By Joe Brancatelli

· Hotels Start to Play 'Let's Make a Deal'
· United Kills Ted in Its Big System Cutback
· Continental Whacks at Its Domestic Capacity
· Tipping the (Luggage) Scales at the Airport
· More Interesting Hotels in Interesting Places
· Bankrupt Aloha's Best Asset: A Lawsuit
· Spirit Airlines Readying Huge Service Cuts

All of a Sudden, Hotels Play 'Let's Make a Deal'
Gotten an E-mail from your favorite hotel chain in the last few weeks offering a value-added promotion or surprisingly modest nightly room rates? After months of blithely ignoring the warning signs--a slowing economy, a sharp uptick in room inventory and softening of demand from frequent travelers--the major hotel chains have suddenly put the brakes on their runaway price increases. "Occupancy hasn't just plateaued, it's begun to fall pretty sharply in the last 45 days," one hotelier told me this week. "I think the ADR [average daily rate] is going to drop quickly in most places for the rest of the year. And 2009 could be a bloodbath." Bottom line: start asking for lower rates and/or extra perks. Hotels seem suddenly willing to deal.

Aren't You Shocked? United Kills Ted in Its Big Cutback.
United Airlines said this week that the money-gushing carrier will shrink dramatically during the next 18 months. Among the cuts: grounding about 100 planes (all of the airline's Boeing 737s and a half-dozen Boeing 747s). Also going: Ted, the woebegone airline-within-an-airline concept United developed after junking United Shuttle, another failed airline-within-an-airline concept. Ted routes that survive the airline-wide domestic capacity cut of about 17 percent will be served with United Express commuter flights or traditional United jets configured with first, Economy Plus and coach seats. The capacity cuts (about 5 percent of United's international seats will go, too) include abandoning the Los Angeles-Hong Kong route, sharp reductions at the Denver hub, and the end of all flights to/from Anchorage. Continental Airlines is shrinking, too. By the end of the year, domestic departures will be down 16 percent and there will be about 4 percent fewer international flights. The airline is dumping 67 of its oldest Boeing 737s. Wondering why Continental, which boasts that it is the best managed of the Big Six, is cutting so deeply? Consider this: The airline is the least well-hedged of the Big Six on its fuel costs for the rest of the year. Watch for big cuts at Spirit Airlines. It has sent a legally required "WARN letter" to employees that could permit Spirit to lay off 60 percent of its flight attendants and almost half of its pilots.

Tipping the (Luggage) Scales at the Airport
Check travel writer Chris Elliott's blog for an interesting, if not surprising, tale of inaccurate airline airport luggage scales. The Z Market has opened at Dallas/Fort Worth near Gate 33 at Terminal B. The operation is being touted as a combination convenience story and upmarket deli. It sells take-out food created by Tim Love, best known for his Fort Worth restaurants Lonesome Dove, Duce and Love Shack. American Airlines is due to impose its first checked-bag fee of $15 beginning with tickets purchased on June 15. But it is interesting to note that no other carrier has matched. Also worth noting: American has yet to consolidate the fee into its contract of carriage. Keep your eye on this one.

More Interesting Hotels in Interesting Places
Notwithstanding the softening of the hotel market (see above), new, renovated and reflagged properties in the pipeline continue to open with breathtaking speed. In Dallas, for example, the former National Bank and SPG building has been opened as The Joule. The 129-room property's most notable feature: a rooftop, cantilevered pool that hangs over the building. The hotel is part of the Starwood Luxury Collection. Speaking of Starwood, the old Sheraton Atlanta at Colony Square has been transformed into the W Atlanta-Midtown. The property has 466 rooms and typical frivolous flourishes familiar to W guests. In Chicago, the old City Centre hotel has been reborn as the Doubletree Chicago after a $21 million renovation. The 500-room property's public areas aren't totally done, but it's not a total loss: There is an Einstein's Bagel shop at street level. In New York, the city's overpriced lodging landscape gets two new competitors. An old standby across from Lincoln Center, the Empire, has been renovated and reopened with 413 rooms. And the newly built, 24-story Holiday Inn-Manhattan is due to open in the Chelsea neighborhood next week. And nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the old Gulfport Beachfront Hotel has reopened as the Courtyard by Marriott Gulfport. The property now has 148 rooms.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines has surrendered in Boston's skycap battle. It has now removed the $2 mandatory fee for curbside check-in and reverted to the voluntary tipping system that was in effect before American tried to charge customers directly. As you may know, skycaps sued American and won their claim that American's fees cut their earnings. American initially responded to its legal defeat by posting "no tipping" signs. American says its mandatory curbside-check fee remains in effect at other airports, however. ... The Aloha Airlines lawsuit against Mesa Airlines and its go! inter-island Hawaii carrier continues despite Aloha's shutdown. The bankrupt airline hopes to auction off the suit, which is due to go to trial in October. Mesa has already paid Hawaiian Airlines more than $50 million after a judge ruled the commuter carrier illegally competed with Hawaiian. Aloha's suit is similar. Porter Airlines, which flies from a hub at Toronto's City Island Airport, has launched a frequent flyer program. A note to Amazon.com users in New York: The online retail giant is now collecting New York sales tax on all purchases. ... Acela Express train travelers take note: All service between Boston and New York will be cancelled June 14-17 due to a bridge-replacement project in Connecticut.
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 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.