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THE BRIEFING FOR APRIL 1-APRIL 14, 2011
By Joe Brancatelli
· So Much for Leona Helmsley's Lodging Empire
· Lufthansa Bets on a Smaller, Classier First Class · Enterprise Pulls Car-Rental Brands From Orbitz
· Chase Drops ForEx Fees on Marriott Premier Card
· Ritz-Carlton Opens in Hong Kong's Tallest Building
· American, BA Coordinate London Flight Schedules
· No Fare Increase for Now, But Oil Prices Surge
So Much for That Hotel Empire
The New York Helmsley Hotel on East 42nd Street was sold last week and the new owners promptly appointed Starwood Hotels to manage the 775-room property. It'll be renovated and converted to a Westin within the next year. Why is that big news? It marks the functional end of what was once meant to be a global empire of Helmsley Hotels. Business travelers with a few miles under their metaphoric belts will remember that real estate magnet Harry Helmsley's wife, Leona, aka The Queen of Mean, started assembling properties in the 1980s. Harry and Leona opened the glitzy Helmsley Palace on Madison Avenue in New York in 1981. They bought the Harley chain of Midwest hotels from Standard Oil the same year. Then they added Manhattan properties such as the Carlton House, the Park Lane and the Middletowne. The Palace left the Helmsley empire in 1992 and the Harleys were sold off after Harry died in 1997. Leona did a two-year jail stint for tax evasion and died in 2007. Last year, the Carlton House went residential and the Middletowne closed. The Park Lane on Central Park is still open, but it's been for sale for years. The only other remaining Helmsley is an aging beachfront hotel in Sarasota, Florida.
Lufthansa Bets on a Smaller, Classier First-Class Cabin
Lufthansa today (March 31) announced Miami as the third U.S. destination for its Airbus A380 fleet. The super-jumbo jet will begin flying on the Miami-Frankfurt route on June 10. A380 service to San Francisco begins on May 10 and follows the February 28 launch of A380 flights between New York/Kennedy and Frankfurt. Noteworthy: Lufthansa has configured the gigantic aircraft with 526 seats, but only eight of them are in first class. Is Lufthansa planning to dump first in favor of an upgraded business class favored by so many other airlines? Absolutely not, says Klaus Walther, senior vice president and head of corporate communications. In fact, Lufthansa has committed to eight seats in first on most of its intercontinental flights. And what interesting first classes they are. As you can see by this picture of the first class on the A380s, the eight spacious chairs convert to beds that measure 81 inches in length and 31 inches in width. Even more interesting is Lufthansa's upcoming retrofit of its Boeing 747s. The first-class cabin will go from 16 seats to 8 seats and beds. Literally, seats and beds. As you can see in this picture each first-class customer gets his or her own seat and an adjacent 81-by-31 inch bed. The 747 first-class configuration will be 1x1. The beds are placed along the cabin wall and the seats are placed on the aisle.
Enterprise Pulls All of Its Brands From Orbitz
A note to car renters who use Orbitz.com and its sister site, CheapTickets. You won't find Enterprise, National or Alamo rentals on the sites. Enterprise Holdings, which owns the three rental firms, has pulled its cars from Orbitz and CheapTickets. The battle is over money. (What a surprise!) Enterprise says Orbitz wants too much commission. Enterprise is also unhappy that Orbitz had pulled National and Alamo inventory from the site during negotiations. Hilton has taken over the Radisson hotel at New Orleans airport. The 248-room property at 2150 Veterans Memorial Boulevard is now a DoubleTree. Continental Airlines add flights between San Francisco and Guadalajara on June 9. British Airways and American Airlines, partners in the Oneworld Alliance, are coordinating flight schedules between London and New York, Chicago, Boston and Miami. For example, between 1 and 8 p.m., an AA or BA flight now departs on the hour from Heathrow to JFK. There will now be hourly BA or AA flights from O'Hare to Heathrow between 5 and 9 p.m. But close cooperation doesn't mean the carriers can even agree on a name for the service. American calls it the "London Express" while BA calls it a "transatlantic shuttle."
Where Are All the Heads That Will Be on These Beds?
Let's dispense with the explanations. You know hotels are opening too fast for a business market that remains unable to sustain the growth. The hotel chains know that their franchisees are opening too fast for the strength of the market. So let's just move to the scorecard. From Marriott comes a 312-room Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong. It's on the top floors of Kowloon's International Commerce Center (ICC), the city's tallest building. The ICC also houses an existing W Hotel. Also from Marriott: a 507-room Renaissance on the beach in Sanya, China; a 230-room Courtyard in Bali; a 134-room Residence Inn in the Phelps Building in Cincinnati; and a 155-room SpringHill Suites in Alexandria, Virginia. Hyatt has put the Park Hyatt brand on the 50-villa Alila Resort on the Gaafu Alifu atoll in the Maldives. DoubleTree has opened a 173-room newly built hotel in Aqaba, Jordan. The 267-room Westin Memorial City has opened on the West Side of Houston. A former LaQuinta in Tampa's Telecom Park has become a 92-room Holiday Inn Express.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Last week's attempt to raise fares failed. It's the second consecutive failure after six price increases this year. But don't expect the airlines to give up. After dipping just below $100 a barrel in the days immediately following last month's earthquake in Japan, oil surged past $107 a barrel tonight (March 31) on New York markets. That's as high as it's been since the summer of 2008. British Airways cabin crews have once again voted to strike in a two-year dispute with management over unilaterally imposed staffing, wage and benefit changes. A strike could come over the Easter holidays late in April. But the union must give seven days notice before any work stoppage. Here's some good news: The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card issued by Chase has dropped foreign-exchange fees. It's the sixth travel-related Chase card that doesn't charge 3 percent for overseas transactions. The others are issued for Hyatt, Priority Club Rewards, United and Continental airlines and British Airways.
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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 © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.