By Joe Brancatelli

· Will Hilton Up Reward Prices During Hotel Slump?
· Southwest Doubles Down in Denver and St. Louis
· US Air Makes Star-Friendly Changes to Club Fees
· Virgin America, Google Make In-Flight WiFi Free
· Four Arkansas Cities Are Back on the Route Map
· Surprise! TSA Passenger Redress Doesn't Work
· More Bad News on the Currency Exchange Front

Will Hilton Up Reward Prices in the Middle of a Lodging Recession?
Hilton HHonors has unveiled a new award chart for 2010 and all we know is that the award levels have been juggled. But how many hotels will cost more points--and which, if any, will cost fewer--remains anyone's guess. Why? Hilton has yet to release the property-by-property award prices. As you can see here, Hilton now has seven categories for its hotels. Essentially, it has renamed its old "opportunity" awards as Category 1 (7,500 points) and shifted the existing 2009 categories into numbers 2 (12,500 points) to 7 (50,000 points). That means the highest price is 10,000 points above last year's level; some other levels are 5,000 points higher than last year. Logic would dictate that the most popular hotels in the highest-demand destinations will shift into Category 7. But can Hilton risk raising award prices across the board in the midst of the most severe lodging downturn in decades? It will be interesting to watch. Meanwhile, Hilton did release prices for its Waldorf Astoria Collection hotels. Most properties are at about the same level as last year, although there are some 10,000-point variations, both up and down.

Southwest Doubles Down in Denver and St. Louis
Never let it be said that Southwest Airlines doesn't profit from the failings of competitive carriers. Two more examples: Still more flights from St. Louis and Denver. In St. Louis, where American Airlines recently all but eliminated the hub it inherited from TWA, Southwest says it will add service to five new cities: Raleigh-Durham; New Orleans; Los Angeles; Seattle; and San Diego. Those flights begin in May. Meanwhile, in Denver, where Southwest competes with ever-fading United Airlines and Frontier Airlines, which contracted dramatically in its bankruptcy, the carrier will also add five new cities: Hartford, Connecticut; Boise, Idaho; Ontario, California; Detroit; and Washington/Dulles; Those flights begin on March 14. In May, the carrier will also add service on seven existing routes from Denver and begin a Saturday-only flight between Denver and New York/LaGuardia. AirTran Airways will begin flying between Lexington, Kentucky, and Fort Lauderdale on February 11.

US Airways Announces Star-Friendly Changes to Club Membership
Wow! Here's a surprise: US Airways does the right thing. With Continental's arrival in the Star Alliance scheduled for next week, US Air has scrapped its tiered-access approach to membership in its US Airways Club network of airport lounges. Beginning October 30, all annual memberships will include access to all Star Alliance lounges, including United Red Carpet and Continental Presidents Club locations. Annual fees will range from $325 to $450 depending on your elite status. One other new perk: US Airways Clubs will now offer free house wines and beer. Four cities in Arkansas get back on the nation's commercial route map beginning Monday (October 26). Thanks to a subsidy from the Essential Air Service, a dinosaur from the early days of deregulation, a carrier called SeaPort Airlines will launch flights to Delta's Memphis hub from Hot Springs, El Dorado, Harrison and Jonesboro.

More Support for the 'Free' Price Point for In-Flight WiFi
Two weeks ago we were discussing the free "trials" for Aircell's GoGo in-flight WiFi on American, Delta and AirTran. Now Virgin America, the last carrier with a major in-flight WiFi presence, has fallen in line. Virgin America will be giving away GoGo WiFi from November 10 to January 15 to all travelers. The twist: Google will sponsor the freebie. American Airlines says that it has completed installation of WiFi on 150 of its MD-80 aircraft. Along with the 15 Boeing 767s it wired last year, American now has 165 planes wired for GoGo service.

Bad News All Around for Travelers on the Money Front
The Big Five continue to try to push up fares in a very weak market. A $10 roundtrip fare increase got pushed through this week, although alternate airlines have not yet matched. Air France and KLM have joined most of the other transatlantic carriers and now charge coach passengers $50 for checking a second bag. It's been another rotten week for the U.S. dollar on currency markets. It hit 14-month lows against the euro and is now back above the $1.50 level. It has also slumped badly against a market basket of worldwide currencies. Oil has crashed through the $80-a-barrel mark again. If it stays that high, you can be sure that the Big Five will revive widespread fuel surcharges.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Want to see how much smaller the nation's route network is? Check this chart from FareCompare.com. US Airways has settled out of court with the so-called Flying Imans, six clerics pulled off a flight in Minneapolis in 2006. After unsuccessfully trying to get the case thrown out of court, US Airways has made an unspecified cash payment to end the matter. The six imans were not only removed from a flight they had boarded, but US Airways also denied them boarding on a later flight even after the men had been cleared by the FBI. Surprise! The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security says that the Transportation Security Administration program to help travelers get off no-fly lists doesn't work. The TRIP plan was supposed to aid travelers who had wrongly been placed on watch, no-fly lists and other security lists. "Redress-seekers generally do not benefit from their participation in TRIP," the inspector general reported this week. A Northwest Airlines flight this week from San Diego overshot its destination, Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, by about 150 miles. The plane also went silent for a period of time and fighter jets were scrambled, but not launched. The flight crew said it missed the airport because it was engrossed in a discussion of airline policy.

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.