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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR SEPTEMBER 13-27, 2012
Hertz: A Small Rate for Really Small Cars for Long Weekends
The return of Enterprise's $9.99-a-day weekend rate (see below) must have caught the attention of Hertz because Big Yellow is responding with a deal of its own. The Hertz offer is less flexible on cars--just economy or subcompact--and at a higher rate ($14.99 a day) than Enterprise. But it's more flexible on time: The Hertz offer is available starting as early as noon on Thursday and can be returned as late as Monday. Thursday and Friday rentals require that you keep the car over Friday night, but you can return it on Saturday or Sunday, something you can't do with Enterprise. So it's your call on which is the better rate. The Hertz deal is not available in Metropolitan New York or in Hawaii, but valid elsewhere in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Use rate code FRDM. Rentals at the $14.99 price are available until January 31. Information: the Hertz Weekender Special page.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL BARGAINS
Starwood Preferred Guest: Better by the Night, Even Better Via the App
Starwood's fourth-quarter points promotion is fairly drab: double Starpoints points for stays of one or two nights or triple points on longer stays. But you'll do better if you book at SPG.com (250 more bonus points) and even better if you use the SPG app for iPhone (500 more bonus points). But there's a long list of hotels that aren't playing in this quarter's promotion, including many in Germany and China, four key properties in Manhattan and more than half a dozen in Chicago. The earnings period runs October 1 to December 20 when you register by November 30. Information: the Better by the Night at its best page.

US Airways: Forget the Old Days, We Only Offer Double Shuttle Miles
A downside of being old is that you remember the old days. Like when Eastern, Pan Am and New York Air fought for control of the East Coast Shuttles and routinely offered 2,000 miles a segment. The Shuttles today have shriveled, both in passenger count and aircraft size, and there's not much to celebrate. But this helps a teeny, tiny bit: US Airways is offering double elite-qualifying miles for each segment flown until October 31. Information: the US Airways Promotions page.

Choice Hotels: A Free Night After Two Stays, Sorta, Kinda...
It's hard enough to tell Choice Hotels brands from Wyndham Hotels brands, but if you can figure out which ones are which, you can then move on to Choice's latest promotion. Complete two stays before November 14 and you'll earn between 5,000 and 8,000 Choice Privileges points. That kinda, sorta is worth a free night--at least at 1,500 of the chain's properties. (Again, if you can figure out which properties are which.) Some of the hotels require a minimum two-night stay for the bonus points. Elite members of the program get a whole 100 bonus points for each stay during the promotional period. Assuming, of course, you haven't already chosen to stop reading this. Advance registration is required. Information: the Take Two page.

THE YEAR-END HOLIDAY EUROPE BUSINESS-CLASS DEALS
Alitalia: Up Front for the Holidays and a Sconto Grosso, Too
If you've been considering a Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's jaunt to Italy, Alitalia is offering a sconto grosso (big discount) on up front fares. And with Delta, American and United slashing flights to Italy this winter, Alitalia may be your only logical option, too. Business-class fares start as low as $1,674 roundtrip (New York to Milan for Thanksgiving) and include $2,186 for Boston to Rome and $2,305 for New York to Palermo. Generally speaking, you'll find Thanksgiving prices (travel November 18-23 outbound and November 23-28 return) about $500 cheaper than the Christmas/New Year period (depart December 17-January 4 and return December 25-January 8). By the way, the Italian word for turkey is tacchino in case you're going for Thanksgiving, which isn't a cosa grande (big thing) in Italy. Information: the Cheap Flights page.

Europe: Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year Business-Class Sales Begin
It may be a sign of the slack premium-class traffic on transatlantic flights this year, but some carriers have already loaded their business-class Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year sales. And the prices seem quite good. For the Thanksgiving period, for example, I've already found these fares: $1,544 roundtrip for Newark-London; $1,702 for New York/Kennedy-Paris/CDG; $1,910 for Washington/Dulles-Frankfurt; $2,005 for Chicago-Amsterdam; and $2,529 for Los Angeles-Rome. The Thanksgiving travel period is between November 18 and 25 for outbound flights and November 23-28 for returns. Fares for the Christmas/New Year period are around $300-$400 roundtrip above Thanksgiving tariffs. The travel period is December 17-January 4 for outbound flights and December 25-January 8 for returns. Who's got the fares? As far as I can tell, deep-discount holiday prices are available on some routes operated by Delta, Alitalia, Lufthansa, KLM and Virgin Atlantic. But only Virgin, Lufthansa and Alitalia (see above) are publicly acknowledging the prices on a promotional page. What's it all mean? If you're looking for a Europe holiday at the end of the year, start hunting right now. With so many deep capacity cuts coming on what the airline industry calls the "winter schedule" that begins on the last weekend of October, I wouldn't wait. Let the scavenger hunt begin.

OpenSkies: Paris When It Doesn't Sizzle at a Sizzling Price in 'Almost' C
OpenSkies, now celebrating the beginning of its fifth year in the skies, plugs away on the Newark-Paris/Orly route thanks to the support from its parent, British Airways. And while it isn't the carrier it once was--the addition of 33 coach seats forced the carrier to reduce seat pitch in the renamed Prem Plus class to 47 inches--OpenSkies is still discounting heavily on what can be called its "almost business class" service. The fall and winter price is as low as $1,571 roundtrip including all taxes and fees. Tickets at that price are available for midweek travel from October 29 to December 13 and December 25 to March 25. A Saturday-night stay and 14-day advance purchase are required. And Prem Plus remains a fine option. The 47 inches of legroom are far more than you're going to get on any premium economy service, the meals are pretty good and, because OpenSkies uses Boeing 757 aircraft, the chairs are configured 2x2. In other words, OpenSkies remains a sizzling deal for flights to Paris when it doesn't sizzle. Information: the Best Choice page.

HOTEL FREQUENT-GUEST PROMOTIONS TO CONSIDER
Best Western: Double and Triple Points for Two Months This Fall
The fall promotion from Best Western Rewards is double points after the second stay and triple points if you book the stays at BestWestern.com. The deal runs from September 23 to November 18. Regular members can earn the bonus twice during the earning period. Elite members can earn the bonus four times. Registration is required. Information: the Double Rewards page.

Hyatt Gold Passport: No Faster Free Nights, But Lots of Bonus Points This Fall
Hyatt continues to disappoint Gold Passport players who hope against hope that Faster Free Nights will return. The dashed dreams also color travelers' view of whatever promo Hyatt does toss out there. Take the chain's new late summer/early fall offer: You'll get 5,000 bonus points after the first five nights of stays and 10,000 bonus points for every five nights of stays after that. You can earn as many as 65,000 bonus Gold Passport points during the promotion, which runs from September 1 through November 30. Make sure to register (click here) by October 31. Is it Faster Free Nights? No, but Gold Passport points are pretty valuable. In fact, 5,000 points will get you a stay at Tier One Hyatt properties, which are mostly Hyatt Place and Hyatt House hotels. So maybe we'll just call this one Slower Free Nights.

Hilton HHonors: Double or Triple Miles for Third-Quarter Stays, But...
Hilton is famous for giving with one metaphoric hand and taking away with the other. So while its third-quarter promotion--double points for Monday-Thursday stays, triple points on weekends--is quite nice, there is a big caveat. There is a gigantic list of hotels that aren't offering the promotion, including virtually all of the London properties and hundreds throughout the United States. At hotels that are participating, the offer runs from July 1 through September 30 when you register in advance. You can register here and see the list of opt-outs here.

NOTABLE GROUND-TRANSPORT DEALS
Hertz: Triple Gold Plus Rewards Points for the Fall
If you're collecting Hertz Gold Plus Rewards points--and we know there must be one of you--this will be of interest: triple points on rentals in the United States and Canada and many rentals in Europe, Brazil and Australia and New Zealand. You can earn points until December 15 for any qualifying rental reserved after you register here.

Enterprise: $9.99 Weekend Special Rentals Are Back Until May
The strange operating hours of Enterprise Rent-a-Car--its "neighborhood" branches are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday--makes for great tactical rental opportunities. The chain offers rentals as low as $9.99 per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday when you return the rental by Monday morning. (In practice, most locations have a drop box so you can return the car sooner.) Perhaps most amazing is that there always seem to be plenty of "subcompact" and "economy" cars available at the super-cheap rate. Want a larger vehicle?: "Intermediates" go for $14.99, "standards" for $17.99 and "full-size" cars for $19.99. The deal includes 100 miles per day, but does not include taxes. Incredibly, Enterprise's fine print warns that "for certain locations, rates of less than $9.99 may be available." The promotion is valid on weekend rentals from September 7 to May 22. Information: the Weekend Special page.

National Car Rental: The Mighty One Two Free Promotion Is Back Again
With the notable exception of Hyatt's moribund Faster Free Nights, National's One Two Free promotion is simply the richest thing on the planet for business travelers. In a nutshell, you get a free rental day after every pair of two-day midsize or larger rentals in the United States. The promotion period this time runs through January 31. About the only caveats are: You must be a member of National's Emerald Club and you must elect to receive National's promotional E-mail. There isn't even a cap on the number of free days you can earn and you can use the freebies between September 10 and June 16. You must register for the promotion (do it here) and that brings up one bit of fine print: Only rentals reserved after you've registered count toward the One Two Free promotion.

Hertz: Up to 3,400 Delta SkyMiles Per Rental at Locations Worldwide
It takes a heap of promoting to make car rentals a rich source of airline miles these days. This Hertz offer might not exactly qualify, but it's much better than average. According to the promotion--available on rentals in North America, parts of Europe and the rest of the world--a one-day rental will net you a total of 600 SkyMiles. Medallion SkyMiles flyers will get a total of 700 miles for a one-day rental. The promo adds more bonuses for each additional day and tops out at 2,700 miles for a seven-day rental and 3,400 miles for a seven-day rental if you're a Medallion member. To qualify for the bonuses, you must reserve rentals by October 31 and pick up your car by December 31. Information: the Earn 3,400 miles or more page.

Amtrak: Double Points for Late Summer and Early Fall Travel
Amtrak's loyalty program, Guest Rewards, doesn't exactly set the travel world on fire, but, if you ride the rails, it's better than a sharp railroad tie in the eye. And Amtrak's latest Double Days promotion is offering double Guest Rewards points on any route and any day between September 5 and November 16. The only caveat is that you must register to participate. Information: the Double Days page.

GLOBAL AIRLINE SAVINGS TO PONDER
American Airlines: Central-America-in-the-Front-of-the-Plane Sale
American Airlines customers may remember American's first year in bankruptcy as the year the carrier got the stick out of its corporate butt and began discounting its premium-class cabins. There's been a regular stream of bargains since American took the Chapter 11 dive late last year. This week it's Central America in business class. Fares include $306 each way between Miami and Managua; $409 between Dallas/Fort Worth and Guatemala City; and $379 between New York/JFK and San Pedro Sula. Weekday travel must begin between September 20 and October 28 and all returns must be completed by October 31. A three-night or Saturday stay is required and tickets must be purchased by September 19. Information: the Central America Flight Deals page.

Malaysia Airlines: LAX to Tokyo, Cheap Up Front
The Japanese market is rebounding after last year's devastating earthquake, but you can still find bargains up front. Submitted for your approval: Malaysia Airlines' $4,609 all-in roundtrip price in business class from Los Angeles to Narita Airport in Tokyo. The travel window at that price stays open until December 30, although there are some blackout dates. The late summer and fall price is about $2,500 less than Malaysia usually charges on the route. Another perk: No minimum stay is required. The rebooking or cancellation fee ($150) is surprisingly reasonable, too. Information: The Deals of the Day page.

LAN: Big, if Weird, Discounts on Business Class to Latin America
Genuine bargains in business class on flights to Latin America continue to be few and far between, so beggars like us can't always be choosers. So spending a few minutes with LAN's infuriatingly convoluted business-class sale might pay off. Some of the bargains I found: $746 roundtrip in business class between Miami and Bogota; $796 roundtrip between Miami and Guayaquil and $1,561 roundtrip between New York/JFK and Quito. The rules and restrictions are all over the map--Have you ever seen a 10-day minimum-stay requirement?--as are the valid dates and days for travel at the lowest fares. And don't expect any bargains via LAN's Los Angeles and San Francisco gateways. The best deals seem reserved for JFK and Miami, which are also big hubs for American Airlines, LAN's Oneworld partner. Information: the Fly Premium Business page.

British Airways: Age (or at Least an AARP Card) Has Its Privileges
Discounts for AARP members are fairly standard in the travel industry--at least on the ground. But AARP has also swung a deal with British Airways. The discount isn't an opaque "percent off" or "special price" promotion. It's a simple dollars-off deal on any fare you can find. As an AARP member, you'll receive $400 roundtrip off any first or business-class ticket. World Traveler Plus flyers receive $150 off roundtrips to Britain or $200 off a connecting ticket beyond London. There's even a deal for coach flyers: $75 roundtrip to Britain and $100 on connecting flights to Europe or beyond. Discounts are valid for travel until March 31, 2013, if you book by October 31. Information: the Save page.

DISCOUNTS TO CUT YOUR HOTEL COSTS
Hilton HHonors: The Price of Its Best Elite Level Is Now Just $95 a Year
Hilton continues to make a hash of its HHonors program by doing hidden devaluations and making unannounced changes to its terms and conditions. Hilton's latest assault has been on its top, or Diamond Level, HHonors guests. Diamonds are no longer offered suite upgrades and can no longer get a "diamond force," jargon for Hilton clearing award rooms when the freebie inventory is officially unavailable. That makes the Diamond Level hardly better than HHonors Gold, which normally requires 16 stays or 36 nights a year. Gold offers free Internet, room upgrades and continental breakfast. It's arguably Hilton's only decent elite level now. And guess what: You don't even have to stay at Hilton even once to achieve its best HHonors level. A new credit card from Citibank offers Gold Level HHonors status and the annual fee is just $95 a year. So here's the best lodging strategy ever: Take the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa, pay the $95 annual fee, get Gold Level--and then stay at Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt or other hotels so you can earn elite status there, too. Book a Hilton Family property only when there are no other options. You'll still get Gold Level treatment and all of your other paid stays will be earning elite status elsewhere. Information: the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card page.

Hyatt: A Free Night, Free Breakfast and Late Checkout All Year
About 100 Hyatt Hotels have very quietly launched a promotion called Free Time that includes a clutch of nice perks: a free third night after a two-night stay, free breakfast for two each day of your stay and a 2 p.m. checkout. Better yet, the deal is available through the end of the year at the participating U.S., Caribbean and Canadian hotels. (A slightly different offer is available to guests of the other participating Hyatt hotels.) Some other nice bits: You have until November 30 to book and the appropriate rate (coded FRTIME) does not require pre-payment. As far as I can tell, Free Time rates seem to be pricing out about $25 a night higher than the standard tariff at most Hyatt properties. So that means you're paying about $50 for the "free" night and "free" breakfasts. That's probably as close to "free" as you're actually going to get in today's lodging environment. Information: the Free Night Into Free Time 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.