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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR DECEMBER 2-16, 2010
Airlines: 'Tis the Season for Modest Fare Sales
The period between Thanksgiving and mid-December is weak for airline bookings and the first few months of the year are also weak for travel. Get where we're going with this? Airlines throw out sales now for travel early next year. The sales aren't knock-your-eyes-out notable, but if you fly coach, attention must be paid. Here's some of what's on offer:
        Virgin America continues to offer uber-cheap fares during off-peak times. And while the $99 coast-to-coast teaser is gone, the new version is just $10 more. The current promotion is divided into super-low (Monday-Thursday and Saturday) and slightly higher (Friday and Sunday) buckets. Some samples: San Francisco to Los Angeles or San Diego for $39 or $59 one-way; Fort Lauderdale to either San Francisco or Los Angeles for $109 or $129; New York, Boston or Washington/Dulles to San Francisco or Los Angeles for $109 or $129; and Dallas/Fort Worth or Toronto to San Francisco or Los Angeles for $129 or $139. Tickets must be purchased by December 6 with a 7-day advance for travel until May 11. There are holiday blackouts, of course. More details are here.
        Alaska Airlines has put its entire network on sale, including its substantial service to Hawaii and Mexico. Sample prices: Newark-Seattle for $100 one-way; San Francisco-Seattle for $50; San Diego-Seattle for $75; Seattle-Honolulu for $160; Washington/Dulles to Portland, Oregon, for $155; and Spokane-Puerto Vallarta for $189. Roundtrip tickets must be purchased by December 6 with a 7-day advance for travel until February 14 or March 10. There are holiday blackouts, of course. The details are here.
        United Airlines is quietly promoting a "Fares for the New Year" sale that runs from January 4 to March 9 with a 14-day advance purchase. Sample fares: $99 one-way from Denver to Boston; $59 from San Francisco to San Diego; and $92 from New York/LaGuardia to Chicago. Surprisingly, there are no blackout dates or minimum-stay restrictions, but don't expect to find seats on all flights or all days. More details are here.
        Southwest Airlines may be the reason United Airlines (above) is discounting. The Winter Travel promotion has the same travel period (January 4-March 9). Southwest has no roundtrip requirement, of course, but its fares must be purchased by December 13. Sample prices: Albany-Chicago/Midway for $119; Austin-Dallas/Love for $59; Baltimore-Tampa for $85; and Boston-Denver for $99. More details are here.
        AirTran Airways has almost monthly "sales" now, which raises the question of whether sales stop being sales when they occur continuously. The existential questions aside, however, the current sale is for travel until March 16 when you purchase by December 9. One-way prices are divided into three categories: lowest on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday; lower on Monday and Thursday; and just low at other times. Sample prices: $109/$119/$144 from Atlanta to Denver; $49/$59/$69 from Boston to Baltimore/Washington; $69/$79/$94 from Indianapolis to New York/LaGuardia; and $104/$114/$134 from Milwaukee to Las Vegas. A 10-day advance purchase applies and you'll find plenty of holiday blackouts. More details are here.

HOLIDAY TRAVEL BARGAINS THAT YOU CAN STILL BOOK
Airlines: There's Still Time for a Cheap Holiday Getaway Up Front
There's still plenty of time--and apparently plenty of seats--to score a late December getaway. Prices to Europe for a departure in late December and a return as late as mid-January are as low as around $700 each way from the East Coast. It's as low as about $1,400 each way from the West Coast. In between coasts? Well, the prices are in between, too. Here's a carrier by carrier look at what's still available and the applicable rules, prices and regulations. (By the way, taxes and fees are extra on these prices except where specifically noted otherwise.)
     Aer Lingus: $719 each way from New York or Boston to Dublin or Shannon. Travel period: December 15-January 7. Advance purchase: 7 days. Minimum stay: 3 days or a Saturday night.
     Air Canada: From Montreal or Toronto, virtually all of the business-class fares to Europe are C$1,374 one-way. It's C$1,674 from Calgary and Vancouver. Travel period: December 20-January 13. Minimum stay: 3 days. Purchase by: December 31.
     Alitalia: $1,910 roundtrip including all taxes and fees from New York to Rome or Milan; Boston to Rome for $2,545; Miami-Milan from $2,710; and Los Angeles-Rome for $3,110. Travel period: December 20-January 7. Minimum stay: 3 days. Purchase by: December 15 with a 21-day advance purchase.
     American Airlines: Dallas/Fort Worth-Brussels for $1,015 each way based on roundtrip purchase; Boston-Manchester for $936; Miami-Zurich for $1,065; Los Angeles-Frankfurt for $1,218; and Raleigh-Brussels for $1,015. Travel period: December 20-January 13. Minimum stay: 3 days. Purchase by: December 15 with a 21-day advance purchase.
     Continental Airlines: Newark-Paris for $1,680 roundtrip; Newark-Barcelona for $1,730; Houston-Amsterdam for $2,130; and Cleveland-London for $1,772. Travel period: December 20-January 13. Minimum stay: 3 days. Purchase by: December 15 with a 21-day advance purchase.
     Lufthansa: New York-Hamburg for $815 each way; Charlotte-Oslo for $1,015; Detroit-Lisbon for $915; and Seattle-Frankfurt for $1,215. Travel period: December 20-January 12. Minimum stay: 3 days. Purchase by: December 6 with a 14-day advance purchase.
     SAS: Newark-Copenhagen for $810 each way; Washington-Stockholm for $910; Chicago-Oslo for $1,010. Travel period: December 20-January 10. Minimum stay: Saturday night. Purchase by: December 16 with a 21-day advance purchase.
     United Airlines: Chicago-Paris for $2,102 roundtrip; Washington-Geneva for $2,152; and Los Angeles-London for $2,504. Travel period: December 20-January 13. Purchase by: December 15 with a 21-day advance purchase.

Air New Zealand: No New Year for You in London, But Christmas Is Cheap
Air New Zealand runs a "hidden" nonstop flight between Los Angeles and London and it is almost always the low-fare operator on the route. And it's put out a nice sale for business-class travel at the end of December: $2,817 roundtrip between December 20 and December 31. The downside? That's the entire travel window in both directions. Unlike the holiday business-class sales offered by other airlines (see above), there is no opportunity to spend time in London in the New Year. At least not at the low fare being pitched. Tickets must be purchased by November 22 and there's a five-day minimum stay. Information: the Business Special - Holiday in London page.

San Francisco: A Swanky Stay (Four Seasons) & Shop (Bloomingdale's) Package
Room rates at the Four Seasons San Francisco start at $420 a night, but, if you have lots of holiday shopping to do, the hotel's Bloomingdale's Shopping Package makes some financial sense. For rates that start at $470 a night, you'll get accommodations; a $100 Bloomingdale's gift card; 15 percent off your shopping at the store; package wrapping and delivery to the hotel; and overnight valet parking (for your vehicle, not the packages). It ain't cheap, but it's awfully convenient because Bloomie's West Coast flagship (whatever that means) store is just a few steps from the hotel. Information: the Bloomingdale's Shopping Package page.

BUSINESS-TRAVEL PROMOTIONS THAT EXPIRE SOON
OpenSkies: $1,000 Roundtrip in Business Class to Paris From Washington
Sharp-eyed JoeSentMe member Bill McCloskey picked this one up: OpenSkies, British Airways' boutique carrier, is selling roundtrips to Paris' Orly Airport from Washington's Dulles Airport for just $880 in its BizSeat class. With taxes and fees, that's just under $1,000. It's the bargain of the year, but to score the price, you must use promo code WASHP800. And don't expect to see this price mentioned on the OpenSkies site. It started as a private promotion, but was later tweeted by OpenSkies. You must book tickets by December 31 for travel until March 31, although seats are limited. And the promotion is available only at at the Fly OpenSkies Web site.

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.

Airlines: Triple Miles for Full-Fare Transcontinental Rides
Delta Air Lines is the interloper in the Transcon Triangle that links New York's Kennedy Airport with Los Angeles and San Francisco. As a result, Delta is usually the most active promoter on the routes. So it was first out of the box with an end-of-the-year offer: triple SkyMiles when you fly full-fare coach or business class. The promotion is valid on transcon nonstops purchased in the high end of the coach spectrum and most business-class fares. You must register by December 15 and fly by December 31. Then American Airlines matched (again, registration is required). It took until this week for United to match. Before you book, though, make sure your fare class is included in the promotion. Unless it's overpriced, it's probably not.

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 fourth-quarter frequent guest promotions are required. Here's what is available:
     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. 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.
     Priority Club Rewards, which includes InterContinental, Holiday Inn and other brands, is offering a choice of free nights or double points. Two stays before December 31 will get you one free night or you can choose to earn double points for each stay before December 31. What's the catch? You must register, of course, and must choose either free nights or bonus points for the promotion period. You can earn a maximum of five free nights and they can only be used between December 1 and May 31. Oh, and one restriction that you might not have expected: InterContinental's Asia/Pacific properties are not playing in the free-nights promotion.
     The Hilton HHonors Spend a Sunday promotion--double base points for stays at most Hilton Family properties until December 30--isn't particularly notable. But the twist is enticing: If your stay includes a Sunday night, Hilton will award quadruple points for the entire visit. Registration is required (do it here) and there are a large number of properties that aren't participating. (The list of outliers is shown as a link on the registration-confirmation page.) Another notable caveat: Most rates available from third-party Web sites do not qualify. So make your reservations through Hilton's 800-number or the Web site.

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.

OTHER LODGING BARGAINS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
Hyatt: 50 Percent Off Third Night for 60 Days at Hyatt Place/Summerfield Suites
Hyatt may be best-known for its full-service hotels, but it is also doggedly building out its focused-service brands, the Summerfield Suites extended-stay chain and Hyatt Place, which is setting new standards in the segment currently dominated by Courtyard by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn. To attract travelers during the holidays, Hyatt's two newest chains are offering 50 percent off the third night's stay at most of its 158 Hyatt Place properties and 30 Summerfield Suites locations. Prices start as low as $79 a night and the promotion is valid until January 17. Use booking code HOLID3. Information: the Hyatt Place special offers page and the Summerfield Suites special offers page.

Red Lion: It's Cold at Our Hotels, So We'll Discount Big
The Red Lion chain of hotels has a location in Anaheim, California. That's the entire list of its warm-weather destinations. All of the chain's other properties are in Oregon, Northern California, Washington, Idaho and other places that have cold winters. In other words, times when Red Lion will need to promote hard to keep their rooms filled. The solution? Red Lion's "Stay Red. Save Green." sale. Until February 28, rates are discounted by as much as 25 percent. The chain will knock 35 percent off the standard rate if you prepay a nonrefundable reservation. Information: the Stay Red 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 January 8. Information: 404-659-0400 for the downtown property and 404-237-2700 for Buckhead.

CAR-RENTAL DEALS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
car Avis: A Better-Late-Than-Never Match of National's Freebie
Years after National invented the two-rentals-free-night deal and months after National introduced this year's model, Avis has surprisingly jumped into the game. Its Free to Get Away fall and winter deal is a nearly exact match of National's One Two Free promotion (see below). Rent two times for two consecutive days and Avis will reward you with a certificate for a free rental night. The Avis promotion period stretches until January 31. There are some restrictions, including the redlining of the use of reward days in New York and Alaska. You can earn a total of three freebies during the promo period. You must register, of course and I urge you to read the terms and conditions carefully.

car Budget Rent a Car: Rent Twice, Get $25 for a Future Rental
Car-rental promotions tend to be larded with restrictions and loopholes and Budget's Budget Bucks Payback promotion is no different. But at least this one starts simply enough: Rent two times before March 31 and get a $25 coupon valid to use against the cost of a future rental. The easy part of the restrictions: You must be a Fastbreak member (that's Budget's counter-bypass program) and you must register for the promotion. (That's de rigueur and you can do it here.) And while the so-called Budget Bucks can be used for rentals until September 30, getting them is more complicated than it should be. The qualifying rentals must each be at least two days long and rentals via opaque sites like Priceline.com and Hotwire.com don't qualify. And while you can earn an unlimited number of Budget Bucks $25 certificates, if you use them to pay for future rentals before March 31, those rentals won't count as a qualifying rental. And then there's this: Budget says it'll take 8-10 weeks after the second rental to deliver your certificate. That's a lot of work for a $25 credit.

National Car Rental: It's Back! Rent Twice, Get a Free Rental Day.
It's not 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. As usual, two rentals of a mid-sized or larger car for two consecutive days earn a free rental day. The qualifying rentals must be completed by January 31. The free rental days can be used until June 25. Most rental stations in the United States and Canada participate in the promotion, although there are blackout dates. You must register and be a member of Emerald Club. Information: the ONETWOFREE 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.