Fast Track to Elite: Double Air and Rail Miles

  • Share
  • Read Later

Travel news and deals for the week of March 23, 2009


Take a Back Seat. Despite everything you hear about those big, bad bankers, it looks like they're flying economy these days instead of business class, according to the International Air Transport Association. Global revenues from business- and first-class tickets were down by at least 25% in January 2009, compared to January 2008, suggesting that executives are trading down to cheaper tickets. Maybe this makes it easier for the rest of us to nab free upgrades.

Joining the Elite. If free upgrades are what you're after, here's how: American Airlines AAdvantage members can register to earn double elite-status qualifying miles for flights, which puts them on the fast track toward gaining Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum status. Elite-level membership gives you mileage bonuses, upgrade privileges and various other perks. To have your flight qualify, book by June 15 and register here with promotion code DBEQM before you travel.

United Airlines is also offering Mileage Plus members a quicker way to elite. Customers who register (do it here), book and complete travel by June 15, 2009, will earn double elite-qualifying miles. Elite status gets you upgrades (or complimentary seating in Economy Plus, where you'll have five inches of extra legroom) and access to priority check-in, security and boarding lines.

Not to be outdone, Continental Airlines is giving its OnePass members double elite-qualifying miles on eligible flights through June 15, 2009. Register here for the promotion.

Points of Interest. It doesn't do you much good to hoard all those Delta SkyMiles, when the only airline with a direct flight to your destination is American. So, check out's Global Points Exchange, where you can post an offer to trade your points and search for someone who has the frequent flyer points you need. The website will execute the exchange.

Fee For All. Starting May 5, Virgin America will begin charging $15 for each checked bag. Previously, the first checked bag was free. But there is some good news, the airline is lowering its charge to change or cancel flights, from $75 to $50.

Offsite Booking. While airlines continue to add fees, travel websites seem to be dropping them, at least temporarily. Last week Expedia dropped its booking fee for all domestic and international flights through May 3. Now Travelocity has dropped its $7 booking fee too. Let your fingers do the tapping.

West by Southwest. Southwest Airlines is having a sale on tickets for travel any day of week except Friday and Sunday. Fly for $49 one-way between Burbank and Sacramento; $69 one-way between Denver and Oakland; or $99 one-way between Houston Hobby and Los Angeles. Flights must be booked online by April 6, for travel April 2 to August 14, with a 14-day advance purchase. Some blackout dates apply.

Get the Blues. Members of JetBlue's TrueBlue loyalty program can earn a free trip from Boston to any destination, if they fly two round-trips between Boston and Denver, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle. Register here before booking, then buy your tickets online. Take two round-trip flights before May 31 and the third ticket is yours to fly anywhere JetBlue goes by Dec. 15 (except on certain blackout dates).

Downsizing to Dubai. Blaming the weakening global economy, Emirates pulled its two Airbus A380 planes from its Dubai-to-New York route after just eight months in service and is now flying the smaller Boeing 777 instead. But the airline is still flying the big bird between Dubai and Sydney, London and Toronto, and starting June 1, between Toronto and Bangkok as well.

Lufthansa's Luxury Lounge Lufthansa has opened a new business lounge in Concourse B of Washington Dulles International Airport. The 10,000-sq.-ft. lounge has leather chairs, TVs, free Internet access and showers. Along with Lufthansa's business- and first-class passengers, Star Alliance Gold members may also access the lounge.


Lights Out. If your hotel goes dark this weekend, don't be alarmed. To honor Earth Hour — organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to encourage businesses and people to take simple steps every day to reduce carbon emissions — many hotels and cities are turning off the lights on Saturday, March 28, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The WWF hopes that it can get 1 billion people in more than 1,700 cities and towns in 80 countries to participate. Switching off your lights is a vote for the earth, says the WWF, while leaving them on is a vote for global warming.

Hey, Friend! After you friend your old fifth-grade crush on Facebook, try adding the Hotel Indigo Chicago Downtown to your network too. Facebook friends and fans of the hotel get access to a special booking link with a 20% discount built in. Convince that fifth-grade crush and nine other friends to become the hotel's Facebook friends, too, and earn a free night. Rates start at $149. 1244 North Dearborn Parkway, Chicago; 800-972-2494.

Heavenly Beds in Houston. Starwood's new extended-stay brand, Element, has opened in Houston. The LEED-certified hotel has complimentary breakfast, a fitness center, a pool and in-room kitchens. Best of all, since Element is part of the Westin brand, it also features the trademark Heavenly Bed. As part of the opening, Element has discounted rates starting at $149 per night, with a two-night minimum stay required. The rates are valid through April 30, 2009. Use code GRANDOP to book. 14555 Vintage Preserve Parkway, Houston; 866-716-8147.

JR Would Have Liked It. While we're talking Texas, the swanky Joule Hotel in Dallas has a special weekend rate good for those who want to take advantage of the rooftop pool, or dance off the winter blues at the hotel's new nightclub, PM. Stay a Friday and Saturday for just $169 per night. Book by March 31 for stays through Sept. 7. 1530 Main Street, Dallas; 866-716-8136.

The Big Apple. At the budget end of the scale, New York City's Apple Core Hotels is holding a lottery to offer 10 rooms at a special rate of $4.15, instead of the usual $125 rack rate. To enter the "Tax Time" lottery — which includes a room with complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, gym and business center access, as well as in-room video games and movies on-demand — call the Apple Core Reservations Department by March 29 (you can't enter online). The drawing will be held March 30. Good for stays April 1 to 15. Participating hotels include La Quinta Inn Manhattan (17 West 32nd Street), Red Roof Inn Manhattan (6 West 32nd Street), Comfort Inn Midtown (129 West 46th Street), The Hotel @ Times Square (59 West 46th Street) and Ramada Inn East Side (161 Lexington Avenue). Call 800-567-7720 or 212-790-2710

Do Good. Get a Reward. Kimpton Hotels' new Lorien Hotel & Spa in Alexandria, Va., is celebrating its opening partnering with Dress for Success, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women transition from welfare to work by providing interview suits and office attire. Guests who donate gently used accessories will receive a 10% discount off their stay, and 10% off massages and facials at the spa. Special opening rates start at $139; after April 30, rates start at $269. The Dress for Success discount is given at check-in. 1600 King Street, Alexandria, VA; 877-956-7436.

This Round's on Us. The all-inclusive luxury resort Royal Hideaway Playacar, located on Mexico's Riviera Maya, is offering free rounds of golf, plus a night free: Book a five-night stay and get two rounds of golf and a free night; book a seven-night stay and get four rounds of golf, plus a free night. Rates start at $400 per person, including unlimited food and drinks, water sports and other activities. The offer good through April 30, 2009. Lote Hotelero #6 Fracc. Playacar, Playa del Carmen; 800-999-9182.

All Together Now. If you want to take the kids on vacation, the Westin Resort Aruba's "Delight in Family" getaway gives children under 12 two full days of complimentary admission to the Westin Kids Club (which usually costs $120 per child per day). Open daily 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m, young'uns learn sandcastle building, go seashell hunting, feed iguanas and try coconut bowling, while you get lots of time to finish reading that novel on the beach. Rates start at $309 per night, based on two adults and two children, for stays between April 17 and Dec. 19. Use the promotional code WIFAMI to book. J. E. Irausquin Boulevard 77, Palm Beach, Aruba; 877-782-0149

For Von Trapp Groupies. If you're still wondering how to solve a problem like Maria, Gutsy Women Travel is an offering an eight-day tour, starting in Salzburg on June 29, called Allure of Austria: Salzburg & Vienna. Visit Salzburg where the Sound of Music was filmed, learn to cook apple strudel and how to dance a proper Viennese waltz, and have dinner in a Viennese palace followed by a Mozart and Strauss concert. If you book with a friend (use the promo code GWTBAF200) by April 15, you'll each save $200 off the regular price of $1,899 per person. 866-464-8879.

Sugar Rush. Hardcore Maria fans don't have to head overseas. The Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont, run by the Von Trapp family, is offering a two-night package starting at $490, with country breakfast, a chance to see how maple sap is gathered, and a "Sugar on Snow" party (Saturday only). Plus, you get a half pint of Trapp maple syrup to take home. The offer's good through April 13. 700 Trapp Hill Road, Stowe, VT; 800-826-7000.


Whistle-Blowing. The nation's first transcontinental railroad was completed May 10, 1869, in Promontory Summit, Utah, where the "golden spike" was pounded into the final tie, finally connecting 1,776 miles of rail. In honor of this august event, Amtrak is celebrating National Train Day, offering Amtrak Guest Rewards members the ability to earn double points for their first four trips taken through May 8, triple points after their fifth trip, and quadruple points for any trip taken on May 9. If you travel Saturday, May 9 through Amtrak's Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago or Los Angeles station, you'll see live music, model trains and exhibitions from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. honoring the Pullman Porter.


Wining. New York City's STK steakhouse is offering half-off bottles and glasses of wine for "Wine Down Mondays" on Monday nights Meaning you can order that expensive bottle — including those $325 bottles of Cardinale Meritage from Sonoma — and impress your client (or date) at a big discount. 26 Little West 12th Street, New York City; 646-624-2444