By Joe Brancatelli

· How'd You Like to Open a Luxury Hotel Now?
· Southwest Brings Cheap Fares to Minneapolis
· JetBlue Airways Bulks Up in the Caribbean
· Delta Expands Its International Route Map
· The Book-Cadillac Hotel Returns in Detroit
· So Much for USAirways' On-Time Prowess
· Duct Tape and Customer Service at United

How'd You Like to Be Opening a Luxury Hotel Just Now?
Just in time for the global financial meltdown, here comes a passel of new super-deluxe hotels. In the last few days, Four Seasons opened a 147-room property in Seattle; the Philippe Starck-designed SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills opened as part of the Starwood Luxury Collection; St. Regis opened a 120-room resort in Punta Mita, Mexico; and Inter-Continental turned the key on the 257-room Montelucia Resort, a swanky 34-acre spread in the Paradise Valley area of Scottsdale, Arizona. "Timing is everything and, obviously, the hotel industry is as upside down as some people's home mortgage," one lodging wag told me this week. "These projects all looked great when they were planned three or five years ago. Now, not so much…" Meanwhile, voters in Beverly Hills have apparently turned thumbs down on a proposal from the owner of the venerable Beverly Hilton. Besides several condominium towers, he wants to build a 12-story Waldorf=Astoria hotel on the site of the Hilton's old Trader Vic's restaurant. Total results have not been calculated, however, and it may take several weeks before the wishes of Beverly Hills voters will be definitively known.

Southwest Introduces Something New in Minneapolis: Cheap Fares
Southwest Airlines, which already said that it would enter the Minneapolis market, has now launched something new to Northwest's fortress hub: low fares. Southwest said this week that it would begin eight daily roundtrips between Minneapolis and Chicago/Midway on March 8 and the one-way fare is $69. That's the 21-day advance-purchase price, of course, but consider that Northwest's (and American's and United's) lowest one-way fare on the Minneapolis-Chicago/O'Hare route had been $426. The carriers' cheapest fare before Southwest arrived was $376 roundtrip. … Also on March 8, Southwest will launch a daily roundtrip between Birmingham and Phoenix. … JetBlue Airways is branching out in the Caribbean. On December 18, it launches daily flights between Fort Lauderdale and San Juan. On February 1, it will add two daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau, Bahamas, and a daily flight from Orlando to Nassau. And beginning February 14, it will begin Saturday-only service between Boston and St. Maarten.

Delta Keeps Expanding Its International Route Map
Since its 2005 bankruptcy, Delta Air Lines has slashed its domestic network and remade itself as an international carrier. And the new routes keep coming. Next June, it will launch nonstop flights to Paris from two new cities: Raleigh-Durham and Pittsburgh. The five weekly Raleigh flights start on June 2; the five weekly Pittsburgh flights begin the next day. Also next June, Delta will launch a new route to Africa: Atlanta-Cape Verde Islands-Monrovia, Liberia. Flights will operate weekly. … US Airways will bulk up its international network in May. From its hub in Philadelphia, it will add seasonal flights to Oslo and Birmingham, England. … V Australia has delayed the launch of its Sydney-Los Angeles route. Service by the off-shoot of Virgin Blue was due to launch on December 15, but has been pushed back to February 28.

The Book-Cadillac Hotel Returns in Detroit
There's a bit of irony here. The Big Three in Detroit seem to be in the final stages of a financial meltdown, but the Book Cadillac, the hotel that once feted the kings of the car industry, has finally reopened. After a two-year, $200 million restoration, the hotel is now known as the Westin Book Cadillac. It originally opened in 1924, was one of Motown's most notable hotels through the 1960s, fell into disrepair as Detroit cratered in the 1970s and tumbled into bankruptcy and closed in 1984. It stood empty, a blight in the heart of downtown Detroit, until reopening with a gala bash for charity last week. … Two new limited-service hotels opened in the Soho District of New York this week. The 150-room Four Points is located on Charlton Street, at the edge of Greenwich Village. The 160-room Hampton Inn is located on Watts Street. Both properties are owned by the same real-estate company and managed by the same hotel-management firm. … The former Radisson in Hampton, Virginia, has become a Crowne Plaza after a $4 million renovation. … Shangri-La has opened a 548-room hotel in Futian, in the Shenzhen province of China.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Remember all that crowing US Airways did earlier this year after it padded its schedule and shot to top of the on-time ratings? You are now cordially invited to forget it. The airline slipped to tenth among the 19 carriers in the Transportation Department's on-time ratings for September. Also tumbling down the chart after a few months of improved operations: United Airlines, which finished 17th. Overall, the government says 84.88 percent of all flights arrived on-time (which is defined as within 15 minute of schedule). … Thai Airways has changed its mind again and will keep operating its Los Angeles-Bangkok nonstop flights. The service was due to end on October 31, but now will survive at least through January 31. … Global Entry, the Customs and Immigration Service's trusted-travel program, had expanded to four more airports: Atlanta, Chicago/O'Hare, Los Angeles and Miami. The program launched earlier this year at New York/Kennedy, Washington/Dulles and Houston/Intercontinental. It permits returning U.S. travelers to skip passport-control lines. For details, surf here.

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up…
On Wednesday (November 5), word broke that a United Airlines flight crew duct-taped a passenger to her seat on a flight from Puerto Rico to Chicago. The crew, which diverted the flight to Charlotte, claimed the woman stuck a flight attendant on the butt and harassed a blind passenger. The next day, United announced that it had received a customer-service award from something called the Global Six Sigma and Business Improvement panel. "We appreciate the recognition for the improvements we have made in addressing concerns raised by our guests," said Barbara Higgins, the former Disney executive who is now United's vice president-customer contact center. Higgins pointedly did not explain that customer contact at United now apparently includes sticky industrial tape.
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.