Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunrise At EWR

My favorite time at an airport is sunrise.  I spent Monday mornings at ORD watching the sunrise for about a year and was enthralled every time.  While doing some miles flying this weekend, I caught a great view of airport operations with New York City in the background.  Always nice to find a positive aspect to a flight before 7am.
Sunrise over the United Airlines jets at EWR

Thursday, January 26, 2012

South American Adventure - MVD-SCL-MIA-IAD-DEN

  1. Booking
  2. DEN-IAD-ATL-MIA
  3. Miami
  4. MIA-SCL
  5. SCL-IPC
  6. Easter Island
  7. IPC-SCL
  8. Santiago
  9. SCL-MVD
  10. Montevideo
  11. MVD-SCL-MIA-IAD-DEN
What would you do with a 13 hour layover in Santiago?  I could go into town and see something or stay in the airport and fill up on sushi and beer in the lounge.  I had just been in Santiago the day before and there wasn’t anything in town I felt I had missed, so I took the lounge option (it was also less risky as the public transit is not exceptionally reliable and saves me 2 hours standing in line at customs). 

Lucky for me, LAN helped shorten the layover because my flight from Montevideo was delayed an hour.  I arrived at the airport about 75 minutes before departure to check my bag.  Check in was very leisurely and the agents were exceptionally friendly and talkative. They seemed sincerely interested in my experience in Uruguay and my travels that day. Once my boarding passes were printed, I asked how long customs would take; they said not to worry, there was no need to rush because the flight would be a little delayed.  
Montevideo Airport, MVD
Montevideo airport has an entertaining display about the history of aviation in Uruguay that includes photos, tickets, and a small plane (not as large as MKE's museum, but still a welcome enhancement).  I also picked up some souvenirs (the tea cup and straw things that everyone has in town) and enjoyed the grand vistas the terminal provides. For an airport with four gates, it presents an impressive figure and has quite a few amenities like an observation level and indoor garden.

Montevideo Airport, MVD
I love airports that give large sweeping views and Montevideo is the best example I have found. Airports should inspire and build excitement about flight. Large windows that lift your view to the sky are a great way to convey those strong feelings and emotions. Seattle's food court area does a similar job too, though on a smaller scale. Too many airports in the US, like LGA, IAD, and BOS, have low ceilings with limited windows and views blocked by jetways.  Airports should be inspirational, not a utilitarian exercise in moving people and things.  Montevideo does a great job at this and new terminals should aspire to be like it.
Montevideo Airport Aviation Display, MVD
Montevideo Airport, MVD, Gate Area
Customs and security took maybe 5 minutes.  The duty free store had a very good wine and liquor selection, but no cigars (US$17 for a carton of Camels though).  There was a very wide selection products and decent prices.  The terminal has free wifi and little else to do but look out the window. Regional carrier Pluna has some really cool looking paint designs, take a look at their planes.
Montevideo Airport, MVD
LAN Chile 318 in Montevideo
My flight boarded 30 minutes late and departed about 90 minutes late.  This was my first flight on an Airbus 318 and I was excited to try out an new airplane model; turns out it is just like a 319 or 320, just not as long (the nerd in me was still happy to check off a new aircraft type).  The in-flight entertainment was a news program (looked recently updated with a long sports section) and a light snack served in coach.  The plane did have 6 flight attendants; double what a US airline would staff.  It turns out two of them are dedicated to duty free sales.  The flight was enjoyable with some great views of Argentina and the Andes.
LAN Chile 318 Business Class
LAN Chile 318 Coach Class
Snack in coach on LAN Chile 318
LAN Chile 318 Leg Room in Coach
Once on the ground, I went to the connecting passenger area and entered the departures area.  Once there I found the first LAN VIP Salon and took a seat with a view.  I had wifi, two magazines to read, and endless plates of sushi and finger sandwiches.  After a few hours, I was bored and went for a walk to see what each end of the terminal looks like.  There are quite a few stores in the airport, but they all seem to carry the same items.  Still, it is a good way to kill time and stretch. 
LAN boarding area, makes Denver look orderly
Next I decided to check out the other LAN VIP Salon in Santiago.  It was like the first one but slightly larger and with many more people.  I found a nice quiet corner to do some work, but after an hour or two, a family tried to take it over for their exclusive use.  They knew that being loud and letting their children run around and scream was a great way to get their own space.  A short while after I moved (and refilled my plate and glass) a lounge attendant told them to keep it down and start parenting (or so I thought, her tone sounded like she was threatening to kick them out). There was also a couple that rearranged the chairs to make a bed; again detracting from the lofty feel of the place.  I was able to keep occupied with work emails, Google voice calls home, and Netflix for the next couple hours while trying to tune out the increasingly louder lounge (the smaller more peaceful lounge closes at 6pm).

After filling up on sushi, beer, and reading material, it was time to go home. Boarding was delayed again though after 12 hours, what's another 20 minutes? Business class was about 40% full, so I had no seat mate and spread out.  I was really tired and ready to pass out asleep, buy stayed up to have dinner.  It was a similar dish to my previous meals on LAN, but just tasted a little off, maybe the soy sauce and wasabi effected my palate. The cheese plate was welcome as always and I wish United would add it to their in-flight service. I also never got my ice cream for desert; a problem with the crew's attention to customers, not limited catering supplies.
LAN Chile 767 Business Class Meal from Santiago (SCL)
After my tray was cleared, I reclined the seat flat and was out like a light.  The crew woke me 30 minutes before landing for the light breakfast option, a croissant and fruit.  I nibbled for a few minutes, trying to shake my groggy feeling. Before I knew it, the cabin was being prepared for landing.  The customs line at Miami was short and slow, but I wasn’t in a rush because I checked my bag. 

I made it through customs (polite and friendly agents, just very slow and methodical), grabbed my bag and went to check in for my United Airlines flight 3.5 hours away.  The United agent said it was too early to check in, but I could get on an earlier flight.  I was inside the checked bag window, but she said it would most likely make the flight.  I jumped on the offer to go home early even though if my bag didn't make it, I would have to wait 4 hours for it in Denver. 

The flight to Dulles was a little delayed, good news for my bag, but I couldn't see the loading operation to make sure it was there.  I didn’t clear an upgrade, but had the first row in coach with miles of legroom.  My flight seemed to be a regular commuter flight for United employees.  Everyone knew everyone and there was a lot of shop talk.  The segment was uneventful and before long I was in Dulles and off to the final part of my trip.  I had a 40 minute connection, not enough time to visit the Lufthansa lounge, but fine for a leisurely stroll to the gate.
First row in coach on United E170
The flight to Denver was 99% full and my upgrade didn’t clear again.  I slept most of the flight so it was the best of the day.  The landing was smooth and the taxi quick.  I made it to the baggage claim area in time to see my bag pop up on the belt.  My trip was over and my bag made it with me, if a few minutes later.

Monday, January 23, 2012

South American Adventure - Montevideo

  1. Booking
  2. DEN-IAD-ATL-MIA
  3. Miami
  4. MIA-SCL
  5. SCL-IPC
  6. Easter Island
  7. IPC-SCL
  8. Santiago
  9. SCL-MVD
  10. Montevideo
  11. MVD-SCL-MIA-IAD-DEN
Montevideo has an architecturally stunning new airport.  There is only one taxi company operating there, Taxi Aeropuerto de Carrasco, and they charge about a 67% premium over local taxis going from town to the airport.  Taxi Aeropuerto advertises a new fleet of Mercedes and takes credit cards, so it I thought the service offered a premium experience.  Not exactly, the cab was dirty on the inside and I saw the steel belting on the tires.  I didn’t have a choice and they had my money, so off I went.
Montevideo, Uruguay
I arrived safely, if a touch car sick, at the Four Points by Sheraton Montevideo about 25 minutes later.  The hotel has an impressive lobby and friendly staff.  I was staying on points and received full Platinum status benefits, unlike the awful Intercontinental Santiago.  I was upgraded to a suite and had a welcome gift of Uruguayan wine, meats, and cheese.  The room was a tad dated, but nothing was worse than equivalently dated US Four Points.  After a quick email check, I planned out my day of sightseeing with the help of the front desk.  I had a map, a plan, and a goal of finding Chavita Marcos (as seen on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain).
Walking and Biking Path, Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo has a walking path that runs along the entirety of their coast line.  Along the path there are numerous parks and beaches (the ocean water was brown, so I didn't think about taking a dip).  It looks like the most popular place in town and most everything is just a few blocks from the shore.  I enjoyed my walk along gaining an insight into life as a local and was the only tourist I could spot.  After about 90 minutes of walking, I didn’t look at the map scale before I set off; I made it to Chavita Marcos.  The Chavita is Uruguay’s burger; it has beef, ham, cheese, and veggies.  It is incredibly filling and delicious, worth the walk, but next time I’ll take a cab. 
Chavita Marcos Sandwich Montevideo
McCafe Cake, Yes, It Was Amazing
The next block over was a mall and I went to find a shirt for my niece.  Once inside, I felt more like an anthropologist than a shopper.  I was endlessly fascinated with the mall layout, store designs, three McCafe’s, and watching locals shop.  I also found a cute tee shirt for my niece and had a slice of cake from McCafe.
Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay
I slept in the next morning, all I needed to do was buy and send some post cards before heading to the airport.  Despite my last four flights with LAN, I still had a Lufthansa sense of time and wanted to be punctual to check in for my flight.  The front desk called a cab for me even though they said I was leaving a little early.  The local cabs are cash only, but do accept US dollars (about 20 of theirs to 1 USD).  I confirmed the rate before leaving by showing the cabbie US$33 and saying areopuerto.  He eagerly nodded, covered the meter, and off we went.  We drove along the coast and I had a great time looking at the scenery on the way to airport.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

South American Adventure - SCL-MVD

  1. Booking
  2. DEN-IAD-ATL-MIA
  3. Miami
  4. MIA-SCL
  5. SCL-IPC
  6. Easter Island
  7. IPC-SCL
  8. Santiago
  9. SCL-MVD
  10. Montevideo
  11. MVD-SCL-MIA-IAD-DEN
I was surprised to find a 767 going from Santiago to Montevideo on a Sunday morning. Could there be such an increase in traffic to merit the significantly larger plane than the standard A318?  I wasn’t going to complain because there was excellent business class availability and it is equipped with the long haul lay flat seats.  This was going to be a fun hop over the Andes. 
Santiago Airport Mass of Coach Passengers
I arrived at Santiago airport and found a giant mass of people by the LAN check in desks.  I looked for the business class desk, but couldn’t find it.  I asked an agent and she directed me to the far end of the airport.  After I walked from one end to the other, I found the LAN international business class check in lounge.  There was no line and plenty of people to help me with my flight.  The space feels private and removed from the rest of the terminal, but that is balanced out by the lack of signage. 
LAN Business Class Check In, SCL - Santiago Chile
There is nothing really to do on the ground side, so I went into the customs line and then to security.  The customs line looks long, but moves fast.  There were a few Asian passengers that blatantly cut the line, but they didn’t respond to people’s comments in Spanish or English, so they got away with it.  After customs and security there is the duty free shop.  It’s large, but doesn’t have anything special.  Most amusingly, the walk in humidor’s door was broken in the open position, so all the cigars were ruined (but still for sale).  I wasn’t interested in shopping because I would be back in a day and have a long layover.  I did grab some prices off the Scotch to compare with Montevideo.  Both airports price items in USD making shopping simple unless you, like me, were in a habit of dividing by 500 to convert into dollars.  3000 pesos ($6) for dry Cuban cigars isn’t bad, $30 for the same broken cigars is a rip off.

Looming over this trip was my 13 hour layover the next day.  I didn’t want to see or do anything so I can have something new to see the next day.  I quickly found the LAN VIP Salon lounge and grabbed a seat.  The free wifi was lightning fast and there was a decent food and drink spread for mid-morning.  The lounge was comfortable and quiet; I was the only tourist in the place.  I enjoyed some surprisingly tasty finger sandwiches and a few Cokes while I caught up on email.
LAN VIP Salon, SCL - Santiago Chile
I went to the gate a few minutes before boarding; SCL is a small airport so you are never more than 5 minutes from your gate.  When I arrived, I saw the crew still in the gate area and settled in for another delayed LAN experience.   When the boarding announcement was made, the gate agent started with families, but it was a tad messy because they had to fight their way, strollers and all, through all the other passengers lined up for boarding.  When general boarding began, business class went first.  The agent stopped me to put a gate check on my roller bag.  I knew it would fit no problem, even in the crazy small 767 bins.  Luckily he put the tag on the top of my bag, so I just placed my backpack on top of my bag to hide the tag.  I boarded, tossed my bag in the bin and it was a non-issue. 
LAN Chile Business Class Preflight Snack
I was settled with a Coke and some nuts while the rest of the plane boarded.  Late in boarding an American family of four sat down in business class and one of their grade school age children said “What is this Mom?  I thought we were sitting in first class.”  Wow.  Really, it was said as obnoxiously as you think.  After my initial shock, I started laughing.  The parents noticed and then explained to their son that not all planes have first and they were in the best seats on the plane.  The explanation also made me laugh (I would have preferred a “be polite or sit in the back” style reprimand).
LAN Chile 767 Business Class Cabin Panorama
A few minutes after takeoff we were flying over the Andes.  There was an announcement made to stay buckled up even though it was smooth sailing.  There are some great views too and 15 minutes later, it was over and then came the plains of Argentina. After the Andes, a simple, but flavorful, turkey salad was served for lunch.  The cheese plate was great as always, but there was mold on the fruit (gross, but noticed before I ate any).  I substituted wine for fruit and vegetable serving.  
Andes Mountains
Business Class Meal on LAN Chile 767 to Montevideo
A gentle landing was followed by a quick taxi.  I was first off the plane and first in line for customs.  The customs agent was friendly and worked quickly.  I grabbed a Champaign sample on my way through the duty free store after customs and found the taxi desk.  I had less than 24 hours in Montevideo and I needed to make the most of them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

JP Morgan Palladium Card Detailed Benefits Explanation

“Welcome to one of the most desirable and most exclusive credit card programs in the world.”
J.P. Morgan Palladium Card
JP Morgan Palladium Card - FrequentFlyerGuy.com
This story starts innocuously enough.  I called Chase to cancel my British AirwaysVisa card.  I explained my situation and the agent told me I couldn’t have my annual fee waived.  I asked to have the card cancelled and then inquired if there are any other Chase cards with a smart chip (I almost starved in Denmark last year because everyone took chip and pin cards, but no one took swipe and sign cards).  I asked about Freedom, Sapphire, Continental, and United cards and they do not have chip versions.  The agent suggested the Palladium card as a smart chip card I could have.  I said I was intrigued and she emailed me an application that I needed to return by fax (strange I thought, but I’ve never gone through the phone channel for a new card).  
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
The application was like any other credit card application and has the standard disclosures and legal writing.  Unlike other applications, there was very little detail about the card benefits.  This line did jump off the page, “Receive 35,000 bonus points when you spend $100,000 annually and make another purchase within that year,” as did the $595 annual fee.  I looked for more details, but could not find a page about it on chase.com or jpmorgan.com.  To find out what this card is, I had to apply.
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
The application faxed, I sat around for a letter saying I was rejected.  I didn’t want to ruin a shot at a Sapphire card and 50,000 bonus points, but this mysterious card seemed too good to pass up.  When checking my accounts online, I saw a new credit card on my page.  I was approved! The next day UPS delivered an overnight box.  I opened it to find the best card presentation ever.
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
The card arrived in a silver JP Morgan box with a tan felt liner.  It is very impressive.  The card is the focal point when you lift off the lid.  Under the card is the glossy benefits guide and all the paperwork, neatly packed in a folder.
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
JP Morgan Palladium Card Box
The JP Morgan Palladium Card is the same size as a normal credit card, but metal.  Not just any metal, 23kt gold and palladium (Pd, number 46 on the periodic table).  It is rigid and much heavier than expected.  The card information is laser etched on the front and the signature is etched on the back (it arrives activated since the signature is on it).  The JP Morgan signature on the front and customer service numbers on the back are engraved in the card.  The card feels impressive and special and is made for the holder to feel the same way.

The 58 page guide to the J.P. Morgan Palladium benefits guide starts with an overview of the “J.P. Morgan Palladium card experience” that strives to go beyond expectations.  Here are the details:

Airport Lounge Access
The card comes with a Priority Pass membership.  There is no lounge copay and guests are free up to the lounge limit.  Prepare for some irony coming up.  American Express uses Priority Pass for their lounge access benefits too.  Chase controls United (well most of their debt and can buy miles for their cards in advance to ease liquidity issues, or not and create leverage) and didn’t want Amex customers receiving lounge benefits at United.  So now all Priority Pass United Clubs come with this message, “Note: Members holding a Priority Pass Select membership card and Priority Pass cardholders in the U.S. that receive their membership through a U.S. financial institution will not be allowed access to this Lounge.”  So in Chase’s efforts to block Amex, Chase’s top customers are hit in the cross fire.  I didn’t find this out until after my card arrived and I am extremely upset that I can’t go into a United Airlines lounge (I rationalized the fee by subtracting out the cost of a United Club membership and I almost exclusively encounter United Clubs in my domestic travels).  I called to request a Priority Pass card, but have not received it yet.

The J.P. Morgan Concierge
The guide claims that “We are able to provide you with a virtually limitless array of unique offers, time-saving conveniences and personalized insider expertise.”  I haven’t found a situation to put them to the test, but it sounds like a fun challenge to see what impossible dinner reservations they can make for me.  They also provide travel planning services, ticket procurement, travel assistance, and airline, hotel, car, and cruise reservations.  I am really excited about this benefit and how far reaching it goes.

Ultimate Rewards
The guide book spends 10 pages on Ultimate Rewards, about 8 too many.  The JP Morgan Palladium card Ultimate Rewards site is the same as the Chase Sapphire card and allows 1:1 point transfers to United, Continental, Southwest, and British Airways along with a $.01 per point cash option and merchandise rewards.

The JP Morgan Palladium earns 2 points per dollar on travel spend and 1 point everywhere else.  There is no sign up bonus, but if you spend $100,000 annually, you get 35,000 bonus points.  If you are in it for points, get the Sapphire card.  I don’t think airline miles are worth much thought to the target audience because of the next benefit.

Complimentary Flight Hour from NetJets
First time Marquis Jet Card purchasers get an extra hour free when paying with their JP Morgan Palladium card.  On the cheapest card (Embraer Phenom 300 maybe?), this is worth $4,636; an amazing benefit that I can’t use unless someone else comes up with the $116,000 for the other 25 hours.

Unsure what private aviation solution is best for you?  The card also offers a private aviation consultation.  "A Marquis Jet executive will begin to understand your travel needs and learn when and where you fly to help you select the best private aviation solution for you. If you are unsure about your needs, we will help you to select the NetJets aircraft type that will provide you with maximum flexibility."

Hotel Privileges
Using the card and booking through the J.P. Morgan Concierge service can bring some benefits similar to what top tier status brings.  These benefits differ by property.  This is another benefit I look forward to exploring.

Travel Protection
The card (like many other cards) comes with many different insurance benefits when traveling.  There is a few pages of fine print on these, but at a high level the card provides: primary rental car coverage, roadside assistance, emergency evacuation, $1,000 for repatriation of the cardholder’s remains, supplemental medical and dental coverage, travel accident insurance, trip interruption insurance, trip delay insurance, baggage delay coverage, lost luggage reimbursement, and hotel burglary (forced entry) insurance.  If you have any questions or want more detail on these, please leave a comment with your question.

Purchase Protection
I you find something on sale within 90 days of buying it with the Palladium card, you can be refunded the difference.  This feature is capped at $1,500 a year and the fine print refers you to other fine print, so it might not be as simple as you would like.  Also, as with most cards, the card holder in not responsible for unauthorized purchases.

Financial Flexibility
The target JP Morgan Palladium card customer is one with large balances with JP Morgan and Chase.  JPM has your money and are making a fortune off you, so they have very few fees with the card so you feel special and not nickel and dimed.  There are no foreign transaction fees, no cash advance fees, late fees, over-limit fees, return payment fees, or advance check fees.  This card exists to build a stronger relationship with JP Morgan.  Fees don’t further that goal.  There is a $595 annual fee though, so not every fee is waived.  Additional card members are $100.

The “No Preset Spending Limit” does not let me walk into an Aston Martin dealer and leave with a DB9.  My limit is three times my normal Chase card limit and purchases in excess of that will be evaluated before approval.

Summary
I’m really excited to have this card and explore all the benefits.  I just received it this week, so I can’t say if it is worth the $595 annual fee.  Ask any questions you have in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them.

Update - 2/16/12
After the Priority Pass membership worked in 2 out of 21 opportunities (a United Club card would have worked for 21 out of 21), I called to complain.  The agent said I could buy a United Club annual membership and have it reimbursed.  The usual policy is that only day passes are reimbursed, but I was able to have an exception.

Update - 3/2/12

I need to remove my card to pass through metal detectors at airports.  I tried going through with the card as the only metal on me and it set off the alarm.  The TSA agent gave me a quizzical look when I said my credit card must have set it off.

Update - 12/5/12
My card data has been stolen again. The Palladium card is a very high profile target and not difficult to copy or photograph.  Chase has stopped all the fraudulent charges before they posted (except one which was promptly removed), but it's starting to get annoying to change my card on file with Hertz, Avis, United, Paypal, etc.

I now use the lower profile (not low profile) plastic version when traveling.  Same info as the metal card, just plastic with a smart chip.  The Palladium team will send you one if you ask.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

South American Adventure - Santiago

  1. Booking
  2. DEN-IAD-ATL-MIA
  3. Miami
  4. MIA-SCL
  5. SCL-IPC
  6. Easter Island
  7. IPC-SCL
  8. Santiago
  9. SCL-MVD
  10. Montevideo
  11. MVD-SCL-MIA-IAD-DEN
What would you expect for $30 a night?  What do you expect from the Intercontinental hotel chain?  While these are two very different questions, they were both on my mind as the TransVIP van dropped me off at the Intercontinental Santiago.  In the weeks leading up to my trip, I booked the hotel with a point special so it cost me 5,000 points instead of the regular 30,000.  You can buy points at a rate of $30 per 5,000 (see this post for details), so that is why I was seeing my rate as $30 a night instead of $250 and had mixed expectations.
Intercontinental Hotel Santiago Chile Room
Intercontinental Hotel Santiago Chile
Upon arrival, I noticed that the lobby looked top notch. My excitement was building.  The front desk agent found my reservation and thanked me for being a Platinum Priority Club member.  I asked what benefits I would get, and he said none because “Priority Club only paid for the room.”  No lounge access, no wifi, no upgrade, no welcome gift, nothing. My excitement plateaued. It is incredibly frustrating that IHG doesn’t recognize status when you aren’t paying with cash; it kills the relationship with the brand.  Disappointed, I grabbed my keys and went to my room.
Intercontinental Santiago Room
Intercontinental Santiago Room
Intercontinental Santiago Room
Intercontinental Santiago Room
Intercontinental Hotel Santiago Room
Intercontinental Santiago Room
When I entered the room, I noticed a strange moldy smell.  This was an instant deal breaker.  I immediately called the front desk, explained the problem, then (I couldn’t believe this step was needed) explained why I wanted to switch rooms.  They sent up a bell hop a few minutes later with my new keys.
Intercontinental Hotel Santiago Chile Room
Intercontinental Santiago Room
The new room was on the top floor next to the Presidential Suite - a good sign. I opened the door and it looked as though the room hadn’t seen a decorator since Pan Am stopped flying there.  The problems didn’t stop with the wallpaper color (carpet stains, runny toilet, shower door didn’t close properly), but by this point it was too late for me to care.  I unpacked, plugged in, and fell asleep on a lumpy bed.
Santiago, Chile
Intercontinental Hotels has a web series showing tours of the local area given by the hotel concierge.  This is a great selling point and I have had great experiences in the past with their advice (Budapest was the best).  In the morning, I went to the concierge desk and he brushed me off to a bell hop instead of answering my questions.  He was too busy taping a package to help me explore Santiago (it looked like the same guy from the video). The bell hop was able to hand me a map and practice his broken English, but not help me at all. I was looking for the concierge to enhance my stay, like the video series suggests, but not at the Intercontinental Santiago (luckily I ran across the W hotel and their staff was amazingly helpful).



Santiago is a gritty city. I toured it on foot and saw a few sights and had some odd food (they put green beans on sandwiches).  It’s not the most tourist friendly place to visit though. I enjoyed finding the Christmas by Coca-Cola experience and the huge old cathedral.  There aren’t many actual tourist sites in town.  I did stumble upon a large loacalmarket (selling everything from ceviche to underwear to soap), Chilean art museum, and a pleasant park that runs along the river and is popular with locals.

Back at the hotel, one of the elevators was broken, so it took forever to go anywhere.  I felt like unwinding with a swim and went to the top floor pool.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the pool was deserted.  The views were great, but there were no towels.  I called to have some brought up and was told to go down a floor to the (closed) gym and grab some there.  Not even a roadside Hampton Inn would do that.

I stopped by the concierge desk in the evening to get some post card stamps.  About four staff members were behind the desk watching soccer (there is a mirror behind the desk so I could see the computer screen, earlier they were watching porn).   I knew the stamp price and objected when they quoted me a 20% premium.  They didn’t budge, so I had to give in.  Over a month later, none of these post cards have arrived; I have the sinking feeling they may have just pocketed my cash.  I then went to the front desk to arrange for TransVIP to pick me up in the morning (it was $12 and 90 minutes to the airport).  I was happy to leave.

Travel Tip - Priority Club Points

Never pay more than $30 for 5,000 Priority Club points or more than $150 (cost of 25,000 points) for a Holiday Inn.  Priority club lets you buy 10,000 points for $60 when using their cash and points option.  If you cancel the reservation, the points stay in your account and can be used on any other stay.  Simple as that, I've been told.  I've never done this myself, but read successful accounts of this process online.  I have enough points now that I don't need to buy them, but it is great to have a simple cost equation available on when to spend money or points.
Cash & Points Option

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

South American Adventure - IPC-SCL

  1. Booking
  2. DEN-IAD-ATL-MIA
  3. Miami
  4. MIA-SCL
  5. SCL-IPC
  6. Easter Island
  7. IPC-SCL
  8. Santiago
  9. SCL-MVD
  10. Montevideo
  11. MVD-SCL-MIA-IAD-DEN
I’m starting to get the LAN experience down.  This Easter Island to Santiago flight will be my third consecutive LAN business class flight on a 767 and have a good idea for the drill.  The flight doesn’t board until after 2, but LAN wants you checked in around 12:30; this still gives you a fair amount of time to see something in the morning, it is a small island.  They do run a Southwest style fast turn on the jet once it lands.  There is very little to do at the airport.  There is no business lounge, a small bar, and about a dozen souvenir stands.  Most of the action comes from watching the plane land and the ground crew spring into action.  There is also free Wi-Fi in the terminal.
LAN 767 arriving at Easter Island
Boarding started abruptly and haphazardly.  There was no announcement or boarding order; just a large mash of people formed around the gate agent and started walking to the plane.  IPC has no jet bridge, so it was a hop across the tarmac and up the stairs.  I had seat 4A, not realizing that row 4 is missing a window.  There isn’t much to see, but it does make for a little claustrophobic feeling.  The business class cabin was full and the flight attendants were trying to facilitate some seat switching.  I won seatmate lottery by getting an Antarctic research vessel crew member to talk with for 5 hours.  Very interesting stuff and now I really want to go and explore the southern limits of the earth (she worked as a liaison on a US flagged ship and made bank why playing with penguins and motor boats, sound like a great job).
Boarding my flight to SCL
The plane boarded fast and we were quickly away.  The meal service was what I expected from LAN, three courses and decent quality, again with a wide wine selection.  I did try one of the domestic beers, Chrystal, and it was awful; I used a Heineken to get the taste out.  I understand now why Corona and Tecate are imported to Easter Island.  After the meal service, the flight attendants were scarce (standard procedure I guess).  Ring the call button to get a refill because they don’t check very often.
LAN Business Class Meal
I watched two movies on the flight.  LAN’s inflight entertainment is very good and they have quite a few selections.  The time went very quickly.  Halfway through my flight though my seat broke and a flight attendant was able to fix it, but it looked like she had to take it apart.  The flight attendant was able to take care of it in less than 5 minutes; I had a feeling this wasn’t the first time she saw this problem. 
LAN 767 Business Class Seat
LAN 767 Business Class Seat
LAN 767 Business Class Seat
Landing was smooth and then I had a quick taxi to the gate.  I wished my seat mate safe travel back to Alaska and made my way to the Trans VIP counter to get a ride to my hotel in Santiago.  Trans VIP charges about $12 to go into Santiago.  They run new vans (4,000 kms on mine) and depart very frequently; an overall great experience and recommended highly.  It’s good to have your hotel’s address handy just in case they don’t recognize it.  It took less than an hour from landing to arriving at my hotel, the Intercontinental Santiago.
LAN 767-300