By Joe Brancatelli

· It's Okay to Be Scared of the UA-CO Data Merger
· Starwood's 2012 Award Chart Increases Prices
· Miami and New York/JFK Get New Hotel Options
· Marriott Adds Limited-Service Hotels in Small Cities
· Southwest Juggles the AirTran Route Network
· WestJet Flies to Chicago From Vancouver, Calgary
· Did You Get a 1099 for Bonus Miles From Citibank?

It's Okay to Be Scared of Next Week's UA-CO Data Merger
History has made business travelers very nervous when an airline changes or merges information-technology systems. So it's okay if you're worried about next week's switch of United Airlines onto the computers of what used to be Continental Airlines. All at once, starting on Friday, March 2, everything you can think of will be renamed, renumbered and called United while the entire combined carrier will migrate to Continental's systems. This includes all frequent flyer information, which will adopt Continental's old OnePass numbering system. And if you need visual proof, look at this dummy home page for the new United.com. Looks like the existing Continental home page, doesn't it? And while we have no way of knowing how much chaos the computer change may cause, the first bit of hard news is not good: Sabre, the computing power behind many travel agencies, reports that it will no longer be able to book Economy Plus seats after the change to Continental computers. As Bette Davis' Margo character said in the classic All About Eve: Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night. And as she didn't say: It might not be a bad idea to book away from United or Continental for a few days starting on March 2. In fact, if you really want to be safe, avoid the entire Star Alliance for a few days.

Starwood Raises Award Prices, Hyatt Dumps Some Airline Partners
Starwood Preferred Guest has published the list of award categories for 2012 and it won't surprise you that many more hotels jumped up in price than dropped in cost. More notable increases: hotels in New York, San Francisco and China. Most notable decreases: Some properties in Thailand. You can view the PDF of the entire list of category changes here. The new chart goes into effect on March 1, so you still have a few days to claim a future stay at the 2011 levels. ... Effective March 15, Hyatt Gold Passport is dropping its relationship with four airlines: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines and US Airways. That means you won't be able to convert Gold Passport points to credits in the programs sponsored by those airlines. ... If you took a Citibank-sponsored American AAdvantage credit card or opened certain Citi checking and savings accounts last year, you may have been shocked to get an IRS Form 1099 that reported the bonus miles you received as income. Citibank valued the AAdvantage miles at 2.5 cents each. While the IRS hasn't said that the bonus miles are taxable, some Citi customers are incensed and, of course, at least one has now sued. The plaintiff also wants to convert the suit--Hirsch v. Citibank in the New York federal district court--into a class-action suit.

Two Airports Get Useful New Hotel Options
Anyone who uses New York/Kennedy or Miami International knows that they are two airports without good hotel options. Each has picked up a new contender this week, however. In Miami, Starwood has opened a 209-room Element hotel. It's located just off the airport grounds, two blocks from Miami Central Station, which is envisioned as the area's future inter-modal transportation hub. Up in New York, a 356-room Hilton has opened in the building that housed the much-hated JFK International Hotel and, before that, a dreary, old Holiday Inn. The hotel has undergone an extensive renovation. ... Marriott continues to expand its limited-service brands in smaller markets. New this week is a 91-room TownePlace Suites in Monroe, Louisiana; a 124-room SpringHill Suites in Draper, Utah; and a 92-room Fairfield Inn in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. ... Sofitel has opened a 302-room property in the northern suburbs of Mumbai. It's located in the Bandra Kurla Complex that is home to several major banks. ... In Mexico, a 120-room Hampton Inn has opened in Ciudad del Carmen.

Southwest Juggles AirTran Routes While WestJet Adds Chicago
Southwest Airlines continues to remake its route map after the purchase of AirTran Airways. It is using AirTran to launch flights into Cancun from both Denver, a major Southwest focus city, and Austin. The Denver flights launch April 16 and the Austin service begins on May 25. AirTran will also begin flying a daily route between Des Moines and Chicago/Midway, another major Southwest hub. Flights begin on September 30. Meantime, Southwest is taking over Atlanta-San Francisco service from AirTran and using its all-coach equipment on the route. Finally, Southwest will drop= two routes to Las Vegas (from Norfolk and Cleveland) and resume Detroit/Metro-Las Vegas flights for the first time in five years. The Las Vegas changes are effective on September 30. ... WestJet is bringing its brand of low-fare service to Chicago/O'Hare on May 14. There'll be daily flights from both Vancouver and Calgary. WestJet already code-shares with American Airlines on some flights between O'Hare and Canada.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
I hate to say I told you so, but: This week's Portfolio column discussed the surging price of oil and the inevitability that airlines will continue to try to raise prices to cover costs. With oil selling north of $108 a barrel today (February 23), the carriers are going for another fare increase. The legacy airlines have added as much as $10 roundtrip across the board to prices. Whether the fare hike holds is another matter. Neither Southwest nor JetBlue has matched. ... United Airlines has sold an employee-only hotel in Waikiki and the new owners have brought in Joie de Vivre Hotels to manage the property. After a $3 million renovation, the property will open to the public as the 125-room JDV Hotel.

The Pope Was a Lady and the Writer Is a JoeSentMe Member
How many of you know the story of Pope Joan, the Middle Ages woman who disguised herself as a man and made it all the way to the papacy? Many dismiss the story as legend, but the concept of Pope Joan has become a powerful symbol of feminism and female empowerment in modern times. Well, a frequent-flying JoeSentMe member, Donna Woolfolk Cross, wrote a novel about Pope Joan. Her novel was turned into a movie and the film premieres on the REELZ Channel next weekend, just in time for Women's History Month. You can see more about the movie and watch the trailer at REELZ's Pope Joan page.

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 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.