Guayaquil To San Cristobal, Galapagos

You may be surprised to see a check in time of 3 hours prior to a Galapagos and think “They must be kidding!”  It’s a domestic flight, the planes are relatively small and security doesn’t take THAT long!  They aren’t kidding.

It’s not the check in or the security.  It’s the quarantine inspection.  You have to have your bags inspected and pay the $20 INGALA Tourist Control Card fee before they will check you in.  This isn’t mentioned and most of us got caught out and sent back to the quarantine counter.  This is where the queues get built up.  They type out the INGALA card individually, there are usually 3 planes departing roughly the same time and everyone has to do this procedure.  Allow at least an hour as the line moves slowly.  Once you have your INGALA card and your bag has passed quarantine, THEN your airline will check you in.

If you don’t have cash USD, there are several ATMs in the airport.  Make sure you have the $100 cash per person to enter the Galapagos once you land (and yes, there will be another long line!

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After you pass security, you then pass through a gift shop before entering the departure area.  I was tempted by a coffee table book with a Guayaquil Macaw on it but the book was heavy and pricey-2 no-nos for budget travelers.DSCN0828 DSCN0829

Annoyingly, gates are only announced about 40 minutes before departure so we had to hang around the departure board waiting to know what gate we had to go to.  Luckily it’s a fairly small airport.DSCN0830 DSCN0831 DSCN0832

This plane only had economy class for the 2 hour flight.DSCN0833

Goodbye Guayaquil…………………..DSCN0834 DSCN0835

…………………….Hello Galapagos!DSCN0837

The plane disembarks from both doors so don’t take a seat in the middle of the plane or you will be last off the plane and last in line to pay the Galapagos entry fee.  This line moves very slowly, even more so if two planes arrive close together.  DSCN0841 DSCN0842 DSCN0843

Once you finally get through, you can either take a taxi or walk to the town.  We chose to walk as the distance was short and all downhill but it was pretty hot.


Some nice graffiti art to admire while walking.DSCN0845 DSCN0846

Walk about 10 minutes to the main part of town.  Our hotel, Mar Azul is on the left, the blue awning.DSCN0847 DSCN0848

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!


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.


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.



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.


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!

Why You Can’t Get AA/BA Partner Awards On Lan To The Galapagos

I experienced it myself – the frustration of trying to get award space on Lan from Guayaquil to the Galapagos.  Most people want to get to GPS (Baltra) as that is where the Galapagos cruises depart from and Lan flies there daily.  In my case, since we aren’t doing a cruise, I wanted to get to SCY (San Cristobal) since it has the best land-based birding options but Lan only has 4 flights a week there.  For the purposes of this demonstration, I will use GPS so you can see the fluctuations throughout a week on a daily basis.

Most people going to the Galapagos will want to book as far ahead as possible, especially if they are connecting to a cruise.  At the time I wrote this post, Lan has availability loaded to 25 July at the 20,000 round trip level (10,000 each way).  BA has picked this space up although it usually doesn’t at this level.  On the 4 days preceeding 25 July there is no award space on BA for this route.

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You can see here the different levels of economy awards.  Lan only flies economy class to the Galapagos.  Usually you need seats at the 8000 km each way level to have it show up on a partner award request.  These seats are selling for anywhere between 11,000 – 14,000 so you can only book them on Lan.

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It can get much worse – have a look at these flights over Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) which is ultra-peak season!  Award seats can go up to 22,000 each way!

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You can sometimes get lucky with close-in bookings.  Although surrounding dates have the high award rates, there is a window of opportunity on a few dates in September as shown by the red dots.

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And this is how it looks on BA’s booking system.

Lan GPS7So how can you get to the Galapagos?

1.  Lanpass:  Get the US Bank Lan Visa card, then supplement the award with miles transferred from SPG.  It takes about a week for the miles to land which is really frustrating as the award prices can fluctuate daily.

2.  Fly on Aerogal, the Avianca partner who is a member of Star Alliance.  Unfortunately Avianca doesn’t have any transfer partners such as SPG, Ultimate Rewards, Thankyou Points or Amex MR so you have to buy miles, preferably on a promo deal.  They do have a co-branded card with US Bank.

3.  Use United, although availability has been patchy in the past, I am seeing good availability at time of writing.  Oddly enough if you are in GYE, you have to transfer in UIO to get to the Galapagos.

Lan GPS84.  Use your miles to Quito or Guayaquil and pay for the flights to the Galapagos.  Expedia search on random dates for RT flights.

Lan GPS9However you manage to get to the Galapagos, rest assured it will be well worth it!  We are going next year and can’t wait!

Last Minute Specials: LAN – South America

Get your 2014 eco-tourism and birding travel off to a good start with some really good fares on LAN to South America!


  • Flights operated by: LAN.
  • Fare applicable to fly Economy.
  • Required booking class Q.
  • Minimum stay at the destination: 7 days.
  • Maximum stay at the destination: 2 months.
  • Travel must begin on or AFTER February 01, 2014.
  • Travel restriction: Valid for travel commencing on/after February 01, 2014.
  • Travel restriction: Travel must be finished by June 01, 2014.
  • Sales restrictions: Ticket must be purchased on or before January 06, 2014.
  • Travel permitted for flight departure the day(s) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.
  • Travel permitted for flight return the day(s) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.
  • Changes are permitted with a penalty of US$ 75 on or before date of flight departure.
  • Discount not permitted for childs and infants.
  • Changes are not permitted after date of flight departure.
  • Refund requests are permitted within 24 hours after the ticket is purchased.
  • Refunds are not permitted after date of flight departure.
  • From Miami Travel is not permitted in the following dates: From 14/FEB/14 Through 15/FEB/14.To Miami Travel is not permitted in the following dates: From 17/FEB/14 Through 18/FEB/14.
  • Government taxes and fees of up to 0 , varying by destination, are included and may vary slightly depending on currency exchange rates at the time of purchase.
  • Fares subject to change without previous notice. Seats are limited.
  • A September 11th Security Fee of $2.50 USD per flight segment that originates at a U.S. point is included in the fare.
  • Other restrictions may apply.


Mileage Earning Credit Cards – Asia, Latin America, Middle East And Africa Edition

There are probably locally based blogs for these areas which would cover how to earn miles from credit card sign up bonuses so what I will do here is create a reference for the major airlines so you can see who partners with what bank, then Google for a local blog that tracks special offers on these cards.  No matter which country you live in, always check with American Express as they have the Membership Rewards program available in most countries but the partners vary widely.

A good rule of thumb no matter where you live is to sign up for your local airline’s program (preferably one in Star Alliance or One World) to get credit card miles and any possible points from everyday living such as shopping, phone, internet, petrol, insurance, etc.   While you are looking at the credit card pages I linked below, always check for any other “everyday” promos.

Then join the 5 main programs I recommend for eco-tourists as I will be concentrating on these when I post special promos.  These programs have the best redemption levels to places where people usually want to go birding and offer the best promos throughout the year.


Asians will have a lot of choices as it seems that the main Asian based airlines have partners not only in all Asian countries but some have partners in Australia and the USA as well.  The links below will take you to the airline’s credit card page.  Also check on FlyerTalk in the airline’s forum as people will usually post any new signup bonuses there.  This blogger specifically caters to Indians with mileage earning credit cards and he would be more familiar with that market.

Cathay Pacific

Singapore Airlines

Thai Airways

Malaysian Airlines


Air China


Japan Airlines


Korean Airlines


Air India

Jet Airways


Kingfisher (currently suspended)


American Airlines (has many partners in Latin America and Caribbean)

Avianca Taca









Gulf Air

Kuwait Airways


South African Airways

El Al


Please feel free to add any other good airline credit cards you know of in these geographical locations or ask any questions in the comments.

If you live in the USA, please see Airlines, Hotels and Flexible Points

If you live in Australia, please see Part 1 and Part 2

If you live in the UK or Europe I have basic guidelines