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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR LATE AUGUST, 2010
Hotels: 'Tis the Season for Crazy, Complicated Promotions
The hotel business has improved a bit, so the lodging chains are being slightly more targeted with their promotions. That's fine since the hotels are in business to make money. But promotions that are obscure, overly complicated or simply too limited don't help hotels or guests. Still, if you can thread the needle on any of these, you may find some real value:
     The Hyatt Bounce-Back promotion is sweet: stay two nights and get a $75 credit on a return stay; stay three nights and it's $125; and it's $150 if you stay four nights or longer. The problem? The deal is only available at 95 properties in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean and Hyatt doesn't post which hotels are participating. And its supposed Web page to support the promotion, Hyatt Bounce-Back, is actually a referral back to the general booking page. In other words, you don't even know the terms and conditions, either. But what happens is you have to make the initial stay by September 8, then use your credit between September 13 and December 30. You must use offer code BBCK10 to book the return stay and present the certificate you'll be given when you check out after the first stay. In fairness to Hyatt, there are some good hotels in the promotion (everything from the Hyatt Regency San Antonio to the Park Hyatt Washington), but how will anyone know?
     The InterContinental Check It Free promotion does have its own Web page, but the game is so complicated that it makes you wonder whether the perk (as much as $50 back on weekend stays) is worth the effort. What you have to do is stay a weekend at any hotel in the InterContinental family between September 1 and December 30. You have to pay with a Visa card. Then you have to apply for a rebate of whatever baggage fees you paid to your airline. After all of the paperwork is complete (you'll be required to submit as many as three receipts), the rebate is mailed to you in the form of a Visa gift card. Not only does that sound exhausting, it is almost as complicated as airline baggage fees. And InterContinental tying itself to carrier convolution is beneficial how?
     By comparison, the Starwood Free Nights promotion at its Aloft and Element brands seems sane and easy-to-understand. All you have to do is complete three stays by September 30 and you'll earn a free night that you can claim any time until December 19. Registration is required, but there is no limit to the amount of free nights you can claim. So what makes this one tricky? The promotion is not based on nights stayed, but stays, so a multi-night stay only gets you a third of the way to a freebie. Then there's this: There are only about 50 Aloft and Element hotels open and that is the worldwide count. Unless you're extraordinarily lucky or extremely persistent, three stays in the next 40 days is a fairly high bar.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
Sun Country Airlines: Distant Second on Air Passes, But They Are Still Available
For the second consecutive year, JetBlue Airways introduced a month-long, flat-price air pass this week--and it promptly sold out before I could even get it on the deals page. But Sun Country Airlines, the Minneapolis-based midget, also introduced an air pass this week and it is still available. For $499, it permits unlimited travel on Sun Country flights between September 7 and October 13. (Government taxes and fees are extra, as are Sun Country's checked-bag charges.) The pass is available for purchase until midnight Central Time on August 24. The 37-day travel window is a week more than JetBlue was offering, but there is a drawback with Sun Country's pass: The airline's route network is puny and the promotion probably only works for MSP-based flyers. Information: the Fall Free for All page.

Southwest Airlines: Double Rapid Rewards Credits for New England Flyers
Southwest Airlines now flies to three destinations in New England--Boston, Manchester and Providence--and it is promoting a late summer and early fall travel inducement. Until October 31, the 800-pound gorilla of discount airlines is offering double Rapid Rewards credits for all travel to or from the three airports. You must register and make your reservations by September 15. Travelers who pay the Business Select fare will receive 2.25 to 3 credits, depending on the length of the flight.

Starwood Hotels: New York on Sunday (Night) Is Worth 3,000 Points
There have been at least two songs written about New York on Sundays--prosaically enough, the tunes are called "New York on Sunday" and "Sunday in New York"--but none that I know about Sunday night in the Big Apple. But that hasn't deterred Starwood Hotels from rolling out a fairly rich promotion for Sunday night stays. At 11 of the chain's New York Metropolitan area outposts--eight in Manhattan and three in nearby New Jersey--all you have to do is stay over on a Sunday night and you'll receive 3,000 bonus Starwood Preferred Guest points. The deal is available until December 30 so long as you register in advance. One warning: not all of Starwood's New York area properties are playing, so check the list of participating hotels before you book.

Marriott Rewards: The "What Offer Did You Get?" MegaBonus Deal Is Back
It's that time again, when Marriott Rewards rolls out its autumn MegaBonus promotion and dedicated Marriott players compare the offer that the hotel chain made to them. The officially published deal is this: get a free night after every other paid stay between September 15 and January 15. There's a limit of two free nights. But since Marriott makes separate offers to many slices of its membership, the published deal is, well, just the published one. Some members report being offered 5,000 bonus miles for every paid stay after the second stay with a maximum of 20,000 bonus points. And top-level elite players got still another offer: 35,000 bonus points after 20 paid nights and an additional 15,000 points after 25 paid nights. This year, unfortunately, all of the offers come with the return of an old fillip: You must pay with a Visa card for each stay. And, of course, you must register.

OTHER GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
Qantas Christmas Miracle: $4,000 Roundtrip in Business Class to Sydney
Much as I hate 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.

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
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.

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
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.