This is not your mother's fare sale or rate cut. British Airways, for instance, is holding an essay contest for grown-ups. It's offering free round trips to those who make the most compelling argument for why they need to travel overseas for business.

Book a business meeting at a Starwood hotel, and your company or organization can qualify for a free concert with British singer Natasha Bedingfield in honor of your favorite charity. And Kimpton Hotels will have you jumping through hoops, literally. Guests who can hula hoop for 20 seconds can win a free room upgrade.

"A lot of hotels and airlines are thinking of any excuse to put somebody in a room or on a plane because, of course, demand is down considerably," says Roland Rust, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Maryland. Rust, who's extensively studied airline competition, says, "When the hotel rooms are full and airlines are running full, you don't need to do nearly as much of this."

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