Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He is also the former executive editor of
Frequent Flyer magazine 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 reporter and created JoeSentMe.com in the dark days after 9/11 while stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in Cold Spring, New York.
DECEMBER 26: THE NATION FREEZES UP AND SOUTHWEST MELTS DOWN
A storm that blanketed the nation in the days leading up to Christmas snarled airport traffic around the country. Tens of thousands of flights were cancelled and many more were delayed as flyers scrambled for any mode of alternate transportation. But no carrier was hit harder than Southwest Airlines, which dumped more than 16,000 flights between December 21 and New Year's Eve. Its financial, operational and customer-service struggles created the worst airline meltdown in memory. Millions of travelers were displaced and billions of dollars were lost. Here is how we've covered it.
DECEMBER 15: THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
When all is said and done, travelers live lives of incredible privilege. Even when our lives on the road stink, in the cosmic totality of things, our complaints are astoundingly trivial. Lives of privilege come with a responsibility to remember the reason for the season. Give back love. Give back cash. Or give back miles and points.
DECEMBER 8: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
Much more news than snark in this edition: Hertz pays the price for its callousness; good news and bad about Covid on the road this winter; the continuing idiocy of the TSA and Homeland Security; airline labor relations; the cost (mentally and economically) of airport beer; all the lonely people; and very much more.
NOVEMBER 23: LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! MORE AIRLINE DEALS
Three days after posting a list of new airline deals, I'm back with even more discounts. Some are great (Singapore Air premium economy bargains to Asia), some are simple ($200 off any business class from Aer Lingus), some are confusing (looking at you Air Canada) and some are insulting ($4 off from Breeze Airways). Browse the list as you speak with your family about where to fly next.
NOVEMBER 20: LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! IT'S AIRLINE DEALS
No one is more surprised than your humble scribe that today's column is dedicated to airline deals. Yet if you want to fly for as little as $32 one-way domestically, $2,000 to Western Europe or $3,000 to Asia or Eastern Europe, I've got the lowdown. But hurry: some of these deals end tomorrow.
NOVEMBER 10: A LIFE WELL-TRAVELED, A LIFE WELL-WRITTEN
Martin Deutsch, who created the concept of business travel journalism, passed peacefully this week at the age of 91. I could offer flowery and wondrous details of Martin's long life and his 67-year career in travel journalism. But the best measure of any man is the work and words he left behind.
OCTOBER 29: COMPLAINING TO WIN
According to statistics released this week, complaints against airlines filed with the Department of Transportation are up 320% compared to before the pandemic. But moaning to the feds won't get you much. If you want genuine compensation from airlines, hotels or car rental firms, you must complain directly to the source. Here are a dozen tips to write an effective complaint letter--and get results.
OCTOBER 13: LUGGAGE EXPLAINED. I THINK.
As we get back on the road, we may need new luggage. Here's the fact: Almost all the luggage and the brands you know come from Samsonite (via India) or an anonymous group of Chinese manufacturers. How do you pick the right size, the right material and the right model? Here are my best thoughts--and recommendations from other Joe Sent Me writers.
AUGUST 25: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
Not too many jokes or snark this week, but lots of news about start-up airlines; credit cards and airport clubs; the future of the JetBlue-Spirit deal; shipping bags and carrying on; where to get seat information; the actual owner of your passport; and so much more. Plus, hey, it's good to be back.
MAY 26: YOU'LL GET KICKED ON ROUTE 666 THIS SUMMER
Friends are visiting the vast, worldwide JoeSentMe HQ tomorrow in advance of their first flights on an all-business-class carrier. When they leave for Newark airport on Saturday, I think I'll go to bed, pull the covers up over my head and hide out until September. I am afeared of what's coming. We'll get no kicks on Route 66 this summer. In fact, travel this summer is looking like one long, nasty, dysfunctional ride on Route 666. My best advice: Stay home. Seriously. The road will be irredeemable.
MAY 19: TALES FROM THE ROAD RIGHT NOW
We all love a good travel story, right? We're always steeled for a bad one because we know the rules of the road. This week I offer both. Your mileage will vary, so I leave it to you to decide which are the good stories and which are the bad ones: The club life finally improves at Newark Airport; JetBlue shows that airlines treat each other as badly as they treat us passengers; the long-delayed Elizabeth Line opens next week in London; hotel housekeepers want us to demand daily cleaning service; and insulting airline ads that'll make you scream.
MAY 12: I GOT TRAVEL NEWS. YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE IT.
I've got plenty of important travel news this week, but you may not like it: Delta's small reversal on Sky Club access is a matter of interpretation. The Trump Hotel in Washington closes and signs are removed. EasyJet pulls six seats from its aircraft--but not for your benefit. An ugly incident on Lufthansa reminds us that Anti-Semitism is eternal. Russia's travel industry is shattered by Western sanctions. The dollar may be weak at home, but it is rampaging against foreign currencies.
MAY 5: FARES TOO HIGH? DON'T BOOK 'EM!
The confluence of high energy prices, rebounding passenger demand and lower airline capacity is--you guessed it--outrageously high airfares. You may be shocked at the fares you see. Sadly, I have no silver bullet for battling this run-up in fares that is affecting flights both long haul and short, domestic and international. But I do have some suggestions to manage them. And all of my tips are fairly easy to follow.
APRIL 28: THE POST-PANDEMIC HOTEL SURVIVAL GUIDE
The hotel chains' best customers--shadowy firms that own the buildings and franchise the brand names--want to spend less on breakfast, less on housekeeping, less on elite perks, less on in-room amenities and less on, well, anything and everything. The chains are letting them do it and it causes serious problems for us. But here's how to beat everything from the housekeeping hassle to the coffee conundrum.
APRIL 14: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
I'm telling you about: CDC's continued Covid Kabuki with extended in-flight mask mandate. JetBlue management that can't run its own airline, yet makes a ridiculously expensive bid for Spirit Airlines. InterContinental's overhaul of its frequency program that offers virtually nothing new. If Europe is where you want to go and miles are what you want to use, wait until the fall because summer award prices are insane. More Amtrak delays--and 21 chances to relive (part of) the 20th Century Limited. I bring home the bacon on inflation. And much, much more.
APRIL 7: GETTING WEIRDER ON THE ROAD
If you haven't been on the road lately, you can't imagine how weird it is out there. In just two weeks, I've seen the TSA clear travelers with no body scans, watched an airport agent turn away a slew of travelers for bad documents, eaten an amazing in-flight meal and got my face scanned by a Global Entry kiosk. All this and much more craziness.
MARCH 31: THE SHOCK OF THE NEW ON THE ROAD
Getting on the road again means genuine culture shock. The route map has changed, the airports have changed, frequency programs have changed and hotels have certainly changed. I'll have a lot more to say about surviving post-pandemic hotels in an upcoming column, but let me update you here on some of those other changes. They're Titanic. And remember: Assume nothing. The road you left behind in 2019 is not the road you'll encounter today ... or tomorrow.
MARCH 24: THE CREDIT CARD GODS MUST BE CRAZY
When the pandemic began, I knew my travel perks on the American Express Platinum Card would be worthless. I asked Amex for a $50 reduction on my renewal. They flatly refused. I dropped back to Gold, costing Amex $300 in fees in 2020 and another $300 in 2021. Now Amex wants me to "upgrade" back to Platinum and will give me $750 if I do. Why would Amex incur $1,350 in costs and lost revenue just to deny me a $50 statement credit? Like I said, the credit card gods must be crazy.
MARCH 17: HOW ARE THINGS IN GLOCCA MORRA THIS PARTICULAR DAY?
Forgive me if I ditch the travel talk this week. To be honest, on this particular weekend--with St. Patrick's Day, St. Joseph's Day and the first day of spring--I'd much rather talk saints and songs and singers and sfingi. So, with your kind indulgence, I will do just that. And, along the way, we'll find out how things really are in Glocca Morra.
MARCH 10: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
There are only two jokes in this entire column because these are not joking times. But there's plenty of news about how the Russian invasion of Ukraine is affecting travel, the plunging price of New York hotel real estate, the creepy acts of Hertz, Delta's rapacious SkyMiles program, coming devaluations of major hotel plans--and where business travelers spend on food on the road. But only two jokes.
MARCH 3: THE WAGES OF WAR
Our admiration for the Ukrainian people's unbreakable determination to resist is giving way to an ugly reality: Even as they screw up, the Russians are grinding Ukraine into dust in pursuit of their perverted goals. I don't know where we'll be in a week, but here is what you should know now and maybe missed as this tragedy unfolds on our TV screens. Real-time info on oil prices, airline leases, memes and myths and the "Nazi" rhetoric.
FEBRUARY 24: THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL AFTER UKRAINE
You can't understand the future of travel if you do not understand the past. And it's critically important to understand that this is not 1914. Or 1938. It isn't 2014 or 2016 or 2019, either. The incredibly reckless actions of Russian madman Vladimir Putin will change the future of travel forever, but there is only so much we can learn about that future from what's gone on in the past.
FEBRUARY 17: END OR EXTEND THE IN-FLIGHT MASK MANDATE?
The TSA originally imposed a federal in-flight mask mandate on February 2, 2021. It is now due to expire on March 18. There are all sorts of political, social, legal, cultural and scientific currents impacting any decision to extend or end it. What'll happen? Your guess may be as good as mine, but I do have a guess.
FEBRUARY 10: THE DEVILISH APPEAL OF AWFUL AIRLINES
Frontier and Spirit are merging and the shadowy power behind the combination is Bill Franke. Don't be confused by the nature of his game: Everything wrong with flying today--offensive fees; phony low fares; cramped seats; crappy service; sneering C-suite managers who despise passengers; fake schedules and disregard for reliable operations--is Franke's handiwork. Bill Franke is the devil. But give the devil his due: He has done more to change flying in the last three decades than any human being on the planet.
JANUARY 30: THEY CALL IT A 'SNOW HURRICANE'
The question: What happens when a nasty, nasty storm wallops the East Coast from Florida to Halifax on a Saturday in January? The answer: Only 1,070,691 people flew yesterday, according to the TSA, the lowest one-day total since March 10, 2021.
JANUARY 27: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY ON THE ROAD
A five-city jaunt in recent weeks has reminded me of the good, the bad and the ugly on the road. We may disagree on some details, but we can surely agree that a hotel chain that delivers on elite status is good; a six-year-old "new" business class is bad; and an app that tries to grift you into paying for the very service that the airline requires you to use it for is ugly. And, of course, many more examples.
JANUARY 13: GENOA GENUINELY DOESN'T CARE IF YOU VISIT
I was back in Genoa this week and completely updated my 2017 column on the least-visited places in Italy. The charming city toddles along in its hermetically sealed way, mostly unvisited by the tourist hordes that have picked apart every other square inch of Italy and largely unmentioned in the endless torrent of words showered on each quirky little section of the country.
JANUARY 6: NEW YEAR, OLD AIRLINE WOES
We gave the airlines more than $50 billion in bailouts to keep them flying and fully staffed during the pandemic. They gave us a parade of staff shortages, a year of operational meltdowns and a Christmas present of more than 20,000 flight cancellations. So, yeah, I'd say we need some new airlines. And while I hate being the sad-sack pessimist, I must point out that the history of airline start-ups in the 40+ years since deregulation shows disruptive innovation is nearly impossible.