After seeing pictures of the San Pedro de Atacama desert a few months ago, I decided it was time to take a trip there. I already had a trip booked to Santiago, Chile because I found a mistake rate for the Diplomatic Suite at the Grand Hyatt Santiago at $4USD/night. I tentatively booked 4 nights for December. To get there, I used my American Airline miles which I’ve accrued through multiple credit card sign up bonuses and flew in business class. Although the routing could have been improved, I flew on December 10 the only flight available with my miles: LAX-DFW-MIA-SCL-CJC. From home to hotel, it took 30 hours.
A few days before the journey began, I was hit with the flu. This made some of the travel more difficult. I probably with have been miserable in economy class flying sick, but in business I was very comfortable. Actually, I was more comfortable than being at home. Because on the flights, there were flight attendants that brought me food, water and juice.
I follow a lot of travel blogs and they have all gave amazing reviews about the AMEX Centurion Lounges. It was a nice opportunity to check out these lounges.
I found both the MIA and DFW lounges to be small and packed. It was a little challenging to find a seat next to a power outlet and there was no chance of finding a quiet area. The food selection was pretty good but it wasn’t anything better than you’d find at some of the nice business class lounges around the world.
It was pretty good for a US lounge since most tend to be lacking in food, quality and comfort. At the DFW lounge, they were giving out Ritz-Carlton hotel soap amenity kits which I gladly accepted. It came in useful at my hotel in San Pedro de Atacama since the quality of soap and other amenities were very minimal.
The LAX-DFW flight in business was on the usual wide leather recliner seats. The flight from DFW-MIA was in the “old international first class” seats which were being registered as business for that flight. Lucky me.
I did like how the chair was big and comfortable even tough it hasn’t been updated in a long time. The seat was able to swivel to the side so you can turn it into a desk and work. Why would anyone do that on a flight? Flights are meant to be enjoyed
Since I had the flu, I limited the amount of photos I was able to take since I just wanted to rest. The MIA-SCL flight used the international business seat config. Angled seats that weren’t lie flat beds. I luckily had no one sitting next to me so was able to have the window and aisle seat.
When I arrived at SCL airport I had to go through customs, get my bag and re-check my bag for my domestic flight. I had to do all this within in 90 minutes. My layover time was 2 hours but you have to pad the time because flights don’t let you get on 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. My anxiety levels were high and my health was low. I also don’t speak Spanish. I do however know how to ask where the library is. Which is useless since I won’t be able to read anything since the books would be in Spanish.
Transiting SCL Airport: After waiting to get my luggage, I had to wait in line to pass through customs. Then I had to fight through a sea of taxi drivers trying to get me into their cars just to get back to the departures level. I then had to find the check-in counter, wait in line and check my bag onto my next flight: SCL-CJC. I then had to go through airport security and get to the boarding gates. By this point, I had an hour to spare and was surprised that I made it through so quickly. This would not have been the case if it was LAX.
With that hour, I checked out the very humble Salon VIP lounge (contracted PriorityPass lounge). It was crap. Slow wi-fi, very sloppy spread of food and crowded. With 45 minutes before my flight, it was boarding time. As I approach the gate, I see a long line of people queued up already. I join the queue. I wait there for 30 minutes until I get to the front. The lady checks my ticket and tells me that my gate was moved. What the hell!? Frustrated and worried that I was about to miss my flight, I ran over to the new gate. I got my ticket an hour ago. Of course I didn’t check the departures board since it was so close to take off already and I just checked in. As I got to the new gate I was relieved to see they had not boarded yet. I wait in the queue for about 30 minutes until they announce that the flight was delayed. They kept pushing the departure further and further very slowly so you couldn’t leave the area. It was a 2 hour delay. My body is weak from the flu but my anger is keeping me going. They could have gave an accurate estimate so I could have at least waited in the crappy lounge. After boarding the flight, the captain apologized for the delay and explained there was a problem with the crew’s work visas and the standby crew had to be called in.
Luckily the flight went pretty smooth. After arriving, I was impressed that the Calama airport was incredibly clean and modern. I proceeded to baggage claim and it took about another 30 minutes just for the first bag to come out. Lots of irritated passengers. When I saw my bag on the conveyer belt, I was happy and relieved. As I exited the baggage claim area, I was offered transfers from several people but was happy to see my name on a board from Licanbur transfers. I pay the transfer fee ($20,000 CLP round-trip) and then wait.
I wait for another 30 minutes as other passengers get their luggage and pay the fees so the shuttle can fill up. We finally load up with about 14 in the big van (2-1 seat config) and head off to San Pedro de Atacama.
It was about 2 hours until I was dropped off. The driver is about 90 minutes but once in the city, the roads are very rough. Roads are uneven dirt paths and we even crossed over a small river (no bridge). In that last 30 minutes I got incredibly car sick. I was the 3rd to last person to be dropped off.
30 hours after leaving my home, I had finally arrived at my hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.