As inevitable as the start of the school year, travel bonuses have become fixtures of the autumn landscape and a potential bonanza for consumers looking to get more for their travel dollars.
With this year's post-summer falloff in travel, airlines, hotels and rental car companies are again turning to loyalty program promotions to maintain their share of the shrinking pie. Following is a sampling of the deals on offer.
MORE POINTS FOR HOTEL STAYS
As prices for airline tickets have declined, hotel room rates have risen steadily. As a result, an ever-growing slice of the average travel budget is devoted to lodging. That makes the free hotel nights earned by travelers participating in hotels' frequent-stay programs more valuable than ever. And fall bonuses from several hotel chains make those free nights that much easier to attain.
Before Dec. 15, members of the Choice Privileges rewards program will earn 8,000 points — normal and bonus points combined — for every two qualifying stays at 1,000 Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion or Mainstay Suites properties in North America. That's enough points to redeem a free hotel room night at most Choice properties.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards members can earn double credits (one credit instead of the standard 0.5 credits) for stays between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30 at participating Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton Grand Vacations Club, Homewood Suites or Waldorf=Astoria Collection hotels in the United States.
Between Sept. 15 and Jan. 31, Marriott is offering Rewards members 2,500 bonus points for the second and subsequent stays charged to a Visa card at Marriott, JW Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn hotels. A maximum of 10,000 points may be earned during the promotion. (Some program members will receive targeted offers that differ somewhat from the advertised promotion.)
Priority Club Rewards members will earn double points or double miles for the second and subsequent qualifying stays between Sept. 12 and Dec. 15 at InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Express by Holiday Inn hotels.
At Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites, members earn double points or miles beginning with the first qualifying stay.
AIRLINES OFFER MORE MILES TO FILL PLANES
The days when airlines doubled miles for all flights in their network have been replaced by bonus mile offers targeting specific routes and classes of service. This bonus mile offer by three carriers features flights to the same three European destinations:
Through Nov. 15, American, Northwest and United offer program members bonus miles for roundtrip flights between the U.S. and London, Frankfurt or Zurich — 5,000 miles for coach fares booked in unrestricted (i.e., higher-priced) fare categories or 2,500 miles for coach fares booked in some lower-fare categories. The bonus can be earned up to three times during the promotions.
'TIS THE SEASON FOR AWARD TRAVEL
Fewer paying passengers means the airlines can make more seats available as awards for members of their mileage programs. So fall is always a good time to redeem miles for free trips. And, some airlines offer award tickets on selected low-demand routes for fewer miles or for a combination of miles and cash.
For example, Alaska Airlines is treating Mileage Plan members to a 10,000-mile discount off the standard 30,000-mile Mexico coach award for travel between any city in the U.S. and Mexico through Oct. 10. Award reservation must be booked at alaskaair.com.
Members of American's AAdvantage program can save 10,000 miles on restricted coach award tickets for travel between Cancun and the continental U.S., Canada and the Caribbean through Dec. 13. With the discount, Cancun award tickets can be had for 20,000 miles.
Northwest allows WorldPerks members to combine miles and cash to pay for coach-class travel to most Northwest destinations between Sept. 5 and Dec. 20.
Prices for roundtrip flights within North America start at $89 and 20,000 miles or $169 and 10,000 miles. Flights between the U.S. and Europe are priced at $294 and 20,000 miles, $384 and 10,000 miles, or $424 and 5,000 miles. And flights between the U.S. and Asia are $470 and 20,000 miles, $580 and 10,000 miles, or $630 and 5,000 miles.
Bookings must be made by Dec. 2, either at nwa.com or (800) 447-3757.
For qualifying rentals through Nov. 15, Dollar Rent A Car is offering 1,000 bonus miles through seven airline programs (Alaska, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways).
Bonus is awarded for rentals of intermediate or larger vehicles for three or more days. Rentals must be picked up Sunday through Wednesday.
Between Sept. 5 and Dec. 15, members of the Hertz No. 1 Club will earn 100 bonus points for qualifying rentals. Separately, and also through Dec. 15, No. 1 Club members can redeem 250 points for a free weekend rental day — half the normal requirement.
Through Dec. 15, members of National Car Rental's Emerald Club will earn a free rental day after every two paid rentals of an intermediate or larger vehicle for two or more days each. (Emerald Club enrollment fees are also waived for the promotion period.)
And through Nov. 15, members of Thrifty's Blue Chip Rewards program who choose credits over airline miles will earn two credits for each 24-hour rental, double the normal award rate.
For those with no appetite for miles and points, Budget Rent A Car is offering two pounds of Dunkin' Donuts coffee after two qualifying rentals through Dec. 15.
Details of the above offers are published on the Web sites of the respective travel suppliers. Most require registration.
Reach Tim Winship at email@example.com