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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR MAY 27 - JUNE 10, 2010
Airlines: Last Call for Summer Business-Class Sales to Europe
Ash clouds and work stoppages and debt-related street violence have cooled many travelers' ardor for Europe this summer. On the other hand, the euro has plunged and you've still got some time to lock in a summer business-class fare. Here's a look at what's available. All of the sales end May 31, but the travel window generally runs from June 29 to September 5. Assume that fares are nonrefundable and require a roundtrip purchase. Most will require a Saturday-night or 7-day stay.
    + Aer Lingus is selling business class for $899 one-way to Shannon and $978 to Dublin from JFK and $999 to Shannon and $1,024 to Dublin from Boston. Through fares to Europe 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. It has set a JFK-Shannon-Heathrow fare of just $978 one-way.
    + Alitalia is selling business-class fares from New York/Kennedy to Rome for $2,457 roundtrip, including all fees and taxes. Other fares: $3,257 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Rome; $2,633 from Miami to Milan; $2,773 from Boston to Venice; and $2,838 from Chicago to Catania.
    + Continental Airlines is selling summer business-class fares for as low as $1,498 roundtrip from Newark to Birmingham, England. It's $1,698 roundtrip to Manchester, England; $1,740 to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and under $1,900 roundtrip to many other destinations. At slightly higher fares, the sale is also valid from Continental's Cleveland and Houston hubs and on connecting service through Newark. But watch out for some insanely high fares to markets dominated by Lufthansa, Continental's new Star Alliance partner.
    + Lufthansa has summer business-class prices as low as $749 one-way from New York. Its fares are similarly decent from its other U.S. gateways. Best bargains are actually on their connecting fares to non-German cities via its Frankfurt and/or Munich hubs.
    + United Airlines is selling sale fares from all of its hubs. Sample prices: Washington/Dulles to Brussels for $1,085 each way; Chicago-Rome for $1,235; Denver-London for $1,335; and San Francisco-Frankfurt for $1,335.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
Marriott: Gift Cards, That's What We Got
Marriott continues to try to "protect" its posted daily rates by eschewing so-called "naked" discounting and loading up on value-added offers. Just as its limited-service brands have gone the gift-card route this summer (see below), 300 of the chain's Marriott and JW Marriott hotels in the United States and Canada have a card offer. If you stay a weekend and pay with a Visa card, you'll get a $25 Visa gift card. And the deal is better than it seems: The offer is per room per night, which means a two-night weekend stay will get you $50 worth of cards. The promotion is valid on Friday and Saturday nights until September 6 if you book by July 16. A 14-day advance reservation is required and you must use code V12. Information: the Stay the Weekend page.

Taj Hotels: Bring Your Jag for Free
Sometimes goofy promotions have a backstory and this is one of them. The three Taj Hotels in the United States--Taj Boston, The Pierre in New York and Campton Place in San Francisco--will give you free parking with your stay if your car happens to be a Jaguar. Why such a weird and specific offer? The Taj Hotels chain is owned by the Tata Group, the gigantic India-based conglomerate that also recently purchased Jaguar from Ford. Of course, Tata also owns Corus, the company that used to be known as British Steel. So look for a Taj promotion that includes some kind of value-added offer if you show up with a length of Corus rebar. Meanwhile, the free parking for your Jaguar offer is valid through September 6. Information: 866-969-1825

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.

HOTEL BARGAINS AROUND THE WORLD
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.

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 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.