Rio De Janeiro Trip – Introduction (How I Booked & How Much I Paid)


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I’ve recently returned from my first ever visit to Rio De Janeiro and only my second trip to Brazil so, before I start reviewing the aircraft I flew in, the airport lounges I visited and the hotel I stayed at, I thought I’d revive a type of post I haven’t written for a while – one that shows my thought process when booking, how much my bookings cost and how many miles/points I earned from the trip.

Flight Bookings

I was already scheduled to be over in the UK before this trip was booked (most of my trips start out of the UK or the EU as that makes them a lot cheaper) so, for the purposes of costing this trip, my starting point is the UK.

For the long-haul flights between Madrid and Rio I used the Avios I earned through the incredibly generous Avios promotion Iberia ran last year and, for the short haul flights between London and Madrid, I ended up using cash.

Here’s how much the flights ended up costing me:

The Iberia promotion earned me 90,000 Avios but to earn the Avios I had to buy 10 one-way flights on Iberia (which I didn’t actually have to fly).

I booked 10 one-way flights between Santander and Madrid at a cost of a little under $28 each.

I spent $277.30 on the 10 flights I booked (using my Platinum Card from American Express) and, in July last year, the 90,000 Avios posted to my account without any issues (I was one of the lucky ones):

I then put those Avios to good use by booking a roundtrip Business Class fare between Madrid and Rio de Janeiro:

The £149.80 of taxes I had to pay were charged to my Platinum Card from American Express and came to $198.76.

For the short-haul flights I was originally planning to use the remaining 5,000 Avios from the Iberia promotion and a further 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points as part payment but I ended up paying for the whole roundtrip with cash (using my Platinum Card from American Express).

At the time of booking £109.42 ended up costing me $142.66.

Total cost for all flight bookings: $618.72

Hotel Booking

I thought long and hard about which hotel to book in Rio and it wasn’t a particularly easy decision.

A the time I was considering which property to book in I was also having serious reservations about traveling to Rio in the first place so there were a few priorities I had in mind:

  • I wanted somewhere I wouldn’t stand out
  • I wanted somewhere convenient
  • This wasn’t a trip on which to experiment with where I stayed – I wanted somewhere where I’d have a good idea of what to expect and where I could be reasonably sure to have, at the very least, an ok stay.
  • I wanted to make the most of my hotel status to help keep costs down

To make the most of my hotel status I centered my search around Marriott and Hilton properties.

My Marriott Titanium status would guarantee me a daily complimentary breakfast (as long as I chose my hotel brand carefully), access to the Executive Lounge (if the property had one) and possibly a room upgrade.

My Hilton Gold status would guarantee me a daily complimentary breakfast and may even get me a room upgrade and/or Executive lounge access.

When it came to deciding where to stay the more obvious areas were those around Copacabana and Ipanema and, in these locations, Marriott offered two properties….

…and Hilton just one:

I didn’t rule out other hotels and other brands off hand but, for all the hotels I considered, either the prices were too high or the reviews on TripAdvisor were inconclusive or, based on Fakespot, of questionable provenance.

With my Marriott benefits offering more than my Hilton benefits it was the Marriott properties I checked out first.

These were the advertised cash rates for the nights I wanted to book….

…and these were the points costs:

The Sheraton’s rates looked very tempting but, after further research (on Flyertalk and various other websites), I decided that, as well-priced as it was, the Sheraton’s location wasn’t particularly conveniently located…so that ruled it out.

The cash rates for the Hilton and the JW Marriott were very similar (you’ll have to trust me on that point as I don’t appear to have a screenshot to prove it) and, as I had absolutely no intention of paying $267+taxes per night on a trip that was just for me, it was time to delve into my Marriott points balance.

Marriott Bonvoy gives members the 5th night free on bookings of 5 nights or more but, annoyingly, I hadn’t been able to find award flights that would allow me a 5-night stay so I had to make do with just 4 nights.

It was this hotel search (amongst others) that taught me to look closer at the nightly points rate that Marriott shows in the first result results it displays.

It would have been easy to assume that the hotel was going to cost 35,000 points per night based on the first rate that Marriott displayed (see the screenshot a little further up this post) but the news was actually a little better.

Only the first night cost 35,000 points – the remaining 3 nights cost 32,500 points each for a total of 132,500 points.

I didn’t have enough points to book the Hilton and with Marriott offering me the better benefits it was a no-brainer to choose the JW Marriott as my base in Rio…but the story doesn’t quite end there.

The lobby of the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

After I decided to keep hold of my Amex SPG card (courtesy of a generous retention agent) I noticed that Amex had deposited the ‘free night’ certificate that comes with the card into my Marriott account…and this certificate is valid at properties costing up to 35,000 points/night.

I called up Marriott and asked a very friendly agent if she could replace the first night of my reservation (the only night that cost the full 35,000 points) with my free night certificate from Amex.

She quickly admitted that she wasn’t sure how to do this but, after around 15 minutes on hold, she came back to tell me that she’d got some help from a supervisor and that all was now in order – 35,000 points had gone back into my account.

My 4 nights at the JW Marriott in Rio cost me 97,500 Marriott Bonvoy points and one free night certificate from my Amex SPG card (now the Amex Marriott Bonvoy card).

Total Costs & Total Earnings

Costs

  • Flights – $618.72
  • Hotel – 97,500 Marriott Bonvoy Points + 1 Amex Free Night certificate.

Earnings

  • Amex Membership Points (Iberia flights, BA flights & Iberia taxes paid via Platinum Card) – 3,095
  • Avios (from BA flight bookings) – 1,970
  • British Airways Tier Points (from BA flight bookings) – 10
  • Marriott Bonvoy Elite Night Credits – 4 nights
Iberia A330-200 Business Class

Bottom Line

I was pretty happy with how low I managed to keep the cost of this trip without having to sacrifice much comfort.

I had Iberia Business Class in both directions for my long-haul flights, an exit row seat on each of my short-haul Economy Class flights and JW Marriott Hotel in which to stay at my destination – not bad for what I paid in cash and points 🙂

In the coming days and weeks I’ll try to post all the reviews I have from my trip as well as some thoughts on Rio itself and, in case its helpful, the precautions I took to minimise the chances of running into trouble during my stay.

All in all I’m very glad I took this trip.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Rio doesn’t have a huge amount of chain hotels where you can use your points/free nights. Marriott and Hilton is pretty much it. We stayed at Hilton and would absolutely recommend it. People complain that it’s on one end of the strip – so what? I loved the location, loved the hotel. Exec lounge isn’t going to be Hong Kong quality, but they have booze early evenings if getting free booze is your thing. You’re going to be taking Uber everywhere anyway, Uber is so cheap it’s almost free. And a stroll along Copacabana Beach can’t be beat. To get to Sugarloft use Uber, have them drop you off at the ticket area. Since you booked your Sugarloaf cable car tickets online in order to get the discount, you’ll hop out of the Uber, and be good to go. At Sugarloaf ticket area there are even Uber employees directing you to where the pickup/drop-off spot is…Uber is that popular. Same goes for getting to Christ the Redeemer. Book your tickets for the tram (try to choose the tram over just a minibus – it’s a fun way to see the rain forest on the way up to the statute and yeah try to be on the right side going up, left side going down but don’t worry if all “good” seats are taken-views good on both sides). Take Uber from your hotel, and they’ll drop you at the tram ticket office. No need to bother with tours – so easy to do it on you own. By the way, my husband says the real reason Christ the Redeemer exists is to show tourists what to do when being robbed: Put your arms up and look straight ahead.

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