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Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: June 2016

LATAM Flights (LIM-CUZ / CUZ-AQP / AQP-LIM-LPB)

Our trip to Peru and Bolivia gave us several options for traveling between the Cities.  Our trip, included visits to Lima, Cuzco, Arequipa and La Paz.  We did quite a bit of research and found the most common ways to travel between these three Cities are bus, car (drive yourself or a car service) or to fly.  We knew we didn’t want to drive – period.  We debated on taking the buses, but the reviews were all over the board – most people said the buses were marginally comfortable and they could take forever.  We decided to fly.

There were two airlines that really could get us to where we wanted to go: LATAM and Avianca.  LATAM is the new name of the recently merged LAN and TAM airlines.  For most of the trip, LATAM offered much better pricing and a better schedule.  We would have preferred Avianca only because it is a member of Star Alliance and we could have credited our miles to United.  With LATAM we were crediting to American’s AAdvantage program.  It wasn’t really a big deal, considering the limited number of miles we’re actually talking about here.

We have no status with Oneworld (the airline alliance that American and LATAM both belong).  There was no way we could justify flying business class on these short flights – they were cost prohibitive and the premium cabin on these short flights isn’t worth the upgrade fee, in my mind.  So there we were, stuck flying coach on an airline we had no status with – we’d be waiting in long lines at the airport, checking in at the regular desks, we’d be getting the worst seats available, we’d experience travel like most people do.  Sometimes it is good to see how everyone else travels.

We flew four legs with LATAM, including: Lima-Cuzco; Cuzco-Arequipa; Arequipa-Lima-La Paz.  All flights were on LATAM liveried narrow bodied jets.  The flights were schedule between one and two hours.  In all but ONE of the flights, I was very comfortable  I found the pitch (the distance between the two seats) was quite respectable for a short haul, domestic flight.

Relatively good pitch on LATAM. Not too bad for a pretty short flight.

Relatively good pitch on LATAM. Not too bad for a pretty short flight.

The one exception was the flight from Lima to La Paz, which was on an Airbus 319.  I was in the middle seat with a lovely Bolivian man next to me who demanded not only the armrest, but found the best place to put his elbow was under my rib cage.  That’s not LATAMs fault though.  The pitch on this plane was utterly awful.  My knees were wedged into the seat in front of me.  On the plus side, the dude in front of my slammed his seat into full recline the second he sat down.

We also encounter a ground stop at Lima because of traffic issues in La Paz, so we sat on the runway for about 50 minutes before we left.  The flight itself was only two hours, but it was by far the least comfortable flights I have been on in year.

On all my LATAM flights we were served a beverage and some sort of food.  I didn’t try to get any alcohol, so I don’t know if they charge or it is included.  The food, was surprisingly good, although basic.  The food varied by flight – we had one flight with a muffin, yogurt and crackers, one with fruit and crackers and another with a small selection of soft jolly ranchers (served off of a silver tray, no less).

All in all, I enjoyed my travels with LATAM. One of my favorite parts of the flight was the announcements (both boarding and landing). After they read the appropriate script, they ended the announcement with “My name is Tim and I am LATAM”  The emphasis was clear: I am LATAM.  While you don’t have many options on certain routes throughout South America, I wouldn’t hesitate flying LATAM on these short hops in the future.

Have you flown the new LATAM?  How does it differ (if at all) from the predecessor companies of LAN and TAM?  Is there a better option to hop around South America that you’d recommend?

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Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center

I’m not usually one to stay at a “Convention Center” hotel unless, I am attending the convention.  I find these hotels are often pretty well worn – even the new ones.  Convention people are a rough crowd.  I really don’t regularly stay at Convention hotels while on vacation.  I made an exception for our Peru visit.  Our flight from the US got us into the hotel around 22h15 and based on the timing of our flight to Cusco the following morning, we needed to be out of the hotel by 07h00.  We weren’t spending much time in the room, I just wanted a comfortable, clean place to sleep for a few hours and the Westin fit the bill.  The cash rate for the room the night we needed was $150 all in – we could have stayed with cash and points or all on points, but the value wasn’t there for me.

We arrived at the hotel shortly after 22h00.  We were greeted by a couple of bellhops and the concierge who lead us over to the reception desk.  Before introducing myself, the young man behind the desk greeted me by name. I assume it is because I’m the only person staying at the hotel who hadn’t checked in yet.  In any event, I like that little touch.  I elected not to use a Platinum Suite Upgrade certificate – since we were only there for a few hours, I figured it would be a waste.  However, as a Platinum member we were upgraded to an Executive Suite which had a small sitting room in addition to the bedroom.

We were offered either 500 points or the local welcome gift as our check-in amenity (offered to all Platinum SPG Members).  This time I selected the local gift, which was two bottles of Pisco — which were never delivered, AHEM, SPG, AHEM.

After being given the rundown of the hotel amenities including the gym, the club lounge and the restaurant hours – we wouldn’t be using any of the amenities listed on this visit – there was no time.  One of the bellhops who initially greeted us, escorted us to our room, bringing our luggage with him.

You entered the room in the main sitting area, which had a desk, a couch and a chair along with a TV.  If I were here for a week long conference, I could see this room getting a ton of use – doing my actual job in the evening, while attending the conference during the day.

Sitting Room in our Executive Suite

Sitting Room in our Executive Suite

Sitting Room in our Executive Suite

Sitting Room in our Executive Suite

Continuing down a short hallway, we passed the closet and the washroom.  Both were of really good size and again, if I were staying here for a few days, I could really make myself at home.

The bedroom was very large and had a king size bed, a chaise lounge and club chair and ottoman.

Our well appointed bedroom

Our well appointed bedroom

Our well appointed bedroom

Our well appointed bedroom

Our well appointed bedroom

Our well appointed bedroom

Our room looked out on the various high rises in the San Isidro district of Lima.  This hotel ended up bookending our trip – we stayed our first night here, then on our last two nights on vacation.  We were upgraded to the same type of room, an Executive Suite, both visits.  Our rooms were located on higher floors of the hotel and street noise was no problem at all for us.  I’m not sure how much of the hotel was occupied, but we didn’t hear a peep from neighbors.

The hotel is located in the more central business district neighborhood of San Isidro and not the more residential, food and tourist friendly neighborhood of Miraflores.  Our first night in Lima, the hotel recommended a local restaurant in Miraflores called Lima 27, which had some great pisco drinks and some phenomenal ceviche, tartare and causa.  We took a cab from the hotel to the restaurant and we were able to put the cab fare on our hotel room – without a mark up at all. This was the first time I’ve come across this in all my travels.  I liked the option.

On our second visit to the Westin at the end of of the trip, we walked around a bit more and found there were some great restaurants just 15-20 minutes from the hotel.

In general I was pleased with this hotel and would definitely consider it should my travels take me back to Peru.  The staff was all very nice and eager to be of help; the rooms were clean, well appointed and fit our needs perfectly.  Don’t worry about it being a conference hotel – it is much more than that.

Where did you stay while in Lima?  What are your thoughts on conference hotels whilst on vacation?

UAL 1095 EWR-LIM

We are United guys.  If we can’t fly United we’ll do what we can to fly a Star Alliance carrier.  Luckily United flies to Lima – from Newark and Houston, not Chicago.  We figured the airfare would cost about $1,500 each, but were shocked to find it was going for only $700 per person round trip — on the dates we were looking at, no less.  The flight down to Lima would eat up an entire day – leaving at 09h00 (from ORD) and landing at 21h15, while the return is a redeye, leaving at 22h30 and arriving the following day at 07h30 (arriving in Newark, not Chicago).  I wasn’t too keen on flying coach all night so I decided to check the cost of going Business.  Low and behold – the actual cost of Business was around the price I originally expected to fly coach.  I decided to pull the trigger and fly in United’s BusinessFirst for this trip.  Not only would I have a better opportunity for sleep on the return redeye, I’d get double elite qualifying miles for this trip.

Our flight out of Chicago to Newark left at 09h05 on Saturday morning.  The news was full of warnings of horrific TSA delays for a couple weeks leading up to this trip.  Leaving early Saturday morning in May didn’t cause me much concern regarding either vehicle or people traffic.  I was right – no traffic en route to O’Hare and once there, we had checked our bags and made it through Pre-Check within about 20 minutes and made it to the newly opened United Club near gate B14 in Terminal One.

The flight to Newark was completely uneventful.  I like that United is now serving sparkling wine onboard, but their selection is utter turpentine — but I still drink it.  In general I’m not a breakfast guy and really not an airplane breakfast guy.  United has upped their food game and the French Toast they served was surprisingly tasty – and at the advice of the Stew I started drinking mimosas.  The mediocre OJ really cut the awful sparkling wine and made it a quite enjoyable cocktail.  Who knew?

French Toast with Fruit - United Domestic First to Newark

French Toast with Fruit – United Domestic First to Newark

We had a couple hour layover in Newark and spent a little bit of time in the United Club there as well, then headed off to board our Boeing 757-200 to Lima.

Flight: United Airlines 1095 (BusinessFirst)
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 3F
Departure: 14h15 (14h15)
Arrival: 21h10 (21h05)

The plane we were on was a bit beat up.  My IFE screen seemed to have a pretty big dent in it — like someone smashed their head into it (accidentally?) – it worked pretty well, but the touch screen was a little finicky.

Once we were seated the Stew, who was quite sassy — in a very good way, mind you — served us some more of that awful sparkling wine.  I know, if it is so awful, why do I keep drinking it?  I don’t have an answer for you, honestly.  I like the idea of bubbles onboard and the other wines were just marginally better.  I figured after a couple glasses my taste buds would be ruined and I could enjoy the alcohol and bubbles.  Menus and amenity kits were distributed.  We were given the standard BusinessFirst amenity kit with XXXX products.  I was hoping we’d get the new Rio Olympics kit, but those weren’t being rolled out until June 1.

I’ve mentioned it before, but United has indeed upped their food game and I find that the items served in BusinessFirst are actually quite edible.  Here are the options from our flight down to Lima.

United BusinessFirst Menu to Lima

United BusinessFirst Menu to Lima

I opted for the pasta.  I’ve had both the chicken and the short rib before and both were pretty good.  For some reason I didn’t snap pictures of any of the food on this flight – I’m not sure what I was thinking, perhaps I was too engrossed in a classic James Bond film I was watching.  I do love watching Bond while in the air.

Our flight was quick, quiet and unlike almost every other flight I’ve had with a lie flat seat, the cabin temperature wasn’t sweltering, so I was able to take a little cat nap while en route.

We landed in Lima just a few minutes later than scheduled.  We made it through immigration and customs to baggage claims pretty quickly, where we waited for about 20 minutes for our luggage to arrive.  Lima airport personnel were at each baggage claim area checking your luggage claim checks to ensure you picked up the proper bag.  In all my travels, this has happened only one other time for me – at Heathrow in January 2000.  It’s a nice thought that someone is looking out for you, but at this point, I just wanted to run my bags through the last x-ray machine and officially be in Peru.

We were greeted by dozens of taxi drivers offering to take us anywhere we wanted.  It was a little overwhelming at first.  We went to a stand in the airport, told them where we were going and asked for a price quote.  To the Westin, they said it would cost 90.  We asked 90 what – dollars or soles…and their response was “Either one, which ever you prefer”.  So we could pay in either currency and according to the taxi starter, we could pay $90USD or 90 soles – the equivalent of $30USD if we paid in local currency.  We went off to find another ride, which was quick and ended up costing and equivalent of $30USD.

Traffic was quite intense from the Airport to the San Isidro neighborhood – taking us nearly an hour to make the journey.  Next up: Our experience at the Westin Lima Convention Center – where we spent our first night and our last two nights of the trip.

Have you been to Lima? What airline did you fly?  Would you have paid for the BusinessFirst airfare or would have saved the money and flown in coach?  What do you end up drinking when you fly United — do you ever get use to that awful sparkling wine?

Inca Travel – Introduction

We decided that our big trip this year would be to Peru and Bolivia.  Neither of us had visited these two countries before.  I had never been to South America, unless you count Trinidad, which surprisingly stirs quite the reaction when I ask is it part of North America or South America?

We wanted to visit Machu Picchu and we’d read some pretty great things about the Lima food scene.  MS wanted to visit Bolivia, wanting to experience the world’s highest capital city – La Paz – and visit Lake Titicaca.  La Paz is also home to a restaurant by the creative geniuses who gave us Noma in Copenhagen.

A beautiful day at Machu Picchu

A beautiful day at Machu Picchu

We selected Memorial Day weekend for our visit, so I could parlay the holiday into not using a vacation day.  Since I don’t get much vacation, I always try to throw a vacation around a pre-existing holiday weekend.  Memorial Day weekend is also our wedding anniversary, so I expect this weekend to be one where we are often traveling.

Making my way down the World's Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia

Making my way down the World’s Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia

Our trip to Peru and Bolivia was full of some ups and downs.  We had some great food, stayed in some wonderful hotels, saw some amazing sites and we also had pretty severe issues with altitude sickness, food poisoning, awful airline seats and copious amounts of bureaucratic red tape.  I’ll be sharing with you all the highlights of our trip, including:

Have you traveled to Peru or Bolivia?  What surprised you about the visit?  Did you love Machu Picchu?  How many tasting menus did you enjoy?