A BRIEFING FOR SEPT. 24 - OCT. 1, 2009
By Joe Brancatelli

· Delta: Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Northwest Changes
· A Blizzard of New Hotels Open Around the World
· A New Level Just for Security at Dulles Airport
· American, United, Southwest Shuffle Hub Routes
· Atlanta's All-in-One Rental Facility Opens Nov. 10
· Amex Raises Fee for Converting Points to Miles
· Downtown Tulsa Hotel Reopens After 30 Years

Delta's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy on Northwest Changes
Delta Air Lines says that it's on track to fully integrate Northwest Airlines by the end of the year--and that includes flying under one operating certificate, the key bit of government-issued authority. Generally speaking, the merger has gone smoothly enough, but it looks as if Delta has pooched one of the easiest parts of the integration. Effective with the "winter" schedule that begins on October 24, Delta will rebrand Northwest's operations with Delta's DL code and new flight numbers. The changes have been loaded into reservation computers, but Delta hasn't bothered to alert travelers yet. Not even by the cheapest, easiest method: an explanatory page on the Delta.com and/or NWA.com Web sites. If you want to know about the number changes that affect you, you'll have to surf to the third-party site AirlineRoute.net and look at the shuffle of Northwest's international flights, Northwest's domestic flights and the carriers' existing code-share operations. For its part, Delta insists the code and numbering changes "will be a smooth process for customers who will receive notification of flight changes through the normal channels." In other words, Delta says it'll tell you when and if it feels like it and when and if it feels you need to know about it. No need for transparent communications or full disclosure or anything…

A Blizzard of New Hotel Openings Around the World
We've talked about this before: Even in these horrific financial times for hotel operators, a slew of new properties continue to open because it's nearly impossible to shut down the projects-in-development pipeline. So as global occupancy rates sag and average daily rates tumble, there are thousands of new hotel rooms vying for our lodging dollar. Of course, that's good for us because it means hotel rates will continue to fall in the near future. … Here's what's new this week in the United States: a 124-room Hyatt Place in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; new Element hotels from Starwood near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and in Lone Tree, Colorado, near Denver; and the reopening of the Mayo Hotel in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Mayo hasn't operated as a hotel in more than 30 years and now it features 102 hotel rooms and 76 lofts. … Internationally, new properties include the Four Points by Sheraton hotels in Mumbai and Jaipur, India; the 214-room Courtyard by Marriott in the Times Square complex in downtown Seoul, South Korea; the 152-room Holiday Inn Express in Guadalajara, Mexico; and the 200-room InterContinental resort in Huizhou, China. That's located about 90 minutes from Shenzhen and two hours from Hong Kong. … But reality does intrude: Sunstone Hotel Investors, which walked away from the W San Diego hotel this summer, is also turning the 299-room Marriott Ontario Airport back to its lenders. Sunstone says the hotel is worth about $16.7 million, but it owes $26 million on the mortgage.

What Would Eero Think?
The stunning Eero Saarinen terminal at Washington/Dulles Airport is a late 20th century masterpiece of architecture and design. But it's always been a disaster as an airport terminal trying to keep up with the demands of modern-day air travel. Hence the constant retrofitting and work-arounds that have dominated the facility for the last 30 years. The latest change: a new below-ground mezzanine level that was constructed to accommodate a 121,000-square-foot security checkpoint facility to process departing passengers. The checkpoints have 16 lanes on the east side, which is dominated by United Airlines and its commuter carriers. There are eight checkpoint lanes on the west side. If you enter Dulles on the ticketing/departure levels, you'll now see escalators leading down to the checkpoint level. The new mezzanine is only part of the ongoing work at Dulles. A new fourth level below the mezzanine will house the AeroTrain system that will move passengers from Saarinen's terminal to the remote concourses that were built in recent years. Unfortunately, those hateful concourse-to-gate buses won't be replaced.

When You're Strong, Try to Get Stronger
Last week's news from American Airlines that it will all-but-abandon its former hubs at St. Louis/Lambert and Raleigh-Durham to concentrate on its existing hubs has initiated a cascade effect around the nation's route map. As it always does, Southwest Airlines will move right in to fill the gap left by a shrinking legacy carrier. It'll add flights to St. Louis from Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul on January 10. That'll tighten Southwest's grip on Lambert, where it becomes the largest carrier. And United Airlines isn't standing still now that it has learned that American will add almost 50 flights at Chicago/O'Hare in the coming months. United will add twice-daily nonstops from O'Hare to Duluth, Minnesota, and Asheville, North Carolina. And to combat Southwest's previously announced build-up at its Denver hub, United Express will add daily flights from Denver to Midland/Odessa, Texas, and Louisville, Kentucky. All of the new United flights will be on 50-seat regional jets because, well, that's basically what United does these days.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Atlanta/Hartsfield flyers take note: Airport authorities say November 10 is the scheduled opening date for the consolidated rental-car center. The 67.5-acre facility, located across Interstate 85 from the passenger terminals, will have 137,000 square feet of transaction space for the eight rental firms operating at Hartsfield. The rental center will be linked to passenger terminals by an elevated SkyTrain that will replace all proprietary rental-car shuttle buses. … British Airways flyers take note: BA says it'll move its Bangkok, Singapore and Sydney flights into Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport on October 29. Qantas is also moving its London-Sydney flights to Terminal 3 on the same day. … Surprise! Fees on frequent-travel miles and points are rising. Effective December 21, National says it will charge renters 75 cents a day (up from the current 50 cents) if they choose to collect airline miles on their rentals. And American Express has raised the fee for converting Membership Rewards points into frequent flyer miles. The so-called "excise tax offset" charge is now .0006 per point with a maximum of $99 a transaction. That's up from .0005 cents and $75.

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 © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.