Steals & Deals for March 19-31, 2015
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BOSTON: Logan Is Now the Hub of Cheap Flights to China and Asia
For decades, New England travelers looked on helplessly as other cities got service to China and Asia while Logan was ignored. No more. Logan is looking like the bargain stop for flights to Asia now that Cathay Pacific is joining Hainan Airlines in Boston. Cathay's four weekly nonstops to Hong Kong begin on May 2 and it is offering an introductory fare sale on connecting flights to Asia. If you fly between August 15 and October 15, roundtrip fares start as low as $695 to Taipei. For less than $20 more, you can fly to several cities in Mainland China (Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangdong) and five other cities in Asia (Manila, Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Kuala Lumpur). The caveats: The fares are for coach travel and must be purchased by March 23. Meanwhile, incumbent Hainan Airlines is offering nonstop flights from Boston to Beijing for as little as $810 roundtrip when you depart between April 4 and April 24. A three-day minimum stay applies. The price rises to $860 for flights until the end of April.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE BARGAINS
MERIDIANA: Bargain Nonstops to Sicily This Spring. Nice Work If You Can Get It.
I've lost track of how many airlines have been folded into Meridiana, which started life as Alisarda, a carrier launched by the Aga Khan to fly to Sardinia. Although almost unknown in the United States, Meridiana (often under the name EuroFly) has flown from New York to Rome, Naples, Milan and Sicily. Nonstop to Sicily, I'll have you know. And fares are eye-poppingly cheap this spring--less than $600 roundtrip in April, May and June. The trick to getting the fare on Meridiana's once- or twice-weekly nonstops to Palermo? Making sense of the chaotic, quintessentially Italian Meridiana Web site. Lots of luck.

AVIS: Quadruple American AAdvantage Miles Worldwide Until April 30
Mileage offers are drying up everywhere else, but there continue to be relative gold mines in the car-rent arena. The latest from Avis is quadruple American AAdvantage miles on virtually any rental worldwide. Use coupon code #MUAA088 for rentals before April 30. Information: the Avis WINDOW SEAT'S OPEN page.

ACCOR: Three Nights for the Price of Two at Thousands of Hotels Worldwide
Accor, the French hotel giant, is offering a 3-for-2 sale on thousands of hotels worldwide in its Sofitel, Novotel, Ibis, Pullman and Mercure chains. The promotion requires you to stay three nights, so essentially you're getting a 33 percent discount on each night's stay rather than an unencumbered free night. Still, it's a good deal if you can handle the 10-day advance reservation restriction and the prepayment requirement. Although there are a few regional variations, the travel period lasts until May 31 if you book by April 14. Information: the Accor 3=2 page.

HILTON HHONORS: After a Hack, a 1,000-Point Bonus for Changing Your Password
The Hilton HHonors program was hacked last year and Hilton promptly barred you from using your PIN number to log in. Then Hilton added one of those annoying Captcha pictograms. Now you'll be required to change your password, too. But Hilton is offering a small incentive--1,000 HHonors points--if you change it by March 25. You might as well do it because you'll be required to do it, without a bonus, on April 1. Information: the Hilton PASSWORD SECURITY page.

AIR NEW ZEALAND: Okay, Baby, How About $1,800 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. But now Air New Zealand is ripping up its own floor on the LAX-Rarotonga service. The new price: Just $1,805 roundtrip if you can travel in April or June. 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 March 31. You even earn frequent flyer miles. Information: the Air New Zealand SPECIAL OFFER page.


HOTEL POINTS AND PRICE PROMOTIONS
HILTON: Double Rubles, er, HHonors Points for the Spring
Hilton's endlessly devalued HHonors program is out with another extremely modest promotion: double HHonors points or double airline miles for stays between March 1 and May 31. You have to choose whether to earn points or miles and the choice can't be changed during the promotional period. (By the way, even in their devalued, ruble-like state, it's better to choose the HHonors points rather than the shriveled amount of miles you could earn.) There is also a huge list of hotels that won't be honoring the promotion and most of them are in the United States. (See the list here.) Advance registration is required, of course. INFORMATION: the DOUBLE YOUR HHONORS 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.

CHICAGO: A New Property in a Crowded Hotel Market Wants Your Attention
The 400-room Loews Chicago hotel has opened in the Streeterville neighborhood. Located in a new 52-story tower at Ogden Plaza, it's a block from the Chicago River and two blocks from North Michigan Avenue. In other words, smack in the middle of two dozen other hotels, most of which are part of a larger chain. Loews' response? An opening offer of 30 percent off its "best rate" if you stay before April 6. Of course, if you're getting 30 percent off the "best rate," wouldn't the rate you're paying actually be the "best rate?" Anyway, your call. Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS page.

IHG HOTELS: Double Airline Miles, Dozens of Choices
If you're a player in the IHG Rewards Club and your preferences are set to miles accrual, then you can earn double miles on each IHG stay until April 30. Among the dozens of participating carriers are American, Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, United and US Airways. The one trick? Double miles begin with the second stay. Information: the LEAVE ROOM IN YOUR LUGGAGE page.

HYATT: Gold Passport Jumps Back Into the Quarterly Bonus Promotion Game
After several years out of quarterly bonus promotion competition, Hyatt Gold Passport has returned to the game for 2015. They're not back with a bang since hotel occupancy is high and Hyatt's competitors aren't setting a particularly high bar (see below). In its Stay More Play More promo, Hyatt has gone the mass-customized route. You may be offered a simple 2,000 bonus points per stay or get some variation that requires a minimum number of stays for 20,000 or more points delivered in a bundle. You'll have to log in to see your particular offer. The promotional period lasts until April 30. You'll also have to register to play. Information: the STAY MORE PLAY MORE page.

FAIRMONT: Free Nights and Percent-Off Sales This Winter
The strange mashup that is Fairmont (a merger of the U.S. Fairmont and Canadian Pacific chains owned by a Saudi firm) would naturally have strange sales. So don't be surprised by its winter sale that promises "up to 15% off OR a free night" because neither claim is accurate. The hotels in the promotion actually offer discounts of 10 to 25 percent off their rates or they offer a free night when you purchase two or three nights. In other words, the effective discount is 10 to 33 percent. The promotion is valid for stays until April 30. Blackout days and payment requirements vary by property. Is the convolution worth it? Depends on whether you like the Fairmont property involved. Information: the SEASONAL SAVER page.

HOTELS: A Discouraging Start to the 2015 Promotions
Even as hotel occupancy firms up and nightly rates inch up, the major chains continue to offer regular frequent-guest program promotions. But they're often dreary reruns at best and diluted retreads of old names at worst. Sadly, the first promos for 2015 aren't particularly encouraging. I don't think any will lead you to switch your loyalty or book additional nights, but your mileage may vary.
    Marriott Rewards continues to use the MegaBonus moniker for its latest promotion, which runs from February 1 to April 30. MegaBonus wasn't that great when it was new and this version is even less rewarding. The publicly available offer is 25,000 points doled out 2,500 points per stay. But, as always, the MegaBonus is a mass-customized offer that differs based on your booking patterns and history with Marriott. You may be offered as much as 55,000 points. If you don't like what you get when you register (do it here), call Marriott Rewards and negotiate. One thing that is standard: You must register by March 31.
    IHG Rewards Club is pumping what it calls Set Your Sights, another mass-customized scheme that is based on activities: downloading its app, staying in particular chains, completing weekend stays, etc. At least in format, it's an exact copy of last season's Into the Nights promotion. It seems as if earnings are capped at 50,000 points for the January 1-April 30 promotion period regardless of the combination of tasks you're required to complete. And, of course, registration is required. You can do that here.
    Club Carlson may have the best of this tame/lame field so far. It is offering 15,000 bonus Goldpoints for each two-night stay and 30,000 points for each stay of three or more nights. The earning period is January 12 to March 29 when you register in advance.
    Starwood Preferred Guest is promoting a so-called Double Play. You'll receive double Starpoints for stays of two or more eligible nights and 1,000 additional points for every five nights stayed during the promo period. The earnings period lasts through April 15, but you must register by March 31. There's also a hefty list of properties opting out (view it here). I get the Florida and California opt-outs, but Chicago? Because we all want to be in Chicago in the winter without an incentive...

GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
LA COMPAGNIE: Sub-$2,000 Business-Class Seats to London and Paris This Summer
We can quibble about the quality of La Compagnie's product--the 74 seats are the angled lie-flat variety, meals are simple and there's just one flight a day on its two routes--but it's also the only carrier offering business-class tickets 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. Besides, the airline is being very generous with its definition of summer. The fares last into October. Prices are for nonrefundable tickets with a stiff $500 change fee, but there are no advance-purchase or minimum-stay restrictions. Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS page.

VIRGIN AMERICA: Yeah, Well, We Fly From Love Field, Too, You Know...
Southwest Airlines fought a long, lonely fight for decades to open up Dallas/Love Field and has garnered most of the attention now that Love is no longer lost. Besides, Southwest controls 18 of the 20 gates at Love and is a fixture in Dallas. But San Francisco-based Virgin America has been trying to build out service at Love and is now going right after Southwest with a percent-off deal and a two-for-one offer. The All Fares Being Equal, Awesome Wins promotion is as convoluted as the name implies. But, basically, it works like this: You submit the E-mail of as many as three people. If they join Virgin's Elevate frequent flyer program, they receive a coupon valid for 20 percent off a flight to or from Love Field. For giving up your friends' E-mail addresses, you'll get a two-for-one offer on your next trip to/from Love. The promos are not valid for flights on Sunday and travel must occur between April 7 and June 6. There's also a 14-day advance purchase required. If you head hasn't exploded, you can get further details here. By the way, even the promotional Web site is convoluted and tough to follow.

AIRLINES: The Rise of Premium Economy as the Promotional Class
When JoeSentMe launched in those awful days right after 9/11, airlines around the world were discounting frantically in business class as a way to get us back in the skies. Lately, however, business-class deals are much harder to find, partially because the carriers have adjusted their capacity and the market has become so robust. But the rise of premium economy-- essentially what business class was around 1990--has given the airlines an alternate promotional class. Increasingly, the best deals are in premium economy, which offers about 38 inches of legroom, some ground perks (priority check-in, extra checked luggage) and some upgraded food options. Here are some of the deals I found this week:
    Air France has rates as low as $1,634 roundtrip (New York/JFK-Paris/CDG) and $1,702 (Houston-Paris) if you fly midweek by May 15, book 14 days in advance and have an (admittedly stiff) 10-day minimum stay. You can find more details here.
    EVA Air is offering fares as low as $1,439 roundtrip (San Francisco-Taipei) and $1,770 (New York-Taipei) if you fly midweek. Available travel dates and purchase deadlines vary by gateway city. You can find more details here.
    Lufthansa has fares as low as $1,849 roundtrip (Boston-Berlin) and $1,689 (Miami-Istanbul) if you fly midweek by May 14, book 14 days in advance and purchase tickets by April 15. You can find more details here.

ROYAL AIR MAROC: A Cheap Way to Fly a Dreamliner
You don't often see Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan flag carrier, on this page. The reason? It's not a particularly good airline, even in premium class. And the aged Boeing 767s flying between New York and Casablanca are rather tatty. But here's the good news: RAM (honest, the airline is known as RAM) switched last month to new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners on the JFK-Casablanca run. If you're one of those plane-geek business travelers and haven't yet had the opportunity to try a Dreamliner, here's your chance. RAM's introductory fare on the new aircraft is as low as $787 roundtrip (see how that works out) for flights until May 20. Tickets must be purchased by March 20. RAM's coach on the Dreamliner is configured 3x3x3. There's also a $1,000 one-way, space-available upgrade to business class sold at check-in. (RAM's business class is configured 2x2.) The flight is approximately 6.5 hours in duration. Information: 800-344-6726

STAR ALLIANCE: Easter, Passover, Summer, Europe, Business Class, Some Bargains
With business picking up and airlines cutting down on inventory across the Atlantic, the Easter/Passover and Summer business-class sales to Europe are no longer the frenzy-creating, joy-inducing events they once were. Prices have doubled or even tripled from springs and summers recently passed and most of the eye-popping bargains are gone. Still, if you've arranged your travel life to cash in on some of these deals, careful combing will turn up some useful offers. I've focused on Star Alliance carriers because they've traditionally been the most aggressive with the sales. You should find matching prices on most routes from SkyTeam and Oneworld carriers.
    For the Easter/Passover period, outbound travel is permitted between March 29 and April 10 and returns at the lowest prices are available between April 6 and April 16. You'll have to book 14 days in advance and it looks like a Saturday stay is required on most fares. (Look for P class this season with code PNC1S. Sample prices: $2,958 roundtrip Newark-Paris on United; $2,834 roundtrip New York/Kennedy-Geneva on Swiss; $3,348 roundtrip Houston-Amsterdam (United); $3,314 roundtrip Atlanta-Frankfurt (Lufthansa); and $3,688 Los Angeles-Zurich roundtrip (Swiss).
    The much-broader summer sale seems to be available between June 25 and August 29 for departures with returns permitted until September 7. Tickets must be purchased by March 9 and there's a 7-day minimum stay. Sample prices: $2,895 roundtrip between Newark and Copenhagen (SAS); $2,169 roundtrip between New York/JFK and Dusseldorf (Lufthansa); $2,599 roundtrip Charlotte to Munich (Lufthansa); and $3,798 roundtrip Los Angeles to London/Heathrow (Air New Zealand).

ALASKA AIRLINES: Double Miles in the Fight Against Delta
With Alaska Airlines in a potentially life-and-death struggle with Delta Air Lines for control of the Seattle-Tacoma market, it's time for another underdog promotion. Alaska is offering double miles on key routes from Sea-Tac and Salt Lake City, where Alaska is running a rear-guard action at Delta's hub. The routes won't surprise you since they are mostly to Delta hubs as well as some other highly competitive destinations. Once you register--do it here--you can earn the double miles until May 15.

ALASKA AIRLINES: First Bag Free for Three Months for Cardholders
Alaska Airlines does a terrific job differentiating itself from its legacy competitors. It's also doing a more than credible job fending off Delta Air Lines' full frontal attack on its Seattle/Tacoma hub. But there's one area where Alaska Air lags: Its credit cards with Bank of America don't offer a free first checked bag. But at least for the moment, Alaska and BofA are fighting back. If you have a consumer version of the Visa Signature card, your first bag will be free on flights during February, March and April. The details are here. If you don't have an Alaska card, the acquisition bonus is 25,000 miles and you can apply here.

GROUND TRANSPORT DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
AMTRAK: It's the Same Old Spring Promotion. It's the Same Old Spring Promotion.
Amtrak is nothing if not predictable. Not service, of course, where Amtrak is infuriatingly unpredictable. But promotionally. Once again, Amtrak is starting the spring with its so-called Double Days deal. Basically, you get double Guest Rewards points for every paid ride between March 16 and May 16. Advance registration is required, of course. Information: the DOUBLE DAYS page.

NATIONAL/SOUTHWEST: Quadruple Rapid Rewards Points for Three-Day Rentals
Southwest Airlines and National Car Rental have teamed up to offer an intriguing payoff for rentals if you need a car for three days or more. Instead of the standard 600 Rapid Rewards points, a three-day National rental before May 17 will earn 2,400 points. To score the quadruple points, rent a midsize or larger and use Contract ID code 5030924. Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS 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.

ENTERPRISE: The Return of the $10-a-Day Weekend Rental
Even as it has rocketed to the top of the car-rental heap, Enterprise continues to do things differently. For starters, all of its locations are company owned, astonishing in this era of franchised everything. It has expanded rapidly at airports, but its roots remain in the we'll-pick-you-up local station. And many of those local stations close on Sunday with short hours on Saturday. The result: a ridiculously wonderful promotion that offers cars as low as $9.99 a weekend day, so long as you return the car on Monday. The $9.99 rate covers economy or compact cars. Larger cars are $14.99-$19.99 a day. The rates include 100 miles per day and are valid for rentals that start on Fridays. Best of all, the promotion is valid at local stations until May 20. Information: Enterprise's WEEKEND SPECIAL page.

TRAVEL PACKAGES TO CONSIDER
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.

SCOTLAND: Seven Islands, 11 Days--and David Rowell, Too...
As you surely know, Travel Insider David Rowell used to be a travel packager in an earlier life. And several times a year, he still hosts a select group of travelers on a trip he personally plans and conducts. This spring, Rowell is taking a party of favorites on a tour of the Scottish islands. And, boy, David does it right: transportation in a huge luxury coach for a small group; an expert driver and guide; stays in hotels and inns he personally chooses; daily breakfast; daily touring and nearly a dozen ferry rides; and visits to seven islands and some of mainland Scotland, too. The trip begins in Glasgow on June 8 and you're free to arrange your own flights (or cash miles for a freebie). Tour prices start at $2,995 each for two people traveling together. (There's a $495 single supplement.) Information: the SCOTLAND'S ISLANDS 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.

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

OXFORD: So You Never Got to Be a Rhodes Scholar...
So you never got to be a Rhodes Scholar. Fear not because there is always The Oxford Experience, the summer session at Oxford University that offers dozens of week-long courses to travelers of all ages, social classes, intelligence levels and interests. One-week packages include the tuition and lectures for your course; lodging in Christ Church College dorms; and three meals daily. There are dozens of courses from which to choose, including studies in archeology, history, literature, politics, art and music. Courses are held in the morning, which leaves afternoons free for touring and optional excursions and evening for everything from whisky tasting to lessons in Morris dancing. At the end of the week, you even get a farewell dinner and something like a diploma. It's then up to you whether you want to run for the House of Commons or buy yourself a seat in the House of Lords. (Okay, I made that last part up, except, you know, the buying your way into the House of Lords.) Prices start at 1,260 pounds per person and upgrades to private accommodations with private baths start at 90 pounds each for two traveling together or 180 pounds if you go solo. The weekly sessions take place from July 5 to August 15. My choice for favorite course in the 2015 offerings? The Black Death because it sounds like something from a Monty Python or Black Adder skit. Information: the University of Oxford SUMMER SCHOOLS page.

NOTABLE CREDIT CARD ACQUISITION BONUSES
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.