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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR APRIL 17-APRIL 30, 2014
United Airlines: A Introductory Business-Class Sale to Chengdu
United Airlines launches nonstop Dreamliner Boeing 787 flights in June from San Francisco to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. And that means a rare China sale and, even rarer, a summer business-class fare. Prices start at $3,968 from Dallas/Fort Worth, include $4,018 from New York/Kennedy and are below $4,100 from most other cities. The restrictions aren't that stiff: a five-night minimum stay and your itinerary must include that San Francisco-Chengdu nonstop. The travel window is June 9-August 31 and tickets must be purchased by April 29. Information: the BUSINESSFIRST CHENGDU SALE page.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL BARGAINS
Starwood: First Out With A Modest Late Spring/Early Summer Promotion
The Starwood Preferred Guest program is first out with a late spring/early summer promotion, but superlatives end there. The chain's EarnAway offer is a pedestrian double-points deal. It does include a fillip: triple points if you stretch your stay to include a Sunday--or Saturday in the Middle East. But there's a sizable list of Starwood properties that have opted out and many are in major U.S. cities. The complete opt-out list is here. EarnAway runs from May 1 to July 31, although you must register by June 30. Information: the EARN AWAY. GET AWAY. 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.
Virgin Atlantic: One Bright Light (Seattle) in a Dreary Summer Sale
Business-class fares on Virgin Atlantic to London this summer are so high that it's hard to even classify the offer as a sale. But there is a bright light: Seattle, where Virgin's 49 percent owner, Delta Air Lines, is in a hub war with Alaska Airlines. Summer business-class rates between Sea-Tac and London/Heathrow are as low as $2,984 roundtrip between June 27 and August 30. That price is even lower than flights from the East Coast, which start at a startling $3,580 roundtrip from New York/Kennedy or Newark. Fares from other Virgin or Delta gateways are even higher than that. Still, if you can fly from Sea-Tac, you're in luck. Fares require a 60-day purchase by July 2. Information: the UPPER CLASS FLIGHTS page.
Avis: As Many as 2,500 AAdvantage Miles for Rentals This Spring
In a world turned upside down--in other words, when the fools at American Airlines decide to charge a bag fee to full-fare flyers and give a free bag to buyers of cheaper fares--I'm no longer surprised that rental cars are again a potent force for racking up frequent flyer miles. Which explains why Avis is offering as many as 2,500 AAdvantage miles until June 15. One- or two-day rentals generate 750 miles. You'll get 1,500 miles for a three- or four-day rental. Rentals of five or more days get the full 2,500 miles. Use coupon code MUAA017. Information: the STAY LONGER, EARN MORE page.
Swiss: Decent, If Not Great, Summer Business-Class Sales
In a season of depressingly high summer business-class sales, the promotion from Swiss International looks quite good by comparison. For example, from New York or Newark, roundtrip fares include $2,832 to Geneva and $2,847 to Zurich. Similar prices are also available from Swiss' gateways in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Miami. Typical 2014 summer-sale restrictions apply: travel June 27-August 30 and a 60-day advance purchase. Purchases must be complete by July 2. Information: the BOOK YOUR FLIGHT page.
Hyatt: Charlotte Hotels Offer 1,500 Gold Passport Rewards Points Per Stay
Three Hyatt properties in the Charlotte area are offering a nice bounty: 1,500 Gold Passport bonus points per stay between May 1 and July 31. The hotels are the Hyatt House Center City and the Hyatt Place City Park and Airport. Use offer code HGPCLT and make advance reservations. Reservations must be made at Hyatt.com or be an eligible rate listed on Hyatt.com.
Hilton HHonors: The Price of Its 'Best' Elite Level Is Now Just $95 a Year
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. 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, 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 CITI HILTON HHONORS RESERVE page.
SUMMER 2014 PREMIUM-CLASS DEALS TO EUROPE
SAS: The Summer Premium-Class Bargains Are in Scandinavia
In a year when genuine deals on premium-class tickets to Europe are scarce and pricey, SAS has come to the rescue. Not only are its prices for premium-economy and business-class seats this summer cheaper than the first time they posted a sale in February, the rates are also the lowest in Europe this summer. And it's been a long, long time since Scandinavia has been the lowest-priced anything. Sample fares: New York to Copenhagen for $1,629 roundtrip in premium economy and $2,590 in business class. From Chicago, rates start at $1,725 roundtrip (premium economy to Stockholm). From Washington/Dulles, it's $1,729 roundtrip (to Copenhagen in premium economy). And from San Francisco, prices start at $1,959 roundtrip in premium economy to Oslo. The travel period is June 29-September 4 and a Saturday stay is required. Tickets must be purchased by July 2. Information: the SUMMER SALE page.
Lufthansa: A First-Class Summer Sale to Europe at Interesting Rates
Even as decently priced business-class sales to Europe have nearly disappeared this summer (see above), Lufthansa has rolled out a very attractive first-class sale. That's no surprise, since Lufthansa has more first-class seats than any other international carrier and it has promised four seasonal fare promotions a year. Are the prices cheap? Absolutely not. But compared to the summer business-class sales, the premiums aren't all that much. Sample fares: $5,939 roundtrip from Dallas to Barcelona; $5,529 from New York to Malta; and $6,539 from Los Angeles to Naples. The travel period is June 27 to August 30. A 60-day advance purchase is required and all tickets must be booked by July 2. Information: the FLY FIRST CLASS page.
Alitalia: Up Front to Italy This Summer? You'll Pay Lots More
If your goal is summer in Italy and you were waiting for a business-class deal, the news is not good. Alitalia has posted its prices and they are depressingly high, to say the very least. One example: New York-Rome, priced at $3,166 roundtrip, a cool $300+ more than last year. New York-Milan is only slightly more comforting at $3,004 roundtrip. Prices from Boston are around $500 more roundtrip and Miami-Rome clocks in at $4,066 roundtrip. The travel period is June 27 to August 30 for outbound flights and returns must be completed by September 4. Tickets must be purchased by July 2 and 60 days in advance. Information: the MAGNIFICA OFFERS page.
GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
India: East is East, West Is West and the Twain Meets There
If you're interested in a trip to India soon and are willing to do it in coach, you won't only catch a bargain. You'll also get to choose whether you travel East or West to get there since both Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa are offering big deals to the subcontinent. From Cathay, headed West via Hong Kong, you can fly to Chennai for as little as $1,184 roundtrip from Newark, New York/Kennedy, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco. Flights to Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru are just a few dollars more. Tickets at the lowest prices are available until April 30 and are valid for travel until May 23. Meanwhile, Lufthansa's sale covers a much smaller travel window (May 16-June 5), but departures are available from many more U.S. cities. Sample fares: Chicago-Delhi for $909 roundtrip; Atlanta-Chennai for $1,559 and Washington-Mumbai for $1,179. Flights are via Lufthansa's Frankfurt or Munich hubs and tickets must be purchased by April 29. Information: the Cathay Pacific INDIA FARE SALE page or the Lufthansa BE ENCHANTED page.
LAN: The Crazy-Quilt Business-Class Sale to South America Returns Again
With premium-class deals to South America so rare, we must be thankful for the bargains from LAN, the pan-Latin powerhouse. Yes, deals are scattershot, with varying restrictions, some infuriating regulations and odd travel windows. But you'll find some fabulous bargains. Current business-class deals of note: $1,099 roundtrip from New York/JFK to Quito, Ecuador; $699 roundtrip from Miami to Bogota, Colombia; and $2,099 from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru. Check carefully for advance-purchase rules, purchase-by dates and minimum-stay restrictions. Information: the UPGRADE YOUR TRAVEL page.
Milan: An Odd Player Makes Milan The New London of Cheap Fares
Not too long ago, when travelers wanted a cheap coach flight to Europe, they started a search in the New York-London market. But high aviation taxes on the British end and too many pond-pounding bankers have made New York-London flights surprisingly pricey. So where are the cheap fares now? Believe it or not, New York-Milan. Ever since Emirates launched a daily flight on the route last fall, coach prices to Milan have plummeted. They are now the cheapest in Europe and cheaper than flying to Rome by hundreds of dollars. Alitalia, the route's incumbent, is selling tickets for as little as $635 roundtrip, although that rate is only available for early April. Emirates, which started the price war, is at $634 roundtrip until mid-May. And Lufthansa is charging $679 roundtrip when you connect in Frankfurt or Munich.
Alaska Airlines: Fly BA to London From Seattle and Get Double Miles
The increasingly nasty fight between Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines for control of Seattle has a new front. Delta Air Lines has launched flights from Seattle-Tacoma to London, so Alaska reacts by cutting a deal with British Airways. If you register and travel on BA's Seattle-London nonstop by June 15, you will receive double Mileage Plan miles on most published fares.
Finnair: Betcha Never Thought of Flying Via Helsinki to Tel Aviv
There are rarely bargains on flights between New York and Tel Aviv, but a most unlikely player, Finnair, has posted a most unlikely fare: $840 roundtrip in coach. The price is valid for travel until May 15, again from late August through October and then two weeks in December. Travel is permitted on Sunday to Thursday flights and requires a 7-day advance purchase and a 7-day minimum stay. The connection at Helsinki, a compact, pleasant airport, is short. Information: the GREAT-VALUE OFFERS page.
American Airlines: 1,000 Bonus Miles for Roundtrips on New LGA Routes
American Eagle, the commuter division of American Airlines, is adding ten routes from New York/LaGuardia and will try to get you on their regional jets with a bonus offer of 1,000 miles for each roundtrip. The routes are all east of the Mississippi and the bonus period is April 1 to June 30. Advance registration is required, of course, and the promotion code is LGA1K. Information: the NEW NONSTOP FLIGHTS page.
HOTEL BARGAINS WORTH NOTING
Marriott: Cheaper Weekend Rates in Washington--But Only After Tax Day
A handful of Marriott and Renaissance hotels in the District of Columbia are trying to get your attention on Tax Day, April 15. The promotion: another "deduction"--specifically 25 percent off the best-available rate--if you book by April 17. The trick, of course, is that this really has nothing to do with Tax Day other than the promotional hook because the discount applies to weekend travel between May 2 and September 9. Still, that's not a bad offer, so long as you are interested in locking in a late spring or summer Washington weekend now. The hotels are the Marriott Wardman Park, Georgetown and Metro Center; the JW Marriott; the Marriott Marquis; and the Renaissance Downtown, Dupont Circle and the Mayflower. To score the discount, use promotion code SPJ.
Best Western: Get a $50 Credit Later for Two Stays Now
Best Western is doing a Wimpy. It'll pay you $50 later (actually, a $50 credit toward a future stay) if you complete two stays now (now being before May 18). There are a few quirks, however. The $50 future credit can't be used for either an advance-purchase rate or the chain's Internet rate that offers 20 percent off standard prices. The credit must be used by September 1. Advance registration is required. Information: the REWARDS OFFERS page.
Ritz-Carlton: Reserve Our Entire Lake Tahoe Hotel for $35,000 a Night
In this era of conspicuous consumption, renting a hotel suite seems old school. So for those who want to go all Wolf of Wall Street, the Ritz-Carlton offers its entire Lake Tahoe resort for rent. For the relatively piddling sum of $35,000 a day, you'll get all 170 guestrooms, all 10,000 square feet of meeting space and exclusive use of the hotel's outdoor space. The daily rate even includes a $10,000-a-day food and beverage credit applicable to your group banquet events. When you think about it, the so-called Group Buy-Out Offer might be a good deal. After all, it works out to only $205 a room--and 16 of them are suites. The offer is available on selected dates between late April and May and again between late October and mid-November. Information: the GROUP BUY-OUT OPTION page
SOMETIMES, BUNDLES ARE BETTER
Paris: The City of Light for the Season of Clay
The French Open, the tennis world's premier tournament on clay, kicks off on May 25 and runs through June 8. If you're looking for a special experience during the Grand Slam event--tennis geeks call it Roland Garros--try the Parisian Dream VIP Package. It twins French Open tickets with a stay at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel and includes breakfast and dinner at the hotel, use of the hotel fitness center and indoor pool, and shuttle service to Roland Garros. The two-day/one-night deal isn't cheap at prices that begin at about $1,500 a couple, but, hey, if you want Paris and clay and world-class tennis, where you gonna go? Information: the PARISIAN DREAM page.
England: Downton Abbey Already Has Its Own Tour
Here's a dirty little secret: I've not 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 get 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 May 27 to 30, tour participants will visit 35 Belgrave Square (the exterior of Lady Rosamund's home) in London, Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) and several other show locations. Also included: lodging at the four-star Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London; a Thames cruise; a ride on the London Eye; and other perks. The package price: $1,650 each for a couple or $2,010 for a solo traveler. The tour is limited to 30 travelers. Some meals, but not airfares, are part of the package. Information: the DOWNTON ABBEY page.
France: A Tour of Omaha Beach on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day
The 70th anniversary of D-Day is just a few months away and it's a perfect time to sponsor a tour of Omaha Beach, code name for the U.S. sectors of the Normandy landing. Tourcrafters, the respected travel packager, is offering just such a tour. It includes a total of 3 nights of accommodations in Paris and 3 nights in Bayeux, just four miles from the English Channel. The package also includes daily breakfast; D-Day-themed tours; and rail transportation and transfers between Paris and Bayeux. The package price is $1,659 a person based on four people traveling together through October. Information: the PARIS & BAYEUX BY TRAIN page.
GROUND TRANSPORTATION DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
Amtrak: Earn Points on Broadway--or Los Angeles, Chicago and Other Cities
If you collect Amtrak Guest Rewards points and you like the theater, this could be the promotion for you. In cities from coast to coast, Amtrak is offering bonus points for theater purchases. Most deals are naturally in New York--1,900 points, for example, for a midweek purchase of seats to Motown--but you can also score for performances in San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, Tucson, Charlotte and Durham, North Carolina. Tickets must be purchased by the end of May and the offer varies by show and seat prices. Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS page.
Amtrak: Double Guest Rewards Points for Sixty Days This Spring
Just as an earlier promotion in the Northeast region expired, Amtrak has launched a nationwide deal that offers double points on all routes. Amtrak also claims the so-called Double Days promotion lasts "all spring," but the actual effective dates are March 17 to May 17. If you can deal with Amtrak's ignorance of the calendar--and maybe that explains its awful on-time record--the double-points deal only has one important restriction: Your earnings are limited to two one-way trips per day. Registration is required, of course. Information: the DOUBLE DAYS page.
Car Rental: Drive North to a Colder Place for Big Deals This Spring
Consider this the reverse of the brilliant songwriter 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 selected 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 $9.95 a day, SUVs for $19.95 and minivans for $24.95 a day if you drive them one-way from select Florida locations. Those prices are actually a few bucks lower than last year's drive-out rates. 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 start at $9.95 for cars and $19.95 for SUVs, convertibles and vans. The rental period is April 1 to June 30. From Arizona, daily rates start at $23.95 for cars and $34.95 for SUVs, convertibles and vans. The rental period is March 25 to May 31.
Budget is playing in both Florida and Arizona. From Florida, rates are $9.49 for cars, $19.49 for SUVs and $24.49 for minivans. The rental period is April 1 to June 30. From Arizona, you can rent from March 25 to May 31. Daily rentals are $14.95-$21.95 for cars and $21.95-$36.95 for SUVs and vans. Rental periods are one to 7 days for Florida and one to 14 days for Arizona.
Hertz popularized the drive-out concept, but this year has limited its deals to the Arizona market. Rates start at $23.95 a day and the rental period is March 28 through May 31 with a "maximum keep" of 14 days. The rate code is ICFLT and returns are permitted in 18 states.
National is offering a Florida drive-out from April 1 to May 31. Daily rates are $9.95 for cars, $19.95 for SUVs and $24.95 for minivans or SUVs. Those prices are notably lower than last year. The rental period is from one to 21 days.
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 pick up your car by June 30. If this deal sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Hertz and Delta have run variations for more than a year. Information: the EARN 3,400 MILES page.
Enterprise: Triple Amtrak Guest Reward Points for Car Rentals
Enterprise Rent-A-Car's free-pickup service is one of the few ways to bridge the annoying gap between an Amtrak train station and a car-rental lot. Now Enterprise and Amtrak are teaming up for a triple-point promotion, too. When you use booking code AMGRTRP and book through Enterprise, you'll earn triple Amtrak Guest Rewards points. That means 150 points per day. Information: the Earn Triple Amtrak 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. 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.
Enterprise: The Return of the $9.99 a Day Weekend Rental
Enterprise Rent-A-Car's odd (if financially successful) model--most rental stations are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday--has long created an inventory imbalance. Anything stuck on the lot by Saturday is going to sit unrented until Monday. Enterprise's long-standing response: Ridiculously low weekend rates if you agree to pick up a car on Friday and keep it until Monday. As with previous years, this latest weekend special starts at $9.99 a day for economy/compact cars and tops out at $19.99 a day for full-size cars. The caveats: The Friday pick-up/Monday return period must be observed; you only receive 100 free miles a day; and most airport locations don't offer the rate. Still, if you can hit those restrictions, it's the cheapest rental around. The promotion is valid for rentals until May 21, but you should expect some holiday and big-city blackout dates. Information: the WEEKEND SPECIAL rate.
NOTABLE CREDIT CARD ACQUISITION BONUSES
American Express: 15,000 More Points to Prove Platinum's Prowess
The American Express Platinum Card has taken some heavy dings lately: American Airlines and US Airways are exiting the lounge-access program and Delta Air Lines is limiting complimentary club privileges to the individual cardholder. Amex's response: more Membership Rewards points as an acquisition bonus. If you take the card, Amex will pony up 40,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months. The standard acquisition bonus has been 25,000 points. The card's other benefits include a $200 credit against ancillary airline fees; no foreign-exchange charges; the club-access program; and many other perks. Information: the EARN 40,000 POINTS page.
Citi/American: 100,000 AAdvantage Miles to Take a Costly Card
American Airlines has pulled Admirals Clubs and US Airways Clubs from the Amex Platinum Club network and the reason is the increasingly tight relationship between carriers and the banks that issue their credit cards. At American, for example, the relationship is with Citibank. Among other products, Citi offers the costly ($450 a year) and clumsily named Citi Executive/AAdvantage World Elite Master Card. Its major perk: free access to Admirals clubs. It also throws in free bags and elite qualifying miles for high annual spending. The card is also free of foreign-exchange fees. But the news is a gigantic acquisition bonus of 100,000 AAdvantage miles. You will be required to do significant spending to get the miles ($10,000 during the first three months you have the card), but as long as you're shifting existing charges around, the miles are essentially free. Information: the MORE LUXURY 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 © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.