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NOW THE NEWS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS
By Joe Brancatelli
October 23, 2009 -- You know ya got trouble in River City (and other business-travel outposts) when I've got a six-inch high stack of folders on my desk and the ones marked "really important" will have to be ignored because there just isn't time enough and room enough to get to everything.

So forgive me if this week's column looks and reads more like a Tactical Traveler than a normal Brancatelli File. But news intervenes and this may be our cosmic punishment for spending so much time with Monty Python. That said, let's get right to it.

GETTING TO KNOW WINDOWS 7 IN BULK--AND CHEAPER
Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 7, was officially released yesterday. Everything seemed to go smoothly and it surely went better than the XP-to-Vista and Windows 98-to-XP transitions. But almost lost in all the praise for Microsoft--that in itself is a rarity--is the fact that upgrading ain't cheap: Prices start at $119 for Microsoft's multi-flavored packages. If you're like most business travelers, with home machines, laptops and maybe even netbooks, you'll need a more cost-effective option. And there is one: Microsoft is (very) quietly selling a Family Pack that permits you to upgrade as many as three machines to Windows 7 Home Premium for as little as $150. Amazon.com is selling the three-pack here.

LEMONADE IN THE SKY AGAIN?
You're forgiven if you've already forgotten the short, unhappy life of Independence Air, which I once described as an "attempt to make low-fare lemonade from a couple of crates of flying lemons" and the "dumbest airline in American history." But read those columns again because it might explain the doings at Republic Airways, which this year snapped up two traditional airlines--Midwest and Frontier--and a Hawaii start-up called Mokulele. Much as Independence was once a commuter airline, Republic flies regional jets for all of the Big Five. Much as Independence was squeezed by a major airline, Republic fears its Big Five partners may come knocking on its door for concessions. So like Independence, Republic has branched out into branded flying. Both carriers built with regional jets at a time of rising fuel prices; in fact, oil prices are higher today then when Independence launched. There are differences between Republic and Independence, too, but it's hard to see Republic's survival and growth path. It still depends on the Big Five for revenue even as it competes with them. Republic is muddying the image of the Frontier and Midwest brands by moving planes around, fiddling with routes and in-flight services and laying off many of the acquired carriers' dedicated employees. It already has bailed on its Mokulele experiment. And did I mention the price of oil and the insanely inefficient nature of regional jets in an environment of high fuel prices?

AS I WAS SAYING…
Airlines reported third-quarter earnings this week and the surprise is that the nation's most profitable publicly held carrier is Alaska Air. Its profit ($83 million, $39.9 million excluding special items) topped all comers. Not surprising: American Airlines was the big loser ($359 million, $265 million excluding special items). I also feel compelled to report that the correlation I made between baggage fees and overall revenue is holding. In the first quarter of the year, the airlines quickest to raise baggage fees had the highest percentage of total revenue loss. (Read about that here.) The same was true in the second quarter. (Read about that here.) In the third quarter, it was the same: Airlines charging first-bag fees had a higher percentage of total revenue loss than the two carriers (Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways) that didn't. In fact, Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly for the first time claimed that the carrier is winning passengers from other airlines because it offers two checked bags at no charge.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HOTEL WARS
Last week we talked about the hardball negotiations between corporate travel buyers and hotel chains. This week the war is between hotel chains and online travel agents. Expedia, an online behemoth, has pulled virtually all Choice hotels--that would be Comfort, Quality, Clarion, Mainstay, EconoLodge and others--off its Web sites. The fight is over room rates, obviously, but also how much access Expedia has to Choice's inventory and at what prices. Choice chief executive Stephen Joyce claims Expedia's demands were so extreme that agreeing to them would essentially put Expedia in control of Choice's business. This isn't the first time Expedia has squabbled with a big hotel supplier, either. Earlier in the decade, InterContinental brands briefly disappeared from Expedia's booking sites in a similar fight. The specifics of the Choice-Expedia battle are almost irrelevant to business travelers. The important thing to remember is that you always have to check multiple distribution channels if you want the best price and/or your choice of product. It's caveat emptor out there, fellow travelers. Never forget that.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT…
I knew you were Monty Python fans after last week's column when you sent E-mail gleefully pointing out all of the Python lines I used. But I admit that I was awfully impressed when I sent out yesterday's newsletter-delay notice and you E-mailed back with more Python lines, sketch references and even obscurities like Teddy Salad and Mrs. Twolumps. So given your proclivities, allow me to direct you to News From Me, an astonishingly rich personal blog operated by my old friend Mark Evanier. Mark calls himself the "new king of pop" and you'd be hard-pressed to argue. He has an encyclopedic grasp of movies, television, radio, comics and almost anything to do with popular culture. He's written for everything from Welcome Back, Kotter to Blackhawk comics and he's currently the producer, writer and voice director of the new Garfield program on the Cartoon Network. In other words, he not only knows his stuff, he's also created a lot of it. Bookmark him and enjoy the ride. (Word to the wise: He is a Jack Kirby man. I was always a Steve Ditko guy.)

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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.