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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR JUNE 24 - JULY 8, 2010
OpenSkies: Fill Our Business-Class Seats, Please…
Just when we thought the summer business-class sales to Europe had run their course (see below), OpenSkies drops this lovely, deeply discounted sale to Paris. From Newark or Washington/Dulles, OpenSkies will charge you just $1,408 roundtrip to fly to Paris/Orly in its BizSeat cabin. That's the all-in price, making it a truly fabulous bargain. And, better yet: there are no minimum- or maximum-stay requirements and no advance-purchase restrictions. There's plenty of time to buy seats (until July 24) and you can travel until September 10. Naturally, the price is capacity-controlled, but I saw decent availability. Tickets are non-refundable with a $450 change fee. And you know what I always tell you: Charles Aznavour wrote a song explaining that August in Paris is best, no matter what that other song said about April. Smart fellow, that Aznavour. Good singer, too. Meanwhile, go here to score your seats.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
Argentina: Good Food, Good Wine, Time to Relax--and Learn Spanish, Too What if I told you that you can rent a studio apartment for a week in Mendoza, the stylish capital of the Argentine wine region? What if they threw in breakfast and lunch during the week, too? What if they included airport transfers? And then added three hours of lessons a day during the week in a program called "Spanish for Grown-Ups." What if the weekends were free for tourism, dining and wine tasting? And what if the price was only $425 a person per week? Too good to be true, you say? If I didn't know the sponsors, I'd agree with you. But I do know them. One is even an award-winning journalist. Both are ex-pat Americans who've lived in Mendoza for years. In other words, this is a nearly perfect opportunity to relax, learn some Spanish and catch up with the wines of Argentina. The $425 price is based on two people in a studio (they are complete with private bath and kitchenette) and only in the month of September. There's a two-week minimum and you're free to make your own flight arrangements. Information: the Spanish for Grown-Ups page. And tell 'em "Joe Sent Me."
Hilton Garden Inn: $10 a Night in 'Fun Bucks' on Weekends This Summer
As hotel chains struggle to get their nightly rates up and attract customers, the battle of choice this summer is value-added perks. Marriott's brands have been using gift cards (see below). Hilton Garden Inn, on the other hand, is going for its own scrip. If you are an AAA/CAA member and book a weekend AAA/CAA rate, Hilton Garden Inn will give you $10 of "fun bucks" each night. The scrip is good for purchases in the chain's 24-hour "Pavilion" food shops or the on-site restaurants--or even for in-room, pay-per-view movies. The promotion is valid for stays on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights until September 5. By the way, the AAA/CAA rate at Hilton Garden Inn is usually the lowest price available except for the chain's advance-purchase, prepaid promotions Information: the Summer Bucks page.
Hyatt: We Got Discounts, But No Laundry Lists
Once upon a time, hotel chains used to take full-page advertisements in your local paper and run a laundry list of prices at all of the locations participating in a sale. These days, when the Web is easier--and allows the hotels to "yield manage" the rates--a "special promotions" page is the new normal. So it is with Hyatt's summer sale. Prices are as much as 25 percent off in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The prices are 20 percent off in the rest of the world. To score the 25 percent discount, you have to book by July 8 for stays by September 30. The 20 percent discount must be booked by September 2 (with a 14-day advance purchase) for stays until September 16. The rates are prepaid. Use code LTO112. Information: the Special Offers page.
LAST CALL FOR EUROPE SUMMER BUSINESS-CLASS SALES
SAS: A Nordic Summer, Amazingly Cheap in Business Class
SAS ran a spectacular summer business-class sale back in the winter. This current iteration isn't quite as good, but given how expensive Nordic travel usually is, we're still talking great value. If you can travel before September 5, SAS will fly you from Washington/Dulles or Newark to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo or Bergen for as little as $1,029 each way. It's about $100 more each way to Helsinki. The prices to the same cities from Chicago/O'Hare are about $200 more each way. Roundtrip, nonrefundable tickets (use promo code ZUSSCB7) must be purchased by June 30. Saturday-night stays are required. Information: the Business summer sale page.
Aer Lingus: Another Summer Business-Class Sale to Ireland--and London
Aer Lingus is out with still 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 now have until June 16 to lock in fares. A seven-day minimum stay is required. 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.
Star Alliance: Just Kidding About the Europe Fare Sale Thing…
After insisting that their summer business-class fares would expire on May 31, three Star Alliance carriers have changed their minds. Now the sale fares are available for purchase through June 30 with the same terms as before. The travel window generally runs from June 29 to September 5, but the absolute lowest fares require a 60-day advance purchase, which essentially kicks you into mid- to late August. Assume that fares are nonrefundable and require a roundtrip purchase. Most will require a Saturday-night or 7-day stay. Airline-specific offers are below:
+ 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 $1,095 each way; Chicago-Rome for $1,245; Denver-London for $1,345; and San Francisco-Frankfurt for $1,345.
OpenSkies: A Bed in Business Class for a Relaxed Summer Fare
British Airways' never-say-die boutique carrier, Open Skies, is growing again. In May, it added a Washington/Dulles-Paris/Orly route to accompany its Newark-Orly run. And now it has launched a summer sale in its so-called Biz Bed class. That's the cabin with lie-flat beds, albeit the first-generation BA business-class beds. But who's going to quibble when they hear the prices: as low as $1,029 one-way from Newark and $1,079 from Washington. The fare is good for travel between July 30 and September 10. The catch? You must purchase roundtrip tickets by June 30. Information: the Early Summer Sale page.
OTHER GLOBAL BARGAINS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
Finnair: Fly Us to India and China. Really. No Kidding.
Okay, everyone who thinks Helsinki when they are planning a trip to India or China, raise your hands. Yeah, I thought so. And it explains why Finnair is offering special fares from New York to Delhi, Shanghai or Beijing via its Helsinki hub. The price: Just $3,199 roundtrip in business class to Delhi and $3,599 roundtrip to Beijing or Shanghai. Although the fares are capacity controlled, there seems to be no other travel restrictions. Information: the Fly in style page.
Emirates: A Summer Sale to Africa Via Dubai From Four U.S. Cities
Service to Africa from U.S. carriers using their own aircraft is finally picking up--United, Continental and Delta have all announced new flights this year--so that puts pressure on carriers that offer connecting service. One example: Emirates, which has cut coach fares to nine cities via its hub in Dubai. If you purchase your tickets by June 30, you can travel from any of Emirates' U.S. gateways (New York/JFK, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco) to Nairobi ($1,360 roundtrip); Lagos or Dar Es Salaam ($1,375); Entebbe ($1,390); Accra ($1,415); Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban ($1,435) or Abidjan ($1,450). The travel window is between August 1 and September 30 and the prices include a free stopover in Dubai. Information: the June sale to Africa page.
Courtyard by Marriott: We Got a Weekend Gift Card Offer, Too!
Why doesn't this surprise me? Courtyard by Marriott is giving $20 Visa gift cards for weekend stays this summer. I mean, all of Marriott's other brands are going the gift card route this summer (see below) as a way to maintain its supposed "rate integrity." Now that Courtyard is in, the entire Marriott Family is playing. Courtyard's offer is valid for weekend stays between June 18 and September 6 if you include a Friday or Saturday night stay. To score the a card, however, you must book by July 30 and reserve at least seven days in advance. You can earn a $20 card for each weekend night up to $40 a stay. Use code CYS. Information: the Celebrate Summer page.
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.
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 rate that includes the gift card. Information: the Summer Gift Card Promotion 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
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.
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, but it 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 before 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. 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 until 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 either the bonus points or gift vouchers.
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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.