A Machu Picchu Anniversary: Introduction

Avianca Business Class New York (JFK) – Bogota – Lima
Sheraton Lima Convention Center
Avianca Business Class Lima – Cusco
Palacio del Inka & Cusco

I think a place as epic as Machu Picchu is on almost everyone’s list of places to visit before they die. For Joann and me, the list is pages long but I’d say the great Incan estate appears on the top half of that bucket list.

The idea of going somewhere for our anniversary first came up when I wrote about a very lucrative US Airways promotion. Basically, the targeted promotion stated that if you redeemed your US Airways Dividend Miles by March 31, 2014, you would receive 10-50% of them back. It really made us think.

I remembered a discussion we once had about the New7Wonders of the World and how any of them would be awesome places to visit.

After a few days of brainstorming and figuring out time off, we decided to go for Peru and Machu Picchu. Even though we’d be headed there during the rainy season, at least there would be fewer tourists and it would be an experience nonetheless.

Machu Picchu, Peru

By Pedro Szekely at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosz/


The best way to make the most of this promotion was to travel in Business Class. Since most Business Class awards are around 100,000 round trip (according to the award chart), this would be great for us to maximize the mileage rebate that US Airways was offering.

With Dividend Miles, searching for Star Alliance award space is easy with Wandering Aramean Travel Tools (WATT). What Seth does over there is great. The specific tool I used was his Star Alliance Award Search. More or less it mimics the results that United.com will give you but in a more efficient way (i.e. +/- 2 days per search). For $15 a year, it is a must-have and a bargain compared to other tools out there.

Hotels for this trip were very easy. We are flush with Club Carlson points, due to Joann having the credit card, so we booked two nights at the end of our trip at the Radisson Miraflores in Lima. We’ll also be utilizing the best perk of the Club Carlson Visa – redeem at least two award nights and receive the last night of the stay FREE! So we are redeeming 38,000 Club Carlson points for two nights.

The rest of the hotels went to Starwood, another program that we need to whittle down. We are doing an overnight in Lima on the way to Cusco so we redeemed a measly 3,000 Starpoints at the Sheraton Lima Hotel & Convention Center. Not bad when the rate was $135.

While in Cusco and Sacred Valley, we’ll be staying at two Luxury Collection hotels by Starwood – Palacio del Inka and Tambo del Inka.

The Palacio del Inka is a Category 4 hotel where we used Cash & Points – 5,000 Starpoints + $75 per night.

The Tambo del Inka, which will be our base for exploring Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, is a Category 5 hotel. We used 12,000 Starpoints per night for this.

In the end, this is the routing we ended up with. We’ll be exploring Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and, of course, Machu Picchu.

Not bad for 100,000 miles each in Business and receiving 30,000 of those back!

Our Routing to Lima & Cusco
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Snowboarding in Whistler: Conclusion


After landing back at JFK and breezing through customs (thanks, Global Entry!), Joann waited for our bags while I took the Airtrain to Federal Circle to pick up our one-way rental car home.

I reserved the car with 1,200 Hertz points, certainly better than paying cash on a one-way rental.

We had an easy ride home from JFK to NJ since CX889 arrives around 7AM and it was Sunday.

A few thoughts from this trip:

  • Whistler must be the greatest place on earth for snowboarding/skiing.
  • If you love the snow, spend at least a week there. There’s so much terrain to cover (groomers, off-piste/backcountry, bowls, chutes, parks) and it never gets old.
  • There are several chain hotels where you can redeem points, but don’t overlook renting a house via VRBO or the like.
  • Highly recommend Scandinave Spa after several days of riding to wind down.
  • I don’t think the Avios premium (12.5K each way) from Cathay Pacific Business Class to First Class is worth it on the short route between JFK-YVR.
    • Business Class will more than suffice for the transcontinental flight. We only splurged for First because we were so flush with Avios.

And since these final posts are coming while the 2014 Winter Olympics are going on, this final photo is fitting!

Go, Team USA!

Go, Team USA!

Snowboarding in Whistler: Cathay Pacific First Class – Vancouver – New York


After taking a private shuttle back to YVR from Whistler, we paid to leave our luggage with a baggage storage service in the airport so we could head to downtown Vancouver. There was plenty of time to kill before our late evening departure.

We celebrated a friend’s birthday with some great Japanese food for lunch.


Beef tongue





Then, later in the afternoon, we went to Richmond Centre Mall to meet up with Joann’s cousins who live in Vancouver. If you want some amazing, authentic Chinese food, head to Richmond!

Finally, we were dropped off at YVR for our flight. We picked up our luggage and headed over to security. As it was Saturday evening, security was a breeze and we were into the First Class Lounge in no time.

The lounge is OK. There is a separation between First & Business Class, but no policing so teens were walking over from the Business Class section as they pleased.

The food & refreshments were basic, as far as Cathay goes, with food offerings of siumai and Veuve Clicquot as the champagne. After winding down a bit from our day in town and charging up devices, it was time to board.

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Snowboarding in Whistler: Whistler Blackcomb


With the influx of near-zero degree days here in NJ, I figured I’d pick up a way overdue trip report about our trip to Whistler/Vancouver last February. Writing about it really makes me want to go back already!

Of all the places we’ve gone snowboarding (all in North America), Whistler is definitely our favorite.

This was our second trip to Whistler Blackcomb. We loved it so much we had to make a return trip. Our first trip here was in 2009, just before the 2010 Winter Olympics. We got to see so many of the preparations for the Olympics as they went up. It was a pretty cool experience.

With a total of 8,171 skiable shreddable acres, it is the largest resort in North America. It also has plenty of backcountry if you’re into the off-piste type of fun. There are groomers, bowls, cliff drops, parks, and more; it seems they have something for everyone at WB.

Whistler Blackcomb resort is actually two mountains – Whistler Mountain & Blackcomb Glacier. Both times we went, we rode for six days and it still wasn’t enough time. The whole resort is just massive and there won’t be a shortage of areas to explore.

I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

A bowl on Blackcomb Glacier

A bowl on Blackcomb Glacier

Traveling on the Peak2Peak Gondola in between both mountains

Traveling on the Peak2Peak Gondola in between both mountains

Many bluebird days at Whistler

Many bluebird days at Whistler

Blackcomb Glacier

Blackcomb Glacier

If you have a chance to ski or ride at Whistler, take the opportunity! It really is one of the best resorts in North America and, as many rate it, in the world.

For tips on how to get to Whistler (aka flying into Vancouver), specifically from NYC, check out an older post about redeeming points to YVR.

Hawaiian Mileage Run: Conclusion


As we drove home, we couldn’t help but wish the rest of our #questforEXP would be just as fun and easy. If all it took were mileage runs to Hawaii, we could do this every week!

So far, only L.A. and San Jose are booked mileage runs. I just hope Hawaiian Airlines makes fares interesting once again this winter and American will come to play.

Overall, the first 1/3 of our push to 30,000 miles went perfectly.

The flights were smooth. The food was delicious. And you can’t ask for better scenery or a better partner in hustle! 😀

As usual, just about all the photo credits go to Joann on this trip. Maybe I’ll get some shots on the next one – plane spotting at LAX In ‘N Out?

I hope you enjoyed the live trip report. I definitely enjoyed doing it for a trip this length and some readers already mentioned they liked it as well.

Stay tuned for the trip by checking out my Trip Reports page. It’s going to be a busy last quarter of the year for flying!

Aloha HNL