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We took three intra-Argentina flights on this trip. Two on LATAM Argentina and one on Aerolineas Argentina. I’ll be sharing a couple of different LATAM experiences in this overall trip report. You’ll also see a comparison to Aerolineas Argentina – a new airlines for us.
After our little snafu upon arrival, we managed to make it to to the right airport with enough time for some pizza before our 1 hour and 54 minute from to Mendoza. Like every other experience with LATAM, the check-in lines were long, but moved fairly quickly. Even though we were transferring from another flight, it was booked separately, so we were treated as a new customer, not a transfer.
We were scheduled to leave at 15h55. We didn’t start boarding until 15h50. Adding to the boarding time, we were leaving from a remote stand. Unlike most airlines I’ve flown, the boarding process with LATAM Argentina is a little funky. Elite members board early, like every airline. Next, we were organized into two groups: small hand luggage and larger hand luggage.
We were traveling just with briefcases (or in my case a duffel), so we were in the small hand luggage line. I think the intent is board the small stuff first, which should fit under the seat, then everyone with larger bags boards and dukes it out. After our bus filled up, we were the first five people on the plane. We put our bags in the overhead bins and there we no issues. Easy enough.
I was in row three. The all-economy configuration was totally retro. These seats were the old formerly padded (now compacted) leather recliner style seats. No, these weren’t the first class style recliners. The pitch was awful. My knees were slammed into the seat in front of me from jump.
This was only exacerbated by the guy in front of me who couldn’t get out of his seat without leaning back as far as possible, nearly dislocating my patella. At least he only got up about 10 times on this less than two hour flight.
Once seated, the flight would never be ready for departure. The plane was nearly full and all the “large hand luggage” people struggled with their bags. There was plenty of room for bags. Unfortunately most people wanted their bags up front, so they would move bags in the first couple of rows, to fit theirs in. I had to ask three separate people not to move my bag. One guy took my bag out and set it on the ground, put his in its place and walked away. I called him back and handed him his bag. Crazy, no?
The flight itself was uneventful. We were served drinks and some nuts. There was no in-flight entertainment. I’m happy we charged our gear on the United flight, otherwise this would have been long and boring.
I’ll say that each time I fly LATAM throughout South America, I get a different experience. It’s never been stellar, but it seems like each of the planes is quite different. This one was so old, not to say that it was bad. The really new planes have the slimline seats that are like sitting on a bus bench.
Despite leaving nearly 30 minutes late, we landed in Mendoza right on time. We deplaned, at a gate this time and made our way immediately into baggage claim. The claim area was small, with only a couple of belts. Our bags were some of the last off the plane. Departing baggage claim was a mess. Security routed all passengers through an additional screening checkpoint. Most people ignored this and just pushed by. You could choose to wait in the line, or just walk around. We chose, initially to follow the rules. It wasn’t long before we made a different decision. We decided to just walked on by with about 100 other travelers.
After a long day of work, travel, surprise airport transfers, we finally made it to our first actual destination in Argentina. Mendoza. Hopping in a taxi we were off to the Park Hyatt and a couple days of wine tasting and wonderful spring warmth.
Have you flown LATAM Argentina? How did it differ from LATAM in other countries throughout South America?
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?
Remember the days when your time on a flight was yours? You were disconnected from the world with no internet, no phones, no connections to the world below? Well those days are over.
Unfortunately with in flight Wifi, you are often plagued with slow downloads and frequently dropped connections. Some airlines have made it relatively easy to to get refund when the internet sucks. Here’s how you get a refund when the United Wifi fails on your flight.
Fortunately, you can do this all yourself, online. No need to call customer service and wait on hold for an extended period. United made it so easy to get a refund now. Maybe it is because their in flight internet is so hit or miss (at least for me over the last six months at least).
The Refund Process
First off, head on over to United’s refund page. This page handles everything from flight refunds, food, drink, upgrades and wifi (plus many more). The process goes much faster if you log into your MileagePlus Account, as most of the info just pre-fills into the forms.
It takes just a couple of minutes to submit the refund. Surprisingly, each time I submitted a refund, it has been granted and credited back within two business days. Every time I’ve requested a refund it was for a time where I actually had an issue on board. I may not have notified the flight attendant though. Sometimes the wifi works fine for 30 minutes or so, but is then dead for 30-45 minutes.
Despite all the issues I’ve had with United Wifi recently, I still attempt to work a bit on the flight. While it isn’t a perfect system, the ease of getting a refund makes me much less frustrated. However, I do miss the days were I could be completely disconnected while on a flight, don’t you?
A weekend in Singapore? From Chicago? That’s utterly crazy, right? Most people would think so, but not me. I love and adventure and I love to spend miles and points on truly unique experiences. If you haven’t read about my Singapore Weekend yet, you can do so by starting here.
Here are the critical numbers on the trip:
- Time Spent in Transit/Flying: 44 Hours
- Time Spent in Singapore: 68 Hours
- Flight Segments: Five
- Number of Airlines Flown: Three
- Total Miles Flown: 20,300
- Michelin Starred Restaurant Meals: Two
- Airlines Miles Redeemed: 160,000 (United Mileage Plus)
So, was it worth it? Absolutely. I loved the journey to and from Singapore and I had a blast while exploring the City for the first time and can’t wait to return.
What do you think? Am I nuts for spending 160,000 United Miles for a long weekend on the other side of the planet? What crazy trips have you taken?