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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR AUGUST 12-26, 2010
Qantas Christmas Miracle: $4,000 Roundtrip in Business Class to Sydney
Much as I hate those come-on sales with impossibly small travel windows, Qantas has one that simply can't be ignored. How about $3,968 roundtrip between Los Angeles and Sydney in business class? That's the lowest price in years and around $1,000 below some of the aggressive business-class pricing that Qantas has thrown into the market during the last year. So what's the catch? The price is only valid for outbound flights between December 21 and December 31. (There are also holiday sale fares from San Francisco and New York and to other Australian cities, but prices aren't nearly as good.) There's a 10-day minimum stay. The taxes and fees add as much as $200 more, but that's still a miraculous bargain. A Christmas miracle, you might say. Of course, Christmas miracles are never easy for airline passengers, so you'll have to book this gift by August 25. Information: the Visit Australia page.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
Sicily: Rocco Forte Goes All In, Visitors Not So Sure When Rocco Forte's Verdura Golf & Spa Resort opened last year on the Southwest coast of Sicily, a lot of visitors thought the super-deluxe property wasn't yet ready for primetime, especially at the typically stratospheric rates that Forte properties demand. But things have settled in this year and the golf course and spa have both won raves. Of course, the stratospheric rates remain, too. But there is some relief with the Exclusive Late Summer bundle. It includes three nights of lodging for two; daily breakfast each day; a three-course dinner each night; welcome cocktails and fruit; and a spa treatment or round of golf for each guest. Also included are the taxes. Another perk: breakfast and dinner for the kids if you're bringing them along. Not included: alcoholic beverages with dinner. The deal is available between September 3 and October 30, which stretches the definition of late summer. But, of course, this is Sicily, so… Three-night packages start at 1,680 euros a couple. Information: the Exclusive Late Summer page.
British Airways: Unimpressive Flight Prices, Good Free Hotel Nights
British Airways has cut its U.S.-London capacity so sharply and business has rebounded so quickly that the airline's fall "sale" prices hardly seem worth the name. Example: New York/Kennedy or Newark for $498 roundtrip, which is $55 more than last year. Houston-London has skyrocketed to $732 from just $498 last year. San Francisco-London remains the relative bargain spot: $576 roundtrip compared to $541 last year. But there is a perk worth noting this year: two free hotel nights with a pair of tickets. Normally the hotels are not worth considering, but this year's offer includes the Hilton London Docklands and the Fraser Place Queens Gate. The Hilton is a good four-star property near Canary Wharf and it's at a totally different level than the other hotels on the BA list. The Fraser Place is superbly located and quite comfortable. The promotion is valid for midweek travel between October 21 and December 19. Weekend travel requires a $30 surcharge each way and taxes and fees add about $165 a ticket. Travel must be purchased by August 19. Information: the London for Free page.
OTHER GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
Aer Lingus: Cheap Business Class to Ireland From New York (and Orlando!)
Aer Lingus has carved a niche for itself across the Atlantic with regular business-class sales to Dublin and Shannon. The current offer, for autumn travel, is $1,049 each way from New York/Kennedy. You must book by August 18, but the travel window lasts until December 15. Want it even cheaper? Fly from Orlando, where Aer Lingus has added a business-class cabin to its formerly all-coach flights. The introductory price is just $788 each way. Tickets must be purchased by August 18 and the travel window is September 21 to December 23. Roundtrip purchases are required for both offers. Information: the Business Class to Europe pages for New York and Orlando.
Bmi: A Strange Business-Class Sale to Odd Destinations
Bmi (formerly British Midland) is now a subsidiary of Lufthansa, but the airline is still quite strange. Like Lufthansa, it's a member of the Star Alliance. But it has a deal with Virgin Atlantic, too. And it is currently offering a business-class sale to selected destinations, but it doesn't even fly to the United States with its own aircraft anymore. How does it do it? By relying on United Airlines (another Star Alliance member) and Virgin Atlantic flights to London/Heathrow and then onward service on Bmi aircraft. The sale is available from seven U.S. cities--Boston, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington--to a collection of destinations in the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe and Africa: Addis Abba, Almaty, Amman, Baku, Beirut, Bishkek, Cairo, Damascus, Dammam, Jeddah, Moscow, Tbilisi, Tehran and Yerevan. If any of those fit your travel patterns, prices start at $1,390 each way and reach about $3,600 for the most exotic routings. You must book by August 16 for travel through September 30. Information: 800-788-0555.
OpenSkies: Paris, Cheap Again, But Not Quite as Cheap (or Plentiful)
Full marks to OpenSkies, the British Airways boutique carrier to Paris/Orly. It continues to roll out stunningly good deals for travel in BizSeat class, its plush and spacious cabin with 2x2 seating, business-class legroom and cradle seats that I find every bit as relaxing as seat beds. An earlier promotion offering autumn travel from Newark or Washington/Dulles for just $650 each way and $1,400 all-in roundtrip has expired, but the carrier is back with another offer: $700 each way with taxes and fees of about $115, bringing the total price to about $1,500 roundtrip. The purchase period is wide (until August 24) and the travel window is gigantic: from September 11 through March 31. But there is a catch: There seems to be extremely spotty availability in the fall, although there are plenty of seats around in the first quarter of 2011. Might be a good time to stock up. Information: the Early Fall Sale page.
Korean Air: Seoul, in Business Class, Cheaper--If You Book Ahead
Korean Air is trying to shed its commodity image and present itself as a high-end airline. (You've undoubtedly seen those odd television spots with the powder-blue palette.) But that doesn't mean there aren't bargains to be found, especially up front in business class. At the moment, the deal is to Seoul. It's $3,628 roundtrip from San Francisco and $3,871 from Seattle and Los Angeles. Prices from Korean's Chicago and New York gateways are higher and not quite as good. The fares are valid on weekdays until December 31 if you book your flights by August 31. Information: the Hot Deals page.
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.
OTHER LODGING BARGAINS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
Starwood Hotels: Second Night at 40-50 Percent Off, Because It Looks Hot
As hotels struggle with low nightly rates and even lower occupancy rates, the marketing gurus at the major lodging chains continue to churn out promotions to entice added traffic. Starwood's current ploy: 40 percent (and sometimes as much as 50 percent) off on a second-night's stay. Now if you do the math, that's actually 20 percent off each night, which isn't necessarily great when you consider the restrictions: Your two-night stay must include a Thursday, Friday or Saturday arrival at hotels and a Sunday-Wednesday arrival at resorts. In other words, this is an off-peak promo and 20 percent isn't earthshaking. Use promotion code or ZBT or ZB4. The deal is available through December 30. Information: the Better Tomorrows page.
Florida: Play Ball! How 'Bout Them Rays?
Much to the surprise of some wags, the Tampa Bay Rays are just neck and neck with the mighty (and mighty annoying) New York Yankees in the America League East. If you want to get on the Rays bandwagon (and stop whining about injuries, you Red Sox fans), check out the Home Run Baseball Getaway package at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg. For prices that start as low as $169 a night, you will receive lodgings; breakfast for two; transportation to and from Tropicana Field, home of the Rays; and a "spectator survival kit" that includes a tote bag, Cracker Jack, bubble gum, peanuts and padded seat cushions. You are on your own for actual game tickets, though. The package is available on a variety of game days until the end of the season. And if you're looking for a showdown with the Yankees, look at September 13-15. Use promotion code SPE to score the package. Information: the Deals and Packages page.
Atlanta: Hello, Dali! Hey, How Could You Not Call It That?
Atlanta's respected High Museum of Art is mounting a major exhibition of the later works of Salvador Dali. Some of the 40 pieces haven't been on public display in half a century. To capitalize on the show, appropriately called "Salvador Dali: The Late Work," the two Ritz-Carlton hotels in Atlanta are bundling tickets and accommodations. The package includes overnight lodgings; valet parking; American breakfast for two; and two tickets to the Dali show. Rates start at $229 at the Ritz-Carlton on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta and $259 at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead. The Dali package is available until to January 8. Information: 404-659-0400 for the downtown property and 404-237-2700 for Buckhead.
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
PACKAGE DEALS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Las Vegas: If You Really Want to Keep What Happens in Vegas in Vegas…
Cheesy as it may be, Sin City's catchphrase--What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas--has actually caught on. But if you're truly serious about keeping what happens in Las Vegas in Vegas, shouldn't you make absolutely sure no one even knows you're going to Vegas? To the rescue comes JetSuite, the private-jet firm that is built around the Phenom 100, the small, fast little sports car of corporate aircraft. It now offers a Vegas package that is virtually guaranteed to ensure your privacy: Roundtrip flights from Los Angeles to Las Vegas; private ground transportation; and two nights in a parlor suite at the five-star Wynn Las Vegas Resort. The package price is $4,998 during the week and $5,998 on weekends. The bundle, valid until December 31, is also available at different prices from other cities in JetSuite's service area. Information: 866-779-7770 and use promo code Ultimate Vegas Retreat.
Ireland: When JoeSentMe Members Package Travel, We Get a Discount
JoeSentMe member Jon Kiger is organizing a ground package surrounding November's Traditional Music Festival in Ennis, Ireland, and he's offering other JoeSentMe members a $100 discount. The package, from November 11-16, includes four nights at a four-star hotel in Ennis (County Clare); a night in an airport hotel in Dublin; ground transportation between Dublin and Ennis; two dinners and daily breakfast; admission to three nightly concerts at the festival; and a half-day tour of Dublin. Before the JoeSentMe member discount, the bundle costs $1,295 a person based on two people traveling together or $1,495 for single travelers. If you arrive in Shannon rather than Dublin, the price is $125 less. The deadline is September 10. Information: the Irish Music Tour Web site.
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."
FREQUENT TRAVEL PROGRAM PROMOTIONS OF NOTE
Southwest Airlines: Go East, Young Discount Carrier
For all of it obvious advantages, Southwest Airlines remains largely a mythical beast for a lot of East Coast travelers. That's a remnant of the decades when Southwest resolutely refused to compete at crowded airports on the Right Coast. But now Southwest is coming east fast and its latest Rapid Rewards promotion is targeted to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington-area flyers. If you register, you'll receive double Rapid Rewards credits for each flight into and out of Philadelphia International, Baltimore/Washington and Washington/Dulles. If you book the carrier's Business Select fares, you'll receive 1.25 extra credits on short-haul flights and triple credit on long-haul service. You must register and book your tickets by August 11, but travel is permitted until September 30.
Hyatt: A Big, Big Bonus for American AAdvantage Players
Interested in racking up a lot of miles in the American AAdvantage program? A new promotion from Hyatt Hotels is definitely the fast track. You'll earn 3,000 AAdvantage miles every time you stay at a Hyatt hotel until October 15. You can rack up as many as 60,000 miles during the promotion. To get the deal, make sure you register first and are a Hyatt Gold Passport member. Then provide both your Gold Passport and AAdvantage number when you book and when you check in. And make sure to request AAdvantage miles during the check-in process.
Hilton HHonors: First Out of the Box With a Third-Quarter Promotion
Hilton continues to inherit the wind for its massive devaluation of Hilton HHonors at the beginning of the year. Hilton promised that the devaluation would come with a step-up in promotions, but the company's efforts have been rather pedestrian. The latest one from HHonors--double points or miles for each stay--isn't much more interesting, but it does have a benefit: It's the first third-quarter promotion announced by any of the major chains. The offer runs through September 30 and you must register and choose either double HHonors points or double airline miles.
American Express: Triple Membership Rewards Points for Airline Purchases
Buying an airline ticket? American Express wants you to use your Amex card and it is offering a card-based version of "triple miles." If you register and your Amex card gives you Membership Rewards points, you'll get three times the points for airline purchases until September 30. You can earn as many as 15,000 bonus points during the promotion. You must register using code 17677001. Information: the Bonus Points page.
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.