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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR AUG. 26 - SEPT. 9, 2010
National Car Rental: It's Back! Rent Twice, Get a Free Rental Day.
It's not quite as fanatically popular as Hyatt's Faster Free Nights deal, but National Car Rental's One Two Free promotion is almost as rich and nearly as anticipated. After teasing its return for a few weeks, National has dropped details on its eighth annual One Two Free deal. As usual, two rentals of a mid-sized or larger car for two consecutive days earn a free rental day. Qualifying rentals must be completed by January 31. The free rental days can be used until June 25. Rental stations in the United States and Canada participate in the promotion, although there are some exceptions and some blackout dates. You must register and be a member of the Emerald Club. Information: the ONETWOFREE page.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
Star Alliance: The Really Big Business-Class Sale of the Year
It used to be just Continental's big-bang sale, but now that the Houston-based carrier is part of the Star Alliance, most of its partners are playing as well. If you're looking to travel over Thanksgiving or in the Christmas/New Year season, the business-class bargains are irresistible. Prices start as low as $1,292 roundtrip (Newark-Dublin for Thanksgiving). The fares top out at about $1,800 (from Newark) and $2,168 from Continental's Houston hub. The major exception is Nordic destinations, where Star Alliance partner SAS has slightly different prices and travel dates. Its fares start at $1,520 roundtrip (Newark-Copenhagen for Thanksgiving) and top out at $2,820 (Chicago-Helsinki for end-of-the-year travel). Similar fares are also available from Air Canada, Lufthansa and United, the other major Star Alliance partners. Generally speaking, the Thanksgiving travel period is November 21-27 (outbound) and November 25-December 1 (return). The end-of-the-year dates are December 20-January 7 outbound and December 24-January 13 (return). A three-day minimum stay is required and taxes and fees are extra. There do seem to be blacked-out flights (mostly Continental's Europe nonstops from Houston and its Newark-Bristol, England, flights) and capacity is controlled. I'd move quickly before the seats disappear. Information: the Continental Low Fares page and the SAS Business Holiday Sale pages.
Singapore Airlines: Well, Okay, If You Force Us, We Can Discount Something…
Let's just say that Asian carriers are reluctant to discount their premium classes. They don't understand the mindset nor the publicity value. And let's just say Singapore Airlines takes its reluctance to near-paranoid levels. So when SIA does, however begrudgingly, offer a business-class deal, it's worth noting. As you probably know, Singapore Air offers all-business-class nonstops from both New York/Newark and Los Angeles. Now the airline is offering a 12 percent discount on Tuesday and Wednesday departures and throwing in two free hotel nights in Singapore. (The hotels are the Fairmont Singapore and the Raffles Stamford.) To score the fare deal, you must travel on Tuesday or Wednesday on SQ37 (from LAX) or SQ21 (from EWR) before December 15. Tickets must be booked in D Class. To score the hotel deal, the travel window is slightly wider: September 1 to December 15 although the freebies are not available September 23-26. The free hotel nights are also available if you book business class on SQ61, Singapore's traditional Houston-Singapore service. Information: the Business Class and 2 Free Nights pages.
Hotels: If It's The Fourth Quarter, There's a Points Promo…
Hotel chains continue to claim that business is markedly improved, but it is fairly clear that business travelers need incentives to book. So well before the start of the fourth quarter, major hotels chains have announced their quarterly promotions. They've even timed them to start a few days before the October 1 kick-off of the year's final quarter. Here's what is available already:
The Starwood Every Night Counts deal will award you double SPG points after your ninth night and triple points after your tenth night. And the bonuses are retroactive. In other words, when you hit the nine-night mark, you get the double points for all nine nights. Ditto for the triple points when you reach the tenth night. The earning period: September 8 to December 15. Registration is required and be warned: not all Starwood properties are playing. Check the list of participants carefully.
The Hyatt Great 10K promotion will generate 10,000 bonus Gold Passport points after every five nights. The earning period is September 15 to December 15. Registration is required: Call 800-228-3360 before September 15 or surf here beginning on the 15th. And here's some good news: You can earn 10,000 points for each five nights up to 180,000 points. That's a lot of nights, of course, but a lot of points, too.
The Marriott MegaBonus promotion offers a free night after every other paid stay between September 15 and January 15. There's a limit of two free nights. That's the published offer. 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.
US Airways: Buy a Lot of Dividend Miles Cheap! Again and Again and Again!
US Airways claims it is a "limited time" offer, but it is at least the fifth time this year that the bottom fisher of the Star Alliance has done it. It is offering as much as a 100 percent bonus when you buy miles in its Dividend Miles program. In other words, if you buy 50,000 miles for 2.75 cents each, you'll get a 50,000-mile bonus. And since you can get some off-season, off-peak roundtrip business-class awards on US Airways to Europe for as little as 60,000 miles each, your effective cost for a pair of transatlantic premium-class seats would be about $700 a ticket and 20,000 existing miles. Great deal, of course. And depending on your skill level, there are other ways to use the purchased miles well, especially since US Airways doesn't block awards on other Star Alliance carriers. But be warned: Buying miles to "bank" them is a losing proposition. You should have a specific itinerary in mind and know there are seats available before making a purchase. The current iteration of the offer expires on September 15. Information: the Buy miles page.
OTHER GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
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
Hotels: 'Tis the Season for Crazy, Complicated Promotions
The hotel business has improved a little 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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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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.