Steals & Deals for Feb. 25-Mar. 10, 2016
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CAR RENTALS: Drive North to a Colder Place for Big Deals This Spring
Consider this the reverse of the brilliant songwriter Alec Wilder's South to a Warmer Place. When the weather in northern climes improves, car-rental firms need to get their cars out of a warmer place, specifically Arizona and Florida. So they slash their rates on one-way rentals as a way to induce you to move the cars north for them. Should the geography work for you (rent in Arizona, drop off in select Western states or rent in Florida, drop off in the Northeast), the bargains are terrific. Here's what's on tap so far for this "drive out" season from major rental firms. Be sure to examine the terms and conditions carefully because they differ substantially.
Alamo is offering cars for $7.95 a day, SUVs for $17.95 and minivans for $24.95 a day if you drive them one-way from select Florida locations. Those prices are actually a few bucks lower than last year's drive-out rates. The applicable one-way rental period is from one to 21 days from April 1 to May 31. Details are here.
Avis offers Florida drive-out rates when you rent one-way from one to 14 days. From Florida daily rates start at $9.95 for cars, $14.95 for convertibles and $19.95 for SUVs. The rental period is April 1 to June 30.
Budget is playing in both Florida and Arizona. From Florida, rates are $9.49 for cars, $14.49 for convertibles, $19.49 for SUVs and $24.49 for minivans. The rental period is April 1 to June 30. From Arizona, you can rent from March 28 to May 31. Daily rentals are $11.49-$17.49 for cars and $19.49 for smaller SUVs. Rental periods are one to 14 days.

THIS WEEK'S OTHER NOTABLE BARGAINS
TAP AIR PORTUGAL: We're Back--With Cheap Fares, Free Stopovers and Free Tickets
As explained in today's Tactical Traveler, TAP Air Portugal is making a bid to grab a piece of the transatlantic market and reestablish Lisbon as a European hub. To promote its restored flights to Boston/Logan and New York/Kennedy, TAP is offering coach fares as low as $799 roundtrip. But it is also pushing out fabulous business class fares, too. From Boston, business class prices are as low as $1,992 roundtrip for travel between June 11 and September 30. From JFK, the price is $2,299 roundtrip for travel between July 1 and September 5. From the existing Newark hub, it's $2,299 roundtrip for flights from May 17 to September 5. And from Miami, it's $2,499 roundtrip for flights between May 17 and September 5. Tickets must be purchased by March 31. But wait, there's more, as they may or may not say on Portuguese television. Tickets come with a free stopover in Lisbon for as long as three days and/or free flights to Porto, Portugal's second-largest city and the eponymous hometown of the port wine industry. The TAP Web site may not yet reflect all the fares and offers, so check with a good travel agent.

KLM: Sure, Africa Is a Long Haul in Coach, But These Prices Are Insane
Deals to Africa are hard to come by. But along comes KLM with simply insane pricing albeit in coach. How about San Francisco to Cairo for as little as $807 roundtrip? Or New York to Algiers for $745 roundtrip? Or Los Angeles to Nairobi for $828 roundtrip? Or even Boston to Johannesburg for as little as $807 roundtrip. The prices aren't come-ons, either. KLM has a handy-dandy bar graph showing you when the fares are available between now and September and there seems to be substantial availability. Almost all of the itineraries include a stop in Amsterdam, but that shouldn't surprise you. Restrictions are minimal, too, requiring only a 7-day and Sunday-night stay. Even more interesting? This is a repeat of a fare sale run earlier this year and most prices are lower than they were several months ago. Information: the EXPLORE AFRICA TODAY page.
HOTEL POINTS AND PRICE PROMOTIONS
MARRIOTT: A Cactus League Promotion--With Cracker Jack, Too!
Marriott Hotels in Arizona have come up with a promotion tied to Cactus League spring training games. With more than a dozen major league teams conducting spring training in Arizona, 11 Marriott properties in the state have put together a baseball-themed bundle: accommodations, WiFi, a Sharpie (for autographs), a bag of peanuts, two bottles of water and, of course, Cracker Jack. The package is valid until April 5 with code SPE. Prices start at $159 a night at hotels in Tempe, Scottsdale, Phoenix and Mesa. Information: the BATTER UP! page.

BEST WESTERN: Not a Lot of Dough, But a Lot of Chances to Earn a Little Dough
Best Western Rewards has upped its game a little bit from last year with its spring promotion. Two stays between February 8 and May 8 will earn you a $25 Best Western gift card. That's chump change, of course, but this time Best Western is allowing you to earn the bonus as many as five times during the promotional period. Advance registration is required. Information: the REWARDS WORTH CELEBRATING page.

MARRIOTT: Third Night Free at a Baker's Dozen of Paris-Area Hotels
With visitor numbers to Paris sagging after the November terrorist attacks, airlines and hotels are making sporadic attempts to stimulate business. Marriott, for example, is offering a third-night-free at a baker's dozen of properties in the Paris area. The promotion is valid when you book two nights between Thursday and Monday and include a Friday and a Saturday night. The deal is valid until May 2 when you reserve by April 28 and use the promo code C9E. You also must use a Visa card to pay. As always with these types of promotions, make sure there aren't other, cheap rates applicable during your stay. Information: the Marriott 3 FOR 2 IN PARIS page.

CLUB CARLSON: Stay Twice, in Two Brands, Get a 5,000-Point Bonus
Club Carlson, the loyalty and frequency plan of Radisson and several other hotel brands, continues to struggle for visibility among top-tier lodging plans. To get you to pay attention, it'll give you a 5,000-point bonus when you complete stays at two separate Carlson brands by March 31. Besides the Radisson and Radisson Blu brands, Club Carlson also offers Country Inns and Suites, Park Plaza, Park Inn and, if you can find a hotel, the Quorvus Collection. The bonus is available only once and advance registration is required. Information: the BRANDS TO LOVE page.

HOTELS: We Want Your Business--Just Not Too Much--in the First Quarter
If you were hoping the hotel industry would lust after your business in the traditionally weak first quarter, you're going to be disappointed. The major chains' frequent-stay promotions are extremely dull, quite uninspired--and not particularly compelling enough to change your buying decisions. But here's what's on tap from several leading players for the first quarter.
      Hilton HHonors is offering double points or double miles at any of its hotels worldwide between January 1 and April 30. Advance registration is required and you can do it here.
      IHG Rewards Club members have a mass-customized offer. You'll have to log in and register here to see it. The so-called Accelerate promotion seems to top out at 50,000 points during the first quarter.
      Starwood Preferred Guest is offering double SPG points if you stay two nights between January 11 and April 30. There's also a 250-point-per-night bonus if you stay in select properties in several destinations. Complete details and registration information is here. You must register by April 10.

HYATT: Long Weekend Discounts in France This Winter
Hyatt Hotels posted this promotion even before November's terrorist attack in Paris. Since it still isn't large in France--just six hotels, including three in the heart of Paris--it's hoping to bulk up occupancy during the slower winter season with an interesting discount. If you spend three weekend nights, you'll get a 30 percent break off the Hyatt Daily Rate. You must arrive on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, but the rate is extendable to Tuesday or Wednesday for longer stays. The promotion is valid between December 18 and March 14 when you book by March 7. One fly in the ointment: Rates require full prepayment at the time of booking. So check to make sure post-paid rates or discounts won't yield a better value. Information: the FRANCE WEEKEND OFFER page.

HYATT: 15 Percent Off on Dozens of Hotels for Months and Months
Hyatt has rolled out a targeted, but quite useful, sale that runs through March 31. If you're headed to Hawaii, Phoenix, San Diego or the District of Columbia, the chain's My Hyatt Rate promotion knocks 15 percent off standard prices. The only caveat: You must be a member of the Hyatt Gold Passport program. The sale covers five hotels and resorts in Hawaii; nine hotels in the Phoenix area; eight hotels and resorts in and around San Diego and five hotels in Washington. Information: the MY HYATT RATE page.

GLOBAL AIRLINE DEALS TO CONSIDER
FINNAIR: Please, Somebody, Fly Us to Russia
For decades, Finnair has been the go-to carrier between the United States and Russia--and the Soviet Union before that. Its comfortable, compact hub at Helsinki has been a perfect place to change planes and reach a variety of Russian destinations. But what happens when no one is flying between the United States and Russia? Traffic now is almost as bad as during the bad old days of the Cold War. So faced with a nasty political impasse and a plummeting ruble, Finnair is doing the only thing it can do: slash prices to the bone. It's selling flights for as little as $570 roundtrip to Yekaterinburg, $585 to St. Petersburg and $590 to Moscow. Tickets must be booked by February 28, but travel is available on select dates throughout the year. A seven-day minimum stay is required. Information: the OFFERS page.

LA COMPAGNIE: Really, $1,600 Roundtrip in Business Class to Paris Is Magnifique!
What can I say other than La Compagnie continues to keep the pressure on Air France and the U.S. carriers on the run to Paris. The boutique carrier is now offering its all-business-class flights for as little as $1,600 roundtrip. That's less than half the price of the major carriers' lowest fares and about a fifth of their walk-up prices up front. Yes, La Compagnie only has the one route--Newark to Paris/CDG--and, yes, the business class isn't state-of-the-art perfect. But it's $1,600 roundtrip. Really, what else is there to say? Information: the SPECIAL OFFERS page.

AMERICAN AADVANTAGE: Uber Discounts and Triple Miles, Too
American Airlines has unveiled a new partnership with Uber and added Uber to the AA app at 11 airports, too. To promote the new alliance, American AAdvantage Executive Platinum members will receive a code for $25 to use for an Uber ride in March. (That code will come to you automatically.) If you don't have an Uber account already, you can receive $20 off a ride when you sign up and use promo code RIDEAA. Another offer: Holders of the Barclay AAdvantage Aviator MasterCard will earn triple miles for every dollar spent on Uber rides through July 31.

STAR ALLIANCE: The Annual Easter Business-Class Sale to Europe Is On and Wan
With heavy promotion for the seasonal business-class sales to Europe a thing of the past, airlines have quietly slipped in their Easter/Passover pricing. It's not great, roughly the same prices as last year--and a far cry from the spectacular offers of a decade ago. Still, if you are looking to fly to Europe up front at a bargain, this year you'll catch the early spring weather, too. (Easter is March 27.) And, as usual, the lead carriers are in the Star Alliance: Lufthansa, SAS, Swiss, Brussels and, of course, United and Air Canada. Here are samples of what I've seen so far: $2,979 roundtrip New York to Berlin; $3,007 from New York to Geneva; $3,299 from Detroit to Munich; or $3,439 for Washington/Dulles to Frankfurt. You'll find similar pricing from Oneworld and SkyTeam Alliance carriers, too. Generally speaking, the travel period is March 20 to April 1 for departures and March 27 to April 7 for returns. A Sunday stay and 28-day advance purchase is required. Tickets must be booked by March 5. Look for fare class P and fare code PNC1S. Your best bet for finding the lowest prices is starting at the ITA Airfare Matrix.

AUSTRALIA: Big Mileage Bonuses From the Land Down Under
There's no truth to the rumor that I made these Australia bonus offers from Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage the deals of the week just because I wanted to link to Men at Work's banging, 35-year-old video for Down Under. I mean, what would you think of me? The deals can stand on their own. American Airlines, for example, is offering 5,000 miles for each roundtrip discounted coach flight, 15,000 miles for full-fare coach or premium economy flights and 30,000 miles for first and business class roundtrips. You can earn the promotional miles up to three times for as many as 90,000 miles on flights until May 31 on American or Qantas to Australia. Advance registration is required, of course. Meanwhile, Delta SkyMiles is offering a straight-up double miles promotion for Delta or Virgin Australia flights between Los Angeles and Sydney or Brisbane until May 31. That means you'll receive 10 miles per dollar spent plus any Medallion bonuses. Advance registration is required here, too. Meanwhile, I hope someone offers a promotion to Vienna, Austria, soon. There's a fabulous episode of Taxi featuring the Billy Joel song Vienna I want you to see. Oh, wait...

VIRGIN AMERICA: Double Elevate Points on Most Flights Until February 29
Virgin American's Elevate frequent flyer program is admittedly a niche play and only offers occasional redemption values. But if you're in the market for a flight in a Virgin market between now and February 29, Virgin is willing to sweeten the deals. You'll receive double points--approximately 10 for each dollar spent compared to the usual five points per dollar. Advance registration is required. Information: the DOUBLE DIP YOUR POINTS page.

LOT POLISH: Sub-$2,000 Business Class Fares to Europe All Summer
The once-popular summer business class sale, made famous first by Continental Airlines and later adopted by United and the Lufthansa Group of carriers, has become more memory than marketable in recent years. But LOT Polish, a Star Alliance carrier that never really played in the annual bazaar in previous years, is offering sub-$2,000 roundtrip business class fares all summer. The routes are over LOT's hub in Warsaw--thankfully, it's compact and efficient--and LOT uses Boeing 787 Dreamliners on the transatlantic legs. Sample fares: From Chicago, $1,950 roundtrip to Barcelona and $1,960 to Venice; and from New York/JFK, $1,975 to Athens and $1,998 to Vienna. The fares are available most of July and August in Z class (look for booking code ZSPCA14) and require a Sunday stay. There's also a surprisingly low $100 cancellation/change fee.

HAINAN AIRLINES: At These Prices, Fly Just for the Hunan Cuisine
Privately owned Hainan Airlines is trailblazing a nonstop route to Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, from Los Angeles. The flights started January 21 and the carrier has posted eye-popping coach and business class prices. In business class, the roundtrip price is just $2,709 for travel through March 24. In coach, the fare is $547 roundtrip for flights between January 28 and April 30. At those prices, you can fly over just for a taste of genuine stinky tofu or stewed beef with rice vermicelli. And there's always Hunan beer duck. I mean, why wouldn't you? The one caveat: Tickets must be purchased in the next few days to score the capacity controlled lowest fares. Information: the OFFERS page.

CATHAY PACIFIC: Comparatively Comfortable to Hong Kong at Relatively Cheap Prices
Premium Economy class is quickly replacing business class as the airlines' promotional choice for fare sales. Witness Cathay Pacific, which has a very nice premium economy cabin indeed. Is it as good as Cathay's award-winning business class? Of course not. But the prices are extremely modest for the comfort offered on these long-haul flights. The current deals: Just $1,900 roundtrip from San Francisco to Hong Kong when you travel between January 9 and May 23. It's $1,916 roundtrip from Los Angeles and $2,069 from Chicago. The best bargains are from the U.S. East Coast, where Cathay has common-rated the fare at $2,069 roundtrip to Hong Kong from its Boston, Newark or New York/Kennedy gateways. Cancellation and change fees are quite modest ($100) and the 7-day advance purchase requirement is modest, too. The lowest fares are for midweek travel. Book by February 29. Information: the PREMIUM ECONOMY CLASS OFFER page.

BRITISH AIRWAYS: Let's Do That AARP $400 Discount Deal for Another Year
The still-inexplicable British Airways sale late in October was sweetened by the fact that you could stack the AARP discounts atop the already ridiculously low fares. The AARP deal was slated to end on October 31, but much to the surprise of some observers, it's been extended for another year. That means you can score $400 off a first or business class fare, $130 off a premium economy price and $65 off in coach. Those discounts are for roundtrip prices, of course. No one-ways or open jaws need apply. But the discounts also apply to BA's code-shares with American, Iberia, OpenSkies and Finnair. Naturally, you must be an AARP member (go ahead, spring for the $12 annual fee) and you do have to book through the approved AARP portal. As we learned during the October bonanza, however, all of BA's fares are there. Information: the TRIP OF A LIFETIME page.

PACKAGE DEALS WORTH CONSIDERING
ENGLAND: Because There'll Always Be a Downton Abbey Tour
If you want to talk British TV, I'm happy to discuss Monty Python or The Forsyte Saga or even the David Bowie-inspired Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes mash-ups of police procedurals and science fiction. But Downton Abbey? I got nothing. Never watched a moment of the global phenomenon that ended on Christmas day in Britain and is wrapping up soon in the United States. Still, the travel industry knows a winning formula when it watches one, which explains why a packager called Tours International is on its third "series" of Downton Abbey-inspired packages. This year's offering, from September 3-6, includes: a visit to Highclere Castle, the eponymous Downton Abbey; a tour of Bampton, the village that the show calls Downton; a visit to the location used for Yew Tree Farm; and even a stop at Lady Rosamund's residence, which is really 35 Belgrave Place in London. There are other show-themed visits and events; three nights of accommodations in a four-star London hotel; breakfasts, lunches, Champagne and, of course, afternoon tea. The tour is limited to 25 people and costs $3,500 a couple or $2,200 if you're going solo. Airfare is not included. Information: the DOWNTON ABBEY page.

OXFORD: So You Never Got to Be a Rhodes Scholar...
So you never got to be a Rhodes Scholar. Fear not because there is always The Oxford Experience, the summer session at Oxford University that offers dozens of week-long courses to travelers of all ages, social classes, intelligence levels and interests. One-week packages include the tuition and lectures for your course; lodging in Christ Church College dorms; and three meals daily. There are several dozen courses from which to choose, including studies in archeology, history, literature, politics, art and music. Courses are held in the morning, which leaves afternoons free for touring and optional excursions and evening for everything from whisky tasting to lessons in Morris dancing. At the end of the week, you even get a farewell dinner and something like a diploma. It's then up to you whether you want to run for the House of Commons or buy yourself a seat in the House of Lords. (Okay, I made that last part up, except, you know, the buying your way into the House of Lords.) Prices start at 1,285 pounds per person and upgrades to private accommodations with private baths start at 90 pounds each for two traveling together or 180 pounds if you go solo. The weekly sessions take place from July 3 to August 13. My choice for favorite courses in the 2016 offerings? There's a nice overview of 1960s popular music, one that seems to riff off British TV costume dramas and a deep dive into Lawrence of Arabia. (The person, not the movie...) Information: the University of Oxford SUMMER SCHOOLS page.

GROUND TRANSPORT DEALS WORTH YOUR TIME
STAR ALLIANCE: Free Heathrow Express Upgrades for Gold Members
The Star Alliance isn't exceptionally strong in London, the hub for Oneworld Alliance partner British Airways. Which may be why it is offering upgrades to London-bound Star Alliance Gold members. But curb your enthusiasm. The upgrade isn't for London flights, but for trips on the Heathrow Express train that connects the airport with London Paddington station. To score the upgrade, present your full-fare coach Heathrow Express ticket and Star Alliance Gold credentials as you board the train. The promotion starts February 15. A reminder: You're Star Alliance Gold if you hold United MileagePlus Gold or higher status or Air Canada Altitude 50K status or higher. Information: the STAR ALLIANCE OFFERS page.

AMTRAK: Discounts Systemwide, But a $90 Roundtrip Gem From New York to Montreal
With travel in its annual winter slump--and traffic a bit lower than the usual seasonal lows--even Amtrak is cutting rates. Its promotional page is festooned with intriguing offers. But the one that catches the eye is a $90 roundtrip fare between New York/Penn (and some other nearby stops) and Montreal. The price is available on weekends (Thursday through Monday) for a maximum stay of five days. The travel window is ridiculously wide--until April 28--when you book by April 25. A three-day advance reservation is required and there are blackout dates around Easter (March 24, 25 and 28). And with the U.S. dollar buying C$1.43, Montreal itself is a winter and early spring bargain of epic proportions. Information: the ABOARD THE ADIRONDACK page.

SUPERSHUTTLE: 10 Percent Off Airport Rides on Those Ubiquitous Blue Vans
SuperShuttle International, the shared-van service that operates from 40 airports, is offering a 10 percent discount on rides during the slower winter season. To grab the deal, use the code GFT2U and book your rides before March 15. The discount is available at the SuperShuttle Web site only. Information: the OUR GIFT TO YOU page.

AMTRAK: Three Winter Trips in the East Mean a Summer Freebie
Let's just say government-owned and bureaucratically marketed Amtrak isn't at the pinnacle of promotional activity. Still, its annual version of BOGO (okay, buy three, get one) isn't too bad. If you take six Acela one-way trips (or three roundtrips) before February 29, Amtrak will buy you back a roundtrip (or two one-ways) between July 2 and August 31. It is offering the same buy three (or six), get one (or two) promotion for trips on the slower Northeast Regional runs. You must register independently for both offers. Registration for the Acela offer is here and the Northeast Regional registration is here. There are some modest blackout dates on the freebies and some minimum-spend rules for the winter purchases.

AVIS: 500 American AAdvantage Miles for Three-Day Rentals
Mileage offers are drying up everywhere else, but there continue to be relative gold mines in the car-rent arena. The latest from Avis is 500 American AAdvantage miles on virtually any rental worldwide. However, you will have to do a three-day rental for those miles, which isn't nearly as generous as the previous 500-mile-per-day offer. Use coupon code #MUAA062 for rentals that begin by March 31. Information: the Avis DRIVE FOR MILES page.

UNITED/HERTZ: Really Awful Suppliers, Really Big Bonuses
I can't think of two suppliers doing poorer jobs right now than United Airlines and Hertz. But they are marketing partners these days--in fact, a failed former United C-suite executive runs Hertz--and they seem desperate for your custom. The solution: gigantic bonuses for even one-day rentals. Until February 29, book a mid-size or larger Hertz car at United.com and you'll receive a 1,500-mile bonus atop the 500-1,250 miles you'd normally earn as a MileagePlus member. So that means 2,000 to 2,750 miles for rentals as short as a single day. Information: the EARN AWARD MILES page.

ENTERPRISE: The Return of the $10-a-Day Weekend Rental
Even as it has rocketed to the top of the car-rental heap, Enterprise continues to do things differently. For starters, all of its locations are company owned, astonishing in this era of franchised everything. It has expanded rapidly at airports, but its roots remain in the we'll-pick-you-up local station. And many of those local stations close on Sunday with short hours on Saturday. The result: a ridiculously wonderful promotion that offers cars as low as $9.99 a weekend day, so long as you return the car on Monday. The $9.99 rate covers economy or compact cars. Larger cars are $14.99-$19.99 a day. The rates include 100 miles per day and are valid for rentals that start on Fridays. Best of all, the prices are valid at participating local stations until May 23. Information: the Enterprise WEEKEND SPECIAL page.

NOTABLE CREDIT CARD ACQUISITION BONUSES
CHASE: 80,000 Points (and More) to Take the Marriott Rewards Card
The attention lately has all been on how Marriott will integrate the Starwood Preferred Guest program into Marriott Rewards. While that controversy bubbles on, Chase has rolled out an 80,000-point acquisition bonus for taking the Marriott Rewards Visa card. You'll need to spend $3,000 within three months of opening the account to score the bonus, but there's another perk buried in the fine print: a 7,500-point bonus for adding a second authorized user to the account. All in all, a pretty decent buy for the $85 annual fee. Standard benefits of the card include a free night at a Category 1-5 property each year, five points for every dollar spent at Marriott and enough elite credit to score silver-level status. Information: the LIMITED TIME page.

CHASE: Take a United Business Card, Get 50,000 MileagePlus Miles
With the major airlines now essentially locked in to a partner bank, lavish super-duper acquisition bonuses have largely disappeared. But here's a way to pick up a 50,000-mile bonus essentially free. Chase has bumped up the acquisition bonus on the business version of its MileagePlus Explorer card to the 50,000-mile plateau. All you need do is spend $2,000 on the card during the first three months. Chase will even comp the first year's annual fee of $95. The card itself has some good benefits: no foreign exchange fees; first checked bag free; a pair of United Club passes each year, and primary car-rental coverage. Carrying the card also means United waives the expiration date on your MileagePlus balance. Information: the FOR BUSINESS OWNERS page.

This column is Copyright 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.