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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR MARCH 15 TO 29, 2012
Air New Zealand: Fall Is Coming, So Fares and Restrictions Fall, Too
As the peak season winds down Down Under, Air New Zealand is cutting its late-summer and early-fall fares up front. That's no surprise. But what is surprising are the limited restrictions: a 3-day advance purchase and 3-day minimum stay for the best price. And that best is pretty attractive: $6,088 roundtrip (including all taxes and fees) between Los Angeles and Auckland. It's just $100 roundtrip more to Wellington, $170 more to Christchurch and $6,348 to Queenstown. The travel window is March 19 to May 31 when you purchase tickets by March 27. Information: the Discount Business Premier page.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL BARGAINS
Cathay Pacific: Lots of Flights--and Suddenly Lots of Up Front Bargains, Too
Let's just say that Cathay Pacific isn't the most aggressive discounter in the skies. But the well-regarded carrier based in Hong Kong has added a raft of seats to the United States in recent years, including its newish gateway at Chicago/O'Hare. That means the occasional sale on its business-class seats. From the aforementioned O'Hare, roundtrip business-class seats are now selling for as little as $6,344 roundtrip including all taxes and fees. Connecting flights to other destinations in China are selling for about $500 more. From Los Angles, Cathay is selling business class for as little as $6,194 roundtrip. There are also discounts on its San Francisco and New York/JFK flights. The other good news? The advance purchase is gentle (14 days), the minimum-stay restrictions are nonexistent and the fares will earn you either American AAdvantage or Asia miles. Best of all, the prices seem to be in effect until the end of the year. Information: The Cathay Pacific home page.

OTHER TRAVEL BARGAINS THAT MERIT YOUR ATTENTION
Korean Air: LAX-to-Tokyo for Less Than $900 Roundtrip in March and April
Korean Air has been trying to burnish its image these days--if nothing else, those television commercials are stylish--but it still needs to fill its transpacific flights with some substantial discounts. If you can handle a coach ride between Los Angeles and Tokyo, Korean is pitching a nice price: Just $871.21 roundtrip including taxes and fees. The caveat? Travel is only permitted through April 30 and and only on Flights KE001 and KE002. But there is no minimum stay and return travel is permitted for two months after departure. Tickets must be purchased by March 15. Information: the Hot Deal page.

Turkish Airlines: Istanbul in March Is No April in Paris, But the Price Is Right
Istanbul and Turkey are trendy just now. And why not? After decades of derision as "the sick man of Europe," Turkey is looking a lot healthier than most of the debt-ridden EC. More and more travelers are falling in love with Istanbul, which manages to be modern and ancient, European and Asian, all at the same time. The clincher: a $672 roundtrip (including taxes and fees) from New York/JFK to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, a much-underrated member of the Star Alliance. The fare is valid for outbound travel throughout March with a return as late as three months after your March departure. Information: 800-874-8875.

LOT: Europe Up Front, Via Warsaw, Still Cheap in Early April
If you are still looking to travel to Europe in early April, be thankful that LOT Polish was late off the mark with its Easter and Passover sale. While other major carriers ended their business-class deals weeks ago, LOT will take you via its efficient Warsaw hub for as little as $2,533 roundtrip including all taxes and fees. That's for travel between March 31 and April 13 if you purchase tickets 21 days in advance. Sample fares from New York: $2,546 roundtrip to Zurich, $2,617 to Krakow and $2,635 to Budapest or Milan. From Chicago, sample prices include: $2,733 roundtrip to Stockholm, $2,594 to Vienna and $2,821 to Prague. The minimum stay requirement is three days or a Saturday night. Information: the Deals page.

Malaysia Airlines: Tokyo, Really Cheap, You Pick Your Class ...
Malaysia Airlines' nearly secret Los Angeles-Tokyo/Narita route needs constant promotion to keep it at the top of the business traveler's mind. But failing promotion, which Malaysia Airlines never does, the solution is to cut fares. That they are doing. If you can handle a transpacific coach ride, the current price from LAX to Narita is as little as $760 roundtrip, including all taxes and fees. If you're saner and want to go business class, the price is an attractive $3,441 roundtrip. The travel window is wide--March 25 to May 31--if you purchase your seats by March 31. Information: The Deals of the Day page.

FIRST-QUARTER HOTEL POINTS PROMOTIONS TO CONSIDER
Hotels: First Quarter Points Promotions? The Story So Far.
As major hotel groups gear up for the traditionally weak first quarter, details on their regular-as-clockwork quarterly points promotions are beginning to leak out. They are more complicated, and less rich, than those of previous years. That may mean that the chains are expecting improved travel conditions or that they are tone deaf to the signs of weakness in the business-travel community. You get to decide. Meanwhile, here's what we know so far:
    Hilton HHonors, already suffering from its stealth devaluation in the fourth quarter, isn't likely to win too many fans with its first quarter offer: From January 1 to March 31, HHonors members receive 1,000 bonus points per night. A two-night weekend stay (Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday) will receive 5,000 bonus points. In contrast, last year's first-quarter promo offered as much as quadruple points. One benefit this year: The bonuses are stackable, so it's possible to receive the 5,000-point weekend bonus and the 1,000-point bonus for each night. On the downside, there's a lengthy list of Hilton properties that won't offer the promotion. Registration is required, of course.
    Marriott Rewards is up to its usual Megabonus game: A public promotion that is superceded by private offers to members based on their travel pattern and elite status. The public offer is a free night in a lower-priced (Category 1-4) Marriott property after two stays between February 1 and April 30. According to travelers, private offers range from 25,000 points for 15 nights of stays to 50,000 points for 25 nights of stays. Registration is required and you should check your Marriott Rewards account for your special offer.
    Starwood Preferred Guest has slated its first quarter Better by the Night offer to run January 9 to April 8. Although you can't register until January 9, here's the offer: Double Starpoints on two-night stays and triple Starpoints for three-night stays. Only 750 of Starwood's more than 1,000 properties are playing, however, and no Starwood hotel in Asia is participating. Here are the other properties that won't honor the promotion.

Choice Hotels: Stay Twice in The Next 60 Days, Get a Free Night
Hyatt Gold Passport made "Faster Free Nights"--i.e. stay twice, get a free stay--famous, but it hasn't offered the wildly popular promotion much since Hyatt added lower-priced properties. But other chains have dabbled in the idea, the latest being Choice Hotels, the gigantic group of economy properties such as Comfort, Quality, Clarion and EconoLodge. Choice's spin is this: If you complete two separate stays between March 8 and May 8, you'll earn enough Choice Privileges points (8,000) for a free night at 1,500 of its lower-tier properties. Considering Choice has about 6,000 properties, the payoff is limited. Still, it's better than a poke in the eye, right? Registration is required and the promotion is open only to travelers based in the United States and Canada. Information: the Earn One Night Free page.

Priority Club Rewards: Double Points or Double Miles for Three Months
The first-quarter hotel bonus promotions have been lackluster and Priority Club Rewards, the frequency program of the InterContinental chain, won't be breaking away from the pack with its offer. From January 23 to April 30, the chain is offering double Priority Club points or double airline miles for each stay. You have to choose either/or when you register. (You can do that here.) And if you're a regular Priority Club player, you'll recognize this promotion: It was the same one that the chain used last summer. Information: the 2X More page.

Hyatt Gold Passport: The More You Stay, the More Bonuses You Earn
Whenever Hyatt doesn't unveil one of its legendary "faster free nights" promotions, Gold Passport members are going to grumble. So you probably won't be thrilled about Hyatt's first promotion of 2012, either. It's a tiered bonus scheme that rewards you with more bonus points the more frequently you stay and adds additional points if you're a Hyatt Card holder. The promotion runs from February 1 through April 30 and it works like this: Stay four nights and receive 4,000 bonus points. Stay eight nights and you'll get a total of 12,000 bonus points. Twelve nights get you 24,000 bonus points and 16 nights of stays get you 44,000 bonus points. You'll also receive 25 percent more points in each of the four tiers if you have a Hyatt Card. Register here

Best Western Rewards: Three Winter Stays Earn a Free Spring Night
Best Western Rewards is out with its first-quarter promotion and it's fairly rich compared to other hotel frequent-stay programs (see below). The BW offer: Complete three stays between February 6 and April 8 and you'll earn a voucher for a free night that can be redeemed until June 30. You must register for the promotion, of course, and you can do that here.

YOU WANT MILES AND POINTS? THEY GOT 'EM...
Chase: 60,000 Bonus Points When You Take a Priority Club Card
Chase is a travel affinity card powerhouse, issuing the credit cards for United, Southwest, Marriott, Hyatt, British Airways and several other firms. And it frequently pumps up interest in the cards with massive "acquisition bonuses" that make savvy travelers sit up and take notice. (Not to mention apply for the card.) Latest to get the big-bonus treatment: the Priority Club Rewards Select Visa. Chase is currently offering 60,000 points the first time you use the card. That's the equivalent of four free nights in some Holiday Inn and most Holiday Inn Express properties. The card itself also isn't bad on a continuing basis: no foreign-exchange fees; five points on charges at Priority Pass hotels; two points on gas, grocery and dining charges; gold priority status; a 10 percent rebate on points claimed; and no annual fee for the first year. Information: the Immerse yourself page.

Chase: 50,000 Bonus Points for Taking the Sapphire Preferred Card
Chase rolled out the Sapphire Preferred Card several years ago and everyone loved the card's look and feel, which eschews corny metal coloring and doesn't sport a credit card logo on the front. Opinion was divided on the Chevy Chase commercials used to introduce the card. But all that's in the past as Chase has two different ways to promote the card. The first: a 50,000-point Ultimate Rewards bonus if you spend $3,000 during the first three months. The second: an upgraded Ultimate Rewards perk that offers you 1-to-1 transfers to the frequent-guest programs of United, Marriott, Hyatt and several other travel partners in the Chase stable. The card has other benefits as well: no foreign exchange fee, double points on all travel spending and a 7 percent yearly bonus on points earned. Not bad for a $95 annual fee, which Chase will waive for the first year. Information: the Card of a Different Color page.

Sheraton: 1,000 Bonus SPG Points on Club Level Stays
Sheraton continues to insist that it has upgraded its Club Level rooms, lounges, products and services to the tune of $100 million. Sharp-eyed guests have been hard-pressed to find much difference, but there are, at least, more Sheratons with more Club Levels in more cities worldwide. To induce visitors to spring for the upgraded accommodations (which come with lounge access, continental breakfast and afternoon snacks), Sheraton is now offering 1,000 bonus Starwood Preferred Guest points for each Club Level stay through May 31. You must use an American Express card to score the bonus, not to mention be prepared for the $75-a-night average premium Club Level rooms command. Be sure to use promotion code CL1 and book the DAILYFS or SICLUB rate. Information: the 1,000 more reasons 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 thereís 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. Donít 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 © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.