THE BRANCATELLI FILE FOR 2009

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT JOE
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 began his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe.com 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 Cold Spring, New York.

December 26: WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WILL COME
It took less than 24 hours for the Christmas Day incident in Detroit to become politicized. Screw the pols is what I say. Here is what we know (or at least think we know) about the events on Northwest Flight 253--and what we'll face at airports now that regulators are returning to a higher level of security kabuki.

December 17: PEOPLE WILL TALK
As the last scheduled screed of the year, I wanted to use this column to summarize some fascinating interviews I've conducted in recent weeks. Stick with me if you want to learn more about the style and substance of Continental's new lie-flat business-class beds; Lufthansa's international in-flight WiFi; Hilton's upcoming devaluation of the Hilton HHonors program; and a new approach to private-jet rentals.

December 3: UP IN THE AIR, BUT WATCHING ON DVD
Up in the Air hits what the motion-picture industry calls "select theaters" this weekend and the advance buzz on the flick has been great. Still, I won't be going. I'm not much for watching movies about life on the road when they first come out. But I catch up with them eventually and here's my list of the best business travel movies of all time. You might want to buy a few to screen on your next long flight because the in-flight movie selection is going to be pretty weak in the weeks ahead.

November 24: EARLY THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS
Wild horses--or Wild Turkey--couldn't force me to write a column on Thanksgiving Day, so this will be our last scheduled column until after our great national secular celebration of overeating. We've got an update on the ultimate pax right's bill; more silly news about the TSA; why airlines are suddenly running on-time; and an important reminder about frequent flyer miles.

November 12: FAST TIMES AT A HONOLULU STOPOVER
So I get 48 hours in Honolulu. Hardly enough time to remember the traffic patterns in Waikiki, but, in the whirlwind, I get the lowdown on current flights to Hawaii, air service around the islands, where to stay and a couple of great places to eat. If you only got 48 hours, after all, you have to make the most of it.

October 29: THE BUSINESS CLASS BAZAAR OF 2009
This will shock you: International business-class fares--the walk-up, unrestricted kind that were once the coin of our realm--are skyrocketing. But we know that walk-up fares no longer tell the business-class tale. The bad economy has forced airlines to discount like crazy. There are more promotions, fare sales, advance-purchase discounts and price-cutting gimmicks up front than ever before. Here's a primer on how to get the best deals--and how to think about them.

October 23: NOW THE NEWS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS
Please forgive me if this week's column looks and reads more like a Tactical Traveler than a normal Brancatelli File, but there's lots of news to get through. Here's the scoop on getting a big discount for your Windows 7 upgrades; how Republic Airways and Independence Air seem very much alike; the war between Choice hotels and Expedia; an update on the correlation between bag fees and plunging airline revenues; and something completely different.

October 15: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
I've got words from W Hotels. What the words mean is beyond me. United's new luggage product--and the thing it wants to sell you next. A 40-year-old hijacking solved. Plus the Spanish Inquisition; Monty Python's new (6-hour) documentary; VIA coffee and Purell hand cleaner for the road; and all the snark and fish-slap dancing you can handle.

October 1: LAST CALL AT THE HOTEL BAR
I don't care much for what passes as French food in America and I don't tend to hang in hotel bars. There are better things to eat and far better places to be on the road. But there I was at the Saratoga Hilton in upstate New York last weekend, sitting at the bar of Chez Sophie with my frequent-flying wife and watching one of the last best hotel places go through its final paces.

September 17: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
In this week's business-travel news and snark: The hockey fight between U.S. and Canadian aviation interests; more drug-running airline workers; a judgment on United Airlines' strategy; Max Baucus, airline executive; T-Mobile's charge for paper bills; and why I'll be carrying Pixy Stix and packets of Kool-Aid in my carry-on bag.

September 10: FOREVER YOUNG. AGAIN.
Life on the road makes us old and we unfortunate few also bear the mark of 9/11. But today I am tired of feeling old and looking back. Eight years after the massacre of innocents and innocence, I want to be forever young. Again. Because the young think they are invulnerable. And I want to feel innocent and invulnerable again.

August 27: SUMMER'S LEASE AND TRAVEL TALES
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. So stick with me as we rush to close the books on some of summer's most interesting stories: Forbes takes over the Mobil Travel Guides; the registered-travel programs that won't die; much ado about nothing in seatback pockets; another example of how the frequent flyer "guru" has sold out business travelers; and some odd hotel happenings.

August 20: WE HAVE ALL BEEN HERE BEFORE
This has been a surprisingly busy August by the usually languorous standards of business travel. Still, this is a perfect week to reflect on what has gone before. Or, to be more specific, to revisit columns whose topics have been the stuff of your questions to me in the past few weeks. So here is a second look at Lockerbie; suing airlines; passport and visa expeditors; scoring business-class discounts; the in-flight run on the bankers; and why the Big Six are disappearing.

August 13: PASSENGER RIGHTS AND RIGHT THINKING
By now you've heard all about the 47 passengers held captive on a runway last weekend for nearly six hours in a regional jet. But here's what you have not heard: Even if the Passenger's Bill of Rights was already law it wouldn't have made a damned bit of difference. The legislation is so poorly written and rife with exceptions that airline's despicable actions would have been justified and excused. If we want to stop the airlines from holding us hostage, we have to hit them in the wallet with massive fines and a blizzard of passenger lawsuits.

August 6: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
This week, someone breaks the rules and builds a hotel on the railroads; a bit of cosmic retribution on Hawaii air routes; a series of airline mishaps and injuries; bad news at two famous hotels; bad times for the greenback (again); some thoughts about pizza and the fiscal stimulus package; and all the snark you can eat--or read.

July 30: AIRLINES BEING AIRLINES AS FREQUENCY PROGRAMS CHANGE
To be brutally honest, frequent flyer programs are boring now. And even when the frequent flyer program news is good, as it is this week, you're always looking for the next rug that the airlines are planning to pull out from under you. They've broken faith with us so often that we know every apologetic gesture they make today will be followed by a money-grubbing asininity tomorrow. So there's no reason to believe this week's changes at United Mileage Plus, Delta SkyMiles and US Airways Dividend Miles will be permanently positive.

July 23: A WAR OVER A BACKDOOR FARE INCREASE
I don't have a dog in the intramural fight between airlines and travel agents over which side pays the 2-3 percent fees when we use a credit card to buy a plane ticket. But I do know this: If the airlines win the "settlement" war with travel agents, you know where they'll go next: Airlines will begin charging us for using a credit card when we book directly with them. It's a backdoor fare increase that airlines can't manage in the free market--and I hate it when companies try to charge us for the privilege of doing business with them.

July 16: CHEAP (DIGITAL) THRILLS ON THE ROAD
With DVDs of motion pictures, TV shows and documentaries now so damned inexpensive, I now leave space in my carry-on bag for a decent amount of digital diversion. And in the mid-summer doldrums that is business travel, I thought it would be interesting to take a peek at what's sitting in my bag just now. Because you know what they say: We are what we watch and listen to while our flight is delayed and all our paperwork is done.

July 9: PASSING OVER THE TRAVEL ZONE
If you think Sarah Palin in waders is odd, Al Franken in the Senate is weird or pallbearers in white sequined gloves is bizarre, you ain't seen nothing yet. Just check out what's been happening in travel this week: United breaks a passenger's guitar, refuses to pay to fix it and ends up on the wrong end of a viral video; The Ilikai Hotel in Waikiki closes; the local taxman balances the budget on the back of business travelers; and two of the worst chief executives in airline history pop up on the board of directors of the "new" Chrysler.

July 2: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
So what are we looking at as we break for the Fourth of July holiday? Plunging prices and declining airline capacity. A recalcitrant, leaderless TSA; hotels rushing to add "teleconferencing rooms" like its 1999; and at least a half-dozen more storm fronts. Read all about it, plus a little holiday snark, too.

June 25: MORE PHANTOMS AND MORE FANTASIES ON THE ROAD
Life on the road has made skeptics and cynics of us all. Too many years of phony upgrades, broken service promises and flat-out lies have given us precious little patience for the phantoms and fantasies of business travel. Which brings us to Steve Brill's Clear, the registered-traveler program that tanked this week, and Virgin America, which looks to be the latest in a long line of airline failures from Sir Richard Branson.

June 18: SUPPLY, DEMAND AND THE PRICE OF AN AIRLINE SEAT
My confused comrades in the mainstream media have concluded that capacity cutbacks will lead to your paying higher prices to fly this fall. No matter that they leapt to the same bone-headed conclusion when the airlines slashed capacity earlier this year, late last year and last summer. Read my lips: The price you pay to fly has almost nothing to do with the number of airline seats that airlines choose to operate. The only thing that drives up the price of an airline ticket is demand. And since there's virtually no demand, your prices will remain low.

June 11: THIS IS WHO WE ARE
No one who isn't a business traveler seems to understand us. They see what laughingly passes as our "lifestyle" and they focus on all the wrong things. We see drudgery. But outsiders see glamour and excitement, fancy hotels and first-class upgrades and a trail of perks and privileges. So I figure we'd better explain it all to them, slowly and clearly. For better or for worse, this is who we are and what we believe.

June 4: LIFE ON THE ROAD GOES ON--OR IT DOESN'T
I know you come to this space every week for some answers, but this week I don't even know the questions. I know you come to this space every week for a good screed, but this week there's too much to rant about. I know you come to this space every week for some sage advice, but this week there's no way I can confidently advise anyone about a world where fellow flyers disappear into the Atlantic and bureaucrats decide where we can fly.

May 28: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
So what do the relative fates of Howard Johnson's, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts have to say about life on the road? Why are Hyatt Place hotels growing and Embassy Suites shrinking? What's awful in Boston and great on the web? It's all explained this week, with a little snark thrown in.

May 21: HOW TO ANSWER SILLY TRAVEL QUESTIONS AT A HOLIDAY BBQ
Can you smell it? It's the sweet fragrance of a three-day weekend, complete with barbecues, picnics, some R&R and, best of all, no flying and no business travel. But I can guarantee that you'll be asked all manner of silly travel questions by the stay-at-home crowd when you show up at a holiday BBQ. Here's how to answer with the latest facts they don't know. (And save some slaw for me...)

May 8: HAVE I GOT A BUSINESS-CLASS FARE SALE FOR YOU
I admit it: I get giddy at the concept of these summer business-class sales that the airlines now freely embrace as part of their otherwise internecine yield-management strategies. There's nothing bad about carriers slashing as much as 80 percent off their business-class fares. So I go airline-by-airline and document what's available this summer to Europe and Asia.

April 30: OPEN CITY: THE BATTLE OF BOSTON
What we need right now is a good, old-fashioned War of the Airlines. The kind of war where carriers invade new markets, fall all over themselves to add routes, cut fares and promote themselves silly to win our business. I give you Boston, where Logan Airport remains curiously unconquered and defiantly welcoming to new carriers. New England's only major airport is an Open City and JetBlue, Southwest and others are fighting for control.

April 23: THE FOREST, THE TREES AND THE BAGGAGE FEES
Airlines have reported 1Q earnings. Almost all of them lost money and all suffered revenue declines. But they wanted to talk about the revenue generated with a la carte charges like baggage fees. The problem? Airlines that added bag fees most quickly and on the most bags last year are exactly the ones that had the largest revenue fall in this year's first quarter. See for yourself on the chart and consider the financial forest, the trees and the baggage fees.

April 16: THE SPRING CLEANING COLUMN
Even writing four columns a week leaves me with important news in the notebook. So excuse me while I try to catch up and bring you all of the details on another spate of anti-airline Web sites; Skype for your mobile devices; the privatization of airports; a quick impression of modern Shanghai; the slump in premium travel; and a new business-travel blogger.

April 2: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
Another interesting week on the road and I've got some quick thoughts on Secure Flight; some ways for United Airlines and US Airways to keep "improving"; the future of hotel connectivity; a la carte airline pricing; life on mars; good airline experiences; the bossa nova; and much more.

March 26: A LITTLE TRAVELIN' MUSIC
I'm in Shanghai, having traded soup dumplings for the Sweet Sixteen basketball this weekend. And since there is nothing happening in business travel and I can't talk about basketball games I'm not likely to see here in China, let's talk music. Here are my Sweet Sixteen: 16 CDs I never leave home without.

March 19: WHAT DIES THIS TIME ON THE ROAD?
This is a historical given: Every recession in the last generation has changed the nature of business travel and some things we'd come to know don't survive the economic downturn. What dies this time? My educated guesses: one of the legacy carriers; unlimited free hotel WiFi; Virgin America; a slew of hotel brands; and several other things.

March 12: JUST AN OLD-FASHIONED SCREED COLUMN
I think life on the road is going quite well for the moment, so I'm not in a death-to-the-infidels mode. But some of you have E-mailed me saying you miss my old-fashioned screeds. Happy to comply. I have some thoughts about the phony pay-toilet-on-planes story; the creeps at Spirit Airlines; a bizarre launch of a new hotel brand from Hilton; and much more.

February 25: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
It's been a busy week on the road and we have news (and snarky comment) about the coming "riot" of US Airways flight attendants; the "stim" and travel; how hotels are discounting (or not); what we could do with all those parked aircraft; how hotels can get even with the airline guy who steals their pens; and much more.

February 19: THE GOLDEN AGE OF FREQUENT STAY PLANS
Our bad feelings for frequent flyer programs have probably tainted our views of hotel frequent stay plans. And we tend to take hotel plans for granted. But last weekend I earned an astonishing 51 points for each dollar I spent at a hotel and it reminded me to remind you that we really have to stop ignoring our frequent stay plans. I also need to suggest that right now could be the golden age of the hotel frequency plans.

February 5: THINKING TACTICALLY AS FARES FALL
When airline fares are high and carriers are swinging the pricing hammer, we need to think tactically to safeguard our wallets and our bodies. The only time when it's more important to think tactically is when fares fall. More money can be wasted--and more comfort sacrificed--in these times than you can imagine. So here are some savvy tactics for buying travel right now.

January 29: NOW, ABOUT ALL THOSE TRAVEL DEALS...
If you think we've seen a lot of airline and hotel deals in the last few weeks, wait until you see what is coming. A real sense of desperation is setting in. That said, I see a lot of stinkers masquerading as bargains. And I won't lie to you. It's getting harder and harder to separate the wheat from the chaff, the genuine price break from the phony baloney.

January 22: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
So why, I wonder, is United losing money twice as fast as American? Why are we still talking about a passenger's rights bill? What's still at issue in that "miraculous" landing on the Hudson last week? And what's up with Visa's new black card, my new Netbook computer, the suddenly muscular state of the U.S. dollar and much, much more? Complete with plenty of snarky commentary, of course.

January 8: THE MORE THINGS CHANGE...OR DON'T
For the first Brancatelli File of 2008, I left a trail of business-travel breadcrumbs for 2009. Weirdly, however, very little changed in the year-to-year snapshot--except that almost everything is different on the road. The karma and the aphorisms of oil prices, stock prices, sleazy airline tricks, airport racism and the Zen of Mitt Romney. Trust me, it all makes sense--if you have a sense of the absurd.

These columns originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

Copyright 1993-2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.