Steals & Deals for Apr. 23-May 7, 2015
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MERIDIANA: After the Tourists Leave, Naples and Sicily Nonstops Get Very Cheap
I won't waste your time trying to explain the Italian carrier Meridiana. (It's got to do with the Aga Khan, Sardinia, a short-lived carrier called Eurofly and some recent buyouts and mergers.) But suffice it to say that Meridiana has been quietly flying for several years nonstop to Naples and Palermo, Sicily. Schedules are limited--once or twice a week from New York/JFK--but fares are terrific, especially in the "shoulder season" of September and October, when most U.S. tourists have disappeared. How good? How about as low $589 roundtrip in coach and $1,569 roundtrip in business class. Service is fine: Coach is coach, of course, and while the business class doesn't have lie-flat beds, meals and wines are good, the deeply reclining seats are comfortable and in-flight entertainment is offered on personal iPads. Information: the MERIDIANA Web site.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE BARGAINS
HAINAN AIRLINES: 14 Percent Off Business Class--and Fares as Low as $3,009 Roundtrip
Hainan Airlines, generally considered the best of the mainland China-based carriers, is knocking 14 percent off the business-class fares from three of its U.S. gateways. For flights from Seattle, Chicago and San Jose, that means roundtrip business-class fares to mainland China and Hong Kong now start as low as $3,009. The offer is valid for travel until the end of the year if you book by May 15. To get the discount, you must book off one specific page at the Hainan Web site.

AVIS: 500 American AAdvantage Miles a Day Until June 15
Mileage offers are drying up everywhere else, but there continue to be relative gold mines in the car-rent arena. The latest from Avis is 500 American AAdvantage miles per day on virtually any rental worldwide. That means as much as 2,500 miles for a five-day rental. (See how I used math there?) Use coupon code #MUAA094 for rentals that begin by June 15. Information: the Avis MORE MILES FOR THE DRIVE page.

ACCOR HOTELS: Summer Deals Worldwide, But It's Très Compliqué
Accor, the French lodging giant, has so many brands and so many properties worldwide that it has to put an explanatory cost-benefit chart on its Web site. So it should come as no surprise that its summer "private sales" are equally convoluted. In many places around the world, the offer is as much as 40 percent off the room rate. It's 50 percent off in South America. It's 30 percent in Australia--if you stay at least two nights. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the offer is up to 25 percent off the room rate and discounted breakfast. And it's a two-nights-for-the-price-of-one deal in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Restrictions, rules and validity dates vary wildly, too. The only common thread: Rooms must be booked by April 30. Bonne chance, mes amis. Information: the PRIVATE SALES page.

NAPLES: Small-Group Luxury Touring--With a Special JoeSentMe Discount
Elifant, a unique combination of archeology and culinary touring, will mount a visit to Naples and the surrounding area from October 5 to 12. As you can see by the Elifant Web site, the itinerary is a wonderful combination of archeological discovery, Michelin-starred dining, museum visits and close-up and personal experiences with two Italy experts. The base of operation is a pair of exquisite, five-star hotels and you'll be met at Naples International Airport (Capodichino) or the Stazione Centrale train station and transferred by a private car. The trip will also visit key surrounding areas such as Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Paestum and Pompeii. The seven-night trip's all-inclusive ground price is $7,800 a person, but JoeSentMe members receive a special price: $6,800 per person based on two people traveling together. That's a $1,000 per person, or almost 15 percent, discount. INFORMATION: E-mail Elifant Tours and identify yourself as a JoeSentMe member.

UNITED AIRLINES: Big Mileage Bonuses for Spring Travel to South America
United Airlines is trying to goose traffic to South America, where traffic has been weak (relatively speaking) for all of the Big Three U.S. carriers. United's tool? Bonus MileagePlus credits. For roundtrip travel by June 30, you can earn up to 15,000 miles for flights to Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, Brazil, or Santiago, Chile. If you're headed to Bogota, Colombia, you can earn as many as 10,000 miles per roundtrip. The lowest fares (in classes V, W, S, T) will earn 5,000 miles per roundtrip. Higher fare classes earn more. Advance registration for the offers is required, of course. Do that here for flights to Brazil and Chile and here for the Colombia promotion. Three's no limit to the number of times you can earn the bonuses during the promotional period.


EUROPE SUMMER BUSINESS CLASS (Updated!)
OVERVIEW: The Fares Sadly Are, Um, Underwhelming
The traditional summer business-class sales to Europe are now in full swing and the best word I can use to describe them is "underwhelming." A decade ago, fares were as little as $1,500 roundtrip and prices above $2,500 were the exception. Now finding fares under $3,000 is the exception. There is a chance that prices will drop a bit in the weeks to come, but there are no guarantees. Here's a carrier-by-carrier rundown. Keep in mind that the three major alliances are probably offering similar fares across all of their member carriers. And don't fret too much about the published "purchase-by" dates. Airlines now routinely extend them a few days or weeks at a time.
   AER LINGUS is offering seats in its new business class for $2,999 roundtrip from New York/JFK to Dublin or Shannon. From Boston, prices start at $3,269 roundtrip. Flights to Dublin from Washington/Dulles or Chicago begin at $3,479 and it's $4,359 from San Francisco. Travel is valid from June 26 to August 29, although there are some blackout dates on San Francisco flights. A Saturday-night stay is required.
   AIR FRANCE has posted a wide range of business-class summer prices for travel to its Paris hub and elsewhere in Europe. To Paris/CDG, for example, fares start at $3,099 roundtrip. But going in business-class to Rome over Paris will cost as little as $3,038. And New York to Barcelona over Paris will cost just $3,023. Tickets must be purchased by April 27 for travel between June 26 and August 29. A Saturday-night or 10-day minimum stay is required.
   ALITALIA is selling business-class seats to Rome starting at $3,039 roundtrip. Seats to Milan/Malpensa start at $3,120 roundtrip. Tickets must be purchased by April 27 and travel is permitted between June 26 and August 29. There is a 10-day minimum stay.
   AIR NEW ZEALAND, which flies nonstop between Los Angeles and London, has priced business-class seats at $3,798 roundtrip. Tickets must be purchased by April 28 for a June 28-August 31 travel window. A Sunday stay is required.
    LA COMPAGNIE may not have the most lavish business class or the most frequency, but the all-business carrier is the only one offering seats this summer for less than $2,000. On its Newark-Paris/CDG run, the roundtrip price is $1,699. On the upcoming Newark-London/Luton flights, the price is $1,798 roundtrip. The airline also offers a further discount if you book a pair of seats. It's $3,090 for two roundtrip to London and $2,990 for two roundtrip to Paris. The "duo" offer is valid for travel June 30-September 3 and must be booked by May 31. The single-seat sale runs until October 31 if you book by October 15.
   LUFTHANSA has put its extensive European network on sale, a bonus considering its nearly two dozen North American gateways. Business-class roundtrips start at $3,059 roundtrip (Houston-Stockholm) and include $3,099 (New York-Frankfurt) and $4,069 (Los Angeles-Vienna). You'll find the same prices on Lufthansa's Star Alliance partners United and Air Canada as well as Lufthansa's subsidiaries Austrian, Brussels and Swiss. Tickets must be purchased by June 30, departures can begin as early as June 26 and returns are permitted until November 29.
   OPENSKIES, British Airways' boutique carrier that flies to Paris/Orly from Newark and New York/Kennedy, is matching La Compagnie's fares (see above). As you may recall, OpenSkies' business class features BA's first-generation fully flat beds. They're a little small compared to today's state-of-the-art beds, but better than the angled flat beds that La Compagnie uses. OpenSkies' in-flight food-and-beverage service is better, too, and you'll earn BA Avios points or American AAdvantage miles, too. So it's your call. What are the prices? As low as $1,699 roundtrip in May, June and July. You'll have to book in advance and stay at least 7 days. The best way to find the lowest rates is to use the "cheapest fare" finder at the BA Web site.
   SCANDINAVIAN AIRLINES continues to set the pace for summer sales to Europe. It's offering deals on all three classes from its current gateways (Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago). Prices from its U.S. gateways start $2,865 in business class. The fares are valid to Copenhagen and Oslo. Onward fares to other cities around Europe are also available. Prices are valid between June 1 and September 7 although business-class flights end August 23. You'll also find these deals via its Star Alliance partners, United Airlines and Air Canada.
   SWISS has business-class seats as low as $3,023 roundtrip between New York/JFK and Geneva and $3,036 to Zurich. Departures are permitted between June 26 and August 29. You'll also find these deals via its Star Alliance partners, United Airlines and Air Canada.
   UNITED AIRLINES doesn't always promote its business-class sales anymore, but the prices are there because of the close cooperation between United and the Lufthansa group of carriers. This summer, though, United is up with its own promotional page and here are a few samples: $2,554 roundtrip between Washington/Dulles and Rome; $3,415 between Houston/Intercontinental and Amsterdam; $3,375 between Chicago/O'Hare and Frankfurt; and $3,063 between Newark and Paris. A Sunday-night stay is required for travel between June 26 and September 3. Tickets must be purchased 60 days in advance.
   VIRGIN ATLANTIC has set business-class fares at $3,246 roundtrip between New York/JFK or Newark and London/Heathrow. There are similar fares from other Virgin U.S. gateways and on Virgin's partner and minority owner Delta Air Lines. Tickets must be purchased by April 27 and there is a 10-day minimum stay. Departures are permitted between June 26 and August 29.


HOTEL POINTS AND PRICE PROMOTIONS
BEST WESTERN: Stay Twice in the Spring, Get $50 Off a Summer Stay
Like far too many hotel chains, Best Western has fallen into a same-old-same-old promotional trap. So if this sounds familiar, you're not crazy. Still, the offer--$50 bucks off a stay--is better than a stick in your eye. To get the kickback, you must stay twice at a Best Western branded property by May 25. You'll then get a $50 gift card that can be used against a future stay before September 7. Only one gift card can be earned during the promotion and advance registration is required. Information: the Best Western REWARDS OFFERS page.

CLUB CARLSON: Triple Gold Points for Spring Stays
Despite some recent devaluations, there remain some excellent values in the Club Carlson program, which covers Radisson, Country Inns and Park hotels. And the spring promotion offers triple points on stays completed by June 28. Carlson will even throw in another 1,000 points if you use its app to book the stays. Advance registration is required, of course. Information: the TRIPLE POINTS TIME page.

HILTON: Double Rubles, er, HHonors Points for the Spring
Hilton's endlessly devalued HHonors program is out with another extremely modest promotion: double HHonors points or double airline miles for stays between March 1 and May 31. You have to choose whether to earn points or miles and the choice can't be changed during the promotional period. (By the way, even in their devalued, ruble-like state, it's better to choose the HHonors points rather than the shriveled amount of miles you could earn.) There is also a huge list of hotels that won't be honoring the promotion and most of them are in the United States. (See the list here.) Advance registration is required, of course. INFORMATION: the DOUBLE YOUR HHONORS page.

HYATT GOLD PASSPORT: 20 Percent Rebate on Award Stays
Frequency programs ain't what they were, but every once in a while we still get a winner. And this is a winner. Hyatt and Chase are offering 20 percent rebates on award prices until July 31. All you need to do is be in Hyatt Gold Passport and have the Chase Hyatt Visa card. When you claim an award, 20 percent of the cost will be redeposited in your Gold Passport account 4-to-6 weeks after your award stay. The only catch? You have to register, which is hardly a catch at all. Information: the GET 20% OFF YOUR POINTS.

IHG HOTELS: Double Airline Miles, Dozens of Choices
If you're a player in the IHG Rewards Club and your preferences are set to miles accrual, then you can earn double miles on each IHG stay until April 30. Among the dozens of participating carriers are American, Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, United and US Airways. The one trick? Double miles begin with the second stay. Information: the LEAVE ROOM IN YOUR LUGGAGE page.

HYATT: Gold Passport Jumps Back Into the Quarterly Bonus Promotion Game
After several years out of quarterly bonus promotion competition, Hyatt Gold Passport has returned to the game for 2015. They're not back with a bang since hotel occupancy is high and Hyatt's competitors aren't setting a particularly high bar (see below). In its Stay More Play More promo, Hyatt has gone the mass-customized route. You may be offered a simple 2,000 bonus points per stay or get some variation that requires a minimum number of stays for 20,000 or more points delivered in a bundle. You'll have to log in to see your particular offer. The promotional period lasts until April 30. You'll also have to register to play. Information: the STAY MORE PLAY MORE page.

GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
AIR CANADA: A Big Points Bonus This Spring on the Long Hauls to Japan
I can't make heads or tails of Air Canada's overlapping and totally convoluted frequent flyer and loyalty programs, but at least this promotion is straight ahead: 7,500 bonus Aeroplan points for each roundtrip (or pair of one-ways) to Japan. The bonus covers virtually any fare category or flight class so long as you register and book by April 30. Travel is permitted until June 30 on flights to Osaka, Tokyo/Narita and Tokyo/Haneda from Vancouver, Calgary or Toronto. INFORMATION: EARN A MOUNTAIN OF MILES page.

VIRGIN AMERICA: Yeah, Well, We Fly From Love Field, Too, You Know...
Southwest Airlines fought a long, lonely fight for decades to open up Dallas/Love Field and has garnered most of the attention now that Love is no longer lost. Besides, Southwest controls 18 of the 20 gates at Love and is a fixture in Dallas. But San Francisco-based Virgin America has been trying to build out service at Love and is now going right after Southwest with a percent-off deal and a two-for-one offer. The All Fares Being Equal, Awesome Wins promotion is as convoluted as the name implies. But, basically, it works like this: You submit the E-mail of as many as three people. If they join Virgin's Elevate frequent flyer program, they receive a coupon valid for 20 percent off a flight to or from Love Field. For giving up your friends' E-mail addresses, you'll get a two-for-one offer on your next trip to/from Love. The promos are not valid for flights on Sunday and travel must occur between April 7 and June 6. There's also a 14-day advance purchase required. If you head hasn't exploded, you can get further details here. By the way, even the promotional Web site is convoluted and tough to follow.

ALASKA AIRLINES: Double Miles in the Fight Against Delta
With Alaska Airlines in a potentially life-and-death struggle with Delta Air Lines for control of the Seattle-Tacoma market, it's time for another underdog promotion. Alaska is offering double miles on key routes from Sea-Tac and Salt Lake City, where Alaska is running a rear-guard action at Delta's hub. The routes won't surprise you since they are mostly to Delta hubs as well as some other highly competitive destinations. Once you register--do it here--you can earn the double miles until May 15.

ALASKA AIRLINES: First Bag Free for Three Months for Cardholders
Alaska Airlines does a terrific job differentiating itself from its legacy competitors. It's also doing a more than credible job fending off Delta Air Lines' full frontal attack on its Seattle/Tacoma hub. But there's one area where Alaska Air lags: Its credit cards with Bank of America don't offer a free first checked bag. But at least for the moment, Alaska and BofA are fighting back. If you have a consumer version of the Visa Signature card, your first bag will be free on flights during February, March and April. The details are here. If you don't have an Alaska card, the acquisition bonus is 25,000 miles and you can apply here.

GROUND TRANSPORT DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
AVIS: Rent a Car, Get Quadruple Train Miles. Makes Sense. Sorta.
If you're one of those business travelers who don't like leaving the road (literally), there's an opportunity: quadruple Amtrak Guest Rewards points when you rent a Budget car. The promotion runs through June 30 if you use coupon number MUAZ012. Information: the KEEP ON ROLLIN' page.

AMTRAK: It's the Same Old Spring Promotion. It's the Same Old Spring Promotion.
Amtrak is nothing if not predictable. Not service, of course, where Amtrak is infuriatingly unpredictable. But promotionally. Once again, Amtrak is starting the spring with its so-called Double Days deal. Basically, you get double Guest Rewards points for every paid ride between March 16 and May 16. Advance registration is required, of course. Information: the DOUBLE DAYS page.

NATIONAL/SOUTHWEST: Quadruple Rapid Rewards Points for Three-Day Rentals
Southwest Airlines and National Car Rental have teamed up to offer an intriguing payoff for rentals if you need a car for three days or more. Instead of the standard 600 Rapid Rewards points, a three-day National rental before May 17 will earn 2,400 points. To score the quadruple points, rent a midsize or larger and use Contract ID code 5030924. Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS 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. And, boy, are these guys convinced they're BFFs: The promotion is available until December 31, 2015. Information: the ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE page.

THRIFTY/UNITED: Three-Day Midsize Rentals Earn 1,000 MileagePlus Miles
Hertz and its Dollar and Thrifty subsidiaries are now the exclusive rental partners of United Airlines. That means if you want to rack up the MileagePlus credits, you'll need to look to those rental brands. 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 June 30 when you use promo code UA31. Rentals must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance. Information: the PARTNER DEALS page.

ENTERPRISE: The Return of the $10-a-Day Weekend Rental
Even as it has rocketed to the top of the car-rental heap, Enterprise continues to do things differently. For starters, all of its locations are company owned, astonishing in this era of franchised everything. It has expanded rapidly at airports, but its roots remain in the we'll-pick-you-up local station. And many of those local stations close on Sunday with short hours on Saturday. The result: a ridiculously wonderful promotion that offers cars as low as $9.99 a weekend day, so long as you return the car on Monday. The $9.99 rate covers economy or compact cars. Larger cars are $14.99-$19.99 a day. The rates include 100 miles per day and are valid for rentals that start on Fridays. Best of all, the promotion is valid at local stations until May 20. Information: Enterprise's WEEKEND SPECIAL page.

TRAVEL PACKAGES TO CONSIDER
ENGLAND: Of Course Downton Abbey Has Its Own Tour Groupies
Here's a dirty little secret: I haven't seen a moment of Downton Abbey, either here in the States or when I've been in Britain. And I don't think I'm missing anything since I'm a fan of the original Forsyte Saga and used to tramp around London visiting all the sites that John Galsworthy mentioned in his novels. But I understand that the Julian Fellowes soaper about a titled British family is appointment viewing for many business travelers. And where appointment television is, location tours are sure to follow. Enter Tours International, a British packager that has crafted a Downton Abbey Tour. From July 27 to 30, tour participants will visit 35 Belgrave Square (the exterior of Lady Rosamund's home), Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) and several other show locations. Also included: lodging in a four-star London hotel; a ride on the London Eye; afternoon tea at Byfleet Manor, which the show uses as the residence of Violet Crawley and other perks. The package price: $1,750 each for a couple or $2,200 for a solo traveler. The tour is limited to 25 travelers. Some meals, but not airfares, are part of the package. Information: the DOWNTON ABBEY page.

SAN FRANCISCO: A Beer Tour, a Wine Reception and a Boutique Room
Kimpton Hotels, the well-regarded boutique hotel operator, was picked off by InterContinental this week for a cool $400+ million, so you might want to check out a Kimpton before it gets homogenized beyond recognition. Choice of the moment: The Hotel Triton just off Union Square in San Francisco. And to drown your sorrows over another independent hotel operator disappearing into the maw of the gigantic global chains, consider the Triton on Tap package. Besides accommodations, the bundle includes a bucket of craft beers on arrival; a pair of beer steins; and a tour of four San Francisco craft breweries. The tour covers Magnolia Dogpatch; Speakeasy Ales & Lagers; ThirstyBear; and Triple Voodoo. Hate beer? Well, there's always Kimpton's signature evening wine reception. To book, call 800-800-1299 and use promo code BEER. Information: the Hotel Triton PROMOTIONS page.

OXFORD: So You Never Got to Be a Rhodes Scholar...
So you never got to be a Rhodes Scholar. Fear not because there is always The Oxford Experience, the summer session at Oxford University that offers dozens of week-long courses to travelers of all ages, social classes, intelligence levels and interests. One-week packages include the tuition and lectures for your course; lodging in Christ Church College dorms; and three meals daily. There are dozens of courses from which to choose, including studies in archeology, history, literature, politics, art and music. Courses are held in the morning, which leaves afternoons free for touring and optional excursions and evening for everything from whisky tasting to lessons in Morris dancing. At the end of the week, you even get a farewell dinner and something like a diploma. It's then up to you whether you want to run for the House of Commons or buy yourself a seat in the House of Lords. (Okay, I made that last part up, except, you know, the buying your way into the House of Lords.) Prices start at 1,260 pounds per person and upgrades to private accommodations with private baths start at 90 pounds each for two traveling together or 180 pounds if you go solo. The weekly sessions take place from July 5 to August 15. My choice for favorite course in the 2015 offerings? The Black Death because it sounds like something from a Monty Python or Black Adder skit. Information: the University of Oxford SUMMER SCHOOLS page.

NOTABLE CREDIT CARD ACQUISITION BONUSES
AMERICAN EXPRESS: A Big Bonus for a Hilton Card With Status
As we've said frequently when discussing the Citi Hilton card (see below), Gold HHonors status is the chain's best. That status is also bundled with the American Express Surpass card. And now that card comes with 80,000 HHonors points, too, when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Now 80,000 points sounds huge, but as any HHonors player will tell you, it's not even enough for some of the best Hilton hotels. Still, the points are better than a stick in the eye and the Gold Status (continental breakfast, free WiFi and minor room upgrades) is worth having. The bonus offer expires on May 5. Information: the EARN 80,000 BONUS POINTS page.

CHASE: Take a United Business Card, Get 50,000 MileagePlus Miles
With the major airlines now essentially locked in to a partner bank, lavish super-duper acquisition bonuses have largely disappeared. But here's a way to pick up a 50,000-mile bonus essentially free. Chase has bumped up the acquisition bonus on the business version of its MileagePlus Explorer card to the 50,000-mile plateau. All you need do is spend $2,000 on the card during the first three months. Chase will even comp the first year's annual fee of $95. The card itself has some good benefits: no foreign exchange fees; first checked bag free; a pair of United Club passes each year, and primary car-rental coverage. Carrying the card also means United waives the expiration date on your MileagePlus balance. Information: the FOR BUSINESS OWNERS page.

CITI: Price of Hilton's 'Best' Elite Level Is $95 Again--With Two Free Weekend Nights
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. You'll also earn two free weekend nights if you spend $2,500 during the first four months you have the card. So here's the best lodging strategy ever: Take the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa, pay the $95 annual fee, get Gold Level, earn and burn the two Hilton freebies--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 EARN TWO 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.

This column is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.