By Joe Brancatelli

· United, Continental Start Frequent Flyer Merger
· Delta Ramps Up the International Flying Again
· American AAdvantage's New Partner: JetBlue
· Southwest, United-Continental Battle in Denver
· Taj Hotels Renovates a Lavish Palace in India
· S7, Russia's Largest Carrier, Joins OneWorld
· St. Regis Opens Resort in Shangri La (aka Tibet)

The Battle Begins: United, Continental Start Frequent Flyer Merger
The first details of the merger of United's Mileage Plus and Continental's OnePass were released this week and the battle has already begun. Most United flyers, especially top-level elites, are not happy. Most Continental customers, especially uber-elites, seem to think they're doing okay. First, the big-picture details: A new, combined program will begin in January, 2012, and your combined activity on the two airlines in 2011 will contribute to your 2012 elite status. Continental's Presidential Platinum Elite level disappears after 2011 (actually January 31, 2012), replaced by United Global Services. And all 2011 Elite status on Continental will end on January 31, 2012, rather than the usual February 28 annual expiration. On a granular level: For 2011, United and Continental will operate four tiers of elite via mileage accrual (25,000; 50,000; 75,000; 100,000) or via segments (30, 60, 90, 120). For more specific United Mileage Plus changes, check this page. For Continental OnePass changes, check here. So what's burning United elites? Depending on how they achieve 1K status, they could lose as many as four CR1 type upgrades a year. And the new policies seem to give OnePass players a faster, more generous path to upgrades than in previous years. Needless to say, there's a lot more information to come. Want the withering comments from United elites? Check this FlyerTalk.com thread. For commentary by Continental elites, check here.

Delta Ramps Up the International Flying Again
The tentative recovery in international traffic has apparently convinced Delta Air Lines to ramp up the overseas flying again next year. A lot of the service is a restoration of flights dropped last year. Want some examples: Atlanta-Shanghai service, launched in March, 2008, but dropped in September, 2009, returns on June 5 with two weekly flights. Also returning: daily Tokyo/Narita-Guangzhou, China, service on April 6. And Detroit-Beijing will have five weekly flights beginning July 1. As previously announced, Delta will also launch daily flights to London/Heathrow from both Boston and Miami on March 26 and five weekly flights from New York/Kennedy to Reyjavik, Iceland, on June 2. On February 10, the American Eagle commuter unit of American Airlines will launch daily 37-seat flights from Dallas/Fort Worth to both Veracruz and Queretaro, Mexico.

American AAdvantage's Hot New Partner: JetBlue Airways
The unlikely frenemy relationship between American Airlines and JetBlue Airways has now officially expanded into the frequent flyer program arena. American AAdvantage members can now earn miles for select JetBlue flights and JetBlue TrueBlue members can earn on some American flights. Essentially, the deal centers on Boston/Logan and New York/Kennedy. Travelers using JetBlue from 26 cities to Logan or Kennedy can interline on American flights to 15 international destinations. For complete details on the connections, click here. For details on how to earn American miles for flying JetBlue, click here. For information on how to earn TrueBlue points on American flights, surf here. AirBerlin, the second-largest German carrier, has joined the Choice Hotels Choice Privileges program. AirBerlin flies nonstop from several U.S. cities and is about to join the Oneworld Alliance.

Southwest and United-Continental Will Fight It Out in Denver
In the earliest days of deregulation, the old Denver airport (Stapleton) was home to three airline hubs: United, Continental and the original Frontier. Now the battle at Denver International is between Southwest Airlines; United and Continental, its new merger partner; and the fast-fading new Frontier. Southwest announced this week it'll add three cities from Denver beginning June 5: Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; and Pittsburgh. Southwest returned to the Mile High City in 2006 and claims that its 141 daily flights make Denver the fastest-growing city in the airline's history. Meanwhile, United is enlisting Continental-branded flights and aircraft to bulk up its Denver hub. Effective February 17, Continental begins daily Boeing 737 flights from Denver to Fort Lauderdale. On the same day, Continental will begin more flights from Chicago/O'Hare, another United hub. Continental will add B737 flights from ORD to West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Delta Air Lines has opened a 4,800-square-foot SkyClub at Indianapolis. American Eagle begins daily 44-seat flights between Los Angeles and Boise on April 5.

Where To Stay Next? Taj's Newest Palace or the St. Regis Shangri-La
When the lodging arm of the huge Tata Group calls itself Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, they ain't kidding. The Indian chain already has several honest-to-goodness palaces under management as hotels, but the latest one may take the cake, er, Hyderabadi biryani. After a decade of restoration work, Taj has opened the splendiferous Falaknuma Palace in Hydrabad as a 60-room hotel. It's set on 32 acres about 2,000 feet above Hyderabad. Meanwhile, Starwood has opened a 162-room St. Regis resort in Tibet, the current political hotbed of China, but once the fabled Shangri-La of Lost Horizon. The property is a newly built compound 12,000 feet above sea level in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. In closer-to-sea-level news, Marriott has opened a 94-room Fairfield Inn in Charlotte. ... Hyatt has opened a 214-room Hyatt Place in Sugar Land, Texas. ... InterContinental has opened a 128-room Holiday Inn in Cuiaba, Brazil, the capital of Mato Grosso state. But Holiday Inn has lost its full-service hotel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The property is now called the Chapel Hill University Inn. All you Duke alums can consider the ramifications at your leisure.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
It looks like Delta Air Lines will remain a mostly non-union carrier. Baggage handlers and flight attendants have both rejected union representation in elections held this month. Except for its pilots, Delta was largely non-union until it merged with Northwest Airlines. Most of Northwest's employees were union members. Russian carrier S7 and its subsidiary Globus have joined the OneWorld Alliance. S7 is actually larger than Aeroflot, maintains its hub at Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport and serves 55 destinations in Russia and former member states of the Soviet Union. JetBlue Airways and Emirates have launched an interline agreement, which means JetBlue flyers can seamlessly connect with Emirates twice-daily flights to Dubai from New York/Kennedy.

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.