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Ying and I discussed at length on how long we could be away for and where we would like to go. In the end, based on our budget, we reckoned that we could get away for five weeks from end-May onwards.
It made sense for us to put Rio de Janeiro (and the World Cup Match) as the final stop of our trip. Brazil is going to be expensive and I wouldn’t want to overspend there and then be forced to live on a tight budget for the rest of South America. We had an idea of where we wanted to go and started to put the flights in place.
Flights that we bought in chronological order:-
1. IGU-GIG TAM Y
Iguazu Falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border seemed to be a must-go for every visitor to South America and it wasn’t hard to convince us to include it into our itinerary.
Soon after the draw was made, we decided to purchase our air tickets between Foz do Iguaçu (IGU) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on TAM (USD 139.49 each) as I feared that the domestic air ticket prices would shoot through the roof during World Cup. My fear came true; the cheapest ticket on the same flight is USD 306.62 now (29 April 2014).
2. GIG-ADD-SIN ET Y
The next ticket that we purchased was our flight back to Singapore from Rio de Janeiro. The cheapest option was on Ethiopian Airlines which was at least USD 400 cheaper than the next alternative.
Both Ying and I haven’t been to Africa before and we decided to break the long trip between Brazil and Singapore with a 3-day stay in Addis Ababa.
The ticket cost USD 915.80 each (slightly cheaper if there is no stopover at ADD) and earns 100% miles on most Star Alliance frequent flyer programs.
Sometime in February, Ying received an e-mail (I didn’t) that there was a change in schedule in our itinerary. I logged in to find this screen:-
Apparently ET has canceled its service to GIG and only flies to GRU. Our flight would start in GRU, not GIG. It took me a week and several e-mails before ET changed to our desired flight. In their defense, the ET reservation team was very responsive and I was glad that they resolved the issue to my satisfaction in the end.
3. LAX-ATL-LIM DL Y
We jumped on the offer after securing our ticket from SIN to Los Angeles (see below).
4. SIN-HND, NRT-LAX SQ J
After learning about the Delta deal, I started to research on how to get to Los Angeles from Singapore. As I hadn’t been to US before, we thought that three days around LA would be nice.
We also realized that we were sitting on some credit card points which could be converted to sufficient Krisflyer miles for two business-class SQ tickets to Los Angeles. The flights to LAX seemed available on the days that we wanted.
However, by the time our Krisflyer miles were banked in, there was no longer any availability on the SIN-NRT sector on SQ 12. Luckily, there were seats available on the previous day’s SQ 634 and we would have a 20-hour stopover in Tokyo. We are certainly not complaining!
With the long-haul flights settled, I started to research on the short-haul ones within South America. From Cusco, we plan to travel overland to Argentina (via Bolivia and Chile). We will enter Argentina on the northwestern side (Salta) and exit through the northeastern side (Puerto Iguazu). Due to the large distance involved and the limited time we have, we decided to fly instead of taking 20 to 30 hours of bus ride each way.
It seemed that there are cheaper fares available but those fares can only be bought by Argentine residents. Apparently there are checks at the airport and reports of passengers being denied boarding are not unknown. We wouldn’t want to chance it
My friend who recently returned from a trip to Argentina gave me a useful tip on checking out the prices on OTA instead of the airlines’ website. Indeed it was USD 80 cheaper on Orbitz!
Addendum 19 May 2014: Orbitz sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago to inform me that my flight reservation was changed. I logged on to see and found that we were put on LA 4113 for the SLA-AEP sector. It departs SLA at 1510 and arrives at AEP at 1714. I wasn’t happy at all with the change but there was no earlier LAN flight. A thumbs down for LAN even before flying with them.
Our flight from US would reach Lima late at night. We decided to slum it at LIM and would take an early flight to Cusco. There are four operators on this route: LAN, TACA, Peruvian and Star Peru.
LAN and TACA are the two biggest carriers in the country and they practice discriminatory pricing against non-residents on the major tourist routes. While Peruvian residents pay USD 125 for a LIM-CUZ ticket, non-residents have to cough up USD 185 to be on the same flight.
Then I discovered British Airways Avios. Redemption on British Airways’ frequent flyer program is distance-based and the number of Avios needed to redeem a ticket between Lima and Cusco (~360 miles) is only 4500.
I just renewed my Citibank Premier Miles Visa for SGD 192.60 and received 10,000 bonus premier miles. British Airways is one of Citibank’s partners and premier miles could be converted to Avios for redemption (another SGD 25 for miles transfer). The total cost per person summed up to be SGD 112.37, cheaper than any revenue fares from the four airlines.
We would be traveling from Cusco to La Paz (via Lake Titicaca) overland. From La Paz we would head to Uyuni, the starting point of the tour to Salar de Uyuni. The bus ride would take 10 to 12 hours while a plane ride takes between 45 and 60 minutes.
To save time, we chose to fly. Only Amaszonas offers two daily flights and online booking. Although kinda pricey at 130 USD, it saved us 10 hours of bumpy ride across Bolivia.
From Salar de Uyuni, we would travel to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile before taking the bus across the Andes to Salta. More details would be shared in the later posts.
SQ 637 SIN – HND
SQ 12 NRT – LAX
DL 2155 LAX – ATL
DL 151 ATL – LIM
LA 2025 LIM – CUZ
Z8 300 LPB – UYU
LA 4111 SLA – AEP
LA 4113 SLA – AEP
LA 4022 AEP – IGR
JJ 3186 IGU – GIG
JJ 3687 GIG – GRU
ET 507 GRU – LFW – ADD
ET 626 ADD – BKK – SIN
Total distance traveled: 27220 miles
I’m excited as I will be going around the world for the first time!