Using An Award Booking Service

If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m a miles and points junkie. I’ve written numerous times about how our family uses points and miles to get expensive flights and hotels for very little money out of pocket.

As a points and miles junkie, I’m pretty familiar with how to book awards and travel. I’ve always been able to find flights for our family of four to go back and forth to the US, but it helps that we tend to have a lot of flexibility with our schedule. When you’re looking for very specific dates, it can sometimes be harder to use your miles to book award travel.

This is when an award booking service can come in extremely handy. What they do is take a look at all the miles and points that you have and then piece together a complex itinerary to get you where you want to go for the miles you want to spend. For this, they take a booking fee that usually ranges from about $125 – $200. If they cannot find flights or you are not happy with the schedule, you owe nothing.

In my case, I had to book a flight to the United States on short notice and with relatively specific dates. I went to all the airline sites to check for direct flight options in business class (how I prefer to spend my miles for the better value) and nothing came up for the dates I wanted. The return flight was the most problematic with no seats in coach or business for the dates I needed. After spending the better part of a day searching, I turned to the MileValue Award booking service.

milevalue award booking argentina 300x60 Using An Award Booking ServiceI filled out their online form specifying my date ranges, preferred travel class, points balances and other preferences. I also specified that I preferred to use some of my 600,000+ US Airways miles over the lower balance miles I had on other airlines and that the bookings should be at the low-level award requirements. Within 8 hours I had a response and by the next morning I had an itinerary:

Departure:
Buenos Aires to  Miami: first class on American Airlines (my first international first class!)
Miami to Charlotte: first class on US Airways
Charlotet to Boston: first class on US Airways

Return:
Boston to Washington: first class on US Airways
Washington to Miami: first class on US Airways
Miami to São Paulo: business class on TAM
São Paulo to Buenos Aires: business class on Qatar

Tariq at MileValue confirmed that the dates worked, let me know about an 8 hour layover in São Paulo and asked for my approval to book. I confirmed and by that evening I had my tickets! I then sent my payment for their services via PayPal.

That is an itinerary that I would never have been able to piece together myself! And, the best part is it only cost 125,000 US Airways miles plus $255 in taxes and fees (including a $75 fee for booking less than 21 days in advance).

I’d estimate that this is a $6,000 – $7,000 flight that I got for 125,000 miles and $380. That give me a value of almost 5 cents per mile – an extremely high redemption value considering I only paid 1.13 cents for the miles during a US Airways share miles promotion.

I could not have been happier with their service, and I’d highly recommend them!

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Google Street View Argentina Launches

Google Street View for Argentina is finally here!

That’s right, about a year after Google announced that they were going to bring street view to Argentina, they have launched. Now you can get a virtual view of major Buenos Aires landmarks as well much of the rest of the country.

StreetView Buenos Aires time animation Google Street View Argentina LaunchesSurprisingly, after only driving in Argentina for a year, you can get a historical street view as well.

Find anything interesting?

This Reddit Argentina post is already picking out some of the more interesting shots which includes lots of villa views, Shrek, graffiti, and more.

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American Airlines Restricts Ticket Sales in Argentina

I haven’t even been back in Argentina a full day and the dollar blue hits a record high of $15! That’s immediately followed by American Airlines announcing that they are restricting ticket sales in Argentina. Ahh, financial uncertainty how I’ve missed you.

american airlines argentina 300x225 American Airlines Restricts Ticket Sales in Argentina

We used to be so happy together.

American Airlines will no longer sell tickets to or from Argentina for purchase in pesos for more than 90 days out. Want to fly from Buenos Aires to New York after December 18? Sorry, you’ll have to choose a different airline (while you can).

American is implementing this measure because of the widening gap between the official exchange rate ($8.43) and the blue rate ($15.00). Without knowing where this will end up, they do not want to get stuck holding pesos that become more and more worthless everyday.

So, here’s why American Airlines is not happy (and how you can benefit)…

Assume I want to go from Buenos Aires (EZE) to Miami (MIA) for a week in October. If I”m on the American Airlines website in the United States, the fare comes out to U$S 1213. Switching my country to Argentina, I find the same flight for U$S 1688 (higher due to the 35% Argentine tax on travel). Which one do I book?

Well, paying for that U$S 1688 flight on my Argentine credit card, I’d get billed at the official exchange rate, and end up with a charge of ARS $14,230. Now, if I convert my dollars at the blue rate to pay off the credit card, I’d only owe U$S 949. That’s a savings of almost 25% off the flight for me!

The 35% travel tax implemented by the government last December was designed to make this practice less attractive, but since the gap between the official rate and blue rate keeps widening, this is once again an attractive option for booking tickets.

Only time will tell what happens next…

UPDATE: Here’s American Airlines policy that was sent to ticket agents:

Argentina Point of Sale Restrictions
September 26, 2014
American Airlines has implemented sales restrictions for Argentina point-of-sale on our flights to/from Buenos Aires (EZE), Argentina.  These sales restrictions do not apply to point-of-sale outside of Argentina.

Reservations can still be made or ticketed for travel on American and American codeshare (AA*/OA) flights for departures prior to:

·       84 days for flights departing EZE
·       90 days for flights arriving into EZE

Reservations cannot be made or ticketed for travel on American or American codeshare flights (AA*/OA) for departures more than:
·       84 days for flights departing EZE
·       90 days for flights arriving into EZE
American will not accept bookings on other airlines with Argentina point-of-sale.

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Things I Miss About Argentina

bidet argentina 300x225 Things I Miss About ArgentinaWe’ve now been in the United States for the last two and a half months and are quickly approaching the time of our return to Buenos Aires, so I thought it would be the perfect time to reflect on some of the things that I miss most about Argentina…

  1. Our nanny
    We had only recently found our part-time nanny Maria, and she has been great! With two kids, she gives us the perfect reprieve from having to give them constant attention. Unfortunately, here in Vermont nannies are few and far between. (And a lot more expensive too.) It will be so great to get back and have her help – plus, the kids miss her a lot.
  2. Our dogs
    While I know they are in the good care of my brother-in-law, its hard to leave behind these furry members of the family. Still, I am quite happy that he was the one who had to walk them all winter, and I’ll get to take over as the spring arrives. Thanks, Andy!
  3. Our housekeeper
    Ok, so domestic help is a lot more common in Argentina than in the United States, but yes, I’m tired of cleaning up after myself. Our housekeeper is a life saver – she cleans, does laundry/ironing and even leaves the fridge stocked with home cooked meals for the week!
  4. The “dolar blue”
    When we left Buenos Aires, the dolar blue was at $11.95. It’s now $14.25! This is great, but the real question (as always) is how much inflation will take a bite out of this increase, and of course, where the country will end up with their recent “technical” default. It’s always fun to leave Argentina for a few months and see how much prices have gone up.
  5. Great restaurants
    Ok, so maybe we’re a bit sheltered here in Vermont and our dining experiences have mostly consisted of chains like Friendly’s and Applebee’s, but I cannot wait to get back to Buenos Aires for some fine dining! Even at the chain restaurants in the US, with a family of four, we cannot get out of there for under forty bucks. I’m still hoping that $570 pesos (U$S 40) in BA gets us an amazing meal at a top restaurant.
  6. Ice cream
    We toured the Ben and Jerry’s Factory in Vermont and let me say, “Argentine ice cream has spoiled me.” I do not think good ole Ben and Jerry’s stands up to Freddo, Volta or Persicco at all. It was actually a disappointment because I used to think Ben & Jerry’s was the best.
  7. The bidet
    Ok, it took me several years of living in Buenos Aires before I got comfortable with the bidet, but now that I have, I cannot imagine life without it. Is this TMI? If I ever move back to the US full time, a bidet installation will definitely be on the “to do” list for any house we live in. I’m not going to expand on this one anymore.
  8. The city
    Country living has been great, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the vibrant city that is Buenos Aires, especially now that our youngest is a year old and much less of a headache. Hopefully we can actually get out of our apartment and do some more exploring now! I’m sure that going from sleeping in complete silence to sleeping in the city will take a bit of getting used to.

That’s my list.

I’m sure that after a few weeks back in BA, I’ll be posting “Things I miss about the US ” and, for some reason, I’m still pretty sure it will be quite a bit longer…

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