Avianca Flight Pereira – Bogota

I had originally planned to do this trip by bus for the scenery but when I stumbled onto a big sale on Avianca’s website, I couldn’t resist booking the two one-way tickets for under $100 AUD!  I had run out of Lifemiles but you can also book domestic Colombian flights for 3000 Lifemiles.   It turned out to be a good thing as my husband was feeling the altitude sickness and Bogota is lower than the Central Andes Paramo region.

We were dropped after the Fuertes Parrot Quest at Pereira Airport.

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I was surprised at how good the facilities were – lots of eateries, shops and seating space for a small domestic airport.dscn3485

Just the thing to cheer me up after the “Curse of the Cloud Forest” – Cinnabon!  It’s a more limited menu than you find in the USA but still yummy!dscn3486

Flights were going out on time.dscn3487

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Standard garden-variety all-economy Avianca plane.dscn3489

Quito To Santa Marta, Colombia Via Bogota With A Few Dramas

When you are flying to Colombia, Avianca Lifemiles are a great miles currency to have.  Flights are easily booked online and sometimes they have better award flight availability than their other partners.  I found this to be the case at the time I was booking this route.  For some reason, United was only giving availability in the early morning when I wanted to travel around mid-day to squeeze in one more morning of birding at Guango Lodge.

Lifemiles charges 11,000 miles one way for this routing.

AV8374 Quito (UIO) 16:45 Bogota (BOG) 18:25

AV9792 Bogota (BOG) 20:44 Santa Marta (SMR) 22:18

Theoretically, United should charge 10,000 miles but even on my test run these flights weren’t available and their connections were terrible on what was available.

Up until the day of departure I got several emails from Avianca trying to sell me upgrades on a per segment basis but I didn’t think it was worth it for such short flights.

The taxi from the bus stop at Pifo dropped us right outside the terminal and checking in was quick and easy.

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I would have been tempted by the Johnny Rockets as we don’t have them in Australia but there wasn’t time and I was desperate to get online.  The only stop we made was at the ATM inside as the currency of Ecuador is the USD and I wanted to withdraw some to use in the Caribbean Islands coming up.  DSCN2598

Typical over-priced airport shopDSCN2599

We used our last remaining Lounge Club passes from the Chase Ink (now discontinued) to access the lounge.  I had no internet access for the last 3 days and was dying to know more about the earthquake and check my emails.  DSCN2601

I was shocked to see the extent of the earthquake on the coast, it was really horrifying.  It didn’t seem to have affected the airport and all flights were going out on time.DSCN2602

We grabbed some snacks and drinks at the small buffet in the lounge.DSCN2603

Typical Avianca shorthaul flight, an A319.  It wasn’t full and we had an empty middle seat.  I was glad I didn’t pay money for an upgrade.DSCN2604

Beautiful Andean scenery enroute to Bogota.DSCN2606

We arrived at dusk and had just over an hour to make the connection.DSCN2607

We had to use a bus to get to a different terminal which was easy as we only had carry on bags.  I would have worried about checking bags with such a short connection.DSCN2610

I had one errand in the Bogota airport – use an ATM and withdraw some local currency – Colombian Pesos for things such as taxis, buses, food and anything else I couldn’t pay by card.  Much to my surprise, the NAB ATM card wouldn’t work in any of the different bank’s ATMs!  Not wanting to miss the flight, I changed a $50 note cash so we could get a taxi to the hotel.  At the time I just thought the line was down or banks were updating or something.

The flight brought a new drama.  We all boarded just fine but then as we tried to taxi away, something started beeping.  The pilot brought the plane back and although I didn’t understand the details which were in Spanish there was something wrong with the plane.  We were delayed about 2 more hours while they found another plane for us.

It was only about an hour flight and I was much relieved to see Santa Marta airport lights out the window and to watch the plane on the seatback air show get closer.  I was exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel and get some sleep.  But all of a sudden, I felt the plane pull back and start gaining altitude and I saw the air show plane get further away from the airport.  WTF?  Why doesn’t he just land?  The crew were strapped in and no one around me spoke English.  The pilot did come on and say something in Spanish but it was way beyond my tourist-level basic Spanish.  We circled for around 15 minutes, then FINALLY descended and made a normal landing.  DSCN2611

We got off the plane as quickly as possible and joined the taxi line outside with pretty much the whole plane.  Taxi fares from the airport are posted and fixed rates.  Santa Marta is 27,800 at night but good luck trying to get change from 30,000 pesos!  Direct to Minca would have been 90,000 night rate, 80,000 day rate.

After around 20 minutes, we arrived at our hotel ready to drop from exhaustion!

Can A Coup In Turkey Affect Your Travel Plans?

I am sure that everyone has seen the news reports of an attempted coup in Turkey and the temporary shut down of Istanbul’s airport.  The FAA has banned flights from Turkey landing in the USA until further notice.  Reports on Flyertalk show that Turkish Airlines has been very difficult to contact regarding upcoming flights.

Turkish Airlines is one of the members of Star Alliance and a popular redemption for people traveling between the USA or Australia via IST to Europe or Africa.  If you have an African safari booked and are depending on Turkish airlines to get you to your gateway airport you need to call your ticketing airline (UA, SQ, SA or ??)  immediately to see what the options are.  Award tickets issued by United are being rebooked on other airlines provided saver space is available.  If you are coming from the USA, try one of Ethiopian’s or South African’s USA flights or route through Europe on United, Lufthansa, Swiss or TAP.  Coming from Australia, try routing via Singapore or Bangkok to Africa and connecting to Ethiopian or South African.

This is a good example of why I always encourage people to build in a buffer day or even two before starting a prepaid Africa safari.  Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover “acts of war” and you could lose your prepaid safari if you can’t find other flights.

It’s impossible to predict world events that could affect your travel plans, especially if you are booking 11 months in advance to score those elusive award seats.  We are going to Africa next year and things I considered among routings and airline quality also included airline reliability and how they respond to emergency situations.  In the case of the FAA blocking TK from flying to the USA, you don’t even get the choice of using IST as a transit point should flights be restored.  Turkish Airlines has an excellent product and great in-flight service but their ground service and phone agent availability has been lacking.  In our case, we aren’t using a pre-booked safari and are arranging things independently but I still chose to go with Etihad to AUH (VA miles booked before devaluation), spend a couple buffer days in Dubai and use Kenya Airways (Flying Blue) to get to our first stop in Uganda.  If Etihad is delayed we just miss out on extra shopping in Dubai.  We arrive in Entebbe around noon and if this flight is delayed we would miss an afternoon of birding locally but we can still get to these locations the next day.

In this day and age, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing your flights so look at all the options and try to imagine the worst case scenario and what alternatives you would have if it happens.  Always build in a couple days buffer, especially if you have expensive prepaid travel arrangements like a safari or a cruise.

Domestic Flights In Ecuador With TAME

TAME is not part of any airline alliance so you have to buy these tickets online with a credit card.  Luckily, they are not expensive!   TAME flies to certain destinations like Loja (closest airport to Podocarpus & Buenaventura) and other eco-tourism hotspots like Coca for the Amazon and the Galapagos.

Keep an eye out for sale fares like this one.  Would you rather take a one hour flight or a 10 hour bus ride with prices like this?

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It’s a pretty user-friendly airline.  I printed our boarding passes the night before at the Holiday Inn in Guayaquil and the flight actually left on time!  The planes are small but I prefer smaller planes with 2×2 rows rather than larger planes with 3×3 rows where a couple has to sit with a stranger.

When you buy your ticket, you may see a notice that you have to show the original credit card you use to purchase the ticket.  On our flight, no one asked us.  We didn’t have checked bags and they just compared our passports to the printed boarding pass.  It’s probably a good idea to bring the credit card along just in case though!

The overheads were a tight squeeze for our backpacks which are normal carry-on sized but we managed to squish them in as they weren’t full anyways.

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Why Flights Are Expensive

If you don’t have enough airline miles, buying a ticket from your home to your destination would probably be the biggest cost of the trip.  But have you ever wondered WHY airline tickets are so expensive?  This YouTube clip has an interesting perspective.

Transiting Santiago & Flight To Guayaquil

After a fantastic business class surprise, we arrived in Santiago with just over an hour to make the connection.  If the flight had been on time it would have been almost 4 hours to connect.  By the time we got through the transit desk and security there wasn’t enough time to use Priority Pass to enter a lounge so we went straight to the gate.  I was just relieved that the delay didn’t cause us to miss the flight!

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If we had been entering Chile, we would have had to pay a “reciprocity fee”.DSCN0306 DSCN0307

This time we were both in our regular economy seats but at least we had an unoccupied middle seat!  The flight was uneventful and we were happy to finally land in Guayaquil so we could get some sleep!DSCN0308 DSCN0310 DSCN0311 DSCN0313 DSCN0314 DSCN0317 DSCN0318

 

“Would You Mind Changing Seats?”

If you have a good seat booked especially on a long flight, this simple question can cause a huge amount of stress and inconvenience.  So there we were, safely ensconced in our middle section bulkhead seats on a 10 hour flight from Auckland to Santiago feeling relaxed and comfortable.  Shortly afterwards, a couple with 3 young kids (3-7ish) came in and took the 3 seats on one side and 1 seat next to us in the middle section.  The father approached us and asked if one of us would mind swapping seats with him so he could sit next to his family.

 

Wait for it………………………

 

As it turns out, his company had paid for him to fly in business class but he had paid for economy for his family.  He must have had some kind of elite status to get them the bulkhead seats as you can’t select them before departure without status.  He was willing to swap his business class seat with one of us so he could travel with his family!

HELL YEAH!!!!  I couldn’t say “Yes” fast enough!  There was no question who would get the business class seat.  I had done an all-nighter before departure as I was worried about not waking up in time to get to the airport.  My husband can sleep sitting up and I can’t.  And he is a gentleman!  I gleefully swapped boarding passes and after checking that the crew were cool with the swap, moved into my new seat.

LAN’S DREAMLINER 789 BUSINESS CLASS

This is a review I wasn’t expecting to write but really glad I got the chance.  Business class award seats between Australia/New Zealand and Santiago are rarer than hen’s teeth using AAdvantage miles!

The seats were very comfortable and of course went fully flat.  I slept like a baby (minus the crying) for most of the flight.  The purple glow in the overhead lights and windows was really nice.  The chair had all kinds of functions and positions.

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The food was pretty good but to be honest I was so exhausted I just wolfed it down so I could sleep sooner.

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Meanwhile, my husband was being a good sport back in economy.

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I woke up well refreshed and ready to tackle South America.  It was pretty cool to see one of our lodges – Sachatamia in Mindo, Ecuador being featured in a travel video!DSCN0296

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It’s really a shame it’s nearly impossible to book these seats with miles.  It didn’t used to be this bad.  Back in 2012, we got a return flight from Santiago to Sydney on Qantas in business class.  It really made a difference to be able to hit the ground running for the transit in Santiago and flight to Guayaquil.

 

 

 

An Inauspicious Beginning To The South America Trip

You can’t say I wasn’t warned.  I knew Lan 800 had a reputation for being late even when I booked it 11 months ahead of time.  But I didn’t have any choice, it was the only flight available on the day I wanted that had award seats via AAdvantage available.  I thought we were pretty safe since there was almost 4 hours layover in Santiago before the connection to Guayaquil.

A couple weeks before our scheduled departure, I started stalking the flight to see how it had been running lately.  The news wasn’t great – 75% on time stats meant that 25% of the flights were late.  Some excessively so, even 8 hours late!

I was even more worried when a story came on the news about strikes by Border Protection staff.  They did postpone some of the strikes due to the terror attacks in Brussels but resumed them a week later.

MARCH 31

Sydney International Airport — 12 midnight to 12.15am

Melbourne International Airport — 4am to 12 midday and 4pm to 12 midnight

Adelaide Airport — 5am to 1pm and 4pm to 12 midnight

Brisbane International Airport — 5am to 1pm and 5pm to 12 midnight

We were lucky-they didn’t affect the Brisbane domestic terminal for the BNE-SYD flight and the Sydney strike would end at 12:15am, well before our departure.

We only had carry-on backpacks with well-stuffed Scottevests to avoid checking any bags and get around the 7kg limit (camera gear is heavy!) so we were prepared for tight connections.

There was also a hassle over our pre-booked seats.  To maximize sleep time, I had chosen the last two seats in the middle section of economy that had a lavatory wall directly behind them.  We aren’t the reclining types and I wanted to avoid potential seat kickers behind us.  When we checked in at BNE, we got boarding passes for completely different seats not even together!  I went straight to LAN customer service at Sydney and complained showing the print-out of our pre-booked seats.  Those seats were gone but she did give us the front row of economy – bulkhead which had been freed up probably by some elite getting upgraded.  I was thrilled – nobody reclining into us!  We actually had 2 different seats – 2nd row of economy for the SYD-AKL segment and 1st row for AKL-SCL, the long one.

As it turned out, the flight was late arriving from Auckland so our flight was delayed but at least only a couple hours so we wouldn’t miss the connection to Guayaquil but I was still biting my nails until the plane left Sydney.  They did give us food vouchers so we bought a sandwich and some biscuits to keep on hand in case we got hungry later.

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Transiting AKL is a pita.  Even though it is the exact same plane continuing onwards, you have to get off with all your carry-ons, schlep them all the way down the hall to security, put them through security and trudge back to where the plane was parked – of course the furthest gate from security!

After all that, we were relieved that the plane had no further delays and settled into our bulkhead seats.  Just then, a man approached us and asked if one of us wanted to change seats……………………………………!!!!!!

To be continued!