Steals & Deals for July 23-Aug. 6, 2015
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STAR ALLIANCE: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like the End-of-Year Business-Class Sale
The end-of-the-year business-class sales to Europe aren't what they were when they were pioneered 15 years ago by Continental Airlines. Still, the Star Alliance has great reach and Continental (er, United) continues to post substantial business-class deals for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year periods. This year's roundtrip prices seem to be in the $2,000-to-$2,300 range, which is better than in recent seasons. And, of course, you don't have to fly United metal. Air Canada, the Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Brussels, Austrian and Swiss), TAP Air Portugal and the other Star carriers are playing. As usual, the best deals are out of Newark and New York/Kennedy, where Star carriers have the most Europe flights. But you'll also find similar deals via the United and Air Canada hubs as well as from Lufthansa's North American gateways. Sample roundtrip prices from Newark: $2,066 to Amsterdam; $2,085 to Paris/CDG; $2,157 to Brussels; $2,220 to Munich; $2,311 to London; $2,270 to Madrid; and $2,268 to Milan. Travel this year for Thanksgiving is permitted November 21-27 (outbound) and November 26-December 2 (return). For the end-of-the-year holidays, outbound travel is permitted between December 14 and January 2 with returns allowed between December 21 and January 6. The minimum stay is only three days and the maximum stay is ten days. Tickets must be purchased by August 31. The best way to find the best fares? Surf to the ITA Software Matrix and click the radio button labeled "see calendar of lowest fares." That'll give you a 30-day look at available prices.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE BARGAINS
MARRIOTT REWARDS: A Huge Acquisition Bonus and Elite Status for $85
Silver Elite status in the Marriott Rewards program isn't fabulous and usually requires 10 nights of stays a year. But the Marriott Rewards credit card from Chase will comp it for you in exchange for its $85 annual fee. There's also a free night in Category 1-5 hotels each year you maintain the card. But now there's another interesting fillip: an 80,000-point bonus if you charge $3,000 in the first three months. The big bonus is good for two free restricted nights at Marriott's best hotels (Category 9) or four restricted free nights in the chain's mid-range (Category 5) properties. To get the promo points, you must apply by August 31. Information: the Marriott Rewards LIMITED TIME page.
LUFTHANSA: A Big Fall Sale Push for the New(ish) Premium-Economy Class
Given its massive historic commitment to international first- and business-class cabins, Lufthansa was late to the premium-economy game. But now that its fourth cabin is rolling out on a global scale, Lufthansa is making a big push to get you to pay attention. (And, obviously, it wants you to upgrade from coach rather than downgrade from business.) Among the most notable fare offers: $1,619 roundtrip from New York to Milan; $1,679 from Boston to Budapest; $1,839 from Chicago to Athens; $1,809 from Los Angeles to Nice; $1,739 from Miami to Florence; $1,789 from Denver to Paris; $1,989 from Houston to Munich and $1,749 from Washington to Naples. Lufthansa is also including flights from its new Tampa gateway in the sale. Prices are ridiculously low, including $1,139 roundtrip to St. Petersburg. Russia, not Florida. Travel is permitted until October 25 for departures with returns permitted until April 25. Tickets must be purchased by August 23. There is a Saturday-stay restriction, a $30 premium for weekend flights and a 14-day advance purchase required. Information: the Lufthansa PREMIUM ECONOMY SERVICE page.
AIR NEW ZEALAND: Okay, Baby, How About $2,299 Business Class to the South Pacific?
Sometimes it's just flat-out fun to follow these extraordinary deals as airlines test and figure out how to fill an aircraft. As you surely know by now, Air New Zealand promoted exceptionally cheap business-class fares to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands spasmodically last year using its nonstop flight from Los Angeles. The eye-opening price was just $1,998 roundtrip. The deal has been regularly revived at about $2,199. Most recently, however, it's been $1,998 roundtrip again. The current price is a bit higher: $2,299 roundtrip if you travel between October 10 and February 6. You should know that the LAX-Rarotonga flights still use Air New Zealand's cradle-seat business class, not its newest flat beds. And there's only one flight a week in each direction, departing Sundays from LAX and just before midnight Saturdays from Rarotonga. Still, for a South Pacific trip at such a low price, those aren't tough conditions. Tickets must be purchased by July 27. You even earn frequent flyer miles. Information: the Air New Zealand SPECIAL OFFER page.
LAN: Another Crazy-Quilt South America Business-Class Sale
With premium-class flight deals to South America rare, we should always be thankful for the bargains from LAN, the pan-Latin powerhouse that is part of the Oneworld Alliance. Yes, the deals are scattershot, with varying restrictions, several infuriating regulations and odd travel windows. But you'll find some fabulous bargains, especially from Miami. Samples: Miami-Bogota for $797 roundtrip and Miami-Quito for $599 roundtrip; Los Angeles-Lima for $2,588 and New York to Mendoza, Argentina, for $2,999. But beware: Restrictions and travel dates vary by route and tickets to some destinations must be purchased by next week. Information: the PREMIUM BUSINESS page.
HOTEL POINTS AND PRICE PROMOTIONS
HYATT GOLD PASSPORT: A Points Play for the Chain's Best Hotels
I can count on the fingers of a single hand the number of times I've recommended buying points or miles for anything but a minimal "topping off" to claim a specific award. But an interesting situation has developed at Hyatt, where the chain's Category 7 hotels require 30,000 points a night. Hyatt is currently offering elite Gold Passport members a 40 percent bonus on points purchases, which means $504 buys 29,400 Gold Passport credits. Use a Chase Hyatt credit card or a Chase Ink or Chase Sapphire card to pay for the points and you'll earn more than 30,000 points. That'll get you a free night at the Park Hyatts in New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Milan, Paris, Zurich and the Maldives. Rooms at those hotels almost never sell for as little as $500 a night. In fact, rooms there usually sell for $700 or more. An example: the Park Hyatt in Paris is selling for $882 a night. In other words, buying points via this deal will save several hundred dollars a night. So if you're interested in some of the world's finest and most expensive hotels, here's an interesting way to do it at a hefty bargain. The 40 percent bonus purchase option is available until July 31. Information: the Points.com POINTS PURCHASE page.
L.E. HOTELS: When Independents Act Like a Chain, a Discordant Cascade of Deals
As independent hotels scramble to operate against a flood of chain properties and the tide of "soft brands" aimed at letting indies operate as adjuncts of the chains, some lodging associations are trying to fight back. The one problem? Independents think independently and it makes a nationwide promotion extremely dicey. Consider, for example, L.E. Hotels, which represents dozens of properties in North America and around the globe. L.E.'s attempt to promote a multi-day stay promo leads to creative chaos. For instance, the Dylan in New York will only give 15 percent off for six-night stays. But the Herrington Inn in Geneva, Illinois, is offering 15 percent discounts for 3-night stays. Other discounts range from 8-30 percent depending on the property and the number of nights stays. It might be worth a moment of your time to scan the list to see if there is a property that appeals at a price that seems reasonable. Information: the L.E. HOTELS BLOG page
SHERATON: Desperation Is the Mother of a Decent Summer Promotion
Starwood Hotels recently ousted its chief executive and one of the causes was Sheraton, a tired brand that has resisted all attempts to revive its market luster or many of its well-worn properties. So when you're desperate, give the product away. A Free Weekends offer is fairly straight up: Stay five nights at any Sheraton until September 30 and earn a free weekend night at any Sheraton worldwide. The free night can be used until December 13 and you can earn as many as three freebies during the promotion. Better yet, the weekend offer "stacks" with Starwood Preferred Guest's current chainwide summer points promotion (see below). The one catch? Registration is required. Information: the RICHEST SHERATON PROMOTION page.
HOTELS: A Dreary Season for Frequency Promotions
It's a sign of the strength in the lodging market that major chains seem to have virtually no interest in generating additional stays this spring and summer. Their quarterly promotions are downright dreary. Unless you really need the stays, there isn't much here to move the needle. Advance registration is required, of course.
BEST WESTERN is offering 1,000 bonus points per stay until September 7.
COUNTRY INNS is offering 5,000 bonus Club Carlson points for each weekend stay until September 7. You'll also earn an additional 5,000-point bonus on each stay booked on the Carlson Web site or its mobile app.
HILTON is offering double points or double airline miles per stay until August 31. It's a sad commentary that Hilton is trumpeting the fact that all of its properties are participating in this promotion.
HYATT is offering 30,000 points if you complete at least 15 nights by September 30. The bonus rises to 45,000 points for 20 nights and 65,000 points for 25 nights.
STARWOOD is offering 1,000 points for each two-night stay that includes a weekend night. The promotion lasts until August 31, but registration must be completed by August 15.
CHOICE HOTELS: Two Stays Earn a $50 Gift Card Instead of Another Stay Choice Hotels is furiously trying to remake its image. Whether it's succeeding is an open question. But it's pretty clear that dangling another free night at an Econolodge or Comfort Inn may not be motivating Choice Privileges members. The solution? Pitch gift cards instead. Two separate stays at a Choice property before August 19 will earn enough Privileges points to claim a $50 gift card. And a decent roster of cards is available: Amazon, Macy's, Lowe's, Starbucks and several gas-station chains. Advance registration is required. Information: The Choice TWO STAYS page.
GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
EMIRATES: Uber-Cheap Flights to Singapore in Coach or Business Class When Singapore Airlines dropped its nonstops from Newark and Los Angeles several years ago, competitors were thrilled to fight back with their own one-stop flights. The biggest winner so far has been Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, which offers faster one-stop Singapore connections from the United States to Singapore than Singapore Air can muster. And now Emirates Airline is getting into the game. Its weapon of choice is uber-cheap fares for two travelers flying together. If you're willing to fly coach, the for-two price from any of Emirates' ten U.S. gateways is just $1,749 for midweek travel. That's just $874.50 a person. If you want to go business class, the for-two price is $7,999 or just $4,000 a person. (For similar dates on its New York-Frankfurt-Singapore run, Singapore Air is charging more than $12,000 a pair.) The Emirates deals require a 7-day minimum stay and a 10-day advance purchase. Travel is valid until December 31 although there are a few blackout dates. Flights must be booked by August 10 at the Emirates Web site using promo code USSIN15. Information: the CELEBRATE 50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE page.
LA COMPAGNIE: Surprisingly Cheap Summer Business-Class Prices to London and Paris
La Compagnie, the Paris-based all-business-class carrier, is approaching its first birthday and is now flying from Newark to both Roissy and London's Luton Airport. The service, on 74-seat Boeing 757s, features a sort of throwback business class: limited schedules, angled flat seats, simple meals and tablet-based entertainment. But La Compagnie continues to excel in promotional pricing. The deals now: $1,699 roundtrip to Paris and $1,798 to London. The fares are valid on select flights until September 30 if you book by September 15. Information: the DEALS AND SPECIAL OFFERS page.
AER LINGUS: The Summer Business-Class Sale Lasts Through October If You Hurry
Aer Lingus may or may not be purchased by the parent company of British Airways, but it has expanded its U.S. route network and rolled out a spiffy new business-class product featuring lie-flat beds, 16-inch monitors and free WiFi plus perks such as pre-flight dining and new lounges at New York/JFK and London/Heathrow. And it has even extended its summer business-class sale through October 28 if you purchase tickets by 7 p.m. Eastern Time on August 4. Prices start at $2,499 roundtrip (New York to Shannon or Dublin or Boston to Shannon) and include $2,679 (Chicago to Dublin), $2,999 (Washington to Dublin) and $3,959 (San Francisco to Dublin). There is a 28-day advance purchase restriction and a Saturday-stay is required. Information: the Aer Lingus NEW EXPERIENCE page.
BRITISH AIRWAYS/IBERIA: A Year of Business-Class Fare Sales on a Chart
British Airways and its Oneworld partner Iberia have taken to posting a year's worth of business-class fare sales for nearly two dozen destinations in Great Britain and continental Europe. Some examples: $2,494 roundtrip from New York to Madrid from August through June; $2,293 roundtrip from Boston to Barcelona between December and May; $3,088 roundtrip from Philadelphia to Venice in August and $3,377 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Budapest in August. All of the fares include a 7-day stay requirement, but expect advance-purchase and other rules to apply on a market-specific basis. You can also assume travel could include flights on American Airlines and other Oneworld partners. Best of all, the year-ahead grid allows you to plug in any departure and arrival cities as well as your proposed number of days and find a year's worth of business-class prices. Information: the BA CHEAP FLIGHTS TO EUROPE page.
HAINAN AIRLINES: Under the Radar in the Battle for Seattle
Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines may be waging a noisy battle for control of Seattle-Tacoma Airport, but other carriers do operate from Sea-Tac and offer some excellent deals. Case in point: Hainan Airlines, the private Chinese carrier. Its route map is expanding, but it may still be best for one of its first U.S. routes, between Seattle and Shanghai. Hainan this summer is offering a very appealing business-class fare of $3,400 roundtrip for departures until August 31. Return travel is permitted until October 31. Tickets must be purchased by August 31. Information: the OFFERS page.
VIRGIN AMERICA: A First-Class Sale, But You Have to Wait Until Fall
You can never tell when Virgin America is going to put on a sale--or what will be on offer. So don't be shocked by this one: a sale for first-class travel, but only if you fly in the autumn. Sample prices: Chicago-San Francisco for $499 one-way; $899 Los Angeles-Fort Lauderdale; New York-Las Vegas for $739; Seattle-Los Angeles for $253, and Dallas-New York for $349. The biggest bargain on the board: Los Angeles-Orlando for just $499 one-way. In most cases, travel is permitted between September 8 and November 18 when you fly Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. A 21-day advance purchase applies. Information: the FIRST CLASS DEALS page.
EMIRATES: U.S. Carriers Won't Compete, So We'll Slash India Business-Class Fares
The three big U.S. carriers continue to whine that the three big Gulf carriers--including Emirates of Dubai--are dumping capacity in the U.S. market and being subsidized by their governments. What the U.S. carriers won't say, of course, is that they literally refuse to compete with the Gulf carriers. No U.S. airline flies to Abu Dhabi, home of Etihad, or Doha, home of Qatar Airways. There are only two U.S. carrier routes to Dubai. And in India, where Gulf carriers funnel a disproportionate number of U.S.-originating flyers, only United Airlines offers any routes. American and Delta have dropped all their India runs. So it has to be with some degree of knife-twisting that Emirates has launched a business-class sale on India flights via Dubai from its U.S. gateways. Prices to Emirates' 10 Indian destinations start at $4,694 roundtrip from Dallas/Worth Worth. Other samples: $4,758 from New York, $5,159 from Los Angeles and $4,809 from Washington. Restrictions are modest: a 7-day minimum stay and 14-day advance purchase. Travel is permitted until December 10 if you book by November 30. Information: the Emirates EXTRAORDINARY BUSINESS CLASS 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 31. Tickets need to be booked at a special AARP link at the BA Web site. Information: the EXCLUSIVE AARP OFFERS page.
ONEWORLD: Big Miles/Points Bonuses for Higher-Priced Flights to Europe
The Oneworld Alliance is trying to goose spring and summer travel to Europe and its weapon of choice is a bushel of bonus frequent flyer credits. At American Airlines/US Airways, the offer is as many as 115,000 AAdvantage miles when you fly before August 7. Bonuses start at 5,000 miles for a roundtrip in premium economy or some full-fare coach fares and tops out at 115,000 miles for three roundtrips in first- or business class. At British Airways, Iberia and OpenSkies, the offer is for as many as 115,000 Avios points. At Finnair, the 115,000 credits are in the Finnair Plus program. The rules are exactly the same and advance registration is required in each promotion.
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.
GROUND TRANSPORT DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
UNITED/HERTZ: 2,000 Miles (or More) for Mid-Size Rentals (Even One-Day Rentals)
It's hard to think of more dysfunctional suppliers in the business-travel world than United Airlines and Hertz. And maybe this offer is a tangible representation of exactly how desperately the two companies need to keep us on board. Through October 31, you'll earn a bonus of 1,500 MileagePlus miles when you rent a mid-size or larger vehicle from Hertz. Even one-day rentals will earn the bonus. Even better, the 1,500-mile score is in addition to the standard per-rental payoff of 500 MileagePlus miles or 750-1,250 miles for elite members. So that's a total of 2,000 miles or more per rental. You can certainly run up a lot of MileagePlus credits when you drive off with a Hertz rental. The problem, of course, is that it requires you to do business with Hertz and book through United.com. But, hey, everything has a price. Information: United's EARN AWARD MILES page.
BUDGET: Rent a Car, Get Sextuple the 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: six times the Amtrak Guest Rewards points when you rent a Budget car. The promotion runs through September 30 if you use coupon number MUAZ078. Information: the RIGHT TRACK page.
AVIS: 500 American AAdvantage Miles a Day Until August 31
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 August 31. Information: the Avis MORE MILES FOR THE DRIVE 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.
TRAVEL PACKAGES TO CONSIDER
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.
NOTABLE CREDIT CARD ACQUISITION BONUSES
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.