Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Easter Island/Santiago November 2012 - Introduction

***This post is part 1 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I never imagined I would ever step foot on Easter Island. It's always been one of those places people read about, but never actually visit. And understandably so - it's billed as the most remote inhabited island in the world (although residents of Tristan da Cunha would probably disagree). Airfare from North America routinely tops $1,500 round-trip for the best routes, and even then, it's difficult to get the exact dates you want due to limited flights.

More than one year ago, British Airways overhauled their entire loyalty program and massively devalued their award chart in the process. Rather than a region-based method of calculating the cost of an award ticket, the new system became distance-based. Many of their most lucrative awards, like North America to Asia or South America, immediately became their most expensive overnight.

Thankfully, they gave us several months of warning, and many people (myself included) were able to burn some of those miles prior to the revamp. One trip I knew I had to book was to Easter Island. Strangely enough, British Airways had categorized Easter Island as South America in its old award chart, and as such, traveling there from North America only cost 40,000 miles round-trip in economy. This was an absolutely fantastic deal. Immediately after the program change, the same itinerary I booked (SFO-LIM-IPC-SCL-LIM-SFO) would have cost 85,000 miles instead. Taxes and fees amounted to a reasonable $185.09, including a $70.00 fee I incurred due to a date change. In all, I estimated a redemption rate >$0.03 per mile, which is as good as it gets for the British Airways program.

Hotels, on the other hand, are notoriously lacking on the island. Unless you are willing to shell out close to $1,000 a night for one of the few all-inclusive luxury resorts, you are pretty much left with older, family-run, hostel-quality, bed and breakfasts. And even those don't come cheap. There are no international brands that I know of on the island, and therefore, no use of points. I settled on Kaimana Inn, which had great reviews on TripAdvisor, although I made sure to temper my expectations to Easter Island standards when booking.

I knew I wanted to include a stopover in Santiago as well since I had never been before. Luckily, Santiago has a much wider selection of hotels, though prices are very high as well. I decided to use a cash and points redemption for the Crowne Plaza Santiago, which is perfectly located within walking distance to many of the city's famous sites as well as the convenient metro system.

Total out-of-pocket cost for airfare and hotels combined amounted to $509.94 (with the hotels divided between two people), plus 40,000 British Airways miles and 30,000 Priority Club points. Without the benefit of miles and points, this trip would definitely not have been financially justifiable. Fortunately, I was able to go and experience some of the most beautiful and sublime scenery I've ever seen.

Sunrise at Tongariki

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