Steals & Deals for Dec. 18-Jan. 8, 2014
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HAINAN AIRLINES: Beijing, Insanely Cheap in Coach From Seattle and Boston
Boo on long-haul international flights in coach. Then there are long international flights in coach that are so cheap that you have to pay attention. Submitted for your long-haul approval: $680 roundtrip nonstop to Beijing from Seattle and $910 roundtrip nonstop to Beijing from Boston. Both promotions come from Hainan Airlines, probably the best-regarded Chinese carrier. The insanely low fares are available for travel until the end of April with just a 3-day minimum stay. Information: the Hainan OFFERS page.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE BARGAINS
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.

EVA AIR: Winter and Spring Sale for Transpacific Premium Economy
EVA Air, the Taiwan-based carrier, has gotten extremely promotional ever since its entry last year into the Star Alliance. This week's offer: more deals on its transpacific premium economy class. From Los Angeles, prices are now as low as $1,580 roundtrip for midweek travel between January 1 and May 20. From Kennedy Airport in New York, the price is as low as $1,798 roundtrip. Tickets must be purchased by December 31. Information The EVA Air PROMOTIONS page.

LA COMPAGNIE: Still Desperate for Flyers, Still Discounting Deeply
The new kid on the New York-Paris block, La Compagnie, continues to look for traction in the market using the tried-and-true trick of ridiculously low business-class fares. Whether the peculiar start-up survives is an open question, but if you need some Paris in your life or work soon, why not take advantage of La Compagnie's desperation? It's selling seats as low as $1,598 roundtrip between Newark and Paris/CDG. You can travel through February 28 if you book by February 15. Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS 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.


GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
INDIA: Stagnant Economy Means Outstanding Travel Bargains
Years of economic malaise haven't just meant that India's Congress Party got an unprecedented shellacking in this spring's elections, it also means that airlines, who've frantically expanded on the subcontinent, are promoting heavily.
    Emirates, for example, is promising as much as 60 percent off business-class fares until the end of March so long as you book 14 days in advance and lock in tickets before March 2. Fares start as low as $4,278 roundtrip from Boston and include $4,699 from Washington/Dulles, $4,762 from New York/JFK, $4,768 from Chicago and $5,062 from Los Angeles. You must change planes in Dubai, of course, but the sale is common rates for all Emirates destinations in India, including Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai. There are no blackout dates, but the lowest fares require a 14-day minimum stay.
    If you're willing to fly via Frankfurt or Munich, Lufthansa is offering midweek coach fares as low as $769 roundtrip. That price applies to New York-Chennai flights and other fares include $849 roundtrip (Boston-Mumbai), $899 (Los Angeles-Chennai), $999 (New York-Mumbai) and $789 (Houston-Delhi). Tickets must be purchased by January 6, but travel can begin as early as January 5 and returns can be as late as July 30. There is a Saturday stay requirement.
   Jet Airways, the Indian carrier that operates via a hub in Brussels, is offering notable coach fares from its Newark gateway. Prices are as low as $876 roundtrip to Mumbai and $909 to Delhi if you book by January 7. Travel is permitted between December 30 and May 15. Jet is also promoting extraordinary business-class fares from its Toronto gateway. Prices are as low as C$3,664 roundtrip to Bengaluru, C$3,690 to Mumbai and C$3,724 to Delhi. The travel window is open until November 15 with very few restrictions.

DELTA AIR LINES: Cheap Domestic Updates for 90 Days
Business travel slows dramatically between mid-November and early March, so Delta is trying to lure you up from coach with cheap first-class upgrades. Of course, that might not be good news if you're hoping for an elite-status upgrade. But that is what it is and it shouldn't surprise you that Delta, like United before it, is trying to sell stuff to others that it may have promised to you free. Upgrade prices start at $49 one-way and are valid between November 22 and February 17. There are, of course, notable restrictions: Upgrades won't be for sale on Delta's transcontinental nonstops between New York and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. And you can't upgrade off coach tickets purchased in the lowest-priced (E or V) buckets or in straight Y, which has its own upgrade regimen. Information: the FIRST CLASS UPGRADE page.

Oneworld: Big AAdvantage Bonuses to Fly Up Front to Europe This Season
Several Oneworld Alliance carriers--American, US Airways, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair and OpenSkies--really want you to fly to Europe in business- or first-class this fall. The offer: The first roundtrip earns 20,000 American AAdvantage miles. The second earns 40,000 miles and the third earns 65,000 miles. That's a cool 125,000 miles, enough for an off-peak business-class ticket to Europe, for three roundtrips. Advance registration is required (use promo code USF14) and the promotional period extends until January 10. Do check the valid fare codes before you book, however. Information: the FLY TO EUROPE page.

Europe: Back to the Future (in Business Class) on Icelandair
Icelandair is launching seasonal service between Portland, Oregon, and Reykjavik next year. That will be Icelandair's 14th North American nonstop route and they connect at Reykjavik with service to 20 European cities. Those tidbits might not normally matter to business travelers, but it may be time to go back to the future. Icelandair was for decades popular with bargain hunters who scored low connecting fares via Reykjavik. Now Icelandair has quietly evolved into a carrier that offers low business-class fares to Europe, too. As long as you make that Reykjavik connection, business-class fares from East Coast cities to Icelandair's European destinations are as low as $2,200 roundtrip. And that's without much of an advance purchase or minimum-stay requirement. (Fares are higher from Midwest or Pacific Coast cities and to Icelandair destinations in Southern Europe.) Another nice perk: Business-class fares include a free layover in Reykjavik. But there is a major caveat: Business class on Icelandair's fleet of Boeing 757s isn't great. There are no flat beds and seats, configured 2x2, offer just 40 inches of legroom. Another consideration: Icelandair's Saga Club points aren't flexible. The carrier no longer partners with a U.S. carrier and only permits redemptions on Icelandair, Finnair or with Hilton or Radisson hotels. Still, when you need a last-minute ride to Europe, can't justify walk-up business fares on other carriers and want to avoid coach, check Icelandair.

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.

HOTEL BARGAINS WORTH NOTING
HYATT: The 10 Percent Solution Atop Any Deal You Can Cut
Here's the best hotel hack I know: Shop around for the best nightly rate at Hyatt hotels you can find, book it, then get 10 percent more off when you pay with Hyatt gift cards. How does that work? Hyatt is selling gift cards at 10 percent off their face value until December 31. Sweet and simple, right? Just remember to enter promo code GPGIFT14 when you buy at the GIFT CARDS page.

GROUND TRANSPORT DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
AVIS: Quadruple American AAdvantage Miles Worldwide Until February 28
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 quadruple American AAdvantage miles on virtually any rental worldwide. Use coupon code #MUAA088 for rentals before February 28. Information: the Avis WINDOW SEAT'S OPEN 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.

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.

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.

TRAVEL PACKAGES TO CONSIDER
ROME: Archeology, Food, Great Guides--and 10 Percent Off for Members
As you can see by the Elifant Tours Web site, the company's Rome tour from April 13-20 is a fine combination of archeological discovery, delightful dining, museum visits and personal discovery. The focus is on small-group, top-drawer experiences. Your base of operation will be an exquisite five-star hotel in the heart of Rome that you can't get with frequent stay points. You'll be met at Rome/Fiumicino airport (or train station) by a private car to whisk you to the hotel. And the guides, Maureen Fant and Elizabeth Bartman, have put together a wonderful series of site visits, private tours, food and wine tastings and extras in Rome and surrounding areas such as Ostia and the Pontina. The all-inclusive price is $6,900 a person, but Elifant is extending a 10 percent discount exclusively to JoeSentMe members. If you want to join the small group at the discount, contact Maureen and Elizabeth at Elifanttours@gmail.com and identify yourself as a JoeSentMe member.

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
BARCLAYS/US AIRWAYS: Fastest, Cheapest Way to Get (Even More) AAdvantage Miles
With the merger of the US Airways Dividend Miles program into American AAdvantage due in the first half of next year, many flyers are thinking of exotic ways to earn miles fast. But sometimes the simple and direct way is the fastest, richest route. Case in point: The Barclaycard US Airways Premier World MasterCard. Once the merger is complete, Barclays won't be able to issue AAdvantage cards, so now is the time to act. For the price of the $89 annual fee, you'll now earn 50,000 US Airways Dividend Miles after your first purchase. (Yup, you read that right, no required spending. And, yup, that's up from 40,000 miles just a few weeks ago.) And, of course, those Dividend Miles will convert to AAdvantage miles on a 1:1 basis when the two plans merge. Information: the WORLD GOT BIGGER 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 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 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.