A Long Weekend in Iguazu Falls

After much internal debate, I’ve finally decided to go through with my trip this coming long weekend to Iguazu Falls via pretty much every major airport in South America.

Am I insane?

Probably.

Back this Spring, LAN offered a very, very cheap rate from New York to Iguazu Falls on both LAN and TAM metal.  Naturally, I made a game of finding the most absurd routing possible to get to Iguazu Falls.  That seemed like a fun thing at the time.  It was also one of the cheapest routings, to boot.

And Now?

Yeah, I’m pretty much dreading the flights.  Over 32 hours of flying in coach, on FIVE flights to get from DC to freakin’ Foz do Iguazu, Brazil at 1am, only to have to taxi into Puerto Iguassu, Argentina in the wee hours of the morning.

Five flights?  Four transfers?  A late-night border crossing between Brazil and Argentina?

What possibly could go wrong?

In the end, I’ve decided that an opportunity to see one of the Natural Wonders of the World – Iguazu Falls – is just too good to miss, despite the absolute absurdity that I’m putting myself through to get there.  Oh yeah – I’ve also already put too much of a financial investment in this trip to just see it go to waste.

During my time there this weekend, I plan on seeing the Falls from both the Argentina and Brazil sides, as well as spending some time in Puerto Iguazu.  Since I’m rockin’ this trip solo, I’ll be staying at a hostel in order to keep costs down.  So I’ll for sure get to Brazil and Argentina on this trip.  If I play my cards right, I may be able to get into neighboring Paraguay for a bit, but we’ll see how that goes when I get down there.  Mix in the quality time I’ll get to spend during my layovers in Lima, Peru, and that’s possibly four countries in one weekend (though I hesitate to count Peru if I don’t leave the Lima Airport).

 The Routing

Yeah… it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 7.07.41 PM Yup.  That’s:

  • DCA-JFK on AA (my upgrade to First Class cleared!)
  • JFK-(LIM)-SCL on LAN in economy (stopover in Lima)
  • SCL-GRU on TAM in economy
  • GRU-IGU on TAM in economy

Return

  • IGU-LIM on LAN in economy
  • LIM-JFK on LAN in economy
  • JFK-DCA on AA in economy

So, over 13,000 miles of flying in a weekend.   Not bad.  Slightly insane, but not your typical weekend.  Whatever happens, it’ll be an adventure.  And for that, I’m thankful.  Now, about streaming the Auburn vs. Texas A&M game…


 Update:  This trip did NOT go as planned… the trip report is linked below:

A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere:  An Iguazu Fail

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – Sao Paulo to New York JFK

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


After transiting through transfer security at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, I headed to the United Club where I had a quick drink before heading down to the gate to board a TAM Airlines B777-300 bound for JFK.

TAM Airlines (JJ) 8080
Sao Paulo (GRU) – New York (JFK) 

Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 20A (Economy Class)

Sunday, June 16
10:30PM – 7:00AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:30

As I boarded the aircraft, it was immediately apparent to me that the onboard hard product was substantially different than the somewhat dated interior of TAM’s A330-200 fleet, which I’ve flown long-haul three times before, including my outbound trip a few days earlier.

What we had here was a brand, spankin’ new B777-300ER.  The interior was sparkling, but my enthusiasm was short-lived as I realized that this particular aircraft was configured in a ten-abreast fashion (3-4-3) instead of the nine-abreast way that other 77W’s in the fleet indicated.  After the first and business cabins, there was a small, mini-cabin of about five “Space +” rows, followed by the high-density coach cabin.

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

I settled into my seat, 20A – an exit row, window seat.  I pre-booked TAM’s “Space +” seat, which gives you extra legroom for $75.  Given my height, I can easily justify this expense in the name of comfort.

My Seat - 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

My Seat – 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

Plenty of legroom

Plenty of legroom

This seat should have been the perfect economy class seat for sleeping.  I mean, since it was an exit row, it had over four feet of legroom.  The window was non-existent, so I had a flat wall on which I could lean my head to sleep.  In theory, this was a perfect setup.

However, that was not the case.  Why is that?

The new, slimline seat.  These seats are awful.  While tolerable for a shorter flight, they are almost inhumane for a ten hour flight.  It’s like sitting on a board.  Ultimately, I was more comfortable on my outbound flight – one which I had no legroom, but the seat was cushioned very well.  I sincerely struggled to sleep on this flight simply because I was so uncomfortable.  My butt hated me, and I had to continuously get up and move around because I couldn’t take sitting down another minute.

Sadly, this is the way airlines are going now.  The slimline seat saves carriers 1-2″ inches in seat pitch, allowing them to add more rows to the plane.  In the case of a B777-300ER, with a 10-abreast configuration, that translate very conservatively to an extra 2-3 rows, or 20-30 seats – that’s a lot of extra revenue we’re talking.  So you can see the business reason as to why the airlines (almost all of them) are going this way.  Unfortunately, it is at the cost of the passenger comfort.

I was able to sleep on-and-off for about three hours during the ten hour flight after watching Life of Pi on the very good Inflight Entertainment System.

Inflight Entertainment System

Inflight Entertainment System

Again, the dinner choice was beef or pasta.  As per usual in economy, I ordered the pasta.  It was decently tasty for an economy meal.  The desert was delicious – not sure what it as, but it was good.

Dinner

Dinner

Breakfast was served about 90 minutes out of New York, and as luck would have it, all the commotion for breakfast coincided with one of the few times during the night that I had actually dozed off.   The breakfast offering once again consisted of fruit, a roll, and a toasted sandwich, though this one was actually appetizing and pretty good, unlike my flight from New York to Rio.

Breakfast

Breakfast

We touched down in New York as scheduled, and arrived at the gate at 7:00am on the dot – just as scheduled.  Impressive punctuality right there, TAM.

Overall, the flight was fine.  The slimline seats that I’ve complained about are becoming an industry standard, so this isn’t so much a TAM problem as it is an industry issue for long-haul, economy flights.   Other than that, the plane truly was in great shape and was aesthetically pleasing.  The service was very good, the flight attendants were cheerful and friendly, and the food was decent.  Once again, for the price point at which I booked this flight, I really cannot complain.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Two Days in Santiago

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago was relatively uneventful.  I had a standard economy seat on a TAM Airlines A320.  The legroom was quite restricted, and it was not the most comfortable 4hr45minutes of my life.  But I dealt with it like a champ.

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

The highlight to of the flight was the meal.  While it was only a standard economy meal, it was very different from any economy meal that I’ve had.  I chose the chicken pie, and it was very good – probably one of the best tasting economy meals I’ve had on any flight, actually.

Chicken Pie... seriously... it was good!

Chicken Pie… seriously… it was good!

I also recall the catering from my flight from Rio to Orlando last March to be quite good too, so maybe I’m having luck with the catering out of the TAM Rio de Janeiro station.  It’s much better than what I’ve had from JFK.

I arrived in Santiago just around 7pm on Friday night.  Before the authorities were able to process me through immigration, I had to pay the reciprocity fee at a very clearly labeled kiosk.  This reciprocity fee sets Americans back USD$160, but is good for multiple entries for the life of your passport.  Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment for the fee.

After passing through immigration, I headed to the taxi stand inside the terminal where they advised me of a rate of 19,000 (~USD$38) Chilean Pesos for a cab to my hostel in the Bellavista neighborhood.  This was a bit high, but after traveling for the previous 24 hours, I went ahead and went with it.  For what it’s worth, most in Santiago advise not to pay more than 15,000 pesos (~USD$30) for a cab to the airport.

I pulled up to a non-descript entrance on a dimly lit street in Bellavista after about a 30 minute ride from the airport.  After buzzing the gate, I proceeded through the front door of the La Chimba hostel.  I had decided against staying at a chain hotel like the Grand Hyatt or one of the many SPG properties simply to save some money on this two-week trip.  The place was an eclectic little hostel with a main common area and several dorms that house anywhere from one to four.

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba hostel common area

La Chimba hostel common area

I pre-booked a single dorm with a shared bathroom for the princely sum of USD$30 per night (4 person dorms were available starting at USD$16 per night).  The room was small, but was all I needed.  The bed was a spring matress with plenty of bedding to keep me warm during the cold nights.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Without a doubt, the highlight of the property is its location.  It is situated on E. Pinto Lagarrigue in Barrio Bellavista, which is one block off of Pio Nono – the primary restaurant and entertainment artery in the area.  Furthermore, it was less than a ten minute walk to the heart of downtown at Bella Artes and less than fifteen minutes from Plaza de Armas.

Barrio Bellavista

Barrio Bellavista

Bellavista at Night

Bellavista at Night

The location of this place alone made the $30 per night a no-brainer.  I really cannot imagine a much better location for touring Santiago and for being in the middle of the action.

After checking in and taking a much-needed shower, I met up with an Australian friend who I’d met last March while staying in Buenos Aires.  A group of us went out for the evening to a couple bars – first, to Bar The Clinic (near Bella Artes) and then to Onaciu in Bellavista.  It was an extremely fun night out on the town where I was introduced to the national drink of Chile – the Pisco Sour.  Though it’s a little sweet for my tastes, I really didn’t have a choice but to try one (or two… or three…) of these things.

A Pisco Sour

A Pisco Sour

I awoke Saturday morning to a somewhat clear morning as the fog receeded.  The entrance to the funicular at San Cristobal hill was a whopping two blocks from my hostel, so I proceeded there and bought a 2,600 peso round-trip ticket on the funicular to the top of the hill.

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular from up top

Funicular from up top

The views from up here were awesome!  Unfortunately, the smog / fog held around a little bit too long that morning, and I was unable to see all of the the Andes mountains, but I was able to see some vistas of the mountains – the first time I’d ever seen the Andes!

Statue of Virgin Mary

Statue of Virgin Mary

Smoggy View of Santiago

Smoggy View of Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

My first view of the Andes Montains

My first view of the Andes Montains

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

After walking around for about an hour, I grabbed an empanada and a Gatorade and headed back down the hill on the funicular.

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Llama!

Llama!

My next stop was Plaza de Armas downtown, where I met up with a free walking tour.  The group consisted of about ten tourists and our guide, Felipe.  Felipe gave a wonderful 3.5-4 hour, narrated tour of the city.  I feel like this tour enabled me to see all of the important landmarks in the city during my short time there.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valaparaiso

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valparaiso

La Moneda Palace

La Moneda Palace

Universidad de Chile

Universidad de Chile

"New York Street" in Santiago

“New York Street” in Santiago

The Santiago Stock Exchange

The Santiago Stock Exchange

Parque Forestal - The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal – The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal at dusk

Parque Forestal at dusk

One of the millions of "street dogs" in Santiago.  The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

One of the millions of “street dogs” in Santiago. The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

About two-thirds of the way through the tour, we stopped at a coffeeshop in the LaStarria neighborhood for a Pisco sour.  The tour ended up in Bellavista, about three blocks from my hostel.  Felipe gave me all sorts of great recommendations for dinner and for lunch the next day.  As with most “free tours”, the tour guides operate on a tips-only basis, and in this case it was well-deserved.  This walking tour leaves daily from Plaza de Armas at 10am and 3pm.  I highly recommend it for a cheap, easy, fun, and informative way to see the sights in Santiago – it would especially be a good way to orient oneself with the city on their first day.

Per Felipe and my Aussie friends’ suggestion, I had a late dinner Saturday night at Galindo in Bellavista.  This restaurant is well known in Santiago amongst both tourists and locals for its Chilean food.  I was starving after a long day of touring, and ordered the empanada a pino to begin, and the “Pastel de Choclo” for the entrée, along with a couple of beers to wash dinner down.

Empanada a pino

Empanada a pino

Pastel de Choclo -- Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

Pastel de Choclo — Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

It was fantastic.

Dinner no doubt left me in a food coma, so I back to the hostel and called it a night.

Sunday morning, I awoke in time to shower, re-pack my things and check out of the hostel.  I stored my luggage there and had them order me a cab for noon.  Meanwhile, I trekked to the Mercado Central where I intended to have an early lunch, and oh, what a lunch I had!

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

The Mercado Central is the main fish and seafood market in Santiago.  I really enjoy going to markets when I visit varous cities, and this was no exception.

Fresh Seafood!

Fresh Seafood!

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I ended up eating at one of the many restaurants around the Mercado, and ordered the Paila Marina – a local specialty that translate literally to “seafood soup.”  It was amazing, and extremely filling.   This set me back only about 3,500 pesos.

Paila Marina for lunch

Paila Marina for lunch

According to Felipe, the many restaurants in the Mercado rotate chefs on a continual basis, so they all have basically the same food.  The restaurants on the outer ring of the Mercado are much cheaper, while the ones in the center are more expensive for essentially the same food!

After this amazing lunch, I walked 20 minutes back to the hostel, where my cab was waiting to take me back to the airport for my flight back to New York via Sao Paulo.  All in all, Santiago was a fantastic city, and my big regret was not spending another day here.  I usually like to spend three days in a new city, and this was no exception.

Simply put, I needed another day.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – New York JFK to Rio de Janeiro

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


TAM Airlines (JJ) 8079
New York (JFK) – Rio de Janeiro (GIG)

Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 29C (Economy Class)

Thursday, June 13
7:10PM – 6:05AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:55 

I arrived at JFK about three hours before my flight.  Checkin was a breeze at Terminal 8, and I headed to security.  Since the only priority line was for OneWorld elites, I had to trudge to the back of the security line — it took about 15 minutes, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

I proceeded to the American Airlines AAdmirals Club to kill some time before my flights.  This was a bit strange considering I was given a lounge invitation by TAM because of my Star Alliance Gold status.  American is in OneWorld, so it’s just strange how that all worked.  Last time I flew TAM, it was out of JFK Terminal 4, and I used the Swiss Lounge — that made way more sense.  Anyway, I entered the AAdmirals Club with no issues, sat down to get some work done and have some drinks.  The lounge was very crowded, and it took entirely too long to get a drink.

Admiral's Club, JFK Entrance

Admiral’s Club, JFK Entrance

Crowded lounge

Crowded lounge

As I was finishing up some work and a drink, I watched my A330-200 get towed to the gate — that was my queue to start gathering my things and head to the gate.

My ride to Rio:  a TAM A330-200

My ride to Rio: a TAM A330-200

Before my flight, and again at check-in, I had requested a “Space +” seat, which was essentially an exit row.  They said there were none available, and that I couldn’t sit in an exit row since I don’t speak Portuguese.  Interestingly enough, they gladly booked me in an exit row on my return, and I sat in exit rows on TAM the last time I flew them to South America — so I’m not really sure what their policy actually is.  What this did mean though was that I would be cramped in standard economy for close to ten hours.

TAM economy class

TAM economy class

How cramped?

9.5 hours of this -- my knees were not pleased

9.5 hours of this — my knees were not pleased

Yeah.  Pretty miserable.

We taxied and waited for our takeoff slot for about 45 minutes, and soon enough we were airborne.  Food and beverage service did not begin until about two hours into the flights since we were encountering moderate turbulence as we flew through the nasty front that had just passed by the east coast.  I passed time before the meal by watching “Side Effects.” 

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

I selected the pasta for dinner, as I usually do in economy — it’s pretty hard to compeltely screw up pasta.  It was surprisingly decent.

TAM Dinner Pasta

It actually tasted better than it looks

After dinner, I watched another movie, “Snitch” before going to sleep.  It was not a comfortable rest, but I somehow managed to get about 4.5 hours of decent sleep.  I awoke about the time the sun was rising and movement started again around the cabin.  The flight attendants came by for breakfast service about 90 minutes prior to landing, while we were approaching Brasilia, Brazil.  The breakfast was a sandwich and fruit.  The fruit was fine, but the sandwich was barely passable as food.

Breakfast sandwich, they say

Breakfast sandwich, they say

After breakfast, we finally began our decent into Rio de Janeiro. Everything was pretty uneventful from there.  We were about 20 minutes early, so that was fine by me.

Approaching RIo!

Approaching RIo!

Overall, this flight was decent.  It certainly was not comfortable, but then again, no economy flight is comfortable for somebody who is 6’4″.  The service was fine, and the food was edible.  The flight attendants were friendly enough, and spoke enough English to provide satisfactory service.  The inflight entertainment was on-demand, and decent, though the physical IFE unit was pretty dated.  Considering the low price of this flight, it was completely acceptable, and I was perfectly happy with it.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Planning

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


This monstrosity of a trip was actually the result of combining three different vacations.  I’ll split the planning out into three sections, outlying how I went about booking each portion, and the confluence of events that led to linking these trips together to create a 15-day, multi-continent adventure!

The original trip:  Denver to Tokyo on the 787 Dreamliner

In May 2012, on the day that United announced their first official international 787 Dreamliner route from Denver to Tokyo-Narita, they uploaded it into the schedule with an abnormally low price of ~$900 round-trip on their B-fare.  A United B-fare is a full-fare economy ticket, which would normally cost several thousands of dollars.  This sort of fare earns 1.5X Premier Qualifying Miles, which help one build United status.   Additionally, this fare was available for what was supposed to be the inaugural flight for this route, and the inaugural international 787 flight for United.  Several friends on Milepoint booked this same flight, so it was to be a “party-flight.”  A sub-$1,000 fare to Tokyo is pretty good in general, but the fact that this was a B-fare, and that this was supposed to be the inaugural flight made it a must-have.

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

I originally planned this trip to be March 31 through April 6, and planned to spend the week in Japan.  As it turns out, the 787 had its share of problems after its initial release, and was subsequently grounded in January.   By the end of February, United finally made the official announcement that the inaugural would be postponed to a later date, so this inaugural was no longer a possibility.  I was left contemplating when I wanted to change this flight to…

Another unrelated trip:  TAM airfare deal from New York to Santiago

In November 2012, an extremely low round-trip fare of ~$330 appeared for flights from New York or Miami to both Buenos Aires and Santiago on TAM Airlines (of Brazil) through Orbitz.  After a late-night call from a friend, I decided to book a couple of these flights – a trip to Buenos Aires in March 2013 and one to Santiago in June.

I ended up selecting a routing from New York-JFK to Santiago.  After a litany of schedule changes by TAM, and after dealing with a series of hour-long phone calls to Orbitz, I ultimately ended up with a trip from New York to Santiago, via Rio de Janeiro on the outbound and via Sao Paulo on the return.

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

Joining the gang in Dubai

As I pondered when I should take my DEN-NRT flight on the 787, I decided that I wanted to spend some time in Japan, but at the same time try to somehow get over to Dubai to meet a group of ten friends who would be there, and to see my old roommate who moved to Dubai last year.  They would all be in Dubai during the heat of the summer, from June 20th-23rd.  I checked award availability and found an absolute gem on the American Airlines award flight

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

This particular award allows for a trip from Asia Zone 1 (Japan, etc) to India and the Middle East for only 22.5k miles each way in economy, 30k AA miles each way in business class, or 45k in First.  Compare that to the Star Alliance options of United (45k/67.5k/87.5k) and US Airways (40k/60k/90k), as well as Delta (40k/60k), and you can see that this is an absolute steal!

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Luckily, I had a decent sized stash of American AAdvantage miles stored up after a couple of credit card signing bonuses and a few flights to Europe from a couple years back, so I decided to redeem an award in business class.

With this award in mind, I needed to find availability for one of American’s OneWorld partners on the route.  I ‘ll make no bones about it – I wanted to try Cathay Pacific.  Ideally, I would have flown in first class, but since Cathay operates its HKG-DXB route with a two-class A330-300 aircraft, this would not be possible.  So instead, I settled on business class – a pretty sweet consolation price considering that this plane features arguably the best business class seat in the world.

Cathay Pacific's new Business Class. Picture:  Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s new Business Class. Picture: Cathay Pacific

So I headed over to the Qantas website to check award availability for Tokyo to Dubai.  I wanted to arrive on June 20th and depart the night of June 23rd.  I was pleased to see that the exact flights I wanted were available, so I jotted down the flight numbers and called them into American.  After a five minute phone call, I had secured a round-trip from Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific business class for 60,000 AAdvantage miles and about $85 in taxes.

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

 Sewing it all together

So, now I had the Dubai portion booked.  Given that it was pretty close to the end of my previously planned Santiago trip, I decided to move the outbound DEN-NRT segment to arrive Tokyo the same day as my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and then Dubai.  I did want to spend about three days in Tokyo, so I added on several days in Tokyo after Dubai, and scheduled a return from NRT-DEN for June 27th.

I was able to adjust the dates of my Santiago flight due to the multitude of schedule changes to mesh nicely with the rest of my trip.  This left me getting into New York the morning of June 17th and a flight from Denver to Tokyo on June 18th.  So I looked for a flight from New York to Denver on the 17th.  I was able to find a very reasonable round-trip fare on United from NewYork-LaGuardia to Denver departing the late afternoon of the 17th and returning to Washington-Dulles the evening of June 27th.  Perfect.

After finding a very cheap Delta flight from Washington-Reagan (DCA) to JFK on the date of my outbound flight to Santiago on June 13th, I was all set.

Domestic flights -- the missing pieces to the puzzle

Domestic flights — the missing pieces to the puzzle

Adding to the sheer awesomeness of this trip, I was upgraded to United BusinessFirst on both the DEN-NRT and NRT-DEN flights on the 787!  That will equate to almost 24 hours in a lie-flat business seat, thanks to using a friend’s United Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) and a Mileage Upgrade (30,000 miles).

My ride to Tokyo:  The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

My ride to Tokyo: The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

The Final Product

About 38,000 miles of flying...

About 38,000 miles of flying…

DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL // SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN // DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB // DXB-HKG-HND // NRT-DEN-IAD

All this craziness resulted in a fifteen night trip, visiting five cities and three continents.  The final product looks something like this:

June 13:  Washington-Reagan (DCA) – New York (JFK) on a Delta CRJ-900 in economy comfort

June 13:  JFK – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (GIG) on a TAM A330-200 in economy

June 14:  9-hour layover in Rio!

June 14:  GIG – Santiago, Chile (SCL) on a TAM A320 in economy

June 14-16:  Two nights in Santiago at a hostel.

June 16:  SCL-Sao Paulo (GRU) on a LAN B767-300 in economy

June 16:  GRU – JFK on a TAM B777-300ER in economy

June 17:  New York-LaGuardia (LGA) – Denver (DEN) on a United B757-200 in economy plus

June 17:  Overnight in Denver at the Aloft Denver Airport

June 18:  DEN – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 19:  NRT – Hong Kong (HKG) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300 in Business

June 20:  HKG – Dubai (DXB) on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 20-23:  Three nights in Dubai at the Park Hyatt, Dubai

June 23:  DXB – HKG on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 24: HKG – Tokyo-Hanaeda (HND) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300ER in Business

June 24-27:  Three nights in Tokyo at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo

June 27:  NRT-DEN on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 27:  DEN – Washington-Dulles on a United B757-200 in economy plus

Whew!  That’s a lot of travel, but I actually enjoy flying on airplanes – especially in business class.  In all, this trip will consist of five nights on airplanes and ten in hotels.  It will cover 38,856 total miles.  Since TAM is a member of Star Alliance (for now), this total trip will earn me 31,789 United Premier Qualifying Miles and about 36,761 United Redeemable miles from just the TAM and United segments.

Well, let’s start this thing!  I’ll try to give some timely first impressions throughout the course of my trip, and will follow it up with a full-fledged trip report afterwards.

EDIT: Well, as it turns out, weather did not cooperate with me, so I’ve already deviated from the above plan by heading to NYC a night early.  I’ll make a separate post on that whole fiasco later on.

Well, this trip didn’t start as planned

So I was finishing up work yesterday when a co-worker mentioned to me that there was severe weather expected to roll through the DC area on Thursday.  Alarm bells immediately went off in my head as I was scheduled to fly from DCA to New York-JFK at around 12:30 on Thursday — the same time when the weather was supposed to be God-awful.  This flight was to get me to JFK in plenty of time for my flight to Rio de Janeiro – at 7pm on Thursday.  My concern was not necessarily the Rio flight; rather, it was being able to get to JFK in order to take that flight!  These were separate tickets after all, so the good folks at TAM Airlines really wouldn’t care less if Delta couldn’t get me to New York in time.

I got home and started running through my options.  I could:

  • Keep everything as it was, and just cross my fingers that there wouldn’t be a significant delay or cancellation of my flight to JFK
  • Try to fly out earlier in the morning from DCA-JFK
  • Err on the side of caution and take the Amtrak up to New York on Wednesday night to ensure I wouldn’t miss my flight to Rio.

If I kept everything as-is, I would have been a nervous wreck, and probably would not have slept very well.  The weather forecasts were extremely ominous, and I didn’t like my chances.  Many times with weather, there are many cancellations — primarily of regional jet traffic (which would include my DCA-JFK flight).  In situations of extremely bad weather, air traffic control tends to get the large planes flying internationally out, and the regionals end up with severe delays or cancellations.  After thinking about all this, I decided that I could not just stay with what I had — I needed to make a proactive change.

My first thought was to change the flight to an earlier flight to JFK on Thursday morning.  Then it dawned on me — I wasn’t flying United.  Since I have status with United, I’ve grown accustomed to being able to make same day changes to my flights — I almost take it for granted.  But no, this flight was with Delta.  An airline with which I have zero status.  Delta had not issued a weather waiver at that point, and it was unlikely I’d be able to change my flight unless they did.

The last option I had was to take the train up to New York on Wednesday, stay the night, and have a relaxing day during which I could find my way out to JFK.  I have a modest bank of Amtrak points from which I could use 4,000 of them to get to NYC, and I was able to find a very reasonable last minute rate at the Four Points Sheraton SoHo.  Perfect.

But then there was a small detail that I had to work with:  it was 6:15pm and my train left at 8:45pm.

I had not done laundry.  I had not packed.  At all.

Fast forward two hours, and I found myself scarfing down a slice of Sbarro pizza as my train was about to depart for New York’s Penn Station.  I made it!

The boarding scrum for the NE Regional Amtrak train DC-NYC.

The boarding scrum for the NE Regional Amtrak train DC-NYC.

The train ride was uneventful — a standard Northeast Regional experience.  It takes about 3:20 – 3:30 to get from Washington to New York on Amtrak, and it’s a good way to go, as it dumps you off at Penn Station — smack dab in the middle of Manhattan.

I arrived at Penn Station at about 12:10am, hailed a cab to the Four Points, and went right to bed.

I slept pretty well in the small room, and woke up at around 8am to do some work.  Again, the room was quite small, but the location is very good and is well situated in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.

My small room

My small room at the 4 Points Sheraton SoHo

After a brief walk around the SoHo neighborhood, I packed my things and headed to Brooklyn where I planned to meet a friend for lunch.  The subway ride was about 15 minutes, and eventually plopped me out right in downtown Brooklyn near the brand new Barclay’s Center.  Wow – what a cool looking arena!

Photo Jun 13, 2 13 26 PM

The new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn — home of the Nets

My friend took me for a roast beef sandwich at Brennan and Carr’s in Brooklyn… awesome!

The Gargiulo burger at Brennan & Carr's in Brooklyn

The Gargiulo burger at Brennan & Carr’s in Brooklyn

After lunch, he drove me to JFK, where I had plenty of time to check-in and make the flight to Rio!  In fact, I’m writing this from the comforts of the American Airlines AAdmirals Club at JFK in T8.  My flight is scheduled out for 7:10pm, I have a drink in hand, and things are good!

A whole bunch of AAirplanes at JFK

A whole bunch of AAirplanes at JFK

Next stop:  Rio de Janeiro!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Introduction

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


If you read the title and found yourself wondering, “uhhh… what?”  Don’t worry, it’s not you.

It’s me.

Over the next few weeks, I will be chronicling my adventures through three different continents, over a dozen flights, and of course all the fun I have in the different cities I’ll be visiting.  This trip has ended up being a rather complex one to plan and organize, so I will  make  separate post that details how this thing ultimately came to fruition.  Planning for this trip has ultimately been in the works for well over a year thanks to the continual delays of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

United 787-8 Dreamliner

United’s 787-8 Dreamliner

I will detail parts of my trip that I find interesting — especially the international flights in premium cabins.  I’ll also highlight some of the other flights, possibly some hotels, and definitely my activities in the various destinations on this trip.  I may however, choose not to mention in detail the shorter, domestic flights — especially the one(s) in economy class  unless something unusual happens.

The path of my journey:  DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB-HND, NRT-DEN-IAD

The path of my journey: DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB-HND, NRT-DEN-IAD

This is my first trip report that will be covered on this blog, so please bear with me.  I’ll try to make the updates as timely as possible, but I also want to enjoy my vacation.  So content will be added, but I’m not sure at what pace I’ll be able to publish it.

Enjoy!