Friday, August 21, 2015

The Inca ‘Flight Path,’ or ‘A Mileage Burn To Write Home About’....

Correspondent’s note: I’m going to break this trip report up into the ‘what and why’ first, with a second post covering the ‘where and how.’  In other words, this is the how to book and why to book, with the experience based info coming next.


Yes, everyone has this shot.  Yes, it's worth going and taking it yourself, especially if you do it in style! 
In May, Mrs. Cruising Altitude and I did our second international mileage burn in as many years.  I have to say, that both trips, (the first being our Oneworld Explorer tour of Europe) turned out to be an amazing use of miles.  Great value throughout, reasonably ‘bookable,’ and a totally memorable trip to somewhere I might not have thought to go otherwise.

Awhile ago, some other savvy folks we’ve met in our travels, told us unequivocally that we “had to go to Tambo Del Inka, on a miles and points deal, and drink lots of Pisco Sours and coca tea.  Oh, and yeah... probably go to Machu Picchu at some point.”  Well then, who am I to decline such specific advice??
Welcome to Tambo Del Inka...

....Have a [large] Pisco Sour.

As you may or may not know, Tambo Del Inka is a stunning, relatively new, Starwood Luxury Collection resort in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, high up in the Peruvian Andes.  The resort is well designed, and tastefully constructed to fit in with the natural surroundings.  On one side rooms face a rushing river lined with towering eucalyptus trees, and the other has views of a year-round glacier.  The grounds are beautifully up-kept, and the facilities include a unique indoor/outdoor pool, water spa, gorgeous architecture featuring towering timber beams to the ceiling, and a reasonably priced, but fantastic restaurant.  
Quiet and peaceful grounds.

Indoor/outdoor pool and spa.

The resort has only been open for a few years, and so is not yet showing age.  Plus, for the environmentally conscious, it meets LEED standards.  A rarity in foreign construction, but feels good given the natural treasures this area holds.  

The town of Urubamba itself is next to the resort, and is easily walkable if you want to explore.  It’s not a ‘tourist area’ per se, but can be interesting to check out to take in some local culture.  While we were there there was a several day festival going on, complete with parades, dancers, and music.  What’s most useful about the proximity though is possibly that you can get a WAY better deal on transportation to the train stations, airport, and archeological sites by just walking a few blocks from the resort down to the nearest gas station and picking up a local taxi.  Tambo’s travel agency on site will happily arrange tours for you…. for double or more the price.  
Urubamba festival

View from the front of the Tambo lobby

For the nuts and bolts of this booking-  Tambo Del Inka, perhaps because of it’s remote location, does have ongoing decent availability for cash & points nights throughout the year, especially if booked far in advance.  At its hotel tier, it requires 6000 starpoints and $110.00 per night.  Worth it.  No question. The added great thing about cash & points is that those nights are generally completely refundable.  One not here though- as this is a ‘resort property’ make sure you keep on top of what the ‘cancel-by’ date is.  This property requires about 3 weeks’ notice to cancel, though I’ve had good luck getting around these rules by calling the Starwood Platinum line and pleading my case.  

Room selection-wise, if you can’t get one of the ground level suites that have a private patio, I’d go for the side facing the river (where we were).  It’s quiet, and with the placement of the trees, really feels like you’re out in nature.  Plus, you can open the sliding windows and listen to the water.

Tambo Del Inka is beautiful from any angle...
As an added note, this property is good with Platinum recognition.  While we ended up there during a peak time when the resort was fully committed and weren’t put in a suite, they did offer to move us for the portion of our stay that they had a suite available (we turned it down because our room was plenty nice), and apologized that they couldn’t confirm a suite and offered both extra points, and the free breakfast, rather than just one or the other.  Plus, for Plat guests they take an additional 15% off the restaurant and bar prices, which made the already good prices due to the exchange rate even better.  The 1:3 rate of dollars to soles was awesome, and resulted in wonderful dinners out for 2 people coming in around $30, with drinks.  

The 'riverside' rooms.

Both the lobby, and the restaurant feature huge fireplaces.  Walking into Tambo at the end of a day of adventuring is like getting a hug...especially when it comes with a warm cup of coca tea.

So….given all of the above, how does one get here???

That’s the best part!

I knew that LAN flies nonstop from LAX to Lima a couple times per day, and does it for a stunning 30k AA miles each way in business class.  Knowing this, and that I needed two tickets, I pulled out the calendar FAR in advance (ie. 331 days), and got on the phone.  The tickets can be booked as a Oneworld partner award, and I recommend booking them as one way tickets initially so you don’t have to wait until 331 days before your return date to book the outbound.  As a bonus, for the same mileage, you can add on the connecting flight LIM-Cuzco, which is where you need to get to to visit the Sacred Valley.  

On the phone, the booking was fairly simple, and stress free, as being an EXP my mileage tickets are fully refundable up to the day of travel.  Plus, no big taxes and fees here- only about $36 per ticket, round trip!  Done and done. the best, best part.  When I booked the tickets, the flight was on a 767-300, with a 2-2 config in J.  Fair enough, sounds good to me.  However, several months later, I found out that AA had reassigned me a new FF# due to an alleged hack of their database.  Annoyed, I called to find out what was happening, and ended up on the phone with an AAgent for 2 hours because my flights hadn’t moved over to my new profile, and in the moving, they lost my seat assignments.  

Anyhow… when the Lima itinerary was pulled up, the agent asked what seats I wanted, “it’s a 2-2-2 configuration” she said.  Wait, WHAT NOW??  I knew something was up, so I asked her what the plane type was showing as. It was….wait for it…. now a brand spanking new 787-900 Dreamliner that LAN just took delivery of at the start of the year.  

Cue avgeek meltdown.  

This plane’s so new, SeatGuru didn’t even have a map for it, and I couldn’t find any reviews, other than previews of the new cabin config and seats from LAN itself.     
Extremely spacious 2-2-2 lie-flat seat config. 

787-900 J cabin
Not bad at ALL- 8+ hours on the Dreamliner in J (there’s no F on this plane, so J is the pointy end) for 60k miles and $36.  I didn’t even mind (too much) that LAN only released tickets on the later departure from LAX that arrived LIM at about 11pm, and the return was a redeye.  I booked a layover hotel in LIM, and we slept a bit and then took a morning flight to CUZ.  The connections in and out of CUZ go at least once an hour, so that was no issue at all.

All in all, this trip can be a fantastic value- luxury plane and resort for very low points, miles, and cash.  Not too many times can you get 4 nights in a 5 star resort, and round trip airfare on this kind of flight for two for around $500!  
Let's go!

Up next- the trip report itself.  TBIT’s new lounge, LAN J service, and adventures- salt pools, Inka ruins, fun at altitude, fast and slow taxi drivers, and more Inka ruins….

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