E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    2009 COLUMNS    ARCHIVES    SEARCH ARCHIVES
LET'S MAKE SOME TRAVEL DEALS
By Joe Brancatelli
August 18, 2009 -- When the going gets tough in the travel industry, tough-minded marketers start slashing prices. And things are very tough indeed in travel right now, which means truly startling discounts for us.

Since Wall Street melted down last year, figures show that airline revenue has plummeted about 20 percent. Hotel revenue is down closer to 25 percent. Both dips are directly attributable to the phenomenon I described contemporaneously in a column that Portfolio.com's editors cleverly titled A Run on the Bankers: When business travelers, especially free-spending financial types, stop flying, the travel market craters.

After initially trying to tough out the slump, major airlines and big hotel chains have begun to rethink their pricing strategies and are employing discount tactics to fill seats and get heads on beds. That means the world is full of bargains now. Here are some of my current favorites.

Top of the (European) World, Ma!
Finnair isn't top of mind when it comes to flights to Europe, even though it has an extensive Northern European network centered on its compact, pleasant Helsinki hub and offers terrific service in business class. How do you combat that kind of traveler disinterest and ignorance? With eye-opening price cuts, of course. Finnair is promoting an open-ended business-class sale to Europe with prices as low as $2,200 roundtrip from New York's Kennedy Airport. That includes flights to Moscow, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Warsaw, and almost a dozen other cities. But wait, there's more, as they say on TV infomercials. Although Finnair isn't talking about it, you can drive roundtrip business-class prices down to about $1,900 if you're willing to accept nonrefundable tickets and a Saturday-night stay. You can find some basic information on the sale at Finnair's website.

All You Can Eat, Er, Fly…
Travel always bottoms out right after Labor Day since most leisure fliers are done for the summer and business travelers haven't geared up for the fall. Given the state of the economy this year, however, no one knows what to expect for this September and early October. So JetBlue Airways has bowed to the obvious and launched a heck of a "sale." For one flat price ($599), you can fly anywhere you want as often as you want on the JetBlue network between September 8 and October 8. The so-called All You Can Jet pass has no blackout dates and any seat JetBlue has to its 57 destinations on 600 daily flights is available. Even the domestic taxes and fees are included in the $599 price. The only restriction of note: You must book at least three days before departure. But you have to hurry: Passes must be purchased by end of the day Friday (August 21).

A Temporary Perch Atop the Hotel Heap
Business travelers like Hyatt Hotels and seem to adore the company's new mid-price brand called Hyatt Place. But because Hyatt's global footprint of about 400 properties is dwarfed by competitive chains like Marriott and Hilton (each have more than 3,000 hotels), the company's Gold Passport frequent-guest program is often overlooked. To induce folks to give Gold Passport a try, Hyatt is now offering 120 days of Platinum Level elite status to all comers. Platinum status usually requires 25 Hyatt stays a year to qualify, and it offers travelers commensurate rewards: free Internet access, 30 percent point bonuses, and suite upgrades. To maintain Platinum status in 2010, you must complete five stays during the 120 days that you're comped as an elite player. If you're not a Gold Passport member, you can join and immediately upgrade to Platinum status at the same time. Existing Gold Passport member? Call 800-228-3360 to upgrade.

Doesn't La Dolce Vita Mean Cheap Business-Class Flights?
Italian aviation is a real basket case. Myair, a low-fare Italian carrier headed by a former Italian Transport minister, recently was grounded. And the highly regarded Air One has been subsumed into the remade Alitalia, which continues to flounder despite a government-funded bailout fronted by Air France. But that does leave Eurofly (973-338-3106), which offers independent flights between New York's Kennedy Airport and Rome at insanely great prices. During two of the very best months to visit Rome—September and October, when the weather is great, the tourists have thinned out, and the restaurants have opened again—Eurofly is offering a $1,619 fare. That's roundtrip in business class and includes the fuel surcharges.

A Passage to India in the Lap of Luxury
Unless you're prepared to backpack it, the only way to see India is in total style and luxury. And that’s exactly the strength of Taj Hotels, Resorts, and Palaces, the homegrown lodging arm of India's Tata Group. And Taj really does have palaces. The Incredible Royal Escapes package includes four nights in one of them: the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, the Lake Palace in Udaipur, or the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur. There's also two nights in Mumbai or Delhi at Taj's five-star city properties. The six-night bundle also includes daily breakfast and dinner, which is superlative because Taj's properties are home to some of India's finest restaurants. The package price starts at just $2,220 a couple, and the offer runs through September 30; call 866-969-1825 for more details.

Down Under for Down-Low Prices
United Airlines is slowly upgrading its outdated international business-class cabins, but its older service remains the standard on most of its flights Down Under. United's old stuff can't compete with the lavish flat-bed accommodations offered by the incumbent leader, Qantas, or two newcomers on the routes (V Australia and Delta Air Lines). So United is competing on price—and that's fine if you simply crave a big, comfortable seat with plenty of legroom on the long, long flights. United's business-class sale has knocked fares to Sydney or Melbourne down to as little as $2,195 one-way from Los Angeles; $2,454 from Chicago; and $2,447 from New York. Those are eye-popping prices considering that Qantas charges upwards of $7,500 one-way in its business class.

The Fine Print…
Beijing's minimalist new Opposite House, which we discussed last spring, has dazzled critics and guests from around the world. The 99-room property has huge accommodations, including the basic Studio 45 series, which are almost 500 square feet. They list for around $700 a night, but even Beijing is weathering hard times, so there is a startling offer: a third night free if you stay two consecutive nights for approximately $285 a night. That brings the effective rate to just $190 a night. The rate even includes free minibar and Internet access and free breakfast for two on weekends. The bundle is available until December 31.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2009 Condé Nast Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.