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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR MARCH 5-20, 2014
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.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL BARGAINS
Lufthansa: A Last-Minute Business-Class Sale for Ostern and Passah
Most other airlines have let their Easter and Passover business-class sale expire, but Lufthansa is still offering decent, if not spectacular, deals up front to Europe. Sample fares: $2,899 roundtrip from New York to Munich; $2,529 from Chicago to Madrid; and $3,769 from San Francisco to Rome. The travel period is April 13-25 for departures and April 19-May 1 for returns. A 28-day advance purchase applies. Information: the TREAT YOURSELF page.
Marriott: A Package With Peanuts and Cracker Jack for Spring Training
If the snow and brutal winter travel season has beaten you down--or if you are just desperate for baseball--Marriott properties in Arizona have a deal for you. For rates that start at $129 a night, the chain's hotels in Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe will throw in some Spring Training-related perks along with a room: a baseball and a Sharpie (I assume to use for autographs); a bag of peanuts and Cracker Jack (I assume because it's in Take Me Out to the Ballgame); and two bottles of water (because you get thirsty in the desert). What is not included: tickets to any of the exhibition games played by the dozen or so Major League teams that train in Arizona. When you book the Take Me Out to the Ballgame package and use the code SPE, the promotion lasts until April 13, two weeks after the teams will have broken camp and started the 2014 season for real. Information: the BATTER UP page.
Air France: A Great Premium-Economy Sale--If You Want 10 Days in Paris
Air France has been regularly dealing on its premium-economy cabin and the current deal is sweet: midweek fares as low as $1,603 roundtrip from New York; $1,620 from Chicago or Miami; $1,840 from San Francisco; and $1,847 from Los Angeles. The travel window is decent: March 28 to April 13 and again from April 29 to May 15. And the 14-day advance purchase window is manageable. The problem: the 10-day minimum stay. Information: the PREMIUM ECONOMY SPRING DEALS page.
THE CURRENT HOTEL FREQUENT GUEST PROMOTIONS
Wyndham: Double Points for Six Weeks to Celebrate...Groundhog Day
Wyndham Rewards isn't considered a top-tier frequency program and its habit of frequent, unannounced devaluations turns off business travelers. But if you use the plan, be aware that it is offering a double-points promotion tied to (wait for it) Groundhog Day. Until March 21, you'll earn double points on as many as four stays. You must register in advance, of course. Information: the BONUS POINTS page.
Hilton HHonors: After Offending Business Travelers, a Weekend Points Promo
After offending business travelers with brutal, disingenuous and frequent cutbacks, Hilton HHonors is now trying to convince leisure travelers that the program is worth playing. While other chains (see below) are courting business travelers with midweek offers in the slow first quarter, Hilton is now trying to convince leisure travelers to stay on weekends. The Weekend Rewards promotion offers 1,000 points for each weekend night's stay and 5,000 points for a two-night stay. Stays must be recorded on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday night to accrue the bonuses. The promotion runs between February 1 and April 30 and advance registration is required. There are also hundreds of hotels, mostly in the United States, that have opted out. Information: the TAKE A WEEKEND OFF page.
Club Carlson: Stay Three Nights, Get a Free Night (Sort of)
Club Carlson, the frequent-guest plan of Radisson, Country Inns and Park Inn/Place hotels, has unleashed its first-quarter promotion. And it's pretty straightforward: Stay a total of three nights before April 13 and you'll earn 38,000 Gold points. That translates to a free night at any Category 1-4 properties in the program. Advance registration is required, of course. Information: the STAY 3 NIGHTS page.
Hyatt Gold Passport: Slower Free Nights--Or Take Points Instead
Hyatt has kinda, sorta revived its much-lamented Faster Free Nights deal. But it is a little slower and a lot less rich now, so you may want the points alternative instead. Hyatt's upcoming Endless Possibilities promotion will award you a free night after five nights of stays. And you can earn as many as four nights during the January 15-April 30 promotional period. But free nights are only good at Category 1-4 properties and must be used by July 31. Given those restrictions, you might be better off choosing points. Rather than free nights, you can earn a 5,000-point Gold Passport bonus for five nights of stays during the same period. If you stay 10 nights, you earn 15,000 points. Stay 15 nights and earn 30,000 points and stay 20 nights and earn a total of 50,000 points. The points don't have an expiration date and can be applied to any hotel in any category. Oh, one more factor: You must register in advance for the promotion and choose points or nights. Registration must be completed by March 31.
Marriott Rewards: Free Nights or Bonus Points, But Who Knows Which?
Marriott apparently thinks mass-targeted MegaBonus Marriott Rewards promotions are exciting, but even Marriott Rewards members are beginning to wonder. After a painful devaluation earlier this year, the first MegaBonus offer for 2014 is weaker than recent promotions, too. The published offer, for example, offers a free night after two stays between February 1 and April 30. But this time the free night (maximum of two freebies) is only valid for Category 1-4 hotels, down from Category 1-5 properties as in the past. The other targeted MegaBonus offers this time include 35,000 points for 20 nights stayed and another 15,000 points for 25 stays; 35,000 points for 20 nights plus 2,000 more points for each paid night to a maximum of 55,000 points; or as many as two free nights in Category 1-5 hotels. You must log in to your account to see the promotional offer Marriott has sent to you. One bit of good news: Members do report a good bit of luck getting their offer adjusted on request. Registration is required, of course, and that must be completed by March 31. Information: the MORE OF WHAT YOU LOVE page.
Hotels: It's Time for the Next (Tired) Tranche of Promotions
For all the talk about how the hotel market is ratcheting upward in rate, the major chains continue to open far more rooms than most markets can comfortably absorb. The result? Endless frequent guest promotions to keep us interested in booking one chain or another. After a while, however, it gets harder and harder to create intriguing earnings hooks. So if it seems that you've heard of these before, you probably have. Only the validity dates change.
IHG REWARDS CLUB, the frequency program of InterContinental, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo and other brands, is reviving its Big Win promotion between January 1 and April 30. This is a customized offer based on number of stays, number of brands you visit and other factors. The promotion is here and code to register is 829.
STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST is offering a minimalist winter promotion called Bring on the Nights. You'll earn a relatively meager 2,500 bonus points after every five nights and 5,000 more points after the 25th night. The promotional period is January 7 to April 30. Register here.
GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
LAN: The Crazy-Quilt Business-Class Sale to South America Returns
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: $1,179 roundtrip from New York/JFK to Quito, Ecuador; $699 roundtrip from Miami to Bogota, Colombia; and $3,065 from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. Tickets must be purchased from 28 to 50 days in advance and minimum stay is usually around three days or a Saturday night. Information: the UPGRADE YOUR TRAVEL page.
JetBlue Airways: Boston-Detroit Prices for Even Less Than We Advertise!
JetBlue Airways is adding flights to Detroit/Metro from Boston/Logan, where it has emerged as the largest airline after besting the entrenched legacy carriers. It's been advertising an introductory one-way fare of $94 on the BOS-DTW route, but here's the strange bit: The fare on many days during March is as low as $79 one-way. Go figure. There are some restrictions, of course, including blackout dates around Easter/Passover. Still, peck around and you might find a good deal on a route once dominated by notorious fare-gougers like Northwest Airlines and US Airways. Information: the BEST FARE FINDER page
SAS: Decent Summer Premium-Class Prices--and Awful Graphics
Full marks to SAS Scandinavian, one of the few carriers besides Lufthansa that still actively promotes seasonal premium-class sales. The problem: The promo page is nearly impossible to read. If I accurately separated the blue from the yellow and the distracting background, premium-economy fares begin at $1,729 roundtrip (Newark to Copenhagen) and top out at $2,015 (San Francisco to Stockholm). If you're interested in business class, it starts at $2,889 roundtrip (Newark to Oslo) and tops out at $3,735 (San Francisco to Stockholm). There is also a summer sale on connecting flights throughout Europe. The premium-class seats must be purchased by March 31 and you can travel midweek between June 13 and September 1. Weekend flights carry a $70 surcharge. A Saturday-night stay is required. Information: the SUMMER SALE page.
Airlines: Europe Summer Business-Class Sales Limp Into the Open
If you're one of those travelers who plan summer holidays around the airlines' annual business-class sales to Europe, the early indications are extraordinarily poor. Not all routes have a fare sale loaded into the reservations systems yet and those that do are looking pretty limp. Whenever I could find sales, prices seem to be around $150 roundtrip above last year's already high prices. Samples from Newark, where United (nee Continental) Airlines was the traditional summer-sale launch carrier: Rome for $2,965 roundtrip; Paris/CDG for $3,043; Madrid for $2,763; Brussels for $2,845; Munich for $2,898; and Copenhagen for $2,796. Worse, the only airline that has put up a promotional page for the summer fares is Virgin Atlantic. Its prices to London include $1,642 one-way from Boston; $1,537 from Newark or New York/Kennedy; and $1,957 from San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Air New Zealand has also posted a roundtrip sale of $3,982 on its LAX-London run.) As far as I can divine, the travel period is almost exactly the same as last year: outbound flights are permitted between June 27 and August 30. Returns are valid from June 29 to September 4. This year, the fares require a minimum 3-day or Sunday-night stay. Will these be the lowest summer sale prices of the year? Hard to tell, but if you absolutely, positively must score a sale this summer, start pecking around airline Web sites and third-party sites such as Kayak.com. The rest of us can probably afford to wait a few weeks to see if the situation improves, fares decline and more routes are added.
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.
Malaysia Airlines: Last Call for Secret (Cheap) Tokyo Flight
When I wrote about fifth-freedom flights to and from the United States, one route I featured was Malaysia Airlines' virtually unknown nonstop between Los Angeles and Tokyo/Narita. But cash-strapped Malaysia announced this week that it will end the route by the end of April. That means Malaysia will lose its U.S. presence after 30 years of service. If you want to try the carrier before that LAX-Tokyo run goes, Malaysia is offering up fabulous deals. In coach, the roundtrip price is just $875 and business-class fare is an equally enticing $3,150 roundtrip. Prices are good for travel until April 14. Information: The DEALS OF THE DAY page.
American/US Airways: Fly the Other Guy and Get a 50 Percent Bonus
It probably won't be until the 2015 flying year when American Airlines will try to merge the US Airways Dividend Miles plan into American AAdvantage. So what will it do in the meantime? Offer you bonuses to fly on the other carrier's metal. Until March 2, American AAdvantage members can earn a 50 percent bonus when they fly on US Airways and Dividend Miles members earn a 50 percent bonus when they fly on American. Registration is required, of course, and the merged carrier isn't even organized enough yet to have a combined registration page. If you are building up your Dividend Miles account, register here for the bonus on AA metal. If you are vested in AAdvantage, register here for the bonus when you fly US Airways.
United MileagePlus: We Specialize in Me-Too Miles Offers
United Airlines' clueless management now doesn't do anything on pricing or service until and unless Delta Air Lines does it first. And its MileagePlus program is reliably reactive, too. This time, MileagePlus matches a bonus offer launched by American AAdvantage (see below) on transcon flights between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Just as American is doing, United offers 5,000-15,000-mile roundtrip bonuses depending on fare class. The deal is valid for flights between January 7 and March 31. Advance registration is required, of course. Information: the KICK OFF THE NEW YEAR page.
American Airlines: Big Transcon Bonuses When You Pay Big Fares
American Airlines is rolling out a new plane (the Airbus A321T) on transcontinental routes between New York/Kennedy, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And American has retained first class while its legacy competitors have eliminated the up front cabin. So to promote the putatively premium nature of its transcons, American is rolling out large bonuses for AAdvantage flyers. First- or business-class flights will earn 7,500 bonus miles each way while full-fare economy travel will earn 5,000 bonus miles each way. Higher-priced discounted coach fares will earn 2,500 bonus miles each way. The bonuses can be earned between January 9 and March 31. Registration is required, of course, and you can do it here.
HOTEL BARGAINS WORTH NOTING
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
Hilton: Cold (But Cheap) Comfort at Chicago-Area Hotels
Even by Chicago standards, this has already been a brutal winter. And that makes
a promotion from 10 Chicagoland Hilton Family hotels all the more interesting because prices are plummeting along with the temperature. The so-called Chillcation deals include "naked" room-only rates as low as $85 a night at the Hilton Chicago; $95 at the Palmer House; $119 at the Drake; and $159 at Wit. There are also value-added bundles that include parking, suite upgrades, breakfast, drinks, snacks, movie tickets, gift cards and even manicures. The special rates and packages are available until April 20. Information: the CHOOSE YOUR CHILLCATION page.
Boston: The Taj Boston Puts Fire on Sale
The Taj Boston, which many experienced travelers will recall as the original Ritz-Carlton hotel, has a perk few other lodgings can offer: more than three dozen suites outfitted with wood-burning fireplaces. To promote that fact during the fireplace season, the Suite Celebration is a warming bundle: 50 percent off accommodations for the second night, a complimentary continental breakfast for two, free Internet access and two daily garment pressings. The hotel's "fireplace butler" will even offer a firewood menu so your fire can be made with birch, cherry, oak, maple or a special Taj blend. The promotion is valid until April 1. For date-specific pricing and reservations, call 877-4-TAJ-BOSTON. Information: the Taj Boston FIREPLACE SUITE 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: Free Summer Rides on Acela and Northeast Regional
Amtrak Guest Rewards, the railroad's frequency program, will swap you rides now for a summer freebie. Targeted at riders in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, the promotions offer free trips on Acela or the slower Northeast Regional between July 1 and August 31. Six one-way or three roundtrip Acela rides before March 14 earn two one-way or one roundtrip Acela ride this summer. On Northeast Regional trains, four one-way or two roundtrip rides before March 14 earn a summer roundtrip or two one-way rides. Guest Reward members can earn a maximum of four one-way tickets in each promotion. You must register separately for the Acela offer (do it here) and the Northeast Regional promotion (do it here). Please note: This deal was originally slated to expire on March 1, but has been extended.
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 March 31. 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.
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.
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. Until March 31, 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.
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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.