By Joe Brancatelli

· Has Hilton Devalued HHonors With a New Perk?
· How Much Is That Liquor on the Top Shelf?
· Dollar Thrifty Spurns Hertz and Will Go It Alone
· First BlackBerry and Now Apple Have Glitches
· American AAdvantage Adds AirBerlin as a Partner
· All United Clubs Now Accept Standard Priority Pass
· Downtown St. Louis Gets An Embassy Suites Hotel

Has Hilton Secretly Devalued HHonors With a New Perk?
This falls into the "beware of E-mails promising upgrades" category. Many Hilton HHonors members this week received an E-mail announcing some new benefits: a "premium rooms" award that allows you to choose better-than-standard rooms for extra points and a "room upgrade" award that allows you to trade points for a better room assignment. Since Hilton is one of the chains that promises "last room" award availability so long as it is a "standard" accommodation, the premium-room award program seems like a nice perk. You spend some more HHonors points, you can choose a better room if standard accommodations aren't what you're looking to book. What could be wrong with that? Plenty, apparently. It looks as if Hilton has quietly decided that many hotels and resorts no longer have standard rooms. If you want to claim a free-night at any of these properties--mostly resorts in the South Seas and Indian Ocean--you will have to use the "premium room" award, which sometimes costs three times more points. Eliminating "standard" rooms isn't a just a linguistic dodge, it's something that Starwood Preferred Guest instituted about a year ago. SPG also claims that there are hotels in its chain that don't have any accommodations that can be called "standard" and thus aren't available at standard award rates. But the story might--I stress might--be more complicated than it seems. The sudden disappearance of "standard" rooms at important Hilton properties may simply be a programming glitch. Why? Some Hilton HHonors players report that hotels in London, Sydney, New York and elsewhere are suddenly unavailable for any type of award for years into the future. That could point to a snafu across the entire glitch-prone HHonors system. I tried to contact Hilton today (October 13), but the news has been breaking after business hours. They haven't had a chance to respond as I put this column to bed. I'll update this story next week. In the meantime, I wouldn't book any Hilton HHonors awards at any price.

How Much Is That Liquor on the Top Shelf?
After quietly testing the concept at some larger Sky Clubs in recent weeks, Delta Air Lines on Monday (October 10) officially launched its Luxury Bar concept. The bar serves top-shelf alcohol for a premium--a huge premium, to be exact. Long accustomed to free beer, wine and well drinks at Sky Clubs--and the predecessor Delta Crown Rooms and Northwest WorldClubs--many Delta club members are taken aback by the pricing at the Luxury Bar: Liqueurs start at $8 a pop; wine starts at $9.50 a pour; liquors are generally in the $12-to-$20 range; and it all tops out at $60 for a shot of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Basic alcoholic beverages are still free, although some travelers note that the well bar now seems to run out of freebies awfully quickly. Also notable considering Delta's southern heritage: There is no complimentary bourbon on offer. You'll have to bump up to the Luxury Bar's $12 offering of Bulleit. Delta says the Luxury Bar concept will be in place at all domestic Sky Clubs (except Portland, Oregon) by the end of the year.

Dollar Thrifty Disses Hertz and Says It'll Go It Alone
If you've been watching the 18-month-long soap opera consuming five of the nation's car rental firms, you'll certainly want to know that Dollar Thrifty has taken itself off the market. At least for the moment, neither Hertz nor Avis Budget will scoop up the No. 4 rental firm. As you may remember--and, if you do, what's wrong with you?--No. 2 Hertz made a $1.27 billion bid for Dollar Thrifty in the spring of 2010. Then No. 3 Avis Budget said it would top the offer. Avis spent months trying to get federal antitrust approval and Hertz exited the bidding after some petulant words by Hertz boss Mark Frissora. When Avis' quest for government approval didn't yield a definitive answer, Hertz jumped back into the bidding earlier this year with a $2.24 billion cash and stock offer. In August, however, Dollar Thrifty's bosses wrote to both Hertz and Avis asking for a better bid. Avis demurred almost immediately and Dollar Thrifty's Monday (October 10) deadline passed without a new offer from Hertz. So Dollar Thrifty announced on Tuesday (October 11) that it was preparing to go it alone. Meanwhile, the nation's leading rental group, Enterprise Holdings, which controls the Enterprise, National and Alamo brands, has stayed on the sideline.

Finally, a Quiet Week on the Hotel Front
Nationwide hotel occupancy is about 55 percent, so it was well past time for new openings and reflaggings to slow down. This week, at least, is one week when we're not overwhelmed with newbies. But here is what's notable: a 256-room Renaissance has opened in suburban Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A 212-room Embassy Suites has opened in downtown St. Louis. It's a conversion of the historic Laurel Building. Hilton has opened a 25-story hotel overlooking the Caspian Sea in the heart of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Red Lion has added three hotels in New Mexico. The properties are in Farmington, Gallup and Grants. All three are conversions from the Best Western brand.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse in the travel-tech world: After this week's meltdown at BlackBerry, Apple users are running into trouble with the new iCloud service and iOS 5 mobile software. Both products launched this week. So much for the late Steve Jobs' claim in June that iCloud "just works." Apparently, it doesn't. Or at least not yet. American AAdvantage travelers take note: You can now earn miles and claim awards on AirBerlin. Besides an extensive European network, the second largest German carrier also flies to New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Priority Pass members please take note: All United Club locations now accept Priority Pass for entry with the exception of the club at Osaka's Kansai International. Until now, many former United Red Carpet Clubs (notably those in Los Angeles and San Francisco) did not honor Priority Pass. But please remember that the Priority Pass Select card you receive with certain American Express cards does not include privileges at any United Club.

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.