Finally breaking my “value” addiction

I’ll be the first to admit that some of the criticism that I get for my travel patterns is warranted, specifically on the award travel front. You see, I was a sucker for “value.” Or rather, I still am a sucker for “value,” but just look at things differently now.

While I’ve traveled extensively throughout Europe, for the past four or five years I’ve traveled almost exclusively to Asia. In fairness, I’ve visited lots of incredible places, including China (and Hong Kong), Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korean, Thailand, Vietnam, etc., and have probably spent a total of five or six weeks there. The experiences have been amazing, but at the same time I find myself going back to the same places over and over. Now there are some cities I’ll never get tired of, like Hong Kong, but still, I want to see more new places.

I now realize that largely, my measure of “value” is wrong. My thought process when taking a trip was simple — I can use my miles for first class to Asia on Cathay Pacific, or I can use (basically) the same number of miles for American Airlines first class to Buenos Aires. And I think everyone would agree that the better “value” in terms of flights is on Cathay Pacific. The experience is infinitely better.

But time and again I have lofty goals of places to visit, but I don’t make it to many of them because I’m trying to maximize my “mileage value.” I’ve always realized there was more to miles than the flights — I started my hobby of mileage running because I love to travel and visit new destinations. I remember visiting Paris when I was about eight with my parents, and after landing they wanted to take a nap. I scoffed at the suggestion and said “but, but, but, we have a whole city to see.”

But instead of spending all day ragging on myself, I’ll say this — I’m now fully committed to my goal of actually visiting the cities and countries near the top of my list over the next year or so. So near the top of my list for now is Dublin, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Dubai, Prague, Moscow, and several others.

One issue has been the uncertainty over the next few months in many aspects of my life, so I haven’t been able to plan. But that’s no excuse, and I could really use a trip right now to look forward to.

So I’ll take the last continent (other than Antarctica) off my list: South America.

I’m 99% sure I’ll book a week-long trip to South America, flying into Santiago (on LAN in business) and out of Buenos Aires (on American in first) for early next year. While the flights themselves likely won’t live up to what I’ve grown accustomed to on Cathay Pacific, I’m guessing the destinations sure as heck will.

So that leaves me with a question: for those that have been, is Santiago worth a visit, and if so, for how long?

Comments

  1. Hmm yes the US Airways mileage chart also forces us to confront that question; the most efficient use of mileage is for a US-Europe-Asia award (120K for an F award, somehow charging even less than US-Europe routing by itself…), but like you I’m well-traveled in those two regions. I’ve never been to South America and would like to go, but it’s true that it isn’t a very efficient use of miles.

    If you want to travel to new places, maybe burn fewer miles to “lessen” the pain of spending them inefficiently? Or in other terms, fly coach or business? In any case, it looks like BMI’s US-South America chart is pretty generous if you can find routings that don’t have significant fuel surcharges.
    http://www.flybmi.com/bmi/en-gb/loyalty-programmes/diamond-club/ways-to-spend-miles/bmi-and-star-alliance-flights.aspx

    Really, only slightly more expensive than a intra-North America routing…

  2. Ben,
    I think you should (and shouldn’t) go wherever you want (or not want) to go, not what provides the best “value” mileage. Think of your time and energy as valuable resources, too!
    I run a blog on strategies for “value” in health care. But valuable health care is not a goal in itself; health is! Do you agree?
    Yours, Ben

  3. Santiago is so-so. I liked Lima better. But if you make it to Santiago you should take a LAN flight to Easter Island. That place is wonderful. You will be so close, just go.

  4. Ben, consider going to Easter Island while you’re going down there. It’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.

    I used 40k BA miles (unlimited stopovers, remember?) to go from SFO-LIM-SCL-IPC on LAN Business — which exceeded my expectations (both the flight and destination).

    Then 12.5k BA miles on coach from IPC-SCL-MDZ (Mendoza – get some wine) -AEP (Buenos Aires)… then take American back up to N America from EZE.

    Good luck! Ping me if you want some advice / pictures — it’s my second time down there in a year I liked it so much.

  5. Santiago is ok, its much better than lima… I liked more Buenos Aires and go to the airport in BA very early, I was flying business and took 3 hours of lines!!

  6. Santiago is boring.

    Definitely check out using bmi miles for a biz class award to South America. They are VERY cheap since they have low taxes. If you use miles + cash, I think a round trip is about 30,000 miles + $500.

  7. Ok, I realize that this is not an answer to your question but as someone whith similar travel patterns….as well as an addiction to Hong Kong & Singapore….I did not see India on your list which would be a nice Cathay flight.

    India is truly incredible, so much culture, history, great food & amazing hotels. (If you want a true 5* experience stay at the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur…it will ruin you for life.)

    Just a suggestion!!

  8. RE: Side trips from Santiago

    Check out a side-trip to Faukland Islands from SCL as well on LAN, though I would visit Easter Islands if you could only choose one.

    You will love Buenos Aires.

  9. A week for both Santiago and Buenos Aires? I’ve been to both. Not enough time. Santiago is OK, but I would strongly advise you spend the week solely in Buenos Aires. We’re going back in January for our fifth time since 2003. You’ll find you’ll regret only having just a week there. Don’t be surprised if Bs. As. becomes a new replacement for your Hong Kong status (been there also)!

  10. If you’re trying to break the “value” addiction, why are you booking into AA First? For a relatively “short” long haul trip, it seems like business class is wprth the miles premium but first isn’t. (I’m not criticizing, I’m just curious to hear your thoughts as I’m working through a similar dilemma for a trip I’m trying to plan).

  11. I’m definitely not as well traveled as you but I can tell you that Buenos Aires is one of my favorite cities in the world. Great people, amazing food, plentiful wine (although I remember you said you don’t drink) and the vibe of the city just sits well with me. Highly recommended.

    Best $ for $ meal I ever had was gnocchi, empanadas (Argentine “hot pockets” for the lack of a better term) and a jug of house wine at La Cumana off of Rodriguez Pena.

  12. Travel should be about the destination rather than what plane you flew or how many miles you got. Don’t get too caught up in the game that you forget why you wanted the miles to start with.

  13. Watch out for the dog poop in BA. It’s everywhere on the sidewalks. You won’t find that in Hong Kong or Singapore.

  14. wow. didn’t realize 6 weeks in asia was considered extensive. maybe i’ve been hanging out with too many year-long backpackers and expats!

  15. This summer I used 80K to do LAN Business (very nice) SFO-LIM-EZE-IPC-SFO. I thought it was a great value on a great product, granted I haven’t flown Cathay First. We did do a one day stopover in Santiago and it was OK. I suspect that the surrounding areas like Vina del Mar have more to offer. South America is a great “value” once on the ground. For example, you can eat great steak and drink great wine in BA for a fraction of the cost in the states. I highly recommend it!

  16. Lucky,

    We’re of a similar age. I only got into this a year ago and I’ve always played the game for the destination and not the travel experience. I define value as getting to places I want to visit and cannot afford to without the miles (certainly not in F/C). Also remember that even if you go to a place like LON or MUC 20 times, there is still so much to see outside of the towns. The English countryside is absolutely stunning, for example, and you could spend a lifetime exploring it. It’s very different from the scenery we see stateside.

    In short, I would fly UA F to go somewhere I really want to go instead of going to FRA just to fly LH F and enjoy the FCL.

    I’m going to S. America this winter for the first time thanks to Chase/BA. Doing LAN in 80k going SFO-LIM-SCL-EZE-IPC with stops in SCL, EZE and IPC. I’d look into that if I were you. Also, look at the 30k N. America – S. America BD option that people mentioned. I believe YQ on JJ is minimal.

  17. I spent roughly 2 years living in Buenos Aires; it is a pretty awesome despite massive inflation since the local crash. Rather than going to 2 divergent place such as Santiago and Buenos Aires, maybe focusing travel might be better. Uruguay is one of the greatest low-key countries in the world. If you fly into MVD, you save on the $135 visa fee for US citizens. If going during February or March, maybe considering flying into MVD and out of EZE, taking buquebus (3-hour ferry) or a pluna flight between the two. A RT pluna flight may be cheaper than a OW. The eastern beaches of Uruguay are awesome, especially Punta del Diablo, which is 4-hour bus ride from MVD. Don’t go there after March unless you are with a companion you really like, as everything shuts down. Don’t go during the first two weeks of January, as prices skyrocket.

  18. I second the recommendation for Uruguay.

    Travellers tend to flock to Colonia and Punta del Este, each of which are very nice, but we liked Montevideo better than either. Loved the artisan markets.

    Also, don’t forget about Iguazu Falls. Absolutely incredible place. I grew up near Niagara, thinking it was the world’s greatest waterfall, and was I ever wrong.

    I’d suggest Buenos Aires/Iguazu, Buenos Aires/Montevideo or Santiago/Easter Island. I’ve done all of these trips on miles and loved them!

  19. Lucky:

    As fellow Tampanians, Mr. FB and I came home with much more positive impressions of Santiago and Chile than we did BsAs and Argentina after our trip there in Dec/Jan. There is much more to do in BsAs than Santiago, that’s for sure. However, BsAs was hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes. It had a lot of dog poop (as Gene mentioned) as well as litter everywhere. Santiago was much cleaner by comparison. Both cities are worth visiting. I guess it depends on what you want to do. If you have a week, spend 3 nights in SCL and 4 in EZE. If you have more time, a side trip from SCL to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar is worthwhile.

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