Steals & Deals for Early June, 2015
BRITISH AIRWAYS: A Year of Business-Class Fare Sales on a Chart
To be honest, British Airways over the last few years has been a reluctant player in the summer business-class sale bazaar. And while it's still not saying much, astonishing sale fares have posted. And not just for summer travel, either. BA has posted a year's worth of business-class fare sales for nearly 20 destinations. Some examples: about $2,700 roundtrip from New York to Manchester from August through April; about $2,030 roundtrip from New York to Madrid between June and April; below $2,400 roundtrip from Philadelphia to Venice from June to April; $2,551 roundtrip from Atlanta to Budapest during June, July and August, and about $3,700 roundtrip from Los Angeles to London between August and April. 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 won't only be on BA, but also on its transatlantic partner American Airlines, its OpenSkies subsidiary and Iberia, which is owned by BA's parent company. 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.

EMIRATES: $1,300 for Two to Dubai From Anywhere We Fly in the USA
The increasingly ugly battle between the U.S. carriers and the Gulf airlines is getting all the attention, but under the radar is where the sales are happening. After Emirates unleashed a big business-class sale to India (see below), it has unleashed a big promotion to its home base and hub in Dubai. From any of its ten U.S. gateways, the roundtrip coach price is $1,299 for two. You read that right: The equivalent of $650 roundtrip a person from New York or Los Angeles and all the Emirates gateways in between. (There's a $100 weekend surcharge for coach flights.) If you don't relish a long haul to Dubai in coach, the roundtrip business-class price is $9,999. That's the equivalent of $5,000 a person, a nice sale if not the eye-popping rate offered to coach flyers. The restrictions: Tickets must be booked by June 14 with a 10-day advance stay using promo code WWdXXx1rOWE. A 3-day or Sunday stay is required. Travel is permitted until December 18 in coach or December 10 in business class although there are a few blackout dates.

AIR FRANCE: The First-Class-Isn't-What-It-Was Summer Sale
When it began remaking its transatlantic first-class last year, Air France's plush upgrade also meant cutting the size of the cabin to just four seats from eight. But even the massive capacity reduction isn't enough to keep the front of the planes full during the summer. So the fall-back option--a big sale for those who can justify a bigger ticket--is now in play. Air France has cut first-class fares to Paris to as low as $6,023 roundtrip from New York and $6,605 from Washington/Dulles. Flights to Nice are as low as $7,045 roundtrip from New York and $7,061 from San Francisco. Travel is permitted between June 26 and September 3 when you book by June 30. The Saturday-night stay requirement is to be expected, but beware the 60-day advance-purchase wrinkle. Information: the LA PREMIÈRE CLASS SPECIAL OFFER page.

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.
   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 June 30 and travel is permitted between June 26 and August 29. There is a 7-day minimum stay.
   AIR NEW ZEALAND, which flies nonstop between Los Angeles and London, has priced business-class seats at $3,334 roundtrip. Tickets must be purchased by June 3 for a July 4-August 31 travel window. A Sunday stay is required.
   DELTA AIR LINES Delta is more niggling and less generous with summer business-class sales to Europe. But with transatlantic travel down a bit, Delta is grudgingly throwing us a few bones, larding them with restrictions and calling it a sale. Prices are not great, but they're better than a stick in the eye or a seat in coach. Samples: $2,474 roundtrip between New York/Kennedy and Malaga, Spain; $3,676 between Atlanta and Brussels; and $4,643 between Salt Lake City and Paris. One other notable fare: $3,680 roundtrip on Delta's seasonal JFK-Pisa nonstops. Pisa, of course, is a small, easy-to-use airport and a better place to fly than Rome or Milan if you're headed to Tuscany this summer. Now the restrictions: a 50-day advance purchase for outbound travel until August 29. (Returns are permitted until September 3.) Weekend travel will cost more, too. There's a seven-day minimum stay and a June 1 purchase-by date.
    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 roundtrips to London and $2,990 for two roundtrips 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 $2,899 roundtrip (Philadelphia-Amsterdam) and include $2,999 (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 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 $2,403 roundtrip in through the summer and into the fall. 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 at $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 $3,038 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.
   VIRGIN ATLANTIC has set business-class fares at $3,650 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 June 30 and there is a 10-day minimum stay. Departures are permitted between June 26 and August 29.

HILTON: 25-30 Percent Off Southeast Asia Hotels This Summer
Hilton has been segregating and segmenting its deals and promoting different sales to travelers in different parts of the world. Case in point: a 25-30 percent off deal this summer for properties in Southeast Asia. Rates include US$150 a night at the Conrad Bali, $86 at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur, $56 at the Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi and $146 at the Hilton Singapore. The rates are valid for stays until October 31 if you book by June 30 with a three-day advance reservation. The sale covers Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The fly in the ointment: Payment is required at the time of reservation and is nonrefundable. By the way, there are also deals in other parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim on related promotional pages. Information: the Hilton BE CITY EXPLORERS page.

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.

HYATT: 15 Percent Off Hawaii Hotels Until the End of the Year
Hyatt is knocking 15 percent off the price of standard and upgraded rooms at its Hawaii hotels for stays until the end of the year. That includes the two Hyatt Regency properties (in Waikiki and on Maui), the Hyatt Place in Waikiki, the Andaz in Maui and the Grand Hyatt on Kauai. The restrictions: You must be a Gold Passport member (it's free) to get the so-called My Hyatt Rate and you must book stays by June 30. But there doesn't seem to be any pre-payment required. Information: the MY HYATT RATE 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.

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.

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.

LUFTHANSA: A Big Sale Push for the New 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 notable fare offers: $1,779 roundtrip from New York to Milan; $2,129 from Boston to Berlin; $2,219 from Chicago to Athens; $2,229 from Los Angeles to Budapest; $2,259 from Miami to Florence; $2,089 from Denver to Prague; and $2,279 from Houston to Munich. Travel is permitted until August 22 for departures and up to a year for returns. Tickets must be purchased by June 15 with a 14-day advance purchase. Information: the Lufthansa PREMIUM ECONOMY SERVICE page.

EVA AIR: Premium-Economy Bargains to Taipei
Star Alliance member EVA Air, which hubs in Taipei, calls its premium economy Elite Class. Seats are spacious (38 inches of seat pitch and nearly 20 inches wide) on the transpacific flights where EVA offers the service. Prices are now attractive, too. From New York to Taipei, it's $1,720 roundtrip. From Los Angeles, it's as low as $1,535 roundtrip. And from Toronto, Elite Class fares are as low as C$2,108. Purchase-by dates and valid travel windows vary by city, so check your information carefully. Information: the EVA PROMOTIONS page.

AIR NEW ZEALAND: Okay, Baby, How About $2,200 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 summer and fall 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: $2,207 roundtrip if you travel by November 15. 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 May 31. You even earn frequent flyer miles. Information: the Air New Zealand SPECIAL OFFER page.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.