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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR LATE DECEMBER, 2010
Hotels: The 2011 1Q Promotions Don't Look So Generous
The first of the 2011 hotel frequent stay promotions are leaking out and they look less generous than the 1Q promotions in 2010. Here's what we know so far:
    Starwood Preferred Guest will offer double points for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday stays and double points plus 500 points on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday stays. The so-called Great Weeks, Grand Weekends promotion will run from January 3 to April 15 and registration opens on January 3. About one in ten Starwood properties won't be participating. Information is here.
    Marriott Rewards revives its MegaBonus promotion and the published offer is a free night's stay after two paid stays between February 1 and April 30. As many as two free nights at select hotels can be earned and they can be used until September 30. As with other MegaBonus periods, however, many Marriott Rewards members will receive customized offers. Depending on your elite status and recent stay pattern, you may be offered as many as 50,000 bonus points instead. The bonus points will require as many as 25 stays. Your offer should be visible by visiting this page.
    Priority Club Rewards, the frequency program of the InterContinental hotel family, will offer 5,000 bonus miles after three nights of stays between January 1 and March 31. Full details have not yet been published, but you can register to participate here.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL DEALS
British Airways: Sure, Now They Put on a Holiday Business-Class Sale...
Just as most other carriers have ended their holiday business-class sale, British Airways finally gets around to mounting its promotion. If you don't have holiday plans yet, I guess this sale makes some sense. If you book by December 28, you can fly in business class to London at sharply reduced fares until January 8. Prices start at $2,398 roundtrip from New York/Kennedy or Newark. It's $3,198 roundtrip from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Prices from other BA gateways generally fall in between. You'll also get $300 off as part of the promotion, but that does little more than offset the brutally high BA fuel surcharges and British travel taxes. A 7-day advance purchase applies. Virgin Atlantic promptly matched the last-minute sale on the routes where it competes with BA. Information: the BA Luxury Flight page and Virgin's Special Offers page.

Aer Lingus: Extraordinarily Low Business-Class Prices--and Europe, Too
Last year, when its future was in doubt, Aer Lingus slashed business-class fares to Dublin and Shannon and threw in onward flights to Europe, too. This year, Aer Lingus seems to be in better shape, but the fare sale is back, albeit at slightly higher levels. The starting price: $2,398 roundtrip to Dublin or Shannon from New York/Kennedy or Boston or $2,498 from Chicago. For just $100 more from New York or Boston, you get a coach roundtrip from Dublin to almost two dozen European destinations. It's just $160 more roundtrip from Chicago. The exact cities where you can fly vary by your U.S. departure point and logical connection times, but many of the best European cities (Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, London, Warsaw and Edinburgh) are there. You can travel through March if you purchase nonrefundable tickets by January 6 and 21 days in advance. The fares will appear on the Aer Lingus Web site beginning on Friday, December 17.

Ethiopian Airlines: Africa for $400 a Person? Yeah, Right …
Deals on flights to Africa are so rare that I'm willing to alert you to this despite Ethiopian Airlines' disingenuous approach to its latest promotion. Ethiopian claims two people can visit any of 38 destinations in Africa for "under $400 a person" thanks to its buy-one-get-one $777 fare. But, of course, that is far, far from the truth. For starters, the $777 fare does not include fuel surcharges, which can add as much as $460 to the price. It also doesn't include taxes of about $200. So that $777 fare can actually run to $1,437. And that second freebie? Uh, you're still responsible for the fuel surcharge and taxes, which is as much as $660. So two tickets could cost you around $2,100 roundtrip. Not bad for Africa, of course, but hardly the kind of deal-of-a-lifetime bargain Ethiopian would have you believe it is offering. And if you want to take advantage of the $2,100 or so roundtrip for two, you'll have to thread the travel needle, too. It's only available in February and only if you buy your tickets by December 25. Information: the See You in Ethiopia page.

South African Airways: Speaking of Africa Deals …
South African Airways has fudged the truth on its Africa sales, too, but this time its offer is more or less above board and easily explained. For departures from its gateways in New York (Kennedy) or Washington (Dulles), roundtrip prices to South Africa (Johannesburg or Cape Town) start at just $869 a person including the fuel surcharge. For more than a dozen other African destinations, fares range from $869 roundtrip (Dakar, Senegal) to $1,119 (Nairobi, Kenya). Taxes will add about $200 to those fares. The window for outbound travel is January 10 to February 19 if you purchase tickets by December 22. Information: the Give the Gift of Africa page.

EXTENDED! NOTABLE AIRFARE DEALS WITH NEW LIFE
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 now book tickets by January 31 for travel until April 30, although seats are limited. And the promotion is available only at the Fly OpenSkies Web site.

Virgin America: The Never-Ending Sale, With New Fares and Different Rules
Virgin America continues to offer uber-cheap fares during off-peak times. And while the $99 coast-to-coast teaser is gone and last week's $109 price is kaput, the new version is just $10 more. The current promotion is divided into super-low (Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday) and slightly higher buckets. Samples: San Francisco to Los Angeles or San Diego for $49 or $69 one-way; Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco or Los Angeles for $119/$149; Boston or Washington/Dulles to San Francisco or Los Angeles for $119/$149; and Dallas/Fort Worth or Toronto to San Francisco or Los Angeles for $129/$149. The traditional Transcon Triangle routes (New York/Kennedy to Los Angeles or San Francisco) are $129/$149. Tickets now must be purchased by December 20 with a 14-day advance for travel until May 11. There are holiday blackouts. More details are here.

Air France: A Fourth-Class Sale--and That's Not a Criticism
Airlines are still grappling with the concept of fourth class, the cabin being wedged between coach and business class. The concept is essentially being labeled "premium economy," but Air France is calling its cabin Premium Voyageur. It is also breaking the mold by promoting fare sales in the cabin, which offers 40 inches of legroom, 10.5-inch video screens and other perks that would have been standard in business class just a decade or so ago. Prices to Paris/CDG include $570 each way from New York/Kennedy or Newark and $670 each way from Seattle. Air France claims that is 40 percent off its standard premium economy prices. There are also similarly low-priced fares from other Air France gateways. The travel period extends until March 25. A seven-day advance purchase applies and tickets must now be purchased by December 21. Information: the Air France Premium Voyageur page.

OTHER LODGING BARGAINS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
Hilton: A Global Weekend Sale for 2011, With Lots of Strings
Hilton Hotels had a great idea: Put 2011 weekend stays on sale. All of 2011 weekends. At all hotels worldwide. Then, of course, reality strikes in the form of strings, restrictions and other complications. For example: The deal is advertised as "up to 50 percent off," but it's more gradated than it seems. The discount is just 20 percent at most Hilton Family properties in North and South America, although you can score 30 percent off certain rates at Doubletree hotels. Asia-Pacific properties are offering "up to 25 percent" off while European properties are "up to 50 percent" off. There are some unspecified blackout dates, too. Arrival dates and stay requirements for "weekends" vary by region. And while the booking window is wide enough--until January 31--you'll be required to make full, non-cancelable prepayment. There is a positive quirk, though: Hilton HHonors members will receive double base points on the rate. For more details, surf here. Surf here for some of the attached strings. And one other point to note: There's no guarantee that the so-called Any Weekend, Anywhere rate is the lowest available, so check carefully.

Pan Pacific Hotels: 20 Percent Off Best Rates in January and February
More than a dozen Pan Pacific hotels--they're scattered from Seattle and Vancouver to Jakarta and Singapore--are offering a SuperSaver rate for stays in January and February: 20 percent off the existing best price. That means we're talking $170 a night in Perth, Australia; $120 in Manila; and $180 in Seattle. The rate includes a guaranteed late checkout until 3 p.m. You will have to prepay for your stay, however. Information: the SuperSaver Is Back page.

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.

OTHER AIRLINE DEALS THAT ARE STILL AVAILABLE
Cathay Pacific: Book Full-Fare Premium Class, Get a $500 Gift Card
Other airlines discount lustily during the holidays, when business- and first-class traffic is comparatively low. But Cathay Pacific isn't big on discounting, so it's throwing you a bone. Well, an apple. Specifically, an Apple gift card. If you book in first (fare classes A or F) or business class (fare classes J, C, D, I), they'll send you a certificate valid for a $500 Apple gift card. To qualify, you must book at Cathay's U.S. Web site by January 31 for travel by February 28. One more caveat: You must be one of the first 400 to book. Yes, I know, it does seem a little grudging … Information: the Marco Polo page.

United Airlines: A Quiet Sale for the New Year, With Few Restrictions
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.

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 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.