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THE BIG BARGAIN FOR EARLY DECEMBER, 2012
Finnair: $2,000 Winter Business-Class Roundtrips to Seven Europe Cities
Finnair seems desperate to pump up the action on its Flights AY006 and AY005, which operate between New York/Kennedy and its compact, attractive Vantaa Airport hub in Helsinki. This week's irresistible offer: business-class roundtrips as low as $2,000 to seven European cities when you include those two flights in your itinerary. The travel window is wide: until March 20 for departures and March 25 for the return. The restrictions (five-day minimum stay, for example) are modest enough. The fly in the ointment? Tickets must be purchased by December 11. By the way, Finnair also says it has $1,499 roundtrip business-class fares to Moscow, but I couldn't find any seats. Information: the Find the Perfect Gift page.
THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE TRAVEL BARGAINS
Hilton: 40 Percent Off Any Weekend Anywhere in 2013--Unless It's Not
Hilton Hotels once ran a spectacular annual sale where you could book all of the following year's weekends for as much as 50 percent off the best rate. The advance-purchase rates required you to plan carefully, of course, but the deep discounts were certainly a worthy payoff. Over the years, however, Hilton watered down the deals even while widening the purchase window. This year, the so-called Any Weekend Anytime promotion is a convoluted mashup that not only requires advance booking for 2013 bargains, but also real savvy about whether you're getting a good enough deal to justify the advance payment. The top line on prices is that North and South America properties offer only 15 percent off and discounts elsewhere in the world (from 25-40 percent) are also reduced. The purchase-by and room-availability dates are so complicated that Hilton had to add color-coded calendars (see here) to explain it all. Which isn't to say that you can't still find a great deal, but you might want to check with your accountant first. Generally, rooms must be booked by January 31. Information: the Any Weekend Anywhere page.
Chase: The 100,000-Point Acquisition Bonus for BA Cards Is Back
Chase has revived its 100,000-point bonus for taking a British Airways-branded Visa card, but changes to the deal (and BA's frequency program) should give you pause. The structure of Chase's current offer: 50,000 Avios points after $1,000 of spending on the card within the first three months, 25,000 more points for spending $10,000 in the first year and then 25,000 additional points for the next $10,000 of first-year spending. Besides the card's other benefits (no foreign-transaction fees, onboard smart chip and earnings of 2.5 points for BA purchases and 1.5 points for everything else), there's the unique "household account" feature. That allows two people to pool earnings and each get 100,000-point bonuses to take cards. But BA radically overhauled (and overpriced) the best awards when it switched to the Avios moniker for its program last year. Add the huge fuel surcharges that BA tacks onto award seats and you may not find this card as valuable as it once was. The current promotion is due to last until February 27. The annual fee is $95. Information: the Visa Signature page.
Marriott: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like a Limited-Service Christmas
Marriott's limited-service brands--Residence Inn, Fairfield, SpringHill, TownePlace and Courtyard--have rolled out a holiday-rate promotion. U.S. and Canadian prices start at $59 a night and are available through January 5. Sample prices: $84 a night at the Residence Inn in Fairfax, Virginia; $99 at the Courtyard in San Ramon, California; $79 at the Courtyard in Omaha; $59 at the SpringHill Suites in Dallas/Addison; and $89 at the TownePlace in Renton, Washington. The applicable rate code is WBZ. And a sign of the current oil-boom times: Marriott properties in North Dakota are not participating. Information: the Especially for You page.
GOING ONCE! GOING TWICE! LAST CALL FOR THESE DEALS
Aer Lingus: Christmas and New Year on Sale Up Front From New York
Aer Lingus has posted a new business-class sale for Christmas and New Year travel, but you will have to fly from New York/Kennedy if you want to score the best fare. The price is $2,040 roundtrip to either Dublin or Shannon. If you're headed to Dublin, you can travel between December 17 and January 1. If you're looking to go to Shannon and West Ireland, the travel dates are December 17 to December 31. Tickets must be purchased by December 4 and there is a three-day minimum stay. Information: the Aer Lingus Business Class Sale page.
Fairmont: Twenty Percent Off--and 5 More for President's Club Members
The mashup that is Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has fallen behind the world's major chains at least partially because its loyalty program, President's Club, isn't particularly appealing. But Fairmont's winter promotion aims to address that situation. Besides the standard public offer--up to 20 percent off rates for stays until April 30--President's Club members will receive an additional 5 percent discount. The size of the basic discount varies by day and region and there are blackout dates around the holidays. Reservations must be locked in by December 3. Information: the Everyone's an Original page.
Lufthansa: A First-Class Sale for Holiday Travel to Europe
Business-class fare sales for Christmas/New Year's travel are standard now (see below), although they aren't quite as alluring as they used to be. Now Lufthansa is adding a new wrinkle: a sale on first-class travel for end-of-the-year jaunts. Fares aren't can't-afford-not-to-fly cheap, of course, but they do represent big discounts off the front-of-the-bus comfort and perks we rarely experience. Besides, Lufthansa offers the amazing First Class Terminal at its Frankfurt hub that should be experienced as least once in your business-travel life. Prices start at $4,409 roundtrip (from New York/JFK to London) and run to about $8,000 from West Coast gateways. Departures to Europe are permitted December 17 to January 4. Returns are permitted between December 25 and January 8. A Saturday-night stay is required. Tickets must be bought by December 7 with a 28-day advance purchase. Information: The Fly First Class page.
Europe: A Premium-Class Christmas Is Getting Much Pricier
As airlines cut back transatlantic winter flights, it's getting harder and harder to find deeply discounted business-class tickets for a Christmas and New Year's jaunt. In fact, if you can find them at all, the going rate is now well above $2,500 roundtrip. Example one: Virgin Atlantic, where holiday travel in business class starts at $2,548 to London/Heathrow from New York/Kennedy or Newark. It's around $200 more roundtrip from Boston, $400 more from Washington/Dulles and above three grand from San Francisco or Los Angeles. The travel period is December 17-January 4 eastbound and December 25-January 8 for a return. Prices are even higher if your goal is Italy. Alitalia is charging $2,505 roundtrip from Kennedy to Milan and nearly $300 more to Rome. Venice and Verona are a comparative bargain at around $2,530 from New York. Tickets must be purchased by December 7 from either carrier. Information: the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class page or the Alitalia Magnifica Class page.
HOTEL FREQUENT-GUEST PROMOTIONS TO CONSIDER
Red Lion: Two Stays Before Late January Earn a Free Night
The Red Lion chain was once a respected Western regional hotel group, then it was a subsidiary of Hilton and now it's a struggling lodging operation in search of profit, a buyer, business-travel customers and an identity. Given the flux, it's no surprise that the chain is running a late fall/early winter deal that essentially gives you a free night after two paid stays. Technically, the offer is a 5,000-point bonus in the Red Lion R&R Club program for every stay until January 31. Since 10,000 points earns you a free room night at any Red Lion, however, that's the equivalent of a free night after every two stays. To score the deal, you must use promotion code MYRATE01. A one-day minimum advance booking restriction applies. Information: the Fall into Savings page.
Hilton HHonors: A Weak Fourth-Quarter Points Promo With Lots of Limitations
No hotel chain's fourth-quarter points promotion is particularly noteworthy this year and Hilton HHonors, late to the game, is no exception. It is offering 1,000 bonus points per night, but not for Tuesday or Wednesday night stays. The earnings period is brief (November 1 to December 31). Worst of all, there is a long, long list of Hilton Family properties that aren't playing. (See the opt-out hotels here.) Advance registration is required, of course. Information: the 1,000 Reasons page.
Club Carlson: Up to 5,000 Bonus Points a Night This Fall
Club Carlson isn't everyone's kind of frequent guest program--after all, Radisson, Country Inn and Park Inn/Plaza properties aren't often top of mind--but it does run good promos. Its fall offer is tiered so that you earn more points as you add stays. During the promotion period that runs until December 31, you'll receive 2,000 bonus points a night when you stay a total of one to five nights. Stay six to nine nights and you earn 4,000 points per night. It's 6,000 points a night when you stay more than 10 nights. There is a bit of a downside, though. Bonus points don't post immediately because the amount depends on the total nights stayed, so it takes until mid-January to get your payoff. You can earn as many as 120,000 points during the promotion. Registration is required. Information: the Stay more nights page.
NOTABLE GROUND-TRANSPORT DEALS
Hertz: A Small Rate for Really Small Cars for Long Weekends
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 a Friday-night keep, but you can also 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. Rentals at the $14.99 price are available until January 31. Information: the Hertz Weekender Special page.
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.
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 are a Medallion member. To qualify for the bonuses, you must reserve rentals by December 31 and pick up your car by March 31. Information: the Earn 3,400 miles or more page.
GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO PONDER
American AAdvantage: A Rare Big Bonus on Mileage Purchases
American's AAdvantage program isn't big on mileage sales or rampant currency inflation. That's also why award availability, especially at the restricted levels, is so good. And that's why this deal is intriguing. In conjunction with Points.com, American is offering 50 percent bonuses on mileage purchases and temporarily waiving the 40,000-mile purchase limit. The result: When you add the taxes and fees, AAdvantage miles are selling for about 2 cents each, about as low as American has ever offered. The maximum purchase is 60,000 miles (plus the 30,000-mile bonus) for $1,650 plus around $150 in taxes and fees. Consider that 75,000 miles will get you a restricted premium-class award roundtrip to Hawaii, which is selling for about $5,000 on a walk-up basis. For that matter, a first-class New York-Los Angeles roundtrip is selling north of $5,000 walk-up and can be had for as little as 65,000 miles. Transactions must be completed by December 31 and can be arranged only through the appropriate Points.com gateway.
OpenSkies: Paris When It Doesn't Sizzle at a Very Hot Fare
It's okay if you've lost track of OpenSkies, the boutique British Airways carrier that has gone through a half-dozen remakes since its 2008 launch. These days, it runs as a three-class carrier from Newark and New York/Kennedy to Paris/Orly. And it has just served up its lowest price for premium-class service in several years: just $1,227 roundtrip. That's for travel in the newish Prem Plus class, which offers 2x2 seating with 47 inches of legroom on a Boeing 757. The fare is only available on the EWR-ORY run, but the travel window is fairly wide: until December 16 and from January 8 to March 20. There are some modest restrictions on the non-refundable fare: a 7-day advance purchase, no Friday or Saturday travel and a Saturday-night stay. Still, for around $1,200 all-in roundtrip, it's cheaper than some meals and a few bottles of wine at a few three-star Michelin joints in the City of Light. Information: the Best Deals page.
Alaska Airlines: Blast From the Frequent Flyer Program Past With Phone Miles
Once upon a time (uh-oh!), business travelers racked up big frequent flyer bonuses by aligning their airline with a long-distance phone company. Then we used to get miles when we lined up our cellphone provider and airline. At least for the time being, one airline (Alaska) and one mobile provider (T-Mobile, which announced a merger with MetroPCS this week) are bringing the good old days back. You'll earn 15,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles if you register and grab a T-Mobile line of service and a new smartphone. Even with the MetroPCS buy, T-Mobile is a distant fourth in the United States, but it's substantially cheaper than the other major players and works well overseas. The promotion runs until March 31. Information: the Switch to T-Mobile page.
British Airways: 10 Percent Off for Using the Visa Card You Took for the Bonus
Lots of business travelers took a British Airways Visa when Chase offered those incredible 100,000-point acquisition bonuses in recent years. Since most of us took the card out of our wallet the moment we hit the minimum-spend requirement for the bonus, BA and Chase now have an incentive to rescue it from wherever credit cards go to die. Purchase a ticket on BA for travel before December 31 and charge it to your BA Visa and you'll receive 10 percent off. The discount applies to everything: taxes, fees and even the infuriating BA fuel surcharges. Better yet, the discount is valid to any BA destination and you can apply the discount to as many as eight people flying together. Best of all, you can fly in any class. Pretty sweet for a card you probably forgot you had. There is one caveat: You must book at this special page.
Malaysia Airlines: Big Deal Up Front on the 'Secret' LAX-Tokyo Nonstop
The Japanese market has rebounded nicely since last year's earthquake, but you can still find bargains up front. Submitted for your approval: Malaysia Airlines' $3,185 roundtrip price in business class from Los Angeles to Narita Airport in Tokyo. The travel window at that price supposedly stays open until December 30, 2013, but you know there'll be plenty of blackouts along the way. Another perk: No minimum stay is required. The sale fare on this "secret route"--that's travel babble for a route between two countries flown by an airline from a third country--is about $1,800 less than Malaysia Air usually charges during its promotions and about $3,000 below the "normal" price. The rebooking or cancellation fee ($100) is surprisingly reasonable, too. If you can handle a transpacific flight in coach, Malaysia's LAX-NRT fare is only $821 roundtrip. Information: The Deals of the Day page.
Oneworld Alliance: Gigantic Bonuses on Some Transatlantic Flights This Fall
The Four Musketeers of the Oneworld Alliance--American Airlines, British Airways, BA's OpenSkies subsidiary and Iberia--have teamed up for another fall and early winter frequent flyer bonanza if you're willing to pay the right fares on transatlantic flights. The basic structure is this: Earn 15,000 miles or points for the first roundtrip, 35,000 for the second and 50,000 for the third and all subsequent roundtrips completed before January 31. You can choose either American AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios points. The catch? You must fly at what are essentially the full-fare, walk-up coach or first-class fares or the higher-priced business-class fares. That pretty much matches last year's promotion, but there is an added perk: Flights booked in W class--which is BA's World Traveler Plus and OpenSkies' Prem Plus premium-economy cabins--also qualify and that might be the financial sweet spot of this offer. Flights on all four carriers qualify when you book the appropriate fare category and register in advance. Information: the American Airlines The More You Fly page or the British Airways Unlimited bonus Avios page.
DISCOUNTS TO CUT YOUR HOTEL COSTS
Ritz-Carlton: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ... Coca-Cola
The trajectory of what counts as a "Christmas tradition" sure is interesting. The Christmas tree, Christmas lights and the Advent Calendar were invented by Germans. Santa Claus, or something like him, may go back to the Byzantines. Rudolph and his red nose is a pre-war creation brought to us by Montgomery Ward. The movie Die Hard brought us the Christmas Eve shoot-em-up. Carl Barks, the legendary Donald Duck impresario, probably inserted teddy bears into Christmas mythology. And if Coca-Coca is ever successfully insinuated into the holiday, credit the Ritz-Carlton. Specifically the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta, the downtown five-star hotel that is starved for guests during the Thanksgiving-to-New Year period. Its solution? For several years running, a Holiday Dreams bundle. This year's package includes: overnight accommodations; American breakfast for two; ice skating and skate rentals; valet parking; and--ta-dah!--a pair of tickets to the World of Coca-Cola, one of those pay-to-visit corporate PR vehicles masquerading as a museum and tourist attraction. All this, and a chance to skew the Christmas season, can be yours for $229 a night between November 19 and January 27. Information: the Holiday Dreams package.
W Hotels: Stay Two Days, Get the Third Free
The W Division of Starwood is trying to juice up traffic at some of its hotels and resorts. The lure: a third night free with two paid nights at several dozen of its properties. The deal is good for Thursday-Saturday stays at W Hotels and anytime at the participating W Resorts. The offer is valid until December 31. As usual with these types of offers, check to make sure a fully paid three-night stay isn't actually cheaper than the promotional rate. And please note that the promotional rate requires full payment at the time of reservation. Information: the One Plus One Equals Three page.
Swire Hotels: A Hong Kong Transplant in Beijing With A Cool Opening Rate
Swire, which owns Cathay Pacific Airways, is also building several hotel chains, including East, which premiered to raves in Hong Kong a few years back. Now East makes its way to Beijing. The 369-room East Beijing has opened in the Chaoyang District, in the Jiangtai business area just outside the city's Fourth Ring Road. The opening rate of $126 a night plus 15 percent service charge is extremely attractive for this type of property, which offers several restaurants, lounges and bars, a fitness center and indoor and outdoor pools. The rate even includes free high-speed Internet. The price is valid until December 31. Information: the East Beijing Special Offers page.
Conrad Hotels: Free Upgrade or Breakfast and 5,000 Points for Hilton Elites
The Conrad Hotels division of Hilton has 20 outposts around the world and the chain is hoping to up its visibility with both the general public and Hilton HHonors members. The result: a so-called Being Yourself promotion that offers breakfast for two or a room upgrade to the hoi polloi and 5,000 HHonors points to the chain's Gold and Diamond elites. The rate (code PBBEY1) doesn't appear to be the cheapest available on most days at most properties, so you must weigh the breakfast or upgrade and bonus points against the upcharge. Information: the Exclusive Offers page.
CARD SHARPS: GREAT CREDIT CARDS FOR TRAVEL
Chase: Earn 50,000 Points With a Much Lower Minimum Spend
Chase doesn't talk enough about Ultimate Rewards and even less about UR's best benefit: 1-to-1 transfers of points to the frequency programs of United and Southwest airlines and Marriott, Hyatt and InterContinental hotels. The best way to rack up a lot of Ultimate Rewards points fast? Take the Chase Ink Bold, a charge card available in either Visa or Mastercard flavors. There's no annual fee for the first year and you'll earn 50,000 points after spending just $5,000 during the first three months. That's half the minimum-spend requirement in effect just a few weeks ago. The card's other cool benefits: no foreign-exchange fees, double points for spending at hotels and gasoline stations and five times the points on spending at office-supply stores, cellular or landline bills, Internet fees and cable-TV service. By the way, if you don't like charge cards, Chase offers the same deal on the Ink Plus credit card. Information: the Earn 50,000 bonus points page.
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.
HOME E-MAIL JOE PRINT SEND MOBILE LINK 2012 COLUMNS DEALS ARCHIVES SEARCH
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.