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As we deplaned from our 10 economy flight from Houston, we had about four hours to kill at the Buenos Aires Airport We figured that we may be able to move to an earlier flight if we can make it through customs and immigration quickly. Well, that wasn’t going to happen.
Customs and Immigration
As we made our way to the checkpoint, we were herded into the foreigner line (rightly so), which had about 500 people ahead of us in line. With about six stations open, we knew we’d be here for a while. Luckily, I went to the bathroom before hopping in line.
Fast forward a little over an hour, it was our turn. I never know if we should go through the line together when entering a foreign country. We are married, but sometimes other countries don’t recognize same sex marriages and once, I had to go back into the line, which caused lots of people to think I was cutting. No issues in Buenos Aires though.
We grab our bags and head out to re-check and try for an earlier flight. As we check the big board, we don’t see our flight listed. We see flights to Mendoza, but not at our scheduled time and not many on our scheduled airline. My first thought was that there was a schedule change and we didn’t get notified. Or perhaps our LATAM flight was operated by someone that we hadn’t heard of before. We continued to ponder the big board and I grabbed our itinerary and found the problem.
A New Problem For Us
We were at the wrong airport. Instead of leaving from EZE (Ministro Pistarini International Airport) we were leaving from AEP (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery). This helps explain why the fine folks at United couldn’t check our bags all the way through to Mendoza. AEP is 43km (27 miles) from EZE, so it looks like we won’t be getting on an earlier flight, but we better get cracking if we don’t want to miss our current option.
We waited in the taxi queue for about 20 minutes, then another 25 for the taxi. At EZE you order a cab through a central dispatch, you are given a number and then eventually a driver shows up to transport you.
The ride to AEP was pretty uneventful and fast. It took us about 30 minutes, but the taxi was more like a fancy lawn mower than a car. Loud. Spewing fumes. Rickety. The driver was really nice and helped with our luggage and kept us safe among the other wild drivers. His car reminded me of an old roller skate – it’ll probably get you there, but a wheel could break off at any moment.
We arrived in plenty of time to make our flight, but there were absolutely no options for an earlier departure. So to kill time, we snagged a pizza in the food court, which was really great, by the way.
Our best laid plans for an early transfer fell short today. As we waited to board the flight to Mendoza we remembered that we chose the flight with the long layover because it saved us about 75USD per person. If we had gone with the earlier option, we would have missed it – likely leaving us with more travel troubles.
Have you ever realized you were at the wrong Buenos Aires airport? How about the wrong airport in ANY city?
Our upgrade to Buenos Aires didn’t clear, so we ended up paying more than we should have for an economy seat for the 10 hour flight. Using the Global Premier Upgrades has usually worked out for us, but not this time.
United operates a two-cabin Boeing 777 on this flight to Buenos Aires. The economy seats were in a 3-3-3 configuration. The Economy Plus seat was surprisingly comfortable. While not a lay flat seat, I had enough room to drop the tray table, and rest my head for a couple hours of decent sleep. I’m just about 6′ tall, so the pitch between seats was pretty good. Although I did have a bit of a stiff neck when I woke up.
Speaking of the tray table, the food on this flight was very mediocre. The meal was standard United Airlines Economy Class Food. Luckily, we grabbed a bite to eat in Houston at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. We figured the upgrades wouldn’t clear and even if they did we were pretty sure the food would be disappointing. We planned perfectly here.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have our upgrades clear – or just book Business Class with miles – fly business class for flights this long. While it sure wasn’t an ideal travel experience, it was good for us to fly Economy. It helped remind us that it isn’t really all that bad.
We landed a few minutes early and made the way through customs, which was quite heinous. The line was well over an hour long. This just goes to show how spoiled I’ve gotten with Global Entry. Clearing Customs and Immigration we grabbed our checked luggage and made our way to our connecting flight. Our layover in Buenos Aires was nearly four hours. We planned on hopping on an earlier flight to Mendoza…or so we thought…
We had so much planning to do for our trip to Argentina. First things first: Getting There. Our Argentina Flight Planning followed our standard logic. Do we use miles and fly Business Class? Maybe we pay for Business Class? Do we pay for Economy and just deal with it? Or do we pay for a higher fare in Economy and use our Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs) to upgrade to Business?
Since we both needed the Elite Qualifying Miles to keep our status with United we knew that we couldn’t cash in miles for this trip. We earn nearly 12,000 premier qualifying miles for this round trip from Chicago. We couldn’t let those miles go to waste. When we flew to Lima, we found round trip Business Class tickets for about $1,800 per person. If we could find something like that for this trip, we’d book it in an instant. Unfortunately all Business Class tickets were going for well over $5K each. The only way I’d pay that much money for a flight is to hurry home to someone’s deathbed or to flee the country with no notice to avoid a criminal indictment.
The difference between the upgradable Economy Fare and the normal Economy Fare was about $200 more per person. Basically, we’d pay $200 more for the opportunity to use our GPUs. If the upgrades didn’t clear, we’re out that money.
We followed this same logic as we booked our tickets to Rio in 2017. We booked airfare about eight months out and the upgrade cleared about a month later. Figuring that Argentina wasn’t a huge Thanksgiving destination, we thought this was our best bet.
The days, weeks and moths passed. No upgrade. We had some flight schedule changes, still no upgrades. We chatted up the fine folks at United and they couldn’t do anything, but tell us that they were pretty sure we’d clear.
Finally, it’s day of travel. We checked in and our upgrade still hadn’t cleared. We kept refreshing the upgrade list. The frustration set in. We’d paid extra money to sit in the same old Economy Seats for nearly three hours to Houston and 10 hours to Buenos Aires.
Fast forward to the return trip. The exact same scenario played out. We watched the list. Our names hovered towards the top of the list, but never crossed that magic threshold. Once we checked in at the airport, we were notified that our upgrades had cleared – for the leg between Newark and Chicago. Of the 26 hours of flying time with United we’d have on this trip, two of those hours would be in Business Class.
I’ll touch on a couple of the details on these flights later on, but at the end of the day, these flights were fine. We arrived safely. The United crew was a good mix of fun and surly, mostly surly. While our Argentina Flight Planning didn’t end up exactly as we wanted, we did have a pretty great trip.
Do you follow the same logic as we do when determining how to get somewhere?
Argentina has been on our list to visit for a few years now. We finally decided to pull the trigger and spend our Thanksgiving break exploring three separate cities in Argentina. These adventures were a great break from a hectic work life.
Our goals for this trip were pretty simple – get away from work for a week and explore a new area of the world. Argentina is well known for it’s wine and it’s beef. As with almost all of our trips we built our experiences around food, wine and seeing beautiful spaces. Of course we had to couple these requirements with our need for a relaxing break. It is a vacation after all.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you my thoughts on the various flights, hotels, restaurants and experiences, including:
- Flight Planning
- United Flight IAH – EZE | Economy
- Wait. Wrong Airport?
- LATAM Flight EZE/AEP – MDZ | Economy
- Park Hyatt Mendoza – Standard Room
- Valle Uco Wine Tasting
- Dining in Mendoza
- Austral Frlight MDZ-COR | Economy
- Sheraton Cordoba – Junior Suite
- Dining in Cordoba
- Walking Tours in Cordoba
- Cordoba Airport
- LATAM Flight COR – AEP | Economy
- Park Tower Hotel – Corner Suite
- Buenos Aires Bike Tour
- Dining in Buenos Aires
- The Bird Poop Scam
- Taxis in Buenos Aires
- United Flight EZE – EWR | Economy
- United Flight EWR – ORD | First
Not to spoiler the ending here, but we loved our time in Argentina. Next time we will do somethings a little differently though.
Have you been to Argentina? What was your favorite spot? Did you have to deal with the bird poop scam?
Each year, we travel somewhere for Thanksgiving. We find it a great time to leave the country as no one is traveling for business that week and most Americans are traveling domestically. We’ve traveled to Ireland, Mexico City, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Colorado, and Oregon for Thanksgiving. This year, we are heading south to Argentina. This will be my first visit to the country, while it will be Mike’s second.
So far, we’ve book airfare down to and back from Argentina as well as flights inside the country. We’ve chosen our cities to visit and the hotels in which to stay. We’ll be staying in Cordoba, Mendoza and finally a few days in Buenos Aires. I’ve only made reservations for one meal while we are there too – our final night in Buenos Aires, we are hitting a lovely fine dining restaurant as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
I need your help though. I’m looking for advice from travelers and locals who can tell us great places to eat and wineries to visit. Frequent readers know that I love a good bike tour, so any recommendations on who to ride while while in Argentina, let me know.
What is the one thing you wish you had done while you were in Argentina? What about the one thing you wish you hadn’t done?