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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR MAY 20 TO JUNE 3, 2010
Aer Lingus: Summer Business-Class Sales to Ireland--and London
Aer Lingus is out with another business-class summer sale and a very interesting shot across the bow of strike-plagued British Airways. First, the news about flights to Shannon and Dublin this summer from the Aer Lingus gateways of New York's Kennedy Airport and Boston. It's just $899 one-way to Shannon and $978 to Dublin from JFK and $999 to Shannon and $1,024 to Dublin from Boston. Aer Lingus is also offering through fares to Europe that include business class to Ireland and coach to the continent for as little as $1,207 one-way from New York, $1,253 from Boston and $1,377 from Chicago/O'Hare. The travel period is wide (June 29 to September 5), restrictions minimal (roundtrip purchase required) and you have until June 1 to lock in fares. Another nice perk: just a four-day minimum stay. But the big news is that Aer Lingus is taking a run for the London market, too. It has set a JFK-Shannon-Heathrow fare of just $978 one-way. And that is especially notable because Aer Lingus' New York flights (11 a week each way) participate in the U.S. Customs and Immigration program that allows travelers to clear formalities in Shannon. That means Aer Lingus has positioned its Heathrow-Shannon-New York flights directly against British Airways' two daily all-business-class flights from London/City to JFK via Shannon. Very interesting move, to say the least. Information: the Business Class to Europe page.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEAL
Qantas: A Wowser of a Business-Class Fare to Australia in Winter
After years of a cozy duopoly with United Airlines, Qantas is in a four-carrier (five if you count Air New Zealand) battle for control of the transpacific skies Down Under. Business-class fares have plummeted from the $20,000 level and its fall fares fell below $5,000 roundtrip with an advance purchase earlier this year. Well, now it's the late fall and winter season in Australia and that means business-class fares are falling even further. Ready for this? It's just $3,968 from Los Angeles to Sydney or Brisbane. From San Francisco, it's down to $4,988 roundtrip. (The $1,000 difference is reflective of the fact that Qantas still isn't getting competition from Delta or V Australia.) From New York, it's $5,444 roundtrip to Sydney and $5,894 to Brisbane. The travel window is wide enough--until September 30--and there's a manageable 50-day advance purchase. Tickets must be purchased by June 2. By the way, skip the insane $1,000 roundtrip surcharge for flights to Melbourne. You're not getting a bargain there. Coach seats on the 90-minute flight are as low as A$69 (or about $57) one-way. Information: the Visit Australia page.

Marriott: $20 Target Gift Card With Summer Weekend Stays
Marriott has been resolute (if not always successful) in attempting to keep its published nightly room rates high during this serious economic downturn. Its weapon of choice: gift cards rather than so-called "naked" price discounting. The current offer from four Marriott focused-service chains (Fairfield, Residence, SpringHill and TownePlace) involves a $20 Target gift card for summer weekend stays. Qualifying stays must fall in the May 28-September 6 period and include a Friday or Saturday stay. Reservations must be booked by July 16 using code BPY. As always with this kind of offer, a caveat: Check carefully to make sure that the there aren't lower prices available than the promotional rate that includes the gift card. Information: the Summer Gift Card Promotion page.

SUMMER BUSINESS-CLASS BARGAINS TO EUROPE
Alitalia: A Summer Fare Sale? I Know. I'm Shocked, Too!
Now in its 457th revival, Alitalia may actually have a clue this time around. It's not totally innovative, mind you, but at least the current generation of Alitalia managers are paying attention. The airline now has its very own summer business-class sale to offer. The lead price, from New York/Kennedy to Rome, isn't knock-you-out fabulous ($2,373 roundtrip), but it does at least include all fees and taxes. Other fares are wonderful, however, especially since they do include all the ups and extras, too. Sample prices: $3,053 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Rome; $2,653 from Miami to Milan; $2,552 from Boston to Venice; and $2,752 from Chicago to Catania. Travel is permitted from June 29 to September 5 if you book by May 31. Information: the Summer Business Class 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. Some sample one-way prices: $949 for Atlanta-Birmingham, England; $1,059 for Charlotte to Brussels; $1,009 for Philadelphia-Frankfurt; $1,117 for New York-Prague; $1,217 for Chicago-Vienna; $1,309 for Los Angeles-Geneva or San Francisco-Frankfurt; and $1,409 for Seattle-Paris. Although tickets must be purchased by May 31, the travel window is wide (June 29 to September 3) and the restrictions modest enough (midweek travel and a Saturday-night stay). Information: the Business Class to Europe page. By the way, this sale is slightly different than a summer business-class sale Lufthansa offered during the winter. But the prices seem comparable.

Air France: We Forgot. We've Got Another Summer Business-Class Sale.
Air France briefly posted a summer business-class sale last month. Then briefly revived it earlier this month. And even though the buy-by date (April 20) has passed, the fares are still in the computer. (Probably along with the reservations of thousands of folks who are still grounded by the aftermath of the volcanic ash.) The parameters are familiar--travel June 29 to September 5; a 7-day minimum stay; a nonrefundable roundtrip purchase--with one typically Gallic quirk: Travel to France itself is only available July 30 through September 5. The prices are fairly good: New York-Paris for $1,119 one-way; Boston-Brussels for $969; Houston-Zurich for $1,019; Los Angeles-Rome for $1,519; and many more. For those who care, these prices seem about $10 higher than the winter version of the sale. But one reminder: Air France's hub at Paris/CDG is considered one of the least convenient places to change planes, a consideration if you are planning a connecting itinerary. Information: the Up to 75% off Business Class page.

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.

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.

HOTEL BARGAINS AROUND THE WORLD
Hyatt: An Honest-to-Goodness Bargain With AAA
I long ago abandoned hope that the AAA rates at the major hotel chains would generate any real savings. So imagine my surprise when I scored a huge AAA bargain at a Hyatt hotel in Seattle. And even more shocked to learn that Hyatt's current systemwide AAA discount is at least as good: as much as 25 percent off the daily rate and free breakfast for two. That offer is good at Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt and Andaz hotels. Hyatt's limited-service chains, Hyatt Place and Summerfield Suites, offer a 15 percent AAA discount. (Free breakfast is already part of those two chains' service standards.) Use code BREAKF to score the discount until September 9. Information: the See the Sites or Sand page.

Hilton: 30 Percent Off and a Million Complications
Hilton HHonors players who got whacked with a huge 20+ percent devaluation earlier this year were promised a lot more targeted promotions to soften the blow. I'm not sure they'll find this offer all that competitive. And I am sure that they'll find it confusing, with a string of maddening complications. At the top line, the Hilton Family is offering up to 30 percent off (and free breakfast for two) on bookings between May 28 and September 6. But that's where it gets confusing. Some of the restrictions are obvious: You must book by July 15 and prepay your booking. Then it takes a right turn into travel babble: Some hotels may offer a wider booking period and a larger travel window. Some of Hilton's chains require a two- or three-day minimum stay. Some chains max out the discount at 20 percent. Others (like Embassy Suites) don't offer the discount at all--unless they do. Some don't offer free breakfast at all. And there are unspecified blackout dates that are not disclosed. I suggest you have a shaker full of salt handy as you read details on the so-called Great Getaway promotion.

THE SECOND QUARTER FREQUENT TRAVEL PROMOTIONS
Southwest Airlines: W.C. Fields Notwithstanding, a Reason to Be in Philadelphia
While we wait--and wait and wait--for Southwest Airlines to unveil the long-rumored changes to its Rapid Rewards program, the carrier continues to offer targeted promotions aimed at strengthening its position in selected cities. After going after both New York and Boston, Southwest is now turning its attention back to Philadelphia, where US Airways has presented a more formidable challenge than in the past. But with a new terminal at Philadelphia International to host its expansion, Southwest is once again wooing flyers in the City of Brotherly Love. If you complete four roundtrips (or eight one-way flights) into or out of Philadelphia before July 19, Southwest will give you A-List Status, the closest thing Rapid Rewards has to elite status. Information: the Earn A-List page.

Starwood Preferred Guest: Three Stays Earn You a Free Weekend Night
Starwood's Preferred Guest program whiffed on the traditional second-quarter frequent stay promotions (see below), but it has just unleashed a free-stay deal that straddles the rest of the spring and early summer. In a nutshell, stay three times at any on of the chain's hotels and you'll earn a free night. The qualifying period is between now and July 31 and the free stays can be earned for Friday-, Saturday- or Sunday-night stays until December 19. There's no limit to the number of free weekend nights you can earn. And there is one caveat: Category 7 hotels and some others in the Starwood system are not available for free stays. You need to register here to play.

Marriott Rewards: Just Like the Starwood Weekend Deal, Only Different
In the world of frequent guest programs you never know if great minds think alike or they just love ripping each other off and beating each other to the promotional punch. Just hours after Starwood Preferred Guest unleashed its free-weekend-night deal (see above), Marriott Rewards announced a similar deal. Its promotion requires three stays between June 1 and August 31 and will reward you with a free weekend stay through December 31. Marriott will only give you a total of two free weekend nights, however, and only at Category 1-4 hotels. On the other hand, Marriott adds Hertz discount coupons, which might have some value for you. You'll need to register here to participate.

Priority Club: Simple Bonus (Points or Dollars), Really Complicated Rules
Priority Club Rewards, the frequent stay program for InterContinental, Holiday Inn and several other brands, has an interesting new promotion called Hit It Big. You can earn double points or $500 in gift cards for stays between May 14 and August 31. Simple, right? You can choose either the extra points or the gift cards that are valid at 300 retailers. It's the rules that are complicated. Some hotels allow you to accrue the bonus with the first stay, others with the second and some of the awards are only available based on weekend stays. It's really complicated and I counted almost 900 words that explained how and when and why you earn. I leave it to you to figure out if you play in Priority Club. All I know is that you have to register here and choose to earn either the bonus points or the gift vouchers.

United Airlines: Sorry We Were Napping. We Got Transcon Bonuses, Too.
Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have been fighting a transcon bonus-miles war for a couple of weeks, but apparently no one told United Airlines until now. It has finally jumped on the me-too bandwagon with exactly the same offer that Delta and American have: up to 25,000 miles each way for first-class flights or business-class travel booked in J class. Travelers buying C, D or Z business-class fares or straight-Y coach flights earn 12,500 miles a flight. The promotion applies to the airline's p.s. flights from New York/Kennedy to San Francisco or Los Angeles until June 30. You have to register here. The promotion code is MPD410

Hilton: A Second-Quarter Promotion. You Decide Its Value.
When Hilton devalued the Hilton HHonors program, the hotel chain promised it would get much more aggressive with short-term promotions. It's up to you to decide if this counts as aggressive. For the second quarter, Hilton is offering double points for all stays or will give you a free night after four stays. That's about half as generous as Hyatt's second-quarter promotion (see below), but Hilton would respond that it has about four times more participating properties than Hyatt. The specifics are this: Through June 30, travelers who register here can choose to receive double HHonors points or a free stay after every four paid stays or ten paid nights. Free night certificates are valid for a year.

American/Delta: Spend Big on the Transcon, Get Beaucoup Miles
Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are battling it out on the transcon routes this spring between New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco. The preferred weapon is bonus miles. If you're willing to spend for a less-restrictive coach ticket or first or business class, both airlines will reward you with beaucoup miles. Delta was first out of the box with its offer of 25,000 SkyMiles per flight in its BusinessElite cabin. You'll get 12,500 miles each way if you buy a Y, B or M class coach ticket. American has now matched, offering 25,000 AAdvantage miles for a business- or first-class booking and 12,500 miles for a coach ticket in Y, D or I class. The promotion runs through June 30 on each carrier. Register for the Delta deal here. Register for American's offer here.

Hyatt Gold Passport: First Out of the Box With a 2Q Promotion
As the major hotel family with the smallest number of properties, Hyatt has to be nimble and quick with its promotions, so it won't surprise you that it is first out of the box with a second-quarter offer. The Big Welcome Back offers 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points or a free night award after every two paid stays between April 1 and June 30. There is no limit to the number of awards or bonus points you can earn and the free award nights can be redeemed between April 1 and August 31. Expect all of the other hotel families--Starwood, Hilton, Marriott, etc.--to roll out their second-quarter promotions within the next few days. To qualify for the Big Welcome Back promotion, you'll have to register your preference for either the points or the free nights.

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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 there’s 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. Don’t 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.