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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR LATE MAY, 2013
Hotels: We Want to Give You $50 Back for Stays
Earlier this month, Best Western launched a 3-stay/$50 cash back promotion (see below) designed to last about a month. Now two other chains--Choice Hotels and InterContinental--have their own versions. InterContinental will give you a $50 prepaid MasterCard when you stay two consecutive weekend nights at select properties flying the flags of its many brands. You can earn as many as four $50 cards between May 31 and September 1 when you pay with a MasterCard. The promotion does require advance registration (do it here) and, annoyingly, also requires you to mail in rebate forms. Over at Choice Hotels, the parent company of the clutch of mostly budget brands, the offer is enough bonus points in Choice Privileges program to claim a $50 gift card when you complete two stays before August 21. You have to register in advance (do it here), but there's no limit on the number of gift cards you can earn. There are some other restrictions, however, so read the conditions carefully.
SUMMER PREMIUM-CLASS SALES TO EUROPE
Aer Lingus: Deep-Discount Summer Business-Class to Dublin and Europe
With the paucity of good business-class prices to Europe this summer, it's nice to know that Aer Lingus is taking a noble whack at it. Besides comparatively gentle prices to Dublin ($2,299 roundtrip from Boston or New York/JFK and $2,559 from Chicago), Aer Lingus is also dealing on onward flights to Europe. The only catch: the Irish airline only operates all-coach service from Dublin. From New York/JFK or Boston, there's connecting service to more than two dozen cities for either $2,499 or $2,699 roundtrip. From Chicago, the prices run from $2,759 to $2,959 roundtrip. The travel period is generous (June 1-August 31) and the minimum stay is just five days. Tickets must be purchased by May 29, which is an extension of the original deadline. Information: the Business Class Sale page.
Air France: A Summer Sale in Business and Premium Economy Classes
Air France is coming late to the summer-sale game, but it has extended its traditional business-class promo to premium-economy service as well. The premium-economy sale to Paris starts at $1,780 roundtrip (from Boston) and includes $2,199 (Minneapolis) and $2,290 (San Francisco). The business-class deals include $2,881 roundtrip (New York-Paris), $3,275 (Houston-Paris) and $3,977 (Los Angeles-Paris). There are also connecting deals to cities such as Madrid ($3,215 from Miami) and Berlin ($3,287 from Chicago). The premium-economy sale is available for travel from July 1 through August 25 when you purchase tickets by May 8. A Saturday-night stay is required. The business-class sale is available for travel from June 28 to August 31 for departures with returns permitted until September 5. Tickets must be purchased by July 2 with a 28-day advance purchase and 10-day minimum stay.
Swiss: Our Summer Sale Has Two Flavors, First and Business Class
Just as its parent company Lufthansa now does, Swiss International offers business- and first-class sales for summer travel to Europe. The roundtrip fares start at $2,810 (business class from New York to Zurich or Basel) and include $3,010 from Boston and $3,610 from San Francisco. In first class, it's $6,096 roundtrip from New York to Vienna and $6,056 to Rome. From Miami in first, it's $7,359 roundtrip to Geneva and $6,545 to Prague. From Los Angeles in first class, it's $7,042 roundtrip to Barcelona and $7,107 to Paris. Travel is available from June 28 to August 31. Tickets must be purchased by July 2; a 60-day advance purchase is required. Information: the Swiss deals page.
Italy: Naples and Palermo in Business Class, Cheap. The Airline? Well...
Cheap airfares to Italy in summer are generally hard gets. Business-class bargains during the heaviest travel season are even harder to come by. But if you're willing to work with the limited amount of flights and are headed to Southern Italy, you can fly nonstop from New York/Kennedy to either Naples or Palermo for just $2,620 roundtrip this summer. The airline? Well, that takes a little explaining. Until a few years ago, an airline called Eurofly offered the flights (and service to Rome, too). But Eurofly was purchased by Meridiana, a carrier founded 50 years ago as Alisarda by the Aga Khan. That company is now publicly traded and called Meridiana fly. Officially, Meridiana fly offers the flights, but the service is now operated by its charter carrier called Air Italy. Air Italy's business class doesn't offer lie-flat beds, but, then again, neither do most flights operated by major carriers serving Italy. During summer, Air Italy flies the routes twice-weekly with Boeing 767s configured with 12 business-class seats equipped with at-seat iPads. Information: the Meridiana fly Web site.
Alitalia: Our Summer Business-Class Sale Ain't Magnifico
With so many flights to Italy cut from the schedule, it's no surprise that the summer business-class prices wouldn't be great. So buckle up because getting into Alitalia's Magnifica Class will be molto caro (very expensive) even with summer-sale prices. New York to Milan is $2,848 roundtrip with Rome at $2,854. Add $500 roundtrip for Boston to Rome and $700 for Miami to Rome. Los Angeles to Rome is $3,954. The one bit of good news: If you're headed beyond Rome, some of the connecting fares to Florence, Naples, Catania or Verona are actually cheaper than the nonstop fare into Rome. (Don't try to understand it 'cause it's just how the Italians think...) The travel period is for departures between June 28 and August 31. Returns must be completed by September 5. Tickets must be purchased by July 2 with a 60-day advance purchase.
United Airlines: Oh, for the Glory Days of the CO Summer Sale
Among the other things that haven't been fun since the United-Continental merger is the near-disappearance of the legendary Continental Airlines seasonal business-class sales to Europe. The spring, summer and end-of-year deals were among the best value for flyers looking to sit up front for a holiday or a well-planned business trip. This year, it seems as if UA is grudgingly offering up a summer business-class sale to Europe. It isn't promoting it and the fares aren't a patch on the good old days, but at least it's something. This year's sale is valid for departures between June 28 and August 31; returns must be completed by September 5. There's a 60-day advance purchase and a Sunday-stay requirement. (Summer-sale fares are in P class this year as opposed to the former Z classification.) The best prices I've found: Newark-London for $2,809 roundtrip; Newark-Belfast for $2,789 with Dublin a few bucks more; Newark-Rome for $2,804; and Newark-Paris for $2,880. Fares from United's Washington/Dulles hub seem about $400 above the Newark prices. From Chicago/O'Hare, it's $2,907 to London and $2,949 to Dublin. Tickets must be purchased by July 2.
Lufthansa: A First-Class Europe Fare Sale for Summer Travel
Lufthansa is cutting back the number of long-haul aircraft with first-class cabins and has trimmed the number of seats in first to eight per plane. But that still leaves a lot of first-class seats to sell. The airline is apparently about to launch a year-round "leisure first" price category to help fill them. In the meantime, however, Lufthansa has launched a summer first-class sale to Europe. And given how expensive summer business-class sales have become, these prices look quite attractive. Samples: New York-Brussels for $4,609 roundtrip; Boston-Istanbul for $6,069; San Francisco-Barcelona for $5,459; Los Angeles-Copenhagen for $6,229; and Charlotte to Rome or Milan for $6,539. The sale is valid for departures between June 28 and August 31. Returns must be completed by September 5. A 60-day advance purchase and a Saturday-night stay are required. Tickets must be purchased by July 2 and similar fares may also be available on Lufthansa's Star Alliance partners. Information: the Fly First Class page.
SAS: The First Summer Business-Class Sale to Europe
Not only is SAS the first carrier to break its business-class summer sale to Europe, it's also the first airline to break the bad news: 2013 prices are higher. Flights from Newark to Scandinavia (Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo) and Helsinki see the biggest jump: $2,599 roundtrip--or about $350 more than last year. At $2,599 roundtrip from Chicago or Washington, too, that fare represents a more modest $150 premium over last year. Then there's San Francisco, a new gateway for SAS. The $2,799 price there is attractive since West Coast flights to Europe on other carriers have run about $3,000 upfront in recent summers. Not surprisingly, these summer fares require a Saturday-night stay and the travel window is trimmed to June 17 to September 2. As usual for SAS, there's no purchase-by date, a perk competitors rarely match. Information: Summer Sale page.
HOTEL FREQUENT-GUEST PROMOTIONS TO CONSIDER
Club Carlson: 10,000 Bonus Points for Two-Night Stays
Club Carlson, the frequent-guest program of Radisson, Country Inns and Park Inn, is shooting up at bigger, more established plans run by better-known hotel chains. Hence a fairly liberal reward chart and very attractive bonus promotions. The latest: 10,000 bonus points for two-night stays until July 21. Pretty sweet considering that free nights in basic Carlson hotels start at 9,000 points a night. Registration is required, of course. Information: the Two Nights 10,000 Points page.
Marriott Rewards: The 'Unexpected' Promotion That's Totally Predictable
Two or three times a year, Marriott Rewards runs a promotion called MegaBonus. For late spring and summer, however, they want you to think they've switched up the game and have announced something called The Unexpected Bonus. But there's nothing unexpected about the promotion at all. Except for the name change, it's the same MegaBonus that Marriott always rolls out. The published offer is earn a free night (in Category 1-5 hotels) when you stay twice in any participating hotel between May 15 and September 2. You can earn as many as two free nights. But just like MegaBonus, this supposedly "unexpected" promotion has unpublished wrinkles. Most Marriott Rewards members will get a customized promo rather than the two-for-one deal. Some are being offered 35,000 points for 20 stays, others are getting 45,000 points for 25 stays. Still others can reach 55,000 bonus points. Registration (by July 31) is a requirement for all of the offers. Log in to your Marriott Rewards account to see what specific deal is waiting for you or start at the public promotion page.
Best Western: $50 Back After Three Stays in About a Month
If you can arrange three separate stays at Best Western properties before June 9, the hotel chain will send you a $50 Best Western gift card. Pretty simple, so long as you register in advance. The $50 card will be sent either in electronic or plastic form (see here) and can be used until November 1.
Starwood Preferred Guest: A 'Meh' Promotion--With Its Own App
Starwood Preferred Guest's latest promotion, the Double Take, isn't going to blow you away: It offers double Starpoints on stays from May 1 to July 31. Given how expensive an award night costs in SPG, double points does little more than put the program on an equal par with its competitors. But there is a twist: 500 more bonus points if you book your stay using the SPG App. There is a long list of properties not offering the bonuses, however. And, of course, advance registration is required.
Hilton: Now That We've Devalued Them, Here Are Thousands of Bonus Points
If nothing else, you have to admire the chutzpah of Hilton HHonors. Now that this year's massive devaluation has kicked in, it often takes nearly double the amount of points to claim an award night at the best hotels and resorts in the Hilton Family portfolio. Yet here is Hilton pumping a bonus-points promotion for travel between April 1 and June 30. The offer is 1,000 bonus points a night for each weeknight stay and 2,000 bonus points a night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. (The 1,000/2,000 split is slightly different at Middle East and Africa properties.) Advance registration is required, of course, and you can do that here.
NOTABLE GROUND-TRANSPORT DEALS
National/Alamo: 25 Percent Off and Triple Hilton HHonors Points
Two of the car-rental subsidiaries of Enterprise Holdings, National and Alamo, have struck a deal with Hilton HHonors, the much-devalued frequency plan. Both firms are offering 25 percent off standard rental rates and 1,500 HHonors bonus points on rentals until December 31. That's triple the standard points-earning ratio. Information: the National HHonors page and Alamo HHonors page.
Hertz: The Never-Ending Deal for Up to 3,400 Delta SkyMiles Per Rental
It takes a heap of promoting to make car rentals a rich source of airline miles these days. This Hertz offer might not exactly qualify, but it's much better than average. According to the promotion--available on rentals in North America, parts of Europe and the rest of the world--a one-day rental will net you a total of 600 SkyMiles. Medallion SkyMiles flyers will get a total of 700 miles for a one-day rental. The promo adds more bonuses for each day and tops out at 2,700 miles for a seven-day rental and 3,400 miles for a seven-day rental if you are a Medallion. To qualify for the bonuses, you must reserve rentals by June 30 and pick up your car by August 31. And if this deal sounds familiar, it's because Hertz and Delta have been running variations for at least nine months. Information: the Earn 3,400 miles or more page.
Hertz: Small Rates for Small Cars for Short Rentals at the Airport
Hertz is offering a nice daily rate ($14.99) for small cars (economy or compact) if you are interested in a weekend rate at the airport. The price is valid for pickup Thursday through Sunday and requires a return by Monday noon. There's an overnight Friday minimum keep if you start your rental on a Thursday or Friday. The deal is available at most airports, but not in the New York Metro area or Hawaii. The price is good through June 15 when you use code XCT1. Information: the Great Savings 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.
Car Rental: Drive North to a Colder Place For Big Deals
Consider this the reverse of the brilliant Alec Wilder's South to a Warmer Place. When the weather in northern climes improves, car-rental firms need to get their cars out of a warmer place, specifically Arizona and Florida. So they slash their rates on one-way rentals as a way to induce you to move the cars north for them. Should the geography work for you (rent in Arizona, drop off in Western states or rent in Florida, drop off in the Northeast), the bargains are terrific. Here's what's on tap for this "drive out" season from major rental firms. Be sure to examine the terms and conditions carefully because they differ substantially.
Alamo is offering cars for $17.95 a day and minivans and SUVs for $26.95 if you drive them one-way from select Florida locations. The applicable one-way rental period is from one to 21 days from April 1 to May 31. Details are here.
Avis offers both Florida and Arizona drive-out rates when you rent one-way from one to 7 days. From Florida daily rates are $19.95 for cars and $29.95 for SUVs, convertibles and vans. The rental period is April 1 to June 30. From Arizona, daily rates are $17.95 to $20.95 for cars and $24.95 to $39.95 for SUVs or minivans. The rental period is March 25 to May 31.
Budget is playing in both Florida and Arizona, too. From Florida, rates are $18.95 for cars and $28.95 for convertibles, vans and SUVs. The rental period is April 1 to June 30. From Arizona, you can rent from March 25 to May 31. Daily rentals are $16.95-$23.95 for cars and $23.95 to $38.95 for SUVs and vans. Rental periods are one to 7 days for both offers.
Hertz popularized the Florida drive-out concept and this year it's offering cars for $17.95 and vans for $29.95. In Arizona, daily rates are $17.95-$20.95 for cars and $24.95-$39.95 for SUVs. Both offers allow you to rent the car from April 1 to May 31 for one to as many as 21 days.
National is offering a Florida drive-out from April 1 to May 31. Daily rates are $17.95 for cars and $26.95 for minivans or SUVs. The rental period is from one to 21 days.
GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO PONDER
LAN: Another Crazy-Quilt Business-Class Sale to South America
Beggars can't be choosers and we're all beggars when it comes to good business-class deals to South America. LAN is often the only game in town, so you will have to put up with its crazy-quilt of fares and restrictions. A sample: Miami to Bogota for $858 roundtrip, which is available if you buy tickets by June 13. There's also a 7-day minimum stay and a 28-day advance purchase requirement. One more sample: New York/JFK to Buenos Aires for $2,715 roundtrip, available if you purchase by June 13. This one has a 50-day advance purchase, a 10-day minimum stay and some day-of-travel blackouts. There are bargains from LAN's Los Angeles and San Francisco gateways, too. Bottom line: If you're going for a deal, be prepared to hunt around and watch the restrictions carefully. Information: the Fly Premium Class page.
LOT Polish: Premium Economy to Warsaw at a Dream(liner) of a Price
No carrier suffered more from the grounding of Boeing 787's Dreamliner in January than LOT Polish. Its first Dreamliner had just landed in Chicago from its inaugural flight from Warsaw when the FAA shut down the 787 program. LOT couldn't even get its first Chicago-Warsaw flight, laden with dignitaries, off the ground. But now that the Dreamliner has gotten the okay to fly again, LOT is rolling out a deal for its new premium-economy class. If you book via LOT.com, prices from New York/JFK to Warsaw are as low as $1,677 roundtrip. Chicago-Warsaw roundtrips are as low as $1,777. Tickets must be purchased by June 2, but outbound travel can begin as late as August 15. Minimum stay is a Sunday night. LOT says its Dreamliners begin Chicago/O'Hare service on June 5. The New York run with Dreamliners begins on June 30.
Cathay Pacific: $4,863 Roundtrip to Hong Kong This Summer in C
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is adopting the summer business-class sale strategy once reserved for carriers plying the transatlantic skies. And that is good news for us since Cathay has "common rated" its summer business-class fare to Hong Kong at $4,863 roundtrip from its four U.S. gateways: Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York/Kennedy. The fare is valid from June 1 to August 31 when you book 30 days in advance and purchase by May 31. The fare isn't available on all days or all flights, but Cathay's handy "flexible date" option on its booking page shows where and when the low price can be found. Information: the World's Best Business Class page.
US Airways: Buy 100,000 Miles for About $1,900, Get a Business-Class Freebie
US Airways is always running mileage-purchase promotions for its Dividend Miles program, but considering how much the airline has raised miles prices and increased award costs, the only promo worth considering is the double-miles offer. And that's exactly the deal US Airways is offering in May. If you purchase 50,000 miles, US Airways will kick in a bonus of 50,000 more. When taxes and award fees are considered, that'll cost you about $1,900. What do the 100,000 miles convert into? A low-season US Airways business-class award to South America or Europe. It'll also score you a low-season ticket to Hawaii (80,000 miles) or a partner award to North Asia (90,000 miles). Words to the wise, though: Have your award seat lined up before buying the miles. The double-miles promo is valid for purchases until May 31. Information: the Buy, Share or Gift Miles page.
American AAdvantage: A Bunch of Bonus Miles From a Bunch of Rental Firms
Looking for some extra AAdvantage miles? Car rentals are suddenly a decent choice. The deal from Hertz is four miles per dollar spent for rentals in the United States, Canada, Mexico and parts of Europe. That deal runs through October 31. Dollar and Thrifty each offer 200 miles per rental day through June 30. Restrictions vary by rental partner.
HOTEL BARGAINS WORTH NOTING
Chase: A 50,000-Point Bonus for Take a Marriott Visa Card
The big devaluation of Marriott Rewards--more than a third of hotels now have increased award prices--can be slightly mitigated by a new offer from Chase. If you take its Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature card--assuming, of course, all those words actually fit on the card itself--Chase will spiff you with 50,000 bonus points. The required spend--just $1,000 in the first three months--is mellow, too. The card's other perks: no annual fee in the first year; no foreign transaction fees; 15 nights credit toward Marriott Rewards elite status each year; and an additional night's elite credit for each $3,000 in spend. The 50,000 bonus points page.
Four Points: 30 Percent Off on AAA Bookings This Year
The AAA/CAA discount at most hotels runs about 10 percent off the standard rate or, at times, may equal the advance-purchase price without the advance-purchase requirement. When the AAA deal pushes into the 25 percent range (as Hyatt offered several years back) or the "up to 30 percent" discount currently promoted by Four Points by Sheraton, you're talking serious dough. The mid-range Four Points chain says the 30 percent discount for AAA members will be available through the end of the year at around 100 properties in the United States and Canada. As always, however, check that there isn't an even better sale or value-added promotion available when you book. Information: the Just for AAA Members page.
Hilton HHonors: The Price of Its Best Elite Level Is Now Just $95 a Year
Hilton continues to make a hash of its HHonors program with major devaluations. Worse, the supposedly top-of-the-heap Diamond Level hardly better than HHonors Gold, which normally requires 16 stays or 36 nights a year. Gold offers free Internet, upgrades and continental breakfast. It's arguably Hilton's only decent elite level now. And guess what: You don't even have to stay at Hilton even once to achieve its best HHonors level. A new credit card from Citibank offers 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 or other hotels so you can earn elite status there, too. 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 Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card page.
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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 © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.