I’ll go over our itinerary to Argentina and Chile and the miles/points that we used on different segments. I’ll go over what we did well with regards to planning while touching upon the aspects that we could have done differently. Everyone’s purpose for a trip is different, but my wife and I had one main goal in mind: To make the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile our priority. We had 6 full days in Argentina so we had to make the most of it. So here it goes……
Non-stop flights to Buenos Aires, Argentina depart from NYC, Newark, Miami, Dallas, and Houston. We were traveling during the busy holiday season and we were definitely not going to use cash to book this ticket. Round trip airfare was at least $1,300 a person on American, United, and Latam Airlines. United Airlines was charging 70k miles one way from Newark or Houston for this trip. American Airlines was charging over 70k miles from JFK, Miami, and Dallas (DFW) We caught a huge break when we searched up the one way trip from Miami on British Airways. They were only charging 25k miles per person from Miami to Buenos Aires via American Airlines. Since they are One World partners with American, we were able to use British Airways Avios (BA’s mileage currency) to fly on American. Since neither my wife or I had ever visited Miami, we figured we’d use our JetBlue miles to fly from Albany to Ft. Lauderdale and escape the ensuing blizzard that was en route to Albany, NY. This allowed us to spend two days there and enjoy the city. The flight to Buenos Aires departed on the 24th from Miami during the evening. A one-way ticket on the same flight would have cost us over $1,900 dollars per person!!! We got significant value on this redemption, possibly one of our best ever. British Airways is a transfer partner of Chase (If you hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred) and American Express (Platinum and Gold) so it’s one of the easier mileage currencies to accrue.
The damage had we booked using cash. Insane.
Day 1: Buenos Aires
Our flight landed at 6:45 am and this was really going to be our only full day in Buenos Aires. I tried to sleep as much as I could have, but anyone who travels economy class knows, you can’t really sleep well when you’re sitting for that long. My wife and I were both tired and our hotel, Dazzler Polo (part of the Wyndham portfolio of hotels) was all the way on the other side of town. We just hoped that even if the hotel didn’t let us check in early, they would at least hold our bags until the 2 pm check-in time. Once we got our luggage we hailed an Uber (more on this later) and took the nearly 1 hour ride to the other side of town. By the time we got to the hotel, it was 9 am. I walked to the front desk and told the lady we just arrived from Miami and kindly asked her if there was any possible way she would let us check in early. She quickly checked her computer and said there was a room available and that she would give it to us. This was a HUGE deal. It allowed us to take a much-needed 2-3 hour nap and still have the entire day ahead of us to explore the city. Since it was summer in South America, sunset was not until 8:10 pm. So a huge shout out to the lady at Dazzler Polo for really helping us salvage that day. The hotel itself was awesome and I booked it using a hotels.com gift card that I redeemed using Ibotta (you can read about that app here).
Front Entrance to the Dazzler Polo Hotel
The free breakfast was far better than what you would get at American hotels.
This hotel was located in the northwest part of Buenos Aires in the neighborhood of Palermo. To visit some of the main sites near the city center, we got on their subway and got off at the last stop (Catedral). Their subway system is really easy to use and if you do need help, the employees will gladly assist you.
Once we got off the subway at the Catedral station, everything we wanted to see was a short walk away. Plaza de Mayo is a beautiful central plaza that has a pink building called Casa Rosada, the statue of San Martin, and the Catedral Metropolitana. Many picture opportunities will present themselves here. If you walk a bit further into the hip and trendy Puerto Madera neighborhood, you’ll find the Puente De La Mujer or Women’s Bridge. This neighborhood also has many restaurants and brunch spots and is very lively at night. We happened to be there during Christmas so most of the places were closed.
The best way to explore any city is by walking. Could you get around between some of these sites with a taxi or Uber? Sure you can. And speaking of Uber, I preferred using it for longer distances in Buenos Aires. The regular taxi was also an option but with Uber, you’re locked into a fare and you know approximately how much you’re going to be paying before you step into the car. With a taxi, there’s always that chance that we might be taken advantage of as foreigners. The app worked seamlessly and a one hour ride from one side of the town to the other cost about $25 American dollars. The taxi company quoted me double that price. But most of the time we walked, and walked, and walked and saw much of the sites we wanted to see. We loved Buenos Aires and now it was time to get back to the hotel and prepare for the flight to El Calafate the following day.
Day 2: Buenos Aires to El Calafate
I booked this flight using Chase Ultimate Rewards points on Aerolineas Argentinas. El Calafate is the gateway city to the Patagonia region of Argentina. Had I used cash, the flight would have cost $450 round trip per person. Again, I was set on not paying cash for any airfare. As a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card holder, I was able to get 1.5 cents per point booking flights. This cost us 30k points per person for this roundtrip from Buenos Aires to El Calafate. This trip was taken from Buenos Aires’ other airport, Jorge Newbery International Airport which is located on the north end of Buenos Aires, about 1.5 miles from the Dazzler Polo. It’s much smaller than their main airport and I chose it because of the cheaper fares to El Calafate. The total flight time was about 2 hours 45 minutes. Once we got there, we booked a round trip transfer with a company called VES. It’s a smaller bus that took us to our hotel and also dropped us off at the airport when we’re flying out of El Calafate. The total for two people was 480 pesos or about $26 USD. This was far more cost effective than taking a taxi and Uber did not offer service here. Here’s a tip: Request a window seat and sit on the right side of the plane (Any seat that is F). This side will give you some spectacular photo opportunities as you’re landing into El Calafate. You can see an example below.
For the duration of our stay at El Calafate, I booked a hotel named Picos Del Sur. For $56 a night, this hotel offered free breakfast, free WiFi, and was located just a quarter mile away from the city center where all the shops, restaurants, and cafe’s are located. The staff was awesome and super friendly and the premises weren’t bad either. The breakfast was okay as most of their offerings were high carb items such as sweet croissants, muffins, toast, cereal, etc. Most of this hotel stay was paid via hotels.com gift card via Ibotta (man I love that app).
Day 3: El Calafate
For any of you that might travel to Patagonia in the future, let me give you some advice: Throw the weather forecast out the window. This is one of those places where you can try to plan around the weather and it means absolutely nothing. We saw days where torrential downpours were forecasted only to see clear skies (much to our delight). The weather here changes hourly because the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are literally just a couple hours drive away. On this day, we decided to stay in El Calafate and spend the day exploring the town and nearby places. One gem we encountered was the Laguna Nimez Reserve. This place is a sanctuary for flamingos, owls, birds of prey, and other unusual birds I had never seen anywhere else. The entrance fee was 150 Argentinean pesos or roughly $8 USD. The entire circle around the sanctuary takes about 90 minutes to walk and it offers some amazing views of Lago Argentino as well as the mountains in the background. If you’re in El Calafate, I highly recommend it. For the second half of the day, we spent walking around the city center and checking out the town vibes. El Calafate has many nice boutique shops that worth checking out.
Day 4: Perito Moreno Glacier
On this day, we booked a tour to Perito Moreno Glacier with Hielo & Aventura. You can visit their website and see everything they have to offer right here. They picked us up from the hotel at 7:30am and off we went on the 90 minute journey to Parque Nacional Las Glaciares. The first stop was a scenic overlook for about 10 minutes. This spot provided a glimpse of the awe-inspiring scenery yet to come. The second stop took us to the multiple viewing decks that are right in front of the glacier. We saw a few smaller chunks of glacier calve off into the lake and even that was incredible. The third thing on the agenda was the boat ride to the southern face of the glacier so we could actually hike on it. If you’re coming to Patagonia, I highly highly highly recommend doing this activity. For you Game of Thrones fans, it literally felt like we were north of the wall. The scenery is incredible and unlike anything I have ever witnessed. The ice has a nice shade of blue and even the water in certain crevasses seems like it has a deep blue color to it. This activity costs about $180 per person and that includes pickup and drop off from your hotel. As a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card holder, I was able to apply my $300 annual travel credit for 2018 for this excursion, effectively bringing our cost down to about $60 combined for two people. That’s a hell of a way to use the travel credit. Something to keep in mind: There is an entrance fee to Perito Moreno that is separate from the tour cost. It’s 500 Argentinean Pesos (equivalent to about $27 USD). The park ranger will collect that fee at the entrance of the park and from what I remember, they don’t accept any other currency. Be sure to exchange your currency before you get there. My wife and I booked the 90 minute hike for this trip rather than the 6-8 hour hike. Looking back at it, this is one the things we wish we did differently. It wasn’t as challenging as we initially thought and if you’re physically fit and have done longer hikes before, the longer hike might be of interest to you. Just be sure to dress in layers for either one you may choose. Even though they give you snow clamps, it’s still important you have a decent pair of hiking shoes for this trek. Merrell, Keen, Columbia, etc would all suffice. They also require you to have gloves so you don’t cut yourself on the jagged ice if you fall. Sunglasses are a great idea if you’re there on a sunny day since the glare off the glacier can be blinding at times.
The boat ride to get to the glacier is also incredible and you can view it for yourself. It does get windy and there will probably be rain at some point so it’s best to wear waterproof clothing and a raincoat.
Day 5: El Chalten
On day 5, we did a day trip to El Chalten, a town that’s about 3 hours north of El Calafate. El Chalten is known for its hiking, scenery, and Mt. Fitz Roy. Unfortunately for us, Fitz Roy was hidden by clouds for the entire day we were there. But we still didn’t pass up the opportunity to hike a few trails. Some of the trails are moderately challenging and will require a lot of steep climbing. You will get wet, muddy, messy, and if you’re not physically fit, it might be painful. But on a clear day, the reward at the end is majestic views of Fitz Roy that is postcard-worthy. The best thing about El Chalten? It’s one of the few places where you get access to the trails without paying an entrance fee. If you’re into camping, it’s a very popular spot to set up camp.
A viewpoint from one of the trails at El Chalten
The viewpoint at the end of the Mirador trail
Day 6: Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
A trip to Patagonia is not complete without a visit to Torres Del Paine National Park on the Chilean side. This was an entire day’s journey and the trip cost about $250 per person (including pickup and drop off from the hotel). Luckily for us, my wife is also a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card holder and we were able to apply her $300 travel credit for 2018 into this excursion. This brought the excursion down to a very reasonable $200 or $100 per person. The tour bus picked us up at 7am and off we were. The drive from El Calafate to the Chilean border was about 2 hours. Once there, you have to get off the bus twice, once before you cross into Chile to be checked by Argentinean authorities and then again when you’re in Chile. Once there, you get your passport stamped by Chilean border patrol and declare anything that is required to be declared (don’t be that person). Our tour group had about 30 people and the entire process to cross into Chile took about 45 minutes. Once we were cleared, the journey to Torres Del Paine took about 90 minutes. We were super fortunate to have a mostly clear day when we got there. If you have a clear day, you’ll be able to see the famous towers. We stopped at the first four viewpoints for pictures before stopping at another point for lunch. They provide lunch but unfortunately, they don’t provide a vegetarian option. This was my one issue with this tour operator and I conveyed to them that it’s not acceptable given the exorbitant cost of the tour itself. Luckily we bought plenty of granola bars and gatorade and that was sufficient. After lunch, we stopped at a few more viewpoints for some spectacular photo opportunities. Anywhere you stop in the park, there will be an opportunity for an amazing picture. The last stop was a 90 minute hike (very easy) that gave us panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. We also saw guanacos, a species that is related to the camel and llama. I took a video of the hike which you can view below.
The towers of Torres Del Paine were visible on this day
Day 7: Flight Back to Buenos Aires and Flight Back to New York City.
This was the conclusion of our trip. Our flight back to Buenos Aires departed at 11:35 am and arrived at around 2:10 pm. To get back to Buenos Aires, we flew Aerolinas Argentinas as we did when we arrived. For the flight to New York City, we redeemed American Airlines miles for seats on American (not British Airways Avios as we did on the way here). The redemption was 57.5k miles per person and although it wasn’t a great redemption value, it was better than United, Delta, and other options we had. We grabbed steak at a place called Al Rawshe which was not too far from their smaller airport where we had landed. Argentina’s number one export is beef and steak is something they do really well. And trust me, the steak at Al Rawshe was phenomenal. We then took an Uber to their larger airport and were headed back home. Another tip when you’re flying out of El Calafate: Sit on the right side of the plane just as you would when you fly into El Calafate. You get incredible views of the turquoise blue Lago Argentina on upon takeoff and ascent. You can view the video below.