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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR FEBRUARY 4-18, 2010
Priority Club Rewards: Taunting Hilton HHonors, Giving Points
Priority Club Rewards, the frequent guest program of InterContinental Hotels, is taunting Hilton Hotels over the recent 20 percent devaluation of the HHonors awards chart. It's running a "Luckiest Loser" contest to find the 20,000 HHonors players who've "lost" the most points and they'll each get up to 20,000 Priority Club points. The HHonors member who's "lost" the most gets two million points. And all HHonors members who enter the contest will get 1,000 Priority Club points. Of course, the points aren't without strings. You must have been enrolled in Priority Club by the end of January to qualify. And you'll have to give InterContinental your HHonors number and other data about your Hilton stays. Your call on this one, folks. The promotion lasts until February 28. Information: the Lost Something page.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
SuperShuttle: A Winter Discount--and You Don't Have to Drive to the Airport
My least favorite thing in the world: driving to and from the airport. My most favorite thing in the world: a no-strings discount. So you know I like this one: 15 percent off SuperShuttle's normal roundtrip fares until March 15. And, as usual, you get frequent flyer miles on Delta, Frontier, United and US Airways. The deal is valid for all SuperShuttle airport services except travel to and from Miami International. Information: the Winter Garage Sale page.
South African Airways: Okay, We'll Discount a Little in Business Class
South Africa is one of the few places where discounted fares up front are still hard to come by. So even a less-than-superlative bargain from South African Airways is worth noting. And this one falls into the worth-noting category: $5,369 roundtrip in business class to Johannesburg from New York/Kennedy or Washington/Dulles. The fare is valid for travel by June 5 if you purchase your tickets by February 28. There's also a 30-day advance purchase restriction, just in case you were thinking of jetting off to Jo'burg this weekend. Information: the Specials page.
Scotland: All Those Islands, the Highlands and David Rowell, Too
David Rowell, our friend The Travel Insider, puts together a few trips a year for small groups of folks who want a more customized experience. His current package is an 11-day trip that covers Scotland's Inner and Outer Hebrides and the Scottish Highlands. Besides David's personal attention (he escorts each group), David chooses the accommodations, arranges the itinerary and plays the genial host. (Well, he doesn't just play the genial host. He is a genial host!) Besides, he knows where all the good whisky is, too. (I know. On his last Scotland trip, he even found a Scotch I could drink and I don't even like whisky!) This year's tour begins on June 14. The price has just been reduced to $2,595 a person and may go lower still if the group expands a bit. Check out complete details here.
BUSINESS-CLASS BARGAINS AROUND THE WORLD
Continental Airlines: Better Late Than Never, The Summer Sale
Continental Airlines is the unquestioned creator of the summer business-class sale to Europe, but this year it was beaten to the punch by some of its Star Alliance partners, United and SAS (see below). Still, Continental seems to understand the market best and its fares this year, to a few markets, are even lower than last year. From Continental's Newark hub, prices are as low as $759 one-way to Birmingham, England. It's $859 one-way to Belfast, Northern Ireland; Edinburgh, Manchester and Brussels. It's $909 one-way to Amsterdam, Geneva, London, Lisbon, Munich, Stockholm or Zurich. But prices are notably higher this year to Italy (Rome and Milan) and Spain (Barcelona and Madrid). At slightly higher fares, the sale is also valid from Continental's Cleveland and Houston hubs and on connecting service through Newark. The travel window is a few days smaller than last year (July 5 to September 3 to Europe, return by September 9), the restrictions are modest (a Saturday-night stay) and the 60-day advance purchase rule is not particularly relevant since we're talking about summer travel. Information: the BusinessFirst to Europe page.
Lufthansa: Okay, Force Us to Have a Summer Business-Class Sale, Too
German firms don't like to discount and German consumers aren't particularly demanding of them. Which probably explains why Lufthansa's business-class sales, even when they offer great bargains, seem so grudging. But cultural quirks aside, don't ignore this if you're interested in traveling to Europe this summer. The fares are quite noteworthy, especially since Lufthansa has lots of U.S. gateways and flies to plenty of places beyond its Frankfurt and Munich hubs. Sample one-way prices: $1,109 for Atlanta-Berlin, Charlotte-Amsterdam or Milan-Munich; $1,009 for Philadelphia-Copenhagen and $1,309 for Los Angeles-Zurich, San Francisco-Berlin or Seattle-Geneva. Although tickets must be purchased quickly (by March 1), the travel window is wide (June 29 to September 5) and the restrictions modest enough (midweek travel and a Saturday-night stay). Information: the Summer Business-Class Special page.
Aer Lingus: Extraordinarily Low Business-Class Prices--and Europe, Too
When in doubt--and boy is there doubt about the future of Aer Lingus--slash your fares. And Aer Lingus has done that--and a hell of a lot more. Let's start with the eye-opening price: $,1878 roundtrip in business class to Dublin or Shannon from New York/Kennedy, Boston or Chicago. Then add perks: lounge access and three free checked bags. And clinch the deal with an outstanding extra: a free roundtrip coach flight from Dublin to almost two dozen European destinations. The exact cities where you can fly vary by your U.S. departure point and logical connection times, but all the best European cities (Rome, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Madrid, Vienna, Munich, Krakow, Lisbon and Edinburgh) are there. The travel window is huge: until August 31. The major restriction: You must purchase nonrefundable tickets by 7 p.m. Eastern time on January 29 and include a four-night minimum stay. By the way, if this deal sounds familiar, it's the same offer Aer Lingus rolled out briefly in November. This new deal has a much wider travel window, however, and is less than $100 more roundtrip. The only caveat: You have to book your trip on Aer Lingus.com or via phone at 800-IRISH-AIR.
OpenSkies: We're Still Here! Fly Us! Record Low Prices! Again!
Less than two years after it launched, OpenSkies is no longer the hey-look-at-us newbie generating lots of publicity simply because it is the boutique offspring of British Airways. And it hasn't helped that the airline is down to one route (Newark to Paris/Orly) or that BA tried to peddle the carrier last year. Still, OpenSkies remains unique, with terrific pricing on its two flavors of business class. And when it adds a promotional fare, well, attention must be paid all over again. This time the offer is for spring travel in its BizSeat class, which offers 2x2 seating in wide, comfy cradle chairs; 52 inches of legroom; personal audio/video players; and lots of other extras. The price: $655 each way, which is very close to the lowest fare the airline has ever offered. When all the taxes and fees are added, that's only $1,429 roundtrip, an astounding bargain. You must book by February 28 and travel between March 15 and May 31. Information: the Sweet Spring in Paris page.
SAS: A Nordic Summer, Amazingly Cheap in Business Class
It probably was predictable: Once United Airlines broke its summer business-class sale (see below), other Star Alliance carriers were sure to follow. But the sale from SAS is a dazzler, not just because you can lock in summer business-class travel now, but also because prices are far below usual sale prices to Nordic countries. If you can travel between July 5 and September 5, SAS will fly you from Newark to Copenhagen or Stockholm for $889 each way. It's $100 more each way to Oslo or Bergen and $1,097 each way to Helsinki. Prices from Dulles Airport near Washington are $100-$200 more each way. Prices from Chicago are $200 more each way. And from Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, fares are $1,289 from Copenhagen or Stockholm; $1,389 to Oslo or Bergen; and $1,497 from Helsinki. Roundtrip, nonrefundable tickets must be purchased by March 1. Information: the Sale page.
United Airlines: Wow! A Summer Business-Class Sale Already!
Had enough of the cold weather? Well, don't head to Europe now because its weather is worse than ours and most Europeans have even less tolerance for it than we do. But here's an intriguing idea: Europe in the summer, when it is (or should be) warm. And, shockingly, United Airlines has already launched a summer fare sale to Europe. Prices are not insanely low, but they are good and it might be wise to book now if you're the kind of person who likes to plan in advance. The outbound travel window is July 5 to September 5 and return travel must be completed by September 9. Sample prices: Washington/Dulles to Brussels for $1,075 each way; Chicago-Paris for $1,225; Denver-London for $1,325; and San Francisco-Frankfurt to $1,325. The restrictions: roundtrip, nonrefundable purchase and a Saturday stay required. Information: the Summer in Europe page.
THE MOST NOTABLE FREQUENT-TRAVEL PLAN PROMOTIONS
Lodgings: Two More Chains Roll Out 1Q Frequent Guest Promotions
Hotel chains are now engaged in a high stakes game of chicken over the timing of their first-quarter frequent guest promotions. Three hotel families rolled out their deals before Christmas (see below), giving them a jump on travelers who book based on the richness of the offers. But better late than never, Hilton HHonors and InterContinental's Priority Club have now chimed in with their promotions. Hilton HHonors is offering a free night for every four paid stays or 10 paid nights completed by March 31. You can earn as many as three free nights and they can be used within the next year. Register for the deal here. Meanwhile, the Priority Club promotion offers 1,000 bonus points for each night stayed between February 1 and April 30. As many as 20,000 points can be earned. Register for that one here.
Lodgings: The Big (and Inevitable) 1Q Hotel-Chain Promotions
After a horrific year of plummeting room rates and sagging occupancy rates, the hotel industry is facing another huge challenge: the first quarter of 2010. And the first quarter is when room rates plummet and occupancy rates sag. In other words, the major hotel chains will be falling all over themselves with promotions to win your business. Here's a look at the ones that have already been announced:
· Starwood Preferred Guest will offer double points for one- or two-night stays; triple points for three-night stays; and quadruple points for stays of four nights or more. There are no limits to the number of bonus points you can earn and you'll earn the bonus for each night of your stay. The deal is valid on stays until April 15. You must register for the offer.
· Carlson Hotels offers as many as 50,000 bonus miles on stays until February 28. Goldpoints plus members who register here will receive 5,000 bonus points for two stays; 7,500 more points for the third stay; 12,500 points for the fourth stay; and 25,000 additional points for the fifth stay.
· Marriott Rewards members are being offered as many as 60,000 bonus points for stays from February 1 to April 30. The exact formula is apparently known only to the bureaucrats at Marriott Rewards and the promotion is customized on a member-by-member basis, but here is a representative offer. If you're an existing Marriott Rewards member, check the promotions area of your home page after logging in.
GREAT HOTEL BARGAINS AVAILABLE AROUND THE WORLD
Trump Waikiki: A Fifth Night Free for the First Spring
The skyscraping Trump Waikiki hotel opened in November across the street from the Halekulani, Honolulu's current reigning dowager. The newly built Trump isn't as glitzy as the Trump name might suggest and its accommodations--spacious, fully-equipped studio apartments to insanely lavish penthouses--are refreshing, relaxed and more than a match for what's on offer at the Halekulani. And to get your attention during its first spring season, the Trump Waikiki has a notable offer: a fifth night free. Rates start at $340 a night, which brings the effective five-night rate to as low as $272 a night. The deal is available from March 21 to April 3; April 18 to April 28; and May 7 to June 15. Information: the Trump Waikiki Web site.
Country Inns: 20 Percent Off Weeknight Stays This Fall and Winter
The 500-location-strong Country Inns chain offers nice perks--including free WiFi and breakfast--but doesn't get the publicity of bigger operations such as Courtyard, Hampton or Hilton Garden Inn. Maybe this will help, though: 20 percent off two-night stays until February 25. The deal is available Sunday through Thursday evenings with a three-night advance reservation. There is a maximum stay of four days. As always with these blanket percent-off deals, one caveat: Check carefully to make sure it's the lowest rate. Given these tumultuous times, rate deals are everywhere and a specific promotion might yield a better price at a specific property. Information: the Stay 2 Save 20% page.
Boscolo Hotels: 52 Weekends in 11 Cities in Europe for One Price (€1,880)
The Italy-based Boscolo Hotels chain has invented one of the most creative promotions in years. The Boscolo Key Card costs €1,880 a year and is valid for 52 weekend stays. The stays (check in Saturday or Sunday and check out Sunday or Monday) can be claimed in 11 cities: Bologna, Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, Verona and Varese, Italy; Nice or Lyon, France; Prague; and Budapest. You can stay as many as five times in each city during the year whenever a standard, superior or deluxe room is available. The €1,880 price includes the VAT tax, but not breakfast. Pretty fabulous deal if you can get enough use out of the card. Information: the Boscolo Key Card page.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY TRAVEL DEALS NOW AVAILABLE
Air New Zealand: $500 Off Premium Economy Seats Via American Express
Air New Zealand is pushing Premium Economy class hard as it attempts to keep business travelers from trading down to coach and hopes to get a few coach flyers to pay a little more for more comfort. Here's the airline's latest promo: $500 off the Premium Economy fare if you book and pay for your ticket with an American Express card. The deal is valid when you book at the Air New Zealand Web site and use promo code AMEX500. The deal is available on flights to New Zealand and Australia until May 31. Information: the Premium Economy Offer 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 © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.