Thursday, February 28, 2013

Easy 1,000 Club Carlson Gold Points Via Facebook

This is about as easy as it gets when it comes to free points! Just log into your Facebook account, then go to the Club Carlson I'm A Fan app page. Click the like button on the upper right corner, and you will be asked to enter your Club Carlson member number and email. That's it! You will receive 1,000 Gold Points within 2-3 weeks of submitting your information. This promotion is valid between February 15 and March 31, 2013 at midnight ET. Only one bonus award will be given per person and per Club Carlson account. You must be a Club Carlson member to participate in this promotion.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Easter Island/Santiago November 2012 - Crowne Plaza Santiago

***This post is part 7 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I selected the Crowne Plaza Santiago primarily because of its excellent central location. The historical neighborhood of Barrio Lastarria, filled with restaurants, theaters, museums, and bars is just a five minute walk from the hotel, while the bohemian enclave of Bellavista is a ten minute stroll in the opposite direction. The convenient Baquedano metro station is only two blocks down the street, and connects to both Line 1 and Line 5. The hotel has good rankings on TripAdvisor (#14 out of 157).

Crowne Plaza Santiago

Lobby area

Reception and concierge

Dining area and lounge

Cool vintage phones

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Easter Island/Santiago November 2012 - LAN Airlines 842 Economy Class (IPC-SCL)

***This post is part 6 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Mataveri International Airport is tiny. With only LAN Airlines servicing the island, there is no need for anything larger than one hall and one departure gate. In fact, with the cancellation of the Lima to Easter Island route starting in March 2013, there will only be two other destinations: Santiago and Papeete. The check-in counters were at the very end of the hall, and had a separate line for Premium Business passengers despite the economy lines being mostly empty.

Once our bags were checked in, we walked over to the other end of the hall, where there were a number of gift shops packed to the brim with tourists looking for last minute souvenirs. About an hour before departure, the doors to the boarding room opened, and passengers were screened via a quick security check before filing into a large waiting area. There were plenty of open seats, as well as more gift shops and a small snack shop. Passengers were welcome to walk outside from here and take pictures of the aircraft sitting on the tarmac, although we were not allowed to walk onto the tarmac until boarding began.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Redeeming Virgin America Elevate Points For Virgin Australia Domestic Flights

I have been planning an Australia trip for fall of this year, and while British Airways Avios have been a huge help with booking domestic flights on Qantas, I've noticed that Qantas doesn't fly every single route in the country. And even when they do, schedules may be limited. Another downside is that you cannot use Avios to book flights on Jetstar, even though it is a subsidiary of Qantas.

That's when I began looking into redeeming some of my Virgin America Elevate points for flights on domestic Virgin Australia routes. One good thing about the Virgin Australia website is that it allows you to search for award seats even if you are not a member of their Velocity frequent flyer program. The search is quick and simple, and can be done directly from the home page.

If award seats are available, they will show up on the next screen, along with the number of Velocity points required. I was specifically looking for the flight from Brisbane (BNE) to Whitsunday Coast (PPP) since Qantas doesn't fly that route. Fortunately, availability appeared to be pretty good in economy.

Once I was sure award seats were available, I went to the handy Virgin America partner page, which details information specifically for Virgin Australia award redemptions. There, you can search for the route you want to redeem for, and the number of Elevate points required along with the estimated taxes will be displayed. It does not, however, display actual award seat availability.

I was happy that only 3,000 Elevate points were required. Purchasing the flight outright costs about $128 USD, and doesn't even include a checked bag, while the award option appears to include one checked bag up to 23 kg as long as you are a Velocity member. I followed the instructions on the page and called Virgin America at 1-877-359-8474 to book the flight.

Unfortunately, the first agent I got didn't seem to understand that I wanted to redeem my Elevate points for a domestic Virgin Australia flight. She attempted to talk to a supervisor, but still seemed confused. I decided to hang up and call again. The second agent knew exactly what she was doing, and transferred me immediately to the redemption desk. The friendly lady there did a quick search and told me she saw the available award seats I wanted. Taxes and fees came out to a very reasonable $27.60. The final redemption rate for this flight was approximately 3.3 cents per point, which is very good for the Elevate program.

The catch, however, was that it would take 24 hours just to send in the award request to Virgin Australia. Then, it would take up to a week for them to respond with the final confirmation. Once that happens, Virgin America would then call me to give me the confirmation number. I found the process to be a little tedious, but requiring only a little more patience than usual. Just shy of one week later, I received both an email and a call from Virgin America telling me that my award had been confirmed and everything was set.

Since I was slightly curious about the redemption rates using Elevate points on Virgin Australia, I decided to make a small chart listing the number of points required for many domestic destinations departing from Sydney, as well as a few international ones. Keep in mind that some international destinations such as Los Angeles have ridiculous fuel surcharges upwards of $700-$800 dollars. Otherwise, I found the requirements to be very reasonable, even generous in some cases. It turns out you can get some worthwhile use out of Virgin America Elevate points by redeeming them on domestic Virgin Australia flights!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Easter Island/Santiago November 2012 - Exploring Easter Island And Hanga Roa

***This post is part 5 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

With three full days bookended between two half days, we had just enough time to see all the major sites on Easter Island. Depending on your own preferences, however, three days may be not nearly enough to explore every amazing ruin and vista, or it may be entirely way too long on a tiny island out in the middle of nowhere. For me, it was just right.

I had done some research before arriving, so I knew of the main things I definitely wanted to see. But it wasn't until I started talking to other travelers and pulled out the official park map that I realized just how many points of interest there really were on Easter Island. And let me say, there are tons of stuff to see. You could literally spend two weeks there and not see everything, despite its small size and proximity.

I will give an overview of my itinerary on the island, but keep in mind that there were plenty of things we missed and places we would have liked to visit. However, we did try to hit all of the must-see spots and a few of the more obscure locales.

Day 1:
We agreed to take it easy on the first day after some long flights and the red-eye to Easter Island. By the time we were settled in at Kaimana Inn, it was almost noon-time already, so we decided to grab lunch first and then simply explore the town of Hanga Roa in the afternoon. There are actually many things to see in the immediate area, and it makes for a simple introduction before exploring the rest of the island.

Avenida Te Pito O Te Henua towards the harbor

It's a short and leisurely stroll to the harbor area, which, in many ways, seems to be the central gathering place in town. In fact, the very first moai you are likely to encounter is located here. After a quick lunch, we strolled along the waterfront and saw numerous surfers braving the cold waters. I also visited one of the two banks in town a few blocks away to exchange my U.S. dollars. Be aware that bank hours are extremely erractic, often shutting down the entire afternoon. The small post office just up the street from the harbor is a fun place to get your passport stamped and send out some postcards.

Surf lessons for the local kids at the harbor

Along the waterfront