1 percent, the fifth-lowest in 20 years. The six-month cancellation average (3.1 percent) was the third-highest in the last 20 years. The June on-time average of 71.8 percent ranked 204 of the 234 months tracked by the DOT. So what are cash-rich airlines going to do about it? Make it worse, of course. Both United and American airlines plan to "re-bank" their major hubs because they think it will improve profit even further. Re-banking means all flights arrive and depart at an airport at the same time rather than being spread out over the hour. On paper, that reduces connection time, but, in practice, banked hubs increase delays and missed connections. United says it will re-bank its Denver and Houston hubs by the end of the year and do the same at Chicago/O'Hare next spring. American expects to re-bank in Miami starting later this month, then do its Dallas/Fort Worth and O'Hare hubs next March. By the way, O'Hare is already the nation's least-timely major hub, averaging just 64.66 percent on-time during the first six months of 2014. In June, the DOT says O'Hare's on-time percentage was even worse, just 59.6 percent.

Southwest Adding Bay Area Nonstops From Dallas/Love
The bizarre Wright Amendment is nearly history and Southwest Airlines has already announced a huge tranche of new flights beginning in October from Dallas/Love Field. But now it's doubling down and this week added two more key business-travel routes. Effective January 6, Southwest says it will launch daily nonstops from Love to both San Francisco and Oakland. The introductory fares are as low as $119 one-way. ... JetBlue Airways continue to press its expansion into the Caribbean and Latin America. The latest new route: nonstop service to Curacao. Flights from its New York/Kennedy hub begin on December 2 using 150-seat Airbus A320s.

More Big Changes in Chicago's Lodging Landscape
The Chicago area is one of the best hotel regions in America, but it's hard to keep up with the changes. So get out your notebook to help you track the adjustments. At 160 East Huron, the property still probably best known as the Avenue Hotel, is no longer a Crowne Plaza, either. It's been hurriedly converted into a dual-branded Hilton Hotels operation. The building is now home to 225 rooms branded Hampton Inn and 127 rooms branded Homewood Suites. There are guestrooms from each brand on each floor of the 40-story hotel. Meanwhile, out in Oakbrook, the former Renaissance hotel has reopened as a 172-room Le Meridien. And the deal to convert the 556-room InterContinental at O'Hare Airport is done and the property is now trading as a Loews Hotel. Loews is also building a 400-room hotel on North Michigan Avenue expected to open next year. ... Another burst of limited-service hotels under Marriott flags. There's a 118-room Residence Inn in Aksarben Village, 15 minutes from downtown Omaha; a 130-room SpringHill Suites in Cary, North Carolina; a 73-room Fairfield Inn in Calhoun, Georgia; and new Courtyard properties in Bridgeport, West Virginia, (102 rooms) and Peoria, Illinois (116 rooms). ... A 100-room Hotel Indigo has opened in Beachwood, Ohio, the Cleveland suburb.

Let Them Eat Snacks: American Trims First-Class Meal Service
One of the first tangible improvements thanks to the reverse merger of USAirways into American Airlines was a slight upgrade of food service for first-class US Airways flyers. But we also knew that another shoe--or is that another dinner roll?--would drop and some American first-class meal service would be pulled down to US Airways levels. That other shoe/dinner roll has dropped and American is trimming meal service in first class, especially on shorter routes. Light snacks or sandwiches will replace more substantial fare on most flights of 999 miles or less. Complete details are here. ... US Airways flyers in Los Angeles take note: US Airways Express flights have moved into Terminal 4. That puts them adjacent to American Airlines and American Eagle flights. US Airways mainline flights remain in Terminal 3, however.

No Surprise: Frontier Guts Its Frequent Flyer Program
Now that it is owned by Bill Franke, who once owned Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines is turning itself into a Spirit clone. And that means gutting much of what's left of EarlyReturns, the carrier's frequent flyer program. And the cuts are aimed right at the airline's remaining elite flyers. Effective February 20, the Ascent and Summit elite-status levels will be killed and replaced by a single tier called Frontier Elite. And, naturally, Frontier Elite is much less generous. You won't get free checked bags, change fees won't be waived and there is no advance-seat assignment privilege for Frontier's extra-legroom seats. Whatever benefits remain will not extend to your traveling companions on a flight, either. That perk has also been eliminated. Frontier also announced that it will impose a booking fee for any award claimed within six months of departure. That new fee takes effect on October 31. Complete details are here. ... Hilton HHonors once again has a central Paris hotel to offer as an award. The Concorde Opera, which will eventually be rebranded as a Hilton, is available for booking now. It's a Category 9 hotel.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Fraport, the parent company of Frankfurt Airport, has purchased Airmall, the retail organization that controls retail space at the airports in Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. ... Hotel occupancy reached 71.1 percent of the nation's rooms in June, the highest rate of any time this century. The average rate also grew in June. It's now $112 a night. The statistics were reported by STR, the hotel trackers. ... Almost without public notice, China Southern launched four weekly flights between New York/Kennedy and Guangzhou this week. The carrier uses Boeing 777-300ERs configured with first, business, premium economy and coach classes. ... Delta Air Lines is ending in-flight duty free sales on international flights tomorrow (August 8), according to a report from the Runway Girl Network.

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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.