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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...
By Joe Brancatelli
April 21, 2011 -- Nobody asked me, but …

US Airways, always the last with the least, inadvertently spams tens of thousands of Dividend Miles members with an E-mail saying they'd been awarded 1,000 miles. Then US Airways follows up with an apology spam. But not one of the dim bulbs at US Airways thought to give the spammed flyers the 1,000-mile bonus as a goodwill gesture. Because, you know, when you are last with the least, spamming your best customers means never having to give them a few stinkin' miles.

I called American Express customer service on a billing issue last weekend and the agent on the other end of the phone says: "Wow, Mr. Brancatelli, I see you have been a cardholder since 1975. That's amazing. I'm going to deposit 5,000 Membership Rewards points in your account as a special thank you." Great. My first-ever "you're so old we can't believe it!" bonus.

Nobody asked me, but …

The Department of Homeland Security says that it has scrapped the color-coded terror alert system launched after 9/11. During the announcement "ceremony," even DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano couldn't believe how long the system was stuck on "orange" for airports. Of course, even she didn't know what orange meant…

Speaking of color coding, have you noticed that Donald Trump's complexion gets more orange every time he goes on television and says he's thinking of running for president?

Trump isn't running, of course. But it's good for the ratings of Celebrity Apprentice and the price of condos that bear his (licensed) name. Besides, who'd vote for a guy who couldn't make money in the casino business? I've lost track of how many times Trump casinos have gone into Chapter 11. Or how many times Trump had to surrender his equity in the operations.

Nobody asked me, but …

The Washington Post holds an annual diorama contest where contestants make tableaux using Peeps marshmallow bunnies. One of this year's entries: "The TSA Gets a Peep Show." It is, needless to say, hilarious--and offensive to carbon- and marshmallow-based life forms. There's even a video.

I'm no fan of Starbucks, so I can't vouch for this personally. But NBC's Chuck Todd recently took off on the efficiency of Starbucks kiosks at airports. He was supported by Joan Walsh of Salon.com and Henry Jackson of the AP. Read this with your overrated, over-roasted, overcooked coffee.

Delta Air Lines now allows you to check the status of checked bags with a FedEx/UPS-style tracking system. Look at the system here. If you have a Delta bag tag, enter the number to see how it works. Imagine that? Airlines using bar codes to deliver information and manage workflow. That's so 1980s, but, in Delta's defense, no other carrier is doing it yet. So good for them.

Nobody asked me, but …

Big news from Europe: France and Italy have sent military officers to aid the Libyan rebels. The rebels immediately began surrendering to remnants of Rommel's Afrika Korps.

Without making too many jokes about a tragedy, I can't help but thinking about the great Bogart movie Sahara whenever I hear about the war in Libya. I mean, I really do expect to hear about a standoff at a dry oasis or news that someone beat someone in a key battle for Tobruk.

Now you're thinking of Rat Patrol and that classic opening montage, aren't you? Hey, that's why You Tube was invented. View it here. And, no, you're not crazy. Hans Gudegast is Eric Braeden, the soap star and movie actor. He changed to the stage name Braeden in time to make one of my favorite TV movies, Colossus: The Forbin Project. Way ahead of its time and just $8.49 from Amazon.com.

Nobody asked me, but …

This week marks the fifth anniversary of FlightStats, the insanely great resource for business travelers. The company recently unveiled this amazing page, which gives you a one-screen look at global flight operations. Bookmark it. Check it daily for your own sanity.

The airlines began reporting first-quarter financials this week. Surprise! Airlines that offer free checked bags (i.e., Southwest and JetBlue) eked out quarterly profits. Those that don't (American, United and Continental) racked up huge losses.

I'll have more on the new Transportation Department consumer-protection regulations next week. But here is a summary I posted over at Portfolio. And wait until the DOT finalizes its regulations for "fair fare disclosure." The legacy airlines thought they were so smart by unbundling and going to ΰ la carte pricing. Not one of them realized that the government would have to intervene to protect consumers from the excesses. Now they'll spend more keeping up with the regulations than they can ever earn by charging $5 for a snack box or $10 for advance boarding privileges.

Nobody asked me, but …

Capital One ended its heavily advertised promotion where they'd give you up to 100,000 Cap One miles if you took one of their credit cards. I didn't mention it because I thought I saw a trapdoor and a loophole when Capital One said they'd cap the giveaway at one billion miles. I got it wrong. Cap One simply ignored its self-imposed cap and apparently gave miles to all comers. My cynicism is usually a good protection mechanism. Not this time. If you didn't apply, you may have sacrificed upwards of $1,100 in free travel in exchange for taking the (free) Capital One Venture card. My bad. I'm sorry.

Of course, no banker I've talked to can figure out the logic of the promotion. Cap One's acquisition costs were gigantic: Considering the TV campaign with Alex Baldwin and the value of the miles, some folks think Cap One spent around $2,000 for every cardholder it acquired. And how many of us will keep using that Venture card after the minimum spend to earn the bonus is reached? Why would we? Other cards now offer Capital One's primarily travel benefit (no foreign exchange fees) and those no-forex-fee cards from Chase and American Express also give us miles or points in our preferred airline and/or hotel program.

Speaking of card battles to watch: Amex versus Chase for control of travelers on the fence now that Continental Airlines is leaving the American Express Membership Rewards program. Amex and Delta have come out promoting. Its current offer--a 50 percent bonus plus 25,000 SkyMiles MQMs when you transfer Amex points to Delta--is on the Steals and Deals page. Continental and Chase's offer? Nothing except an E-mail this week from Continental telling you to transfer points to OnePass before the September 30 deadline.

Nobody asked me, but …

Easiest way to stop air traffic controllers from sleeping in the tower? Make them call a control center every hour. If the call doesn't come, send someone over to find out what's wrong. Wouldn't that be cheaper then assigning two to a tower on these overnight shifts at airports with little or no traffic?

Of course, there's another solution: Shut some airports at night. There are 500 commercial airports in this country. Not every one needs to run 24/7. Those are the kind of little sacrifices you make when you're living in a country with $15 trillion in debt.

Here's a doozy from American Airlines' first-quarter earnings report. "Today, American announced plans to reduce fourth quarter capacity by an incremental 1 percent. This is in addition to the capacity reduction already announced and further demonstrates the flexibility provided by its MD-80 fleet. American now intends to retire at least 25 MD-80s in 2011." Anybody know an aircraft so inflexible that it can't be retired? Are there jetliners that have a mind of their own and refuse to retire?

Nobody asked me, but …

Our own Mister Meatball, Maine's Ralph Raffio, has been named best food blogger by the Portland Phoenix. He celebrated by driving back home to Brooklyn to buy a bottle of Fox's u-bet chocolate syrup, which is still made the old-fashioned way (with cane sugar) only during Passover. That's more than 600 miles roundtrip, folks. Then he forgot to stop by my office in the Hudson Valley to make egg creams with the genuine siphon seltzer I pay $3 a bottle to have delivered all the way from Brooklyn. Who's crazier? The food blogger or the business traveler?

I love matzo with the passion only a person who doesn't have to eat it for religious reasons has. So when I grabbed a box off the end cap at the market this week, I rushed home to find an appropriate topping. And there was a nice Easter ham. Ham and matzo for lunch. How traif is that?

I would be remiss if I didn't wish you Happy Easter. And Happy Passover. To celebrate, I offer the funniest New Yorker cartoon ever. If you're observing Akshaya Tritiya, I'm sure there's room for you on the island. In fact, there's room for everyone. Let's just leave our differences at the shore, okay?

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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 © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.