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SUMMER'S LEASE AND TRAVEL THOUGHTS
By Joe Brancatelli
August 27, 2009 -- Business travel is usually very much more Dickensian than Shakespearian, but you have to admit that this particular summer has had all too short a date.

There just hasn't been enough time to get to everything of note on the road this summer. And since this is the last edition of The Brancatelli File before the Labor Day weekend, I hope you will allow me to run briefly through some topics that need further illumination before we hurtle to what is surely going to be a fall and winter of our discontent. (Aren't they always?)

Or as Claudius told Rosencrantz and Guildenstern--weren't those the names of discount airlines that went under a few years ago?--my words fly up, my thoughts remain below.

FROM THE STARS DO I MY JUDGMENT PLUCK
The growth of social media rating sites like TripAdvisor has done serious damage to traditional hotel-rating services like the AAA and Mobil travel guides. As valuable as those two by-the-book, mostly-in-print, once-a-year ratings systems are, it's hard to compete with Web sites that compile thousands or even tens of thousands of real-time reviews proffered by actual travelers. But now comes something interesting: Forbes is taking over the Mobil Travel Guide. As media firms go, the family-owned Forbes operation is fairly nimble and creative. What if Forbes were to offer a triple threat on its existing, but mostly moribund, ForbesTraveler.com site: The annual, inspector-generated ratings from the Mobil guide operation; contemporaneous reviews from the well-traveled reporters and editors of Forbes magazine and Forbes.com; and as-they-experience-it opinions from Forbes readers, who tend to be an affluent, globe-trotting bunch? I'd find that a compelling combination as a reader. I think advertisers would, too.

WHAT'S GONE AND WHAT'S PAST HELP SHOULD BE PAST GRIEF
Clear, the "giant" of registered traveler programs, collapsed earlier this year and was mourned by few. After it folded, Clear wanted to sell the data it had collected on the 200,000 or so travelers who had signed up for the program. A federal judge put an end to that last week and enjoined Clear from peddling the data. Separately, the Transportation Security Administration wants to delete the central database it maintained on registered traveler participants. But two clueless Congressmen are trying to stop the TSA from destroying the data because they say that it "could potentially undermine restoration of the program." They apparently believe the fakers at Flo, who operated a registered travel program at exactly one airport (Reno), when they claim that Flo will be relaunched in 30 days. In reality, Flo shuttered its Reno operation a week before Clear tanked on June 22.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING IN SEATBACK POCKETS
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Joe Sharkey had his first experience with a by-the-book flight attendant who policed the aisles of her regional jet and demanded that there be no passenger items in the seatback pockets during takeoff and landing. He turned the experience into a hot blog item and followed up this week with a cool column in The New York Times. But with all due respect to Joe--and with no respect for the sloppy, lazy bloggers who subsequently ripped him off--there is precious little newsworthy fodder here. Passengers have never been able to use seatback pockets for storage during takeoff and landing. And flight attendants tell you that, however obliquely, with every pre-flight and prepare-for-landing announcement they make: Everything has to go under a seat or in an overhead bin. Moreover, Federal Aviation Administration rules specifically recognize only those two passenger storage areas. Admittedly, flight attendants on traditional jets rarely enforce the seatback pocket rule unless you're trying to stow a laptop computer or other bulky item. But flight attendants manning the cramped rows of RJs and turboprops have always been more vigilant about seatback pockets.

YOU PAY A GREAT DEAL TOO DEAR FOR WHAT'S GIVEN FREELY
It's been years since Randy Petersen stood up for what business travelers fairly deserve in exchange for their loyalty to the airline frequent flyer programs. There's no devaluation he can't justify, no new fee he won't explain away, no infuriating rule or restriction he won't defend and no bizarre calculation he won't embrace in his increasingly desperate attempt to minimize how legacy airlines have ruined the loyalty-building prowess of the frequency programs. But he inadvertently revealed how little the plans are really worth these days in the new issue of Executive Travel magazine. In a column ironically headlined "Get What You Deserve," here is his conclusion: "So in the end, while you might not get your first choice of dates or routes, you certainly can fly on an award ticket." In other words, according to Petersen, you shouldn't expect to know where or when or how or have any real say in the matter of claiming your awards. But not to worry. The airlines will give you something. Some day. Eventually. When they feel like it.

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME IN PEORIA
What's playing in Peoria? Hotels by any other name. The city's third-largest property, The Grand, has gone brandless, dropping the Ramada name because the property's sales manager said the $15,000-a-month franchise fee wasn't worth it. "The Ramada name just doesn't mean as much as it used to," she explained. Neither, apparently, does the Radisson name, since the Peoria Castle Lodge dropped its affiliation with that chain earlier this summer. And two of the city's best-known hotels--the Mark Twain and the Pere Marquette--get by without chain affiliation, too.

WHAT FOOLS THESE MORTALS BE
A foreclosure auction earlier this month put The Lotus at Diamond Head (fka the W Honolulu and the Colony Surf) in the hands of an outfit called Unity House. The nonprofit organization bid $8.5 million for the property that has been valued as high as $16 million. In case you're wondering, Unity House has about 10,000 beneficiaries, mostly members and retirees of the unions that represent Hawaii's hotel and restaurant workers. But Unity House is now, ahem, hoist on its own petard. The Lotus is a non-union hotel.

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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 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.