By Joe Brancatelli

· Delta Adopts Northwest's 'Choice' Coach Fees
· Economy Be Damned, a Burst of New Hotels
· More Cuts in the Major Frequent Travel Plans
· Northwest Bulks Up Before Southwest Arrives
· Michelin Can't Find a Three-Star in Los Angeles
· Chase Cardholders Get a Break From Continental
· And You Think Our Election Has Been Divisive…

Delta Immediately Adopts Northwest's 'Choice' Coach Fees
How many days after Delta and Northwest airlines merged would it take for Delta to begin adopting some of the worst of Northwest's practices? If you had one day in the office pool, you're a winner. As you surely know by now, the Justice Department cleared the Delta-Northwest merger yesterday (October 29) and, just hours later, the carriers did the deal. By this morning, Delta flyers learned that Delta had adopted Northwest's Coach Choice program, which charges travelers an extra $5-$25 each way for supposedly "choice" window, aisle and exit-row seats. Besides the fact that Delta added the new fee without advance notice, elite Delta SkyMiles members learned that they wouldn't be exempt. Most of their "preferred" coach seating options have disappeared and, while they won't pay for supposedly choice seats, they can't choose them until 24 hours before departure, either. "They have truly struck a blow to their highest-mileage frequent travelers," one JoeSentMe member told me by E-mail today. "We are now required to track each flight by a 24-hour increment so that we can get out of the middle seat." Another member was blunter: "It stinks. It's stupid to treat your best customers this way." Delta says about 10 percent of the coach seats on a flight will be considered "choice." You can read details about the program here.

Economy Be Damned: Another Burst of New Hotels Opens
If you thought the rocky economy would slow down the pace of new hotel openings, forget it. There are so many new properties in the pipeline that they just keep gushing forth. So get out your scorecard for these new outposts of your favorite brands. … In Boston, there's a new 72-room Holiday Inn Express on Friend Street, across from the TD Banknorth Garden where the Celtics and Bruins play. … Sheraton has opened a 161-room property in the posh Chicago suburb of Northbrook, just 14 miles from O'Hare Airport. … Marriott has opened a 106-room TownePlace property in downtown Albany, the capital of New York State. … A former newspaper building has been converted to an 81-suite Candlewood Suites hotel in Terre Haute, Indiana. The owners have promised that all of the ink-stained wretches have been moved to other reportorial quarters. … W Hotels has opened its first hotel in Hong Kong. The 393-room property in Kowloon has a spa, fitness center, swimming pool and two restaurants.

More Cuts (and Some Upgrades) in the Major Frequent Travel Plans
Marriott Rewards couldn't wait to tell folks that it was eliminating blackout dates on its hotel awards beginning on January 15. And Marriott was excited as all get out to say that the bonuses for Platinum Elite members would rise to 50 percent from the current 30 percent. But what it didn't announce, much to the annoyance of sharp-eyed members, was that capacity controls on awards will remain, essentially negating the benefit of having no blackout dates. Also, the program added an eighth, and much more expensive, tier of hotels. The eighth tier includes more than a dozen of the most desired properties in major cities around the world. And the price of a popular choice of very frequent Marriott Rewards members, the 7-night-stay award, was raised. … Effective January 1, American's AAdvantage program is eliminating the 500-mile minimum for flights for general members. Elite members will continue to earn at least 500 miles for each flight, however. And some good news: American has quietly dropped the $5 fee for claiming a frequent flyer award. Initiated earlier this year, the charge was basically a fee that American imposed if travelers had somehow avoided all of the other AAdvantage surcharges. … Travelers who carry a Chase credit or debit card tied to the Continental OnePass program are now permitted to check one bag for free and are not charged the airline's $15 first-bag fee.

Northwest Bulks Up In Advance of the Southwest Incursion
As we told you in the previous edition of Tactical Traveler, Southwest Airlines says it will launch flights next year from Northwest Airlines' Minneapolis/St. Paul hub. The first route: Minneapolis to Chicago/Midway. In response, Northwest (Or is that Delta now?) is adding a few flights to its MSP-Chicago/O'Hare route. Northwest will operate about 20 flights a day in the market by February, a month before Southwest launches its MSP-MDW service. … Continental Airlines and US Airways are trimming the size of allowable carry-on bags to 45 linear inches. Most U.S. carriers are already at 45 inches for carry-ons. … Tempelhof Airport in Berlin has closed. First opened in 1923 and redesigned during the Nazi era, Tempelhof was the nexus of the Cold War Berlin Airlift. It was supposed to close a decade ago and will be replaced in a few years by a new facility called Berlin Brandenburg.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Lufthansa is buying a majority stake in bmi, the second-largest carrier at London's Heathrow Airport. Trust me, folks, this is about those slots at Heathrow, not bmi's service. Follow developments here carefully. … United Airlines now wants to sell you luggage-shipping service. The airline's new Door to Door service promises overnight delivery of luggage for prices that start at $149 a bag. But United isn't stupid: The luggage will be shipped by FedEx, not United. … Sterling Airlines, a discount airline based in Denmark and well-known in Northern Europe, has folded. … Diners take note: The newly released Michelin guide for Los Angeles says no dining room in the greater LA area rates three stars. Four places--Spago and Urasawa in Beverly Hills; Providence in Hollywood; and Melisse in Santa Monica--do rate two stars. The new Michelin guide for Las Vegas did find a table worth three stars, however. Joel Robuchon in the MGM Grand hotel snagged Michelin's top award. … Another scary incident on a Qantas flight this week. A Los Angeles-Auckland Boeing 747 flight lost radar and flew blind all the way to New Zealand. The Qantas flight received weather and other crucial information via radio from the cockpit crew of an Air New Zealand flight ahead of it.

And You Think Our Election Has Been Divisive…
Election Day is just hours away and both Obama and McCain partisans probably think their candidate got a raw deal from (fill in the blank). Trust me, it could be worse. You could be in Thailand. The fractious, occasionally violent politics there has even spilled over to Thai Airways. Earlier this month, a Thai Airways pilot refused to allow a member of parliament from the People Power Party (PPP) to board his aircraft. The politician, Farida Sulaiman, was wearing a PPP jacket when she tried to board an early-morning flight from Bangkok to Khon Kaen, Thailand. When the pilot saw Sulaiman, he came out of the cockpit and said "tyrants, PPP MPs or politicians who harm people" could not board. Thai has demoted the pilot.
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.