The past week or so has been quite glorious for anyone looking to get into South America from the United States on the cheap. Both American Airlines and United Airlines had crazy sales from Orlando to Rio and now there is another sale available – in business class no less – from New York City to Chile on either AA or LAN metal for the long-haul segments. We’re talking about <$1000 fares to just about anywhere in Chile in business class, and Easter Island is included! And they are still available as of this morning. Needless to say, I’ve got a couple more flights booked now than I expected to have at this point in the year. But all in a good way. I think.
Considering that I started the year without any major trips planned I think that I’ve filled out my dance card pretty nicely so far. Between late April and Labor Day I have the following southern hemisphere flights booked:
And I still have to figure out how I’m getting home from Johannesburg. I’m hoping that a routing via South America works. Those are fun lines.
And, lest there is any confusion, I am not actually averse to traveling anywhere, including the southern hemisphere. It just seemed like a decent post title.
UPDATE: The fare was pulled with the 1pm feed.
Rio is an awesome city, well worth a visit to experience the beaches, culture and people ((see links below for details from my prior visit). Earlier in the week American Airlines apparently wanted to help Floridians visit, offering up ridiculously cheap fares. I’m not seeing those fares still on offer right now but United Airlines is now following on American’s heels. They have apparently decided that they REALLY want people to visit Rio, so long as you are starting in Orlando. There are fares available right now for less than $500 all-in between Orlando and Rio, with no minimum stay requirements and reasonably wide open availability.
If you are feeling particularly creative and looking for a mileage run out of these fares it is not too hard to make something around 3.3 cents/PQM on United, thanks to routing rules which permit Denver to be used, at least on the outbound segment. Even without Denver getting 3.5 cents is pretty easy; just focus on the Houston routing as it is more miles than the Newark or Dulles options. The following is what I would earn as a 1K with a Denver routing:
There is generally better availability on slightly shorter and more reasonable routings but the ability to route the return via Newark has some other, unintended benefits for me in terms of positioning costs.
One caveat to the earning potential is that the United N fare is the lowest they offer and, as such, does not earn credit in several partner programs. Asiana, US Airways and United all will give 100% credit for these segments. Lufthansa‘s Miles & More, Aegean and TAP Air Portugal will not accrue points for this trip.
The fare is valid on a pretty wide range of dates as well. Here are the United fare rules:
Do keep in mind that Brazil requires a visa for visitors traveling on a US passport and it is not cheap to acquire. Still, the fare is awesome and the visa lasts 10 years, covering multiple future trips.
This is a great fare available for visiting a wonderful destination. And it probably won’t last long. I’ve got a couple on hold already and I’m looking at a few other options.
After spending my first several hours in Rio on the beach it was time to expand my horizons. Literally. There are two main attractions other than the beach – Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer. I didn’t have time to do both so I made the choice to go with easy and convenient. I hopped in a cab and headed to Sugarloaf to ride the tramway up to the top and look out over the beaches and skyline. Not nearly as high in elevation as Christ the Redeemer, but way more convenient to get to. And I managed to get a bit of both in anyways.
The cable-car ride up to the top of Sugarloaf is split into two sections. The views from the first base station are pretty impressive in their own right and there’s another bonus available. The lower station also happens to have a heliport built in allowing for tours of the area ranging from a 7 minute trip up to Christ the Redeemer and returning along the beach to hour long trips that cover the whole region. I had the conversion rate wrong in my head so I miscalculated the price of the short trip and thought it incredibly cheap (turns out it was just a fair deal) so I went in to ask about taking a ride.
A trip requires a minimum of three passengers and a maximum of four. I wasn’t going to be able to go just on my own. Fortunately for me, however, there were three women who had purchased a tour and there was an empty seat still on that trip. I was booked within moments and headed out to the helipad, hopeful that the clouds would clear and that we’d actually get up to Christ the Redeemer; it was iffy and no guarantees. Once again the timing worked in my favor and as we were loading up the helicopter the clouds cleared enough that we would be able to make the flight.
Moments later we were circling above the statue, looking down at the statue, the beaches, the city and the people of Rio. It was awesome.
Not surprisingly the 7 minute tour lasted exactly 7 minutes. And as we landed the next group was queued up and ready to go. I headed off to the next stage of the cable car and up to the top of Sugarloaf.
I was sold on Sugarloaf with the promise that every time you turn a corner the views are even better than the past ones. Ygor couldn’t have been more right about that. There was a small jungle at the top station and I wandered through, coming out at the edge of a cliff overlooking the downtown airport, with planes coming and going. Back out the other side were vistas of the beaches and the skyline, depending on which direction I turned (like the first photo in this post).
As I started to head down from the peak the weather quickly worsened. The wispy clouds that earlier threatened our flight up to Christ the Redeemer quickly switched to a full-on rain storm. I was soaked by the time I got in to the taxi at the bottom (the cable car is enclosed but there was some outdoor time between the rides) but I got a cab and made it to the airport without any trouble at all.
It was a tremendous finish to a wonderful day. Sure, the commute is a bit of a pain, but a day on the beaches and in the skies of Rio definitely didn’t suck. I’m quite happy I made the trip.
It is quite easy to see why sitting on the beach in Rio is a compelling way to pass the day. Both the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches were bustling on the Saturday I visited, filled with locals and tourists alike. My day started, as I like to do in any destination, with a local malted beverage and pastry. In my case a reasonably light beer and cheesy-bread (pao do quiejo) fortified me for the bus ride in to town and my morning of beach time.
The bus from the airport into town takes 30-40 minutes and pulls up right on the beaches, providing easy access to living the local dream. Before long I was wandering on the sand, occasionally dipping my toes in the Atlantic Ocean and watching families and friends enjoy the sun.
I’ve spent a decent amount of time on beaches filled with hawkers. I cannot ever remember enjoying the experience. Both Ipanema and Copacabana had hawkers everywhere. Everything from snacks to drinks to a new bikini (and, yes, even those guys were actually selling their wares) was on offer and there was a decent amount of action for the vendors. Maybe because they were generally doing OK without harassing people things seemed easier. Or maybe because I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese I just didn’t notice the annoyances. Either way, watching the waves roll in and out as hawkers and pretty people strolled by was a great way to spend a few hours.
Ask anyone who has spent time in Rio which beach they prefer and you’ll most certainly get an answer. It is not a question about which many folks are indifferent. I spent about 2 hours on each beach. For my time and money, Copacabana is the place to be. I’m not entirely sure why I feel that way – both were fine – but Ipanema felt a bit more hectic and active to me, I think, and I generally want my beach time to be down time. Even within Copacabana the eastern end (closer to Ipanema) is more active, but by the middle of the beach things thin out pretty quickly, making it really easy to relax.
When the time comes to sit down and relax on the beach there are plenty of vendors with chairs and umbrellas available. Just a couple bucks for the day and way better than dealing with schlepping your own gear out to the beach. Most also offer bar and snack service, though that is also quite easily secured from the hawkers.
Of course, it is also important to partake of the local goods while enjoying the beach time. In addition to the hawkers selling bikinis on the beach there are plenty of options for buying gear, including a nearly endless variety of flip flops, surf boards and other goodies.
Oh, and local beverages, too. Walking the promenade, coconut in hand, is a an awesome way to cool off in the sun. Reasonably priced, too, around $1.50 each. The view alone is probably worth that, not to mention the cool sweet nectar.
And, as the afternoon rolls on and the happy hour spirit kicks in to gear there is arguably nothing better than an ice-cold caipirinha served up on the beach. I certainly had my share.
I also had lunch just off the beach at Devassa. It is both a brewery and a restaurant, with the different beers named for the women the represent – blondes, brunettes & redheads – and they were quite delicious. The food was decent, too. It is definitely a touristy place to eat, but the beers made it worth a visit for me.
Not a bad way to pass a few hours, soaking up rays. And this was only part of the day. With about 3 hours left before I had to head to the airport I shifted elevations, up into the sky to see more of the city.
My trip to Rio was pretty ridiculous. I was scheduled to be on the ground only about 12 hours in total, with a travel time of about 16 hours each way. Probably not the most rational trip, but that just means it makes more sense to me. Flying via Houston in both directions I was fortunate to be on one of the United Airlines 767-400s that has been retro-fit with the new lie-flat seats up front and AVOD and E+ in the back. I was seated in coach for the long-haul segments (the short-haul upgrades did clear, but nothing particularly remarkable there) and I was very much looking forward to giving the new seats a try.
For the southbound segment I was seated in the bulkhead window seat and I had an empty seat next to me. The bulkhead offers up plenty of legroom and I generally prefer the fixed arm-rest in between the seats. The main drawback of this seat, as seen in the photo, is that the window is missing. It is possible to lean forward an look out, but that isn’t particularly comfortable for very long.
The food was rather awful – long-haul coach meals have suffered greatly in my recent trips – but it was enough to hold me over until the movie was over and I was ready to sleep, something that I did reasonably well with the space I had available, along with the pillows and blankets from both my seat and my unoccupied neighbor.
Speaking of the movies, I was very impressed with the selections available on the system. There were roughly 150 titles listed. Filtering out the multiple language listings of the same films there were still around 100 to watch and the collection spanned a broad range, from true classics (e.g. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Casablanca) to more recent classics (e.g. The Princess Bride & Ferris) to a decent smattering of recent releases. It isn’t the absolute broadest collection I’ve seen on a plane, but it was more than enough to keep me entertained. I was also quite happy to see that there is a USB plug attached to the video screen. Charging my phone from there while I slept meant waking up with a full battery, ready to attack the day.
The return flight was roughly the same. I was still in a window seat in the E+ section but not the bulkhead. To me it felt like about the same amount of space overall, with the obvious difference of having a seat reclining into me. The food was similarly awful and the sleep similarly coach-induced.
I had a bunch more photos to share of the in-flight experience. Alas, I left my laptop on the plane at the end of the trip and when I returned 3 hours later it was gone. If anyone sees a used red Asus eee 10" with a gouge in the top cover on sale somewhere please let me know. I’m in the market for one.
Also, keep an eye out for a couple more posts from this trip covering the time I spent on the ground in Brazil. I may have only been there for 12 hours but I packed a whole lot of fun into the trip.