Steals & Deals: April 18-April 30, 2019
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CREDIT CARDS: Last Call for a Big Marriott Acquisition Bonus
In the months since it combined Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott has annoyed some guests with a less-than-generous approach to the new Bonvoy program and annoyed a few others with persistent systemic glitches. And don't even ask about the confusion surrounding its two credit card providers, American Express and Chase. That said, however, acquisition bonuses have been huge, up to 100,000 points. But that gravy train is ending in a few weeks, both banks say, so it's now or never to cash in. The 100,000-point bonus from Chase is for the Marriott Boundless card, fka the Marriott Rewards Premium Plus Card. Over at Amex, the hundred grand comes on the new Marriott Bonvoy Business card. The downside: Chase and Amex are, um, cooperating to make sure you can't claim both bonuses. Check the fine print--and the perks--of each card before you apply. But make sure that you at least have grabbed one.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
ALASKA AIRLINES: Double Miles on Coast-to-Coast Flights Through 2019
Alaska Airlines continues to try to forge a new identity on the coast-to-coast flights it assumed in the Virgin America buy. Shorn of their white seats with 55-inch pitch and mood lighting, Alaska's flights are relying on a more-than-generous 41-inch pitch and lots of upgrades. Now another tactic: double miles on transcontinental flights until the end of the year. The only restriction: advance registration before your first transcon run. The double-miles offer is valid between Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose and East Coast airports from Boston/Logan to Fort Lauderdale. That includes New York (Kennedy and Newark) and Washington (BWI, Dulles and National) airports. The deal is also offered on routes where Alaska Air had flights before it purchased Virgin America. Information: the DOUBLE MILES COAST2COAST page.
INDIA: After Jet Airways Folds, Middle East Carriers Fill the Gap
This week's demise of Jet Airways, once India's premier carrier and its best international airline, isn't good news. But practical effect? Not much on North American travelers, especially since the Middle East carriers dominate the key routes to India. (Air Canada and United Airlines fly to India, of course, but they are hardly price leaders. And Air India is rarely a great choice.) Over at Emirates, for example, fares are as low as $891 roundtrip (Chicago-Chennai in coach) and include $909 (Newark-Delhi) and $1,067 (Los Angeles-Bengaluru). Those fares are for flights over Emirates' Dubai hub, of course, as are business class fares such as $4,806 roundtrip (Newark-Mumbai). Over at Qatar Airways, which flies to India over its Doha hub, roundtrip fares include $1,185 (Atlanta-Hyderabad); $1,020 (San Francisco-Chennai) and $1,129 (Dallas/Fort Worth-Ahmedabad). Abu Dhabi-based Etihad also has extensive connections to India, but it has been withdrawing from the U.S. markets and prices from its North American gateways aren't particularly appealing in either coach or business class.
FINNAIR: Cheap Business Class This Summer and Fall? How About Russia?
Finland remains what it has always been: a middle ground between Europe and Russia. And Vantaa Airport in Helsinki remains what it always has been: a fabulous place to change planes en route to Russia. See where I'm going with this? Finnair is offering great deals in business class over its Helsinki hub to Russia. Prices are valid for travel until well into next spring if you can hit the admittedly stiff (up to 60 days) advance-purchase restriction. Sample fares: Yekaterinburg for $2,295 roundtrip; Moscow for $2,294; and St. Petersburg for $2,299. Oddly, if you're headed to Helsinki, the nonstop roundtrip price is $3,481. Ticket are nonrefundable and no stopovers are permitted. Information: the Finnair FLIGHT OFFERS page.
YOUR EXCLUSIVE MEMBERS-ONLY DISCOUNTS
HAWAII'S LOCAL BUZZ: 20 Percent Off Great Hawaiian Coffee and Delectable Sweets
If you've ever been to Hawaii--or even if you haven't--you know that the Islands are now home to great coffee; insanely good macadamia nuts and products made with them; and terrific local honey. The best of the coffee and the finest nuts and sweets come from small farms such as the Big Island's Paradise Meadows. Its Hawaii's Local Buzz brand turns out an impressive array of coffee, candies, cookies and honey. How good? I have to hide the shortbread to avoid gorging on it. And the mac nut-studded chocolates often disappear in an eating frenzy. To introduce you to the farm's fabulous line of local products, Hawaii's Local Buzz is offering JoeSentMe members a 20 percent discount on its entire online shop. Enter the promotional code joesentme at checkout when you order at the Hawaii's Local Buzz site.
THAILAND: Ted Carter's Special Villa With a Special Perk for JoeSentMe Members
Ted Carter is best-known in the travel world for a series of fabulous travelogues for British Airways and for The Point, the five-star resort he crafted in the Adirondack Mountains. Ted lives in Thailand now and he's behind the White Elephant House, a glorious private villa in Kantharalak. He's accepting guests and offering a bundle of accommodations, three meals a day and all the Ted trimmings. You can book a stay via White Elephant House's Airbnb listing, but Ted is offering a special perk for JoeSentMe members: roundtrip taxi service from Ubon Ratchathani, the nearest airport. That's a US$64 value. To claim the perk, book via Airbnb and then contact Ted directly and identify yourself as a JoeSentMe member.
The CircaTerra offer: Receive 15% off the price of all travel products and luggage, including sale prices.
How to claim the offer: Enter promo code JoeSentMe in the Gift Certificate or Coupon Code box on the order confirmation page when you shop at CircaTerra Travel.
Cook Travel Offer: 10% off most published base fares on SkyTeam international business tickets. 5% off on Star Alliance international business or first class tickets. Upgrades on most airlines when available to business from full-fare international coach.
How to claim offer: Call 800-435-8776. Identify yourself as a JoeSentMe member.
The ECBC Offer: 30 percent off all ECBC luggage purchases and free shipping except for clearance items.
How to claim the offer: Enter the code JOESENTME in the promo code box on the checkout page when you shop at http://www.ec-bc.com.
The Groundlink Offer: Receive 20 percent off rides when you book them using the GroundLink app.
How to claim the offer: Download the GroundLink app from the Apple or Android stores or GroundLink.com. Enter JOESENTME in the promo code box that will appear on the screen before you confirm your ride.
The Sheffield Spice & Tea Offer: Receive 15% off all purchases of spices, teas, rubs and accessories.
How to claim the offer: Surf to http://www.sheffieldspices.com and, when you reach the shopping cart page, enter joesentme2019 in the coupon code box.
HOTEL POINTS AND PRICE PROMOTIONS
MARRIOTT: 30 Percent Off Winter Weekend Rates in Europe
I am always skeptical of sales that promise discounts "up to" a certain percentage. But Marriott's sale on winter weekend rates at its Europe properties seems legit enough although genuine 30 percent discounts are hard to find. Expect savings in the 15-20 percent range. The sale is good for travel until April 28 if you use promo code ADP for standard rates and M96 for members of the Marriott Rewards program. The sale covers a dozen countries. Information: the EUROPE IS ON SALE page.
OMNI HOTELS: Double the Discount (and More) for AAA Members
Like many chains, Omni offers a discount for AAA members. The price saving is usually modest--about 10 percent--but Omni is doubling up. If you use the chain's prepaid AAA rates the saving is 20 percent at hotels in San Diego, San Francisco and Atlanta. It's 25 percent in Washington, Chicago, Boston, New York, Providence, Dallas, Montreal and Toronto. Information: the Omni SPECIAL RATES page.
MARRIOTT REWARDS: 2,000 Bonus Points Per Stay at Select Courtyard Hotels
I asked on Twitter recently how to tell the difference between the various Marriott-branded select-service brands when they all use similar bathroom amenities, soft goods and other material. Apparently Marriott Rewards also gets that it doesn't offer much differentiation these days. Its "solution?" A 2,000-point-per-stay bonus when you book select Courtyard by Marriott properties. Use code 53M to grab the extra points. No, that won't change your world, but never walk away from extra points. Information: the COURTYARD 2K EVERYDAY page.
HOTELS: Maybe You Can Find a Room-Rate Savings With Your Credit Card
Airline fares have been relatively flat in recent months, but hotel and resort rates continue to rise, precipitously in some destinations. Possible solution: hotel discounts offered by your credit card. American Express Platinum Cards, for example, feature a Fine Hotels & Resort collection that covers more than 1,000 properties around the world. Bundled with the FHR rates are space-available room upgrades; check-in as early as noon based on availability and guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout; breakfast for two; free WiFi; and property-specific food and beverage credit or other amenity. Meanwhile, Visa Signature cards claim to offer special rates at 900 properties. Perks include space-available upgrade; free WiFi; free breakfast for two; a $25 food and beverage credit; and late checkout. Of course, all of these specials come with some caveats. Most hotels in the programs are in the luxury category. You must book directly at the card's special Web site. And you should always check that the rate you're paying is competitive with other offers.
WALDORF/CONRAD HOTELS: $50 a Day in Statement Credits at Hilton's Luxury Digs
When you affect luxury--as Hilton's Waldorf and Hilton brands do--rate cutting is frowned upon. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen, of course, but it is frowned upon nevertheless. The preferred method of lowering the price is by gimmicks. The current gimmick? A $50 statement credit for each night you spend in participating Waldorf and Conrad hotels. Three-day advance reservations are required and there are blackout dates. And as I always say with deals like this, always check to see whether a cheaper rate is available than the promoted gimmick. A two-night minimum stay is required. All Waldorf properties honor the promotion and 27 Conrad properties are participating. Waldorf is calling its $50-a-day BEST OF WALDORF. The Conrad promotion is called COMPLIMENTS OF CONRAD.
GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
HAINAN AIRLINES: Are You Not Going to China at These Coach and Business Class Fares?
There are precious few bargains to European cities this spring and summer, but if you're looking for someplace, how about China? Hainan Airlines is basically giving away seats to fill planes on its fast-expanding network. Best of all, Hainan doesn't just fly to Beijing and Shanghai, but also operates nonstop to places such as Xi'an, Chengdu, Changsha and Chongqing. Coach fares start as low as--wait for it--$376 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Shanghai. (Other samples: $633 roundtrip from Boston to Beijing and $502 from Seattle to Beijing.) Business class seats start at just $2,319 roundtrip between Los Angeles and Xi'an. (Other samples: $2,710 from Chicago to Beijing and $2,855 from New York/Kennedy to Chengdu.) Seats at those prices are limited, of course, but they're available in decent numbers. Travel is valid through September 30. Information: the Hainan OFFERS page.
ALASKA AIRLINES: Okay, But If You'd Like Status ...
If you are going to chase status, maybe consider the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plus. It is the only U.S. program with a mileage-based system, which has proven more lucrative than the diluted revenue-based schemes adopted by other airlines. It also has expanded its route network via the Virgin America acquisition and offers awards on a wide range of international partners. It's the Virgin purchase that has led Alaska Air to offer a status challenge to flyers on the East and West Coasts. Residents in ten states and the District of Columbia earn entry-level MVP status for two coast-to-coast roundtrips by May 31. You'll earn MVP Gold status if you do four roundtrips before May 31. Advance registration is required for the promotion. Information: the COAST-TO-ELITE CHALLENGE page.
LA COMPAGNIE: Business Class to Nice for $1,300 Roundtrip This Summer and Fall
Now that it's owned by a larger and more stable travel outfit, all business class La Compagnie of France is beginning to make some sense. Its sole route--Newark-Paris--has moved to Orly, the close-in Paris airport that makes sense for the airline's point-to-point customers. The schedule seems more reliable, too, and new aircraft are on the way. The airline also is adding a smart new run: a seasonal nonstop between Newark and Nice in the south of France. The service will operate between late May and late October and La Compagnie will use Boeing 757s configured with angled-flat beds in a 2x2 configuration. The introductory price was a startling $1,200 roundtrip and the current price is just $1,300 roundtrip. Seats at that price still are available for few select days in July and August with solid availability in September and October. Information: the La Compagnie DESTINATION FRENCH RIVIERA page.
SWISS: Holy Moley! It's a First Class Sale--With Lots of Holes, Of Course
There aren't many first class cabins to Europe left, so finding a first class sale is just this side of a miracle. But maybe we should discuss the holes first: It's on Swiss, which has a limited route network. It's on Swiss, which means you're connecting via Zurich. It's on Swiss, which has a good, but not stupendous, first class product. And flights are only available for travel at the sale price starting in late July. Still, it you can thread the needle, you can find some excellent bargains. Samples from New York/JFK: Rome for $6,052 roundtrip, Naples for $6,090 and Barcelona for $6,621. From Boston, it's $5,812 roundtrip to Copenhagen. From Miami, you'll find a $6,083 roundtrip to Barcelona. And one bonus: $8,587 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. Information: the SWISS Web site.
KLM: Sure, Africa Is a Long Haul in Coach, But These Prices Are Insanely Low
Deals to Africa are hard to come by. But along comes KLM with simply insane pricing--albeit in coach. How about San Francisco to Casablanca for as little as $702 roundtrip? Or New York to Johannesburg for $698 roundtrip? Or Los Angeles to Lagos for $763 roundtrip? The prices aren't come-ons, either. KLM has a handy bar graph showing you when the fares are available and there seems to be substantial availability. Almost all itineraries include a stop in Amsterdam, but that shouldn't surprise you. Restrictions are minimal, too, requiring only a 7-day and Sunday-night stay. Information: the KLM EXPLORE AFRICA TODAY page.
BRITISH AIRWAYS: The AARP Deal, Reduced Again, But Extended Through 2020
British Airways isn't only hacking away at the quality of its in-flight product and its reputation as a premium carrier. It's also reducing the classic deals you can use to get discounts. Take its long-standing AARP deal. BA once offered as much as $400 off roundtrip. Now first and premium economy class discounts have been axed and we're left with $200 roundtrip off BA's outdated business class and $65 off its newly "densified" coach class. Also gone: the opportunity to twin the AARP discount with other BA promotions. Still, $65 or $200 off is better than a stick upside your head. And the current deal is now valid for travel until the end of 2020 if you book by January 31, 2020. The cost of entry: the $12 fee required to join AARP. And you must enter through the AARP portal to score the discounts. Information: the EXCLUSIVE AARP MEMBERS page.
GROUND TRANSPORT DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
AVIS/BUDGET/AMERICAN AADVANTAGE: Rent Three Days, Earn 500 Bonus Miles
Mileage earning from car rentals has had a strange history. In the early days of the frequency programs, they were gushers of cheap miles. Then the car rental firms realized they were paying plenty to the airlines for miles without moving the market since all the companies were doing the same thing. So for decades car rentals were earnings deserts. Lately, however, the airlines and rental firms have been working out relatively exclusive deals. The latest example? Avis and Budget, which are sister firms, will give you 500 American AAdvantage miles for a three-day rental. This is a revamp of a deal that Avis and Budget have been offering on and off for the last few years. This deal is valid for rentals that begin by June 30. Information: the 500 BONUS MILES page.
ENTERPRISE: The Return of the $10-a-Day Weekend Rental, Now $3 More
Even as it rocketed to the top of the car-rental heap, Enterprise continues to do things differently. For starters, locations are all 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 weekend promotion. For years, the buy-in price was $9.99 a day. This year, however, the lowest rate is $12.99 so long as you return the car on Monday. The $12.99 rate covers economy or compact cars. Larger cars are $14.99 (for intermediates) to $19.99 a day (full-size). Those prices are unchanged from last year. All rates include 100 miles per day and are valid for rentals that start on Fridays. Best of all, prices are valid at participating local stations until May 21. You'll find some holiday blackouts, but, otherwise, it's open season for cheap cars for a weekend jaunt. Information: the Enterprise GREAT WEEKEND CAR RENTAL RATES page.
UNITED/HERTZ: Worst-in-Class Providers Offer Really Big Bonuses
What do Hertz and United Airlines have in common? Lessee, both operations run poorly. A former top United exec was ousted as Hertz chief executive for doing a lousy job. And United once actually owned Hertz. Other than that? Both are desperate for new customers. The solution: gigantic bonuses for even two-day rentals. Until March 31, book a mid-size or larger Hertz car at United.com for at least two days and you'll receive a 1,500-mile bonus atop the 500-1,250 miles you'd normally earn as a member of MileagePlus. That means as many as 2,750 miles for rentals as short as two days. Sound familiar? It should. It's a re-introduction, extension and slight rejiggering of a promotion that the two companies have continually offered for about three years. Information: the EARN AWARD MILES page.
NATIONAL/SOUTHWEST: Quadruple Rapid Rewards Points for Weekly Rentals. Again.
Southwest Airlines and National Car Rental have teamed up to offer a bigger payoff for rentals if you need a vehicle. Instead of the standard 600 Rapid Rewards points, a two- or three-day National rental will earn 1,200 points. Rentals of 4-6 days will earn 1,800 points. Weekly or longer rentals will score 2,400 points. To score the points, use Contract ID code 5030510. Bonus points are valid on rentals until January 31, 2020, with one-day advance reservation. By the way, if this sounds familiar, it is exactly the same deal that ran all of last year. Information: the RAPID REWARDS PROMOTIONS page.
CREDIT CARD ACQUISITION BONUSES
CHASE/UNITED: Bad Airline, Good Offer: 60,000 Miles to Use Elsewhere
Objectively speaking, United Airlines remains near the bottom of most every survey of airline quality. But its frequency program, MileagePlus, offers surprisingly good prices on international flights on any number of better carriers. (And 70,000 off-peak miles for business class to Europe is usually available.) Another benefit: no co-pays on the awards. Still another perk: Even better availability if you hold one of its credit cards. So when Chase is offering as many as 60,000 miles for taking the United Explorer card, attention must be paid. The acquisition bonus is parceled out over two periods: 40,000 miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months and 20,000 more if you spend $8,000 in six months. The $95 annual fee is also waived in the first year. The acquisition promotion is available to new cardholders until May 16. Information: the THE UNITED EXPLORER CARD page.
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES/BARCLAY: 60,000-Mile Acquisition Bonus for $2,000 in Spending
Airlines, hotels and credit card banks can't stop rolling out the big bonuses if they want to keep their new-card acquisitions up. Hence the seemingly endless offers for new cards. Now it's Hawaiian Airlines and Barclaycard. They're offering 60,000 bonus miles if you take the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard. Required spend is modest: $2,000 in the first 90 days. The card's annual fee is $99. The card itself offers decent ongoing earnings: three miles for Hawaiian Airlines purchases and two miles on gasoline, dining and grocery store purchases. Information: the Hawaiian Airlines LIMITED-TIME OFFER page.
AMERICAN EXPRESS: Lots and Lots of Points to Take a Hilton Card. But, Um...
American Express really, really wants you to take one of its four Hilton cards. And the lure, as always, is a bigger acquisition bonus: from 75,000 to 150,000 Hilton Honors points. The problem? Hilton Honors points have very little value, even in the ridiculously devalued travel world. Getting a half-cent return is often a victory in Honors, which is now completely revenue-based and ludicrously overpriced for everything but a standard room. (And sometimes not even then...) But if you find value in Hilton, at least one of these four cards will be useful and perhaps two should be on your radar. The no-fee Hilton Honors Amex will give you 75,000 points for $1,000 of spend in the first three months. The sweet spot is 125,000 points, available for Amex's two Hilton cards with a $95 annual fee. Information: the Amex UPGRADE YOUR STAY page.
CHASE: 80,000-Point Bonus to Take an Ink Business Card
As the airline frequent flyer programs get less generous, smart travelers are banking their miles with banks. Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for example, offer a 1:1 transfer to United, Southwest, several international airlines and some hotel chains, too. There seems to be less risk by banking points with Chase and moving them to your programs as the good deals--or award availability--warrant. One of the current stars in the wide Chase portfolio? The Ink Business Preferred Card. For the $95 annual fee, you'll receive an acquisition bonus of 80,000 points when you spend $5,000 during the first three months. You'll also earn three points per dollar spent on travel expenditures; shipping charges; payments for Internet, cable and phone services; and certain advertising purchases. Information: the 80,000 BONUS POINTS page.
This column is Copyright © 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2019 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.