As we get closer to June, we are starting to firm up some of our plans for our family trip to South America. I wrote a post last week about how I was able to change one of our flights so that we have an extra two days in Rio de Janeiro. Due to this change, we had to rethink our lodging. I told you all in a previous post about the hotel situation when we are going to be in Rio. Basically, due to the UN Conference that is taking place at the same time, there is a serious lack of hotel rooms available. In fact, there are not any rooms available at all at many of the major brands. Because of this, we had decided to look for an apartment to rent during our time there. I always use HomeAway to look for vacation rentals and extending our stay actually helped increase our choices because we can now look at places that rent by the week instead of only those that have daily rates.
Out of all the choices for rentals in Rio (there are currently 1630 on HomeAway), we have narrowed it down to 4. I will be sending inquiries to the owners today and should hopefully have something reserved by the weekend at the latest. That means that for now, it looks like we are pretty well set for lodging in Rio. Santiago, however, has become a different story.
You may remember that after flights, one of the first things I looked at for this trip was hotel rooms in Santiago. As I wrote about before, friends of ours had alerted us to a great Cash and Points deal at the W Santiago and I found it to be available when we would be there. The rate was $60 + 4000 points a night and was a significant savings from the best available rate of $389 a night. At that time, Chrissy and I had just started collecting Starwood Preferred Guest points, and neither of us had enough in our accounts to make a reservation for the full 5 nights. Instead, we split the reservation into two, with 3 nights under her account and 2 nights under mine. Cash and Points stays are fully refundable, so I wasn’t too concerned about what would happen if we needed to make a change, and I went ahead a reserved a king room for us. Technically, the King room is for two people, but the SPG representative that I made the reservation with said we should be fine with two adults and two kids. We put in a request for a rollaway bed and planned to have one of the boys sleep in the king bed with us. I know this is not the ideal situation, but it was something we were willing to put up with to stay at that hotel for that price.
Fast forward to this week. Since we were now going to be in Santiago for two less days, I needed to cancel two of the nights from our reservation. I had assumed that I could just call and they would take off those two nights. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. It turns out that Cash and Points stays are fully refundable, but you can not adjust the days of the stay. In fact, to decrease the number of days on a reservation, you need to cancel the reservation and then rebook the correct days. This created a couple of problems. If luck had been with us, when we split the reservation between our two accounts, we would have put the first 2 nights on one account and the next 3 on the other. We needed to cancel the first two nights, so that would have been easy.
Of course, nothing in life is easy. When I made the original reservation, I put the first 3 nights on one account and the next 2 on the other. So, to reduce the first reservation to one night, we had to cancel the reservation and rebook the night we need. The first issue with this is that there are not currently any Cash and Points rewards available for the W Santiago for the time we will be there. In order to rebook, there needs to be an available room. Luckily, the SPG representative I was speaking with was very helpful and put me on hold while she contacted the hotel to explain the situation and see if they would release a Cash and Points night for me. After a few minutes, she came back and told me that they agreed to release the night we needed.
This brought us to problem two. I made the call to change this reservation on March 3rd. This might not seem that significant to many of you, but those that pay close attention will know that March 1st was the date that the Starwood Category changes went into effect. Of course, the W Santiago went up a category and now costs more to book rewards nights. I was well aware that this was happening and actually was happy that I had made my reservation long ago before the increase. Little did I know that the category change would in fact be something that I should have been worried about. Since we had to rebook the one night from our first reservation, we now had to redeem at the current rates. Instead of $60 + 4000 points, a room now costs $90 + 4800 points.
There was not much I could do, other than kick myself for not making this call the week before, so I agreed to the higher charge for the one night. Before getting off the phone, I asked the agent to confirm that we would be allowed to have 2 adults and 2 kids in one room, and she said that should be fine. She also told me that she couldn’t find any information about fees for extra people in the room, so I should send an email to the hotel directly to inquire. When our call ended, I did just that.
I got a response back from the W Santiago the next day saying that they would have no problem with our planned sleeping arrangements and there would be no extra charge for the kids. They also wanted to let me know that the extra rollaway bed has a $75 a night fee and asked if I wanted to reserve one. I actually had to read the email a couple of times before I believed what it said. Basically, they will let you have an extra person in the room for no charge, but it will cost $75 a night if you want a place for that person to sleep. That sounds suspiciously like a $75 fee for an extra person to me.
Now, when I look at the total prices, our great deal at the W Santiago isn’t looking so great. For the first night, it will cost us $165 + 4800 points and for the next two it will cost $135 + 4000 points a night. I decided that maybe I should start looking at other options. Although it would be nice, I don’t need to stay somewhere as fancy as the W Santiago with the kids, and maybe I could find a better option for the same amount of money and save my points.
A few searches later, it became clear that like most other places in the world outside of the USA, it is quite difficult to find a hotel room for 4 people in Santiago unless you are willing to upgrade to a suite. My next idea was to look on HomeAway and see if I could find a place to rent like we are doing in Rio. Santiago has far fewer options for apartment rentals, but a quick search led me to a few that I think could work for us. I am going to send out some inquiries to Santiago property owners this afternoon too and see if I can find a place with enough beds for all of us.
At this point, it looks like this is turning into a vacation that will only be half miles and points related. Our flights are award flights paid for with BA miles before the switch to Avios, but it looks like we will be neither redeeming or earning points with our lodging. It hurts my soul a little bit to think about being away from home for 12 nights and not earning any hotel points or redeeming for any free rooms, but it is something I will have to deal with. This is an excellent example of a time when miles and points may not be the best option. Sometimes you have to make a choice and do what is best for the family rather than what is best for your loyalty account balances.
I will let you know how the apartment search turns out in both Rio and Santiago. Hopefully I will at least be able to pay for the places with a credit card and earn a few points that way.B If you have any great suggestions for accommodations in either Rio or Santiago, please let me know. I don’t have anything set in stone yet, and I would love to hear your experiences B with travel to those areas, especially if you had kids in tow.
On Friday night, as I was lounging on the couch, I decided that I would take a look at hotels for our family trip to South America in June. Shortly after booking our flights, a couple of close friends gave me a tip for our time in Santiago. They are actually in South America as I am writing this, and they were able to get a great Cash+Points deal at the W Hotel Santiago. They suggested I check our travel dates and see if the option was available for us too. I looked in to it and was able to book 5 nights at the W Hotel Santiago using the Cash+Points option for a total cost of $300 and 20,000 Starwood Points. This is a great deal considering that the current Best Available Rate for our dates is $389 per night, for a total cost of $1945 plus taxes. After subtracting the $300 I had to pay, my 20,000 points covered $1645 of the room cost, for a redemption value of over 8.2 cents per point. You have to love the incredible value offered by the Starwood Cash+Points option. In addition to the tremendous deal on the room, Cash+Points bookings are fully refundable, so if we decide to spend one or two nights in a nearby town, I can just cancel those nights at the W Hotel and my points and cash will be given back to me.
At the same time, I took a quick look at Cash+Points options for Rio, but nothing was available so I decided to look again when I had more time to evaluate and decide on a hotel. This brings us to Friday night and me pulling up the Starwood website. This was my first stop because I know that there are two Sheraton properties in Rio de Janeiro and I was hoping that Cash+Points had become available for at least one of them. I put in my travel dates and destination and when the results came up, I became a bit concerned. Not only were there no Cash+Points options at the two Sheratons, but there was not a single room available for booking. This result bothered me for a couple of reasons. First, we are traveling in late June, which is the beginning of Brazil’s winter season and not a busy time for tourism. Second, I was trying to book a hotel room 6 months in advance of travel. How often does a single hotel completely sell out of rooms this far in advance, let alone two hotels in the same town? Something big had to be happening in Rio.
My next stop was Google. I simply searched for “Rio June 2012″ and quickly got my answer. I had managed to randomly book award travel for my family to be in Rio de Janeiro at the same time that the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was taking place there. The actual dates of the Conference, also known as Rio+20, are June 20-22, but there are many other small conferences and pre-conference meetings scheduled for the weeks leading up to the event. Rio+20 will be attended by heads of state, other government representatives, environmental experts, and a total estimated crowd of 50,000+ people. I don’t even know if that number includes any anticipated protesters or lobbyists that are sure to be around for an event of this magnitude. With our travel dates of June 16-20 in Rio, we will be there at the same time as the majority of the Conference participants.
As I read more about Rio+20 and checked a few more hotel websites, I started to think that maybe we should adjust our travel plans. I began to look at options and quickly found that we didn’t have any. I knew from booking the flights that it was unlikely that we would find 4 award seats together and be able to change our travel dates. In fact, I had chosen these dates specifically because that was when I could get all of us on the same flights. I looked in to changing our destination. It would be easy for us to choose another city to visit instead, but the new British Airways rules state that if you change your routing, you must recalculate your award cost using the current award charts. I had booked this vacation in anticipation of the award chart change back in November. Under the new award charts, our flights would cost more than twice as many miles and making that change would completely defeat the purpose of booking the original trip before the new charts went into effect. This is not an option I am willing to take. Unable to change the dates or destination, I entered into a state of travel planning blues. I actually thought for for a little while that I was going to have to cancel our entire trip because we would have nowhere to stay for our 4 nights in Rio.
Then, as I was about to give up all hope, I remembered the latest Rookie Travel Tip post by Shannon over at Frugal Travel Guy. Her post was about how to stay frugally across Europe and pointed readers to hostelworld.com. I stayed at a few different hostels while traveling through Europe when I was younger, so I decided to check and see if there were any family friendly options available in Rio de Janeiro. I entered my travel dates and was excited when my search results came back. Not only were there lots of highly rated hostels right in Rio, but a few of them were even set up as private apartments. Up until this point, renting a private apartment for our stay hadn’t even crossed my mind. With the hostel pricing, it was looking like we could find a perfectly acceptable place to stay for even less than we would have payed for a hotel room for 4 nights.
Once I saw the apartment style hostels, I was reminded of one of my favorite non-hotel travel planning sites, HomeAway.com. Home Away has listings for apartment, condo, and house rentals all over the world, including here in the Unites States. They have a variety of search parameters so you can really narrow down your results to find the perfect place for you. In the past, we have used Home Away to find rentals in upstate New York, Virginia, Georgia, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Brooklyn. In fact, we also used Home Away to find the awesome apartment that we will be staying in on our trip to Paris in April. When I did a search for Rio on Home Away, the results came back with everything from a basic place to sleep to high end luxury accommodations. Although most rentals on Home Away are done by the week, since we are traveling off-season, many of the places I looked at in Rio are willing to rent by the night as well. It seems that our problem has now changed from a lack of hotel rooms to trying to decide from all of the different available hostels and apartments.
When you first think about it, 50,000+ people visiting town sounds like a lot, but once you take into account the fact that Rio is a city of over 6 million, it probably won’t make too much of a difference. Hopefully, those 50,000+ people will be spending most of their time in meetings and not a lot of time trying to see the things my family plans to visit. I am also hoping that they won’t cause a lot of traffic congestion with their extra security and secret service people.B However it turns out though, I am sure that our family will make the best of it and have a wonderful South American vacation. Who knows, maybe Chrissy and I will even run into some of the Canadian Secret Service men that we had a chance to chat with on our recent trip to Costa Rica.