Islands, mountains, dangerous cities, giants and the World Cup

How’s that for a title, eh? We’ll get to those things, but first, some big news - drumroll please!

I accepted a job offer in San Diego. Yes, I'm getting a big boy job again, can you believe it? I almost lasted three years. Almost!

So what do I do to celebrate? Go for another last minute big trip, of course.

And it's a whopper: the Republic of California, Columbia, Equador and Galapagos, Peru and Machu Picchu, Chile and Easter Island and the World Cup quarterfinal in Rio. All using my stash of frequent flier miles (ok, more like a pile, but who’s counting).

San Diego, Medellin, Galapagos, Guayaquil, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lima, Easter Island, Santiago, Rio and Yellowstone

Since I was booking this last minute, the availability of award tickets was less than ideal and I had to improvise. A lot. Also, unlike the award tickets for travel to Europe I am used to booking with United miles (and stretching them to the limits), there is a lot more variety of good deals and “sweet spots” in the US Airways and American Airlines award travel charts for travel in South America.

Such as flying from Lima to Santiago, Santiago to Easter Island and back, and then onto Rio - four flights, each over four hours long with lie-flat business class seats for just 30,000 US Airways miles. That’s when a domestic roundtrip in the US would set you back 25,000 miles in economy!

LAN business class cabin sure beats economy on four-hour flightsOn the other hand, American has some really amazing bargains for flights within countries in South America so going from Quito or Guayaquil to Galapagos two hours off the coast of Ecuador set me back 5,000 AAdvantage miles each way while a paid ticket would be a bargain for $400. Heck, that wasn’t a set back - that was pocket change given the overly generous Citi Executive credit card signup offer for 100,000 AAdvantage miles this spring (I got four of those cards so far *patting myself on the back*).

Getting to Galapagos is no cheap feat - a bargain for 5,000 miles

Thanks to that offer, I didn’t think twice about booking myself a business class one way ticket back from Sao Paulo on American’s new Boeing 777-300ER for 50,000 miles, even though normally I would like to squeeze a bit more value out of 50k redemption than just a one way flight. So I went ahead and squeezed a bit more out of it - a flight from Belo Horizonte to Sao Paulo, then the 777-300ER flight to Dallas and onto Jackson Hole to meet my family there for a week in Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Now, that’s a much better use of 50,000 miles.

American Airlines new business class product on 777-300ER routesI even went further and splurged some more for a later flight from Santiago to Rio so I can spend a couple of days in Chilean capital. Sure, I could have saved myself 22,500 AA miles by just spending a night there (as an under 24 hours "connection" on the way from Easter Island), but with over 600,000 AA miles in the bank, it wasn’t a very tough decision. I felt the same about “wasting” 20,000 United miles to fly business class from Medellin to Guayaquil connecting in Bogota (short flights that I would normally fly in economy) but that was the only way for me to connect to the Galapagos flight the same day - sold!

So for the next six weeks I’ll be hopping between the San Diego coast and Medellin in the mountains of Columbia (what used to be the world's most dangerous city but has turned around quite nicely the last few years) to the remote islands of Galapagos, home to the giant turtles and other unearthy creatures. Coming back, I’ll be stopping in Guayaquil - Ecuador’s largest and most dangerous city, before ending up in the mountains of Peru at Machu Picchu. And then back out to an even more remote Easter Island with giant statues carved out of rocks and still standing all over the island. And then Copacabana beach and World Cup chaos in Rio followed by the mountains in Grand Teton and Yellowstone. And then another road trip through New Mexico and Arizona to move out to San Diego.

I am excited. Let’s roll!