By Joe Brancatelli

· Continental, Uh, United-Continental Dumps Amex
· Ritz-Carlton Hotels Finally Join Marriott Rewards
· AirTran, JetBlue Lock Horns on Tampa-San Juan
· Hilton's Iconic Pittsburgh Hotel Goes to Wyndham
· Virgin America Takes on American at DFW Airport
· An InterContinental Opens in Mendoza, Argentina
· The World's Third CitizenM Opens in Glasgow

First Shoe Drops: Continental, uh, United-Continental Dumps Amex
Among the panoply of changes the now-inevitable United-Continental merger was sure to bring was a massive upheaval in the frequency programs. And now the first shoe has dropped: Continental is dropping out of the American Express Rewards program effective September 15, 2011. That means Amex cardholders won't be able to transfer points to Continental OnePass after that date and that Amex Platinum cardholders will lose free access to Continental Presidents Club airport lounges. Of course, since United and Continental are on an express merger track, the benefits might disappear even earlier if the Continental name disappears sooner than next September 15. Want a rationale for the move? Look to JP Morgan Chase. United Airlines, which will be the surviving name in the merger, is essentially a subsidiary of Chase since the nation's second-largest bank organized its bankruptcy funding; is its lead lender; its credit card processor; its affinity credit card issuer; and the largest single purchaser of Mileage Plus miles. (Chase issues Continental cards, too.) Needless to say, Chase won't allow United to play with Amex, one of Chase's major competitors.

Another Shoe Drops: Ritz-Carlton Joins Marriott Rewards
More than a decade after Marriott bought Ritz-Carlton, Ritz hotels have joined the Marriott Rewards program. Effective immediately, members of Marriott Rewards can earn points for stays at Ritz properties and use points to claim free stays at 70 Ritz-Carlton properties around the world. Wondering why you're just hearing about this big news? Because the strange world of luxury lodging has always looked down at frequency programs. So to put a fig leaf over its move this week, Marriott ignored the big news about Marriott Rewards and tried to misdirect your attention by announcing a program called Ritz-Carlton Rewards. The plan is a sop for the approximately six people on the planet who wouldn't be caught dead flashing a Marriott Rewards card. And to show you how irrelevant the new Ritz-Carlton Rewards plan is, existing Marriott Rewards members can't join unless they agree to sever their ties to Marriott Rewards. Who would do that? If you're wondering why Marriott finally bowed to reality and put Ritz into Marriott Rewards, consider these statistics: In 2009, the average daily rate (ADR) at Ritz-Carlton dropped 16 percent compared to 2008. But the ADR at all of the Marriott properties declined just 10 percent. Occupancy at Ritz-Carlton properties dropped 7.1 percent in 2009, but just 5.8 percent at Marriott overall.

AirTran and JetBlue Lock Horns in Tampa
Alternate airlines are growing fast, so it was inevitable that they would bump heads (er, noses and tails) with each other. For example, AirTran Airways and JetBlue Airways both announced a new route today (September 16) : Tampa-San Juan. AirTran says that its two daily roundtrips will begin on April 5. JetBlue says it'll launch twice-daily service in June, but didn't specify a date. … Separately, JetBlue says it will fly between its fast-growing Boston base and Newark. It'll launch four daily flights in May. That will almost surely put JetBlue in direct competition with Southwest Airlines, which is getting slots at Newark and is expected to use several for its own Boston-Newark service. … Virgin America is going after American Airlines at AA's Dallas/Fort Worth hub. Virgin says it'll launch two daily nonstops from DFW to both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The San Francisco service begins on December 6; the LAX flights launch on December 1. … Speaking of Virgin America, it and other carriers with the Virgin name--Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue and V Australia--now have reciprocal benefits in each others' frequent flyer programs.

Hilton Boots Its Troubled Pittsburgh Hotel, Then Things Get Weird
Pittsburgh's largest hotel, the iconic 713-room Pittsburgh Hilton that has towered over the city's Golden Triangle for a generation, has all manner of problems. It's gone bankrupt; halted its half-complete renovation; hired, fired and sued a new management company; been foreclosed on by its lenders and sued by unpaid contractors; and is trying to sell itself to a Florida doctor. That led Hilton Hotels to terminate the hotel's franchise earlier this month. But the hotel refused to stop using the Hilton name--at least until yesterday (September 15) when the property's lawyers told the bankruptcy court that it will soon become a Wyndham. You so want to stay there, right? … InterContinental has opened a property in Mendoza, in the heart of the Argentine wine region. The hotel currently has 180 rooms, but will soon add another tower with 72 rooms. It is about 10 minutes from downtown Mendoza, across the street from the city's largest shopping center. … The world's third CitizenM hotel opened this week in Glasgow. Like the two existing properties in Amsterdam, the 198-room, eight-story Glasgow property is entirely prefabricated and then assembled on-site. In-room Internet and movies are free and the lobby has a 24/7 café, but no front desk. Guests check in by swiping their credit cards in computers located in the lobby. … A 130-room Marriott SpringHill Suites has opened in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, about three miles from Philadelphia International Airport.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The Transportation Department has nixed the antitrust alliance of Delta Air Lines and Virgin Blue. The two airlines recently launched flights between Los Angeles and Sydney. The DOT decided new competitors should not be allied because there are no benefits for consumers. … Priority Pass has added a slew of new airport club lounges to its program. The new locations include six airports in India, seven in Morocco and at Terminal 5 in Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. … Retail and food and beverage sales at the nation's airports dropped 7 percent last year. No surprise since passenger traffic dropped about 5 percent last year.

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 © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.