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THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
By Joe Brancatelli
September 5, 2008 -- When I was a kid, there was a short-lived, but hilarious, Friday night television show called That Was the Week That Was. TW3, as it was called, reviewed the news events of the week in a fast, furious manner.

Now, forty years or so later, here I am, writing the first-ever Friday-night edition of The Brancatelli File. Which is my not-so-clever way of saying: This was the week that was in business travel…

AND WE'D TRADE HOTEL POINTS FOR AIRLINE SEATS BECAUSE?
Starwood Preferred Guest rolled out a new program this week called SPG Flights. In plain English, it allows you to trade SPG frequent stay program points for airline seats. Since Starwood will buy the seats from airlines, there are no capacity controls or restrictions and you can use your points to pay for everything, including taxes and fees. The cost chart starts at 10,000 points for tickets worth up to $150 in value. A $500 ticket will cost 40,000 points. A ticket worth up to $999 will cost 75,000 points and a $10,000 ticket will cost 775,000 points. The program is clever because travelers hate all the new fees, rules and restrictions slapped on frequent flyer programs. But it's also a fairly lousy use of your SPG points. Consider: 48,000 points will get you four nights at the Sheraton Waikiki and a fifth night free. Buying that room would cost $199 a night and taxes of about 12 percent. That makes the 48,000 points worth about $1,100 of accommodations. But it would only buy you about $600 worth of airline travel via SPG Flights.

YET THERE'S ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE
Last month I mentioned another new attempt from United Airlines to raise cash by selling the furniture. The program, called Award Accelerator, essentially sells you double or triple miles on a United flight for about 3 cents a mile. That's an insanely high price, since most airline awards these days return, if you're lucky, about 2 cents a mile in value. But there's apparently a mileage sucker born every minute. In the first month of operation, United senior vice president Dennis Cary told Aviation Daily, Award Accelerator raised $1.5 million.

THE AMERICAN WAY: WORST OF THE WORST
The Transportation Department's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report was released on Wednesday and revealed what we have come to expect from the quickly unraveling American Airlines. It finished worst in the nation for on-time performance in this year's first and second quarters and was dead last for the 12 months ending in July.

SOAP OPERA, ITALIAN STYLE
I consider myself a connoisseur of Italy's atrocious television programming. But Italy's best soap opera is Alitalia, the perennially money-gushing, brink-of-disaster flag carrier. When last we looked in on the doings there, Sergio Berlusconi, the media magnet turned two-time prime minister, had scuppered a deal to dump Alitalia for pennies on the dollar to Air France-KLM. He insisted the deal would strip Italy of its national honor. He also claimed that he had arranged for a secret consortium of Italian businesses to step in and rescue Alitalia. The ploy worked, sort of. Berlusconi ousted the sitting prime minister, who had negotiated the Air France-KLM deal. But there was no secret consortium. To continue operating, Alitalia, which has been losing up to $3 million a day, needed a taxpayer-funded bailout of about $400 million. This week, Berlusconi finally found himself an Italian consortium, led by about a dozen of the country's most important industrialists, financiers and Air One, Italy's largest privately owned carrier. But the deal is another joke on taxpayers. Laws were changed to allow the existing Alitalia to go bankrupt and socialize its losses. The profitable assets will be privatized and go with the new carrier, also conveniently called Alitalia. And guess what? The private consortium that made off with Alitalia's assets eventually expects to dump the whole operation on Air France-KLM or Lufthansa anyway.

SNAKES ON A PLANE! REALLY! HONEST! SNAKES ON A PLANE!
The crew of an Air India Airbus A319 on Monday discovered a snake on the plane. It was coiled up under a seat and the crew never caught it. The snake was discovered when the plane landed at Delhi airport after a domestic flight from Srinagar. At last report, the snake is still at large even after airline crews unscrewed panels of the fuselage, opened all of the doors and fumigated the aircraft. But good news. Air India denies the snake was a poisonous cobra. "There was a snake, but not a cobra," an airline spokesman said.

OBAMA, MCCAIN AND BUSINESS TRAVEL
With both political conventions over--and NBC's Andrea Mitchell safely extricated from last night's ballooning--my first thought was that I'd better get cracking on a piece comparing the Obama and McCain policies on matters that affect business travelers. But an old friend, crack aviation journalist Barbara S. Petersen, beat me to it. She posted a piece at Popular Mechanics yesterday that starts the compare-and-contrast process. It's a worthy read.

UNDERSTANDING THE RHYTHMS OF RAMADAN
Ramadan began early this year. On Monday, in fact. It will continue until September 29. Travelers visiting Muslim countries during the coming days need to know more about the holiest period on the Islamic calendar. The extended period of fasting, sexual abstinence and prayer is not only a holy time, but also a very testy one. Adherents must fast from sun up to sundown and that includes abstaining from beverages and cigarettes, too. As sundown approaches, Muslims rush to celebrate the breaking of the fast. Tempers are short as entire societies cope with a month of no food, no beverages, no sex and evening rushes. Non-Muslims should respect the solemnity of Ramadan. Do not drink or eat in public during daylight hours. Expect early business closings. Dress modestly and avoid public displays of affection. And understand the evening social ritual. Restaurants open shortly before sundown. Diners, famished from fasting all day, arrive and wait patiently at their tables until the call from the mosques, which means eating can begin.
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 © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.