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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR SEPTEMBER 18-30, 2014
Finnair: Russia Before the Winter--and Cheap Business Class, Too
There are two ways of looking at Finnair's extraordinarily cheap business-class fares to Russia this fall. There's no way you're flying to Russia with economic sanctions in place and relations at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Or: If the Finns can make peace with their traditional enemies and former masters, why not us? Whatever you decide, Finnair still offers business-class roundtrips as low as $1,969 to four Russian cities: Moscow, Kazan, Samara and Nizhny Novgorod. The travel period is October 1 to December 15 (and then again between January 12 and March 31) if you purchase tickets by September 30. The minimum stay is five days. Online bookings don't allow a stopover at Finnair's Helsinki hub, but a free Helsinki stop can be arranged if you purchase your seats via telephone. Information: the Finnair OFFERS page.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL BARGAINS
Air New Zealand: One More Shot at Rarotonga at Super-Low Fares
Air New Zealand promoted exceptionally cheap business-class fares to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands all summer using its weekly nonstop flight from Los Angeles. It's bringing back the deal for one more travel period (November 9-16) if you book by September 24. The price: $1,999 roundtrip. You should know that the LAX-Rarotonga flights still use Air New Zealand's cradle-seat business class, not its newest flat-bed product. But for a week of sun, really cheap, that's hardly a gigantic sacrifice. Information: the Air New Zealand SPECIAL OFFER page.

Accor: Third Night Free If You Book Two in Europe--Kinda, Sorta, Maybe
Accor, the global lodging giant based in France, is holding what looks like a simple sale: Book two nights in one of its European properties and get the third night free. But, of course, nothing is ever so simple. The promotion is actually 33 percent off the nightly rate of a three-night stay--and the nightly rate being discounted is the "unrestricted" price. In other words, you may do better poking around looking for better deals with other promotional rates. Moreover, the deal requires a five-night advance purchase and prepayment. The travel window is wide enough--until December 14 at most properties--but you must book by October 19 and be a member of Le Club, Accor's frequency program. Still, despite all the hoops, there might be a good deal that meets your needs at one of the Accor properties. Information: Accor's 3=2 page.

Hilton HHonors: The Price of Its 'Best' Elite Level Is $95 Again
Hilton has brutally devalued the Hilton HHonors program and its most-elite level, Diamond, is hardly better than HHonors Gold, which normally requires 20 stays or 40 nights a year. Gold Elite offers free Internet, room upgrades and continental breakfast. It's arguably Hilton's best elite level. And guess what: You don't even have to stay at Hilton even once to achieve its HHonors Gold. The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa card includes Gold Level HHonors status and the annual fee is just $95 a year. So here's the best lodging strategy ever: Take the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa, pay the $95 annual fee, get Gold Level--and then stay at Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, Carlson or other hotels so you can earn elite status there. Book a Hilton Family property only when there are no other options. You'll still get Gold Level treatment and all of your other paid stays will be earning elite status elsewhere. Information: the ENJOY TWO page.


GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
Airlines: ICYMI, the End-of-Year Business Class Sales to Europe
The Star Alliance and SkyTeam carriers have posted their Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year business-class sales to Europe. There are complete details, prices and analysis here.

China Southern: This Sounds Fair: 10-15 Percent Off Fares to China
China Southern, a SkyTeam Alliance member, launched nonstops between New York/Kennedy and Guangzhou in June and now it has a near-perfect promotional opportunity: the 116th Canton Fair. The gigantic export-import show runs from October 15 to November 4 and China Southern is offering 15 percent off first- and business-class fares and 10 percent off premium-economy tickets. In typical Chinese fashion, however, there's bureaucracy involved: You have to register and then get an appropriate discount code after you have been "approved." Once you get the code, it's good for the discount on roundtrip flights from New York between October 12 and November 3. Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS page.

Air Canada: 50 Percent Aeroplan Bonus for Flights When You Book Ahead
Air Canada flyers willing to book and pay for tickets by October 31 can earn a 50 percent bonus for flights between October 1 and April 30. To get the bonus, you need to register in advance and apply your Aeroplan number to all reservations. The bonus is valid on Air Canada, Air Canada Express and Air Canada Rouge flights. Information: the 50 PERCENT MORE page.

Paris: A Temporary Oasis for Cheap Premium-Class Fares
The New York-Milan route may be the new transatlantic champion of cheap coach fares, but New York-Paris is now the star for premium-class bargains. Temporarily. After all, how long does anyone expect La Compagnie to survive in competition with British Airways' OpenSkies boutique carrier and all of the mainline carriers? But while it lasts, take advantage. After its introductory offer of two tickets for $2,014 roundtrip, all-business-class La Compagnie is now selling a two-fer between Newark and Paris/CDG for $2,499 roundtrip. And if you're going it alone, it's as low as $1,499 roundtrip. Meanwhile, OpenSkies is selling seats in its superlative premium-economy cabin between Paris/Orly and either New York/Kennedy or Newark for as little as $1,299 roundtrip. And it has posted a Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year sale for flatbed seats in business class for only $2,484 roundtrip. To examine the La Compagnie offers, surf here. For the OpenSkies premium-economy deal, surf here. And the business-class deal for the holiday is explained here.

US Airways: Buy Miles Cheap While They Last. But Use Them Fast, Too.
No one knows how long the US Airways Dividend Miles program will last before it is replaced by or subsumed into American AAdvantage. But if you can claim a US Airways award quickly, you can pick up as many as 1000,000 Dividend Miles for as little as $1,881. That essentially equals some off-peak business-class awards to Europe or South America. The deal is available as a bonus award for mileage purchases until September 30. Information: the BUY MILES page.

British Airways: Discounts Up to $400 Roundtrip for AARP Members
British Airways and AARP have run this promotion before and it's worth claiming again. As an AARP member, you'll receive $65 off a roundtrip coach seat, $130 on premium-economy fares and $400 on business or first-class flights. The deal is valid for flights until March 31 when you book by October 14. Tickets need to be booked at a special AARP link at the BA Web site. Information: the EXCLUSIVE AARP OFFERS page.

EVA Air: Transpacific Premium-Economy Deals From JFK or LAX
Taiwan-based EVA Airways has heavily promoted its premium-economy class fares from North America this year and that's good news. The bad news: The prices and restrictions are tricky. And the fares only include premium-economy transport on transpacific flights, not connections from Taipei to other Asian destinations. From New York/JFK, sample prices start at $1,798 roundtrip to Taipei and $1,903 to Macau. From Los Angeles, sample prices start at $1,610 roundtrip to Taipei and $1,700 to Manila. Fares are available through December 11, but tickets must be purchased at the EVA Web site by September 30.

LAN: The Crazy-Quilt South America Business-Class Sale Is Back Again
With premium-class flight deals to South America so rare, we should continue to be thankful for the bargains from LAN, the pan-Latin powerhouse. Yes, the deals are scattershot, with varying restrictions, several infuriating regulations and odd travel windows. But you'll find some fabulous bargains (although not from Los Angeles, where prices seem insane). Best current fares of note from New York: $999 roundtrip from Kennedy to Guayaquil or Quito, Ecuador. (Quito, by the way, is the gateway to the Galapagos Islands.) From Miami, it's $699 roundtrip to Bogota and $1,199 to Lima. By the way, LAN is a Oneworld Alliance member. Information: the PREMIUM BUSINESS page.

Emirates: India's Stagnant Economy Means Business-Class Bargains
Years of economic malaise haven't just meant that India's Congress Party got an unprecedented shellacking in recent elections, it also means that airlines, who've frantically expanded on the subcontinent, are promoting heavily. Emirates, for example, is promising as much as 50 percent off business-class fares through the end of the year so long as you book 14 days in advance and lock in tickets before November 30. Fares start as low as $4,580 roundtrip from Dallas/Fort Worth and include $4,701 from Boston and $5,081 from Los Angeles or San Francisco. The deals are for all Emirates gateways in the United States to all of its destinations in India, including Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi. Hyderabad and Chennai. There are no blackout dates, but the lowest fares require a seven-day minimum stay. Information: the UNMISSABLE BUSINESS CLASS page.

Virgin America: Please Join Our Frequent Flyer Program
When there was real competition in the airline industry, there was real competition in frequent flyer plans, too. There used to be bonuses for things like joining and bonus credit for taking your first flight. Those have long passed from the scene, but Virgin America is reviving them in hopes of getting attention from flyers "trapped in a dysfunctional relationship" with another carrier. If you join Virgin's Elevate plan, you'll get a 500-point bonus for signing up and 2,500 to 7,500 points (depending on class) after your first flight. The promotion lasts until December 31. Information: the LOYALTY MADE ME DO IT page.

American Airlines: Asia Bonuses Just Like Our Europe Bonuses
American Airlines' small (and newish) slate of flights to Asia--Chicago to Shanghai and Dallas/Fort Worth to Hong Kong and Shanghai--aren't profitable. So American has adopted the formula it uses in Europe (see below): Ply you with miles in hopes of getting you to fly. The structure is the same, too. Fly in discounted coach and earn a bonus of 5,000 AAdvantage miles for a roundtrip. Fly higher-priced coach and get a 10,000-mile roundtrip bonus. Fly first or business class and earn 25,000 miles roundtrip. The promotion is available through December 6 and requires advance registration. You can earn as many as 100,000 points during the promotional period. Information: the EARN UP TO 100,000 BONUS MILES page.

HOTEL BARGAINS WORTH NOTING
Starwood Preferred Guest: Double and Triple Points, Then Repeat
It says a lot about this season's wan hotel promotions that they all seem familiar (see below). That's because they've all been done before, give or take a rule or two. The new Starwood Preferred Guest offer is a repeat, too: double Starpoints for stays of two nights or longer and triple Starpoints for weekend stays. The promotion requires registration by October 31, but you can earn for stays from September 15 to December 15. And note that the definition of a weekend stay varies depending on region. One unhappy surprise: There are a large number of hotels opting out of this promotion. See the full list here. Information: the THAT'S MORE LIKE IT page.

Club Carlson: 3,000-Point Bonuses for Booking by App
You have to assume that Club Carlson really wants you to download and use its app. Why? Once you download it, you'll earn 3,000 bonus Gold Points for every booking you make via the app until November 16. Versions are available for both iPhone and Android phones. One caveat: You'll only earn the bonus for stays that are completed by November 16. Information: the DOWNLOAD. BOOK. EARN. page.

IHG Rewards Club: Two Free Nights or 50,000 Points--or Something Like It
IHG Rewards, which covers InterContinental Hotels, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and several other brands, is overly enamored of convoluted, mass-customized promotions. The current one is called Into the Nights and you can earn bonuses in a number of ways: nights stayed, use of the mobile app, staying weekends, staying in a series of IHG brands, taking surveys or using the Chase-affiliated credit card. InterContinental is publicly promising two free nights at any of its properties or as many as 50,000 points, although IHG Rewards members report richer offers are available, too. The promotion lasts until December 31. What you'll need to do and what you can earn is revealed only when you register here.

Marriott Rewards: The MegaBonus Was Never Mega, Now It's a MiniBonus
The endlessly repeated Megabonus from Marriott Rewards was never particularly "mega"--not to mention that Marriott chipped away at its value in recent years. But the latest iteration is downright mini. Instead of a free night after two stays at a lower-priced hotel (once Category 1-5, lately Category 1-4), the bonus structure this time has been vastly devalued. The published offer this time is double points per stay and only beginning on the second stay during the September 15 to January 15 promotional period. The amount of bonus points is capped at 25,000 and advance registration is required by November 15. As usual with MegaBonus, you may be offered an unpublished deal. (Check your promo page.) We know that some members have been offered as many as 55,000 points. Information: the MEGABONUS page.

Hyatt: Introductory Rate in Jamaica--and Don't Call Us Ritzy
Hyatt Hotels is carving up the former Ritz-Carlton Rose Hill in Montego Bay and turning the Jamaican resort into two all-inclusive properties: the family-friendly Ziva and the couples-only Zilara. Both are due to open on November 1. To goose occupancy at the Ziva property, Hyatt is offering 50 percent off the normal rate for the first year if you book quickly. The promotion is valid from November 1, 2014, until December 1, 2015 when you book by October 31, 2014. There are blackout dates and a three-day minimum stay during the upcoming Christmas holiday. Information: the OFFERS page.

Hilton HHonors: A One-in-Three Chance You Can't Have This Promotion
Hilton HHonors has been so devalued that even its promotions aren't reliable and a slew of the chain's own franchises don't want to play. The new points deal offers double points on weekdays and triple points on weekends between August 1 and October 31. But more than 1,300 Hilton Family properties, the vast majority of them in the United States, won't even honor the promotion. You can see the astonishing list of opt-outs here. If you want to play in the hobbled promotion, you must register in advance here.

GROUND TRANSPORTATION DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
Amtrak: Double Points on Train Travel Before Thanksgiving
Okay, let's be realistic. This offer will appeal almost exclusively to business travelers in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington. But all Amtrak riders can score double Guest Rewards points for rides until November 14. All you need to do is register in advance. The one caveat: You can only earn double points for two one-way trips per day. Information: the DOUBLE DAYS page.

Avis: As Many as 5,000 AAdvantage Miles for Rentals in September
In a world turned upside down--in other words, when the fools at American Airlines decide to charge a bag fee to full-fare flyers and give a free bag to buyers of cheaper fares--I'm no longer surprised that rental cars are again a potent force for racking up frequent flyer miles. Which explains why Avis is offering as many as 5,000 AAdvantage miles until September 30. One- or two-day rentals generate 1,500 miles. You'll get 3,000 miles for three- or four-day rentals. Rentals of five or more days get the 5,000 miles. Use promotional code MUAA004. Information: the MAKE A STATEMENT page.

National Car Rental: The Best Car-Rental Bonus Ever Is Back Again
Sometimes the old classics are the best and that's certainly true for National's OneTwoFREE promotion. Two rentals of a midsize car by January 31 earn a free rental night that you can use by June 15. As usual, National has thrown in a few wrinkles to pique your continued interest. You'll get credit for any size rental in Mexico, referring a friend who rents and some credit for downloading the National app and other social-media kinds of things. You can earn as many as 50 free rental days during the promotion. Advance registration and membership in the National Emerald Aisle program is required. Information: the ONETWOFREE page.

American Airlines/National Car: 200 Miles a Day for Rentals
Let's be honest: 200 miles won't change your life. But given how few miles car rentals generate and how frequently we rent, it's probably not wise to sneeze at the new promotion from American Airlines and National Car Rental. You'll earn 200 miles a day when renting from any participating National location in the United States until December 31. You must rent a compact through full-size vehicle. Information: the EARN 200 MILES page.

Enterprise: Triple Amtrak Guest Reward Points for Car Rentals
Enterprise Rent-A-Car's free-pickup service is one of the few ways to bridge the annoying gap between an Amtrak train station and a car-rental lot. Now Enterprise and Amtrak are teaming up for a triple-point promotion, too. When you use booking code AMGRTRP and book through Enterprise, you'll earn triple Amtrak Guest Rewards points. That means 150 points per day. Information: the Earn Triple Amtrak page.

Avis/Carlson: 9,000 Club Carlson Points for Three-Day Rentals
Car rentals are suddenly a valuable source of points and miles again thanks to the proprietary bonus deals that the rental chains are cutting with airlines and hotel chains. Avis, for example, has once again teamed with Club Carlson, the loyalty program of Radisson and Country Inns. The offer: three-day rentals from most airport locations earn 9,000 bonus points. Use code MUHA021. The promotion is available until December 31. Information: the ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE page.

Thrifty: Three-Day Midsize Rentals Earn 1,000 MileagePlus Miles
After more than a decade of sitting out the frequent flyer game, the car-rental firms seem to be returning to the mileage fray. The latest deal: 1,000 United MileagePlus miles from Thrifty Car Rental if you rent a midsize or larger vehicle for three days or longer. The deal is available until December 31 when you use promo code UA31. Information: the PARTNER DEALS page.

NOTABLE CREDIT CARD ACQUISITION BONUSES
Marriott Rewards: 70,000-Point Acquisition Bonus, Low Spend Requirement
Got a thousand dollars in credit-card spend available? Then grab a Marriott Rewards Premier card from Chase. Taking the card will earn you a 70,000-point acquisition bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months. The card has no annual fee in the first year and is bundled with a free night in a Category 1-4 Marriott property and enough elite credit for Silver status in Marriott Rewards. Information: the EARN 70,000 BONUS POINTS page.

Chase: How to Get the $395-a-Year United Club Card for Free for a Year
The Chase United Club Card does well both as a must-carry credit card for perks (it includes a membership in the United Club) and one that earns lots of frequent travel points (1.5 miles per dollar spent). If the card has a drawback--besides being shackled to United Airlines, of course--it's the $395-a-year annual fee. But there is a way get the fee waived in the first year. It's pretty simple: Go into a Chase bank branch and apply for the card there. Branch bankers are empowered to waive the fee when you apply for the card in person.

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THE FINE PRINT Nobody pays their way onto this page. I post the deals solely for the benefit of members based on my perception of what is a great price or a terrific value. The prices do not include applicable taxes unless specifically stated. Assume there are weird restrictions and caveats I never thought to ask about. Unless otherwise stated, you should be able to book these deals at any travel agency or directly from the listed travel supplier. Never assume that these prices (or any price listed publicly) are the lowest that are available. You should always ask if thereís a cheaper price or better deal. Virtually everything is capacity controlled or subject to blackout days, based on availability and subject to abrupt change whenever they think they can squeeze us for a few extra bucks. Please do not suspend your inbred skepticism. Donít blame me if these deals are sold out when you try to book at these prices, but do let me know if you think that we're being scammed. It's important to expose the fakers and phonies. -- Joe Brancatelli

This column is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.