I just booked myself a roundtrip First Class award from Honolulu to Sao Paulo, Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I also booked myself five nights at a hotel in Sao Paulo.
- 125,000 US Airways miles
- 100,000 IHG Rewards points
If you want to go see the biggest sporting event in the world in the world’s best footballing (soccer) country, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don’t let the cost of the flights and hotels hold you back, when you can book them with miles and points.
This two-part series will cover:
- The flight award possibilities including my three best recommendations for the exact routes to book
- The hotel award possibility (singular) that I’ve found
- Intra-Brazil flight options with miles and with cash
- How to get tickets to the games
In June 2012, I went to Poland and Ukraine to watch Euro Cup 2012, which is like the World Cup except it only features European teams. I spent 10 days in the two countries during the Group Stages of the tournament, went to two matches, and had a complete blast. On days when I didn’t have a match ticket, I went to the Fan Zones set up in each city with huge outdoor television screens.
I learned from that experience that going to an international soccer tournament is incredibly fun even if:
- your team isn’t playing (USA has never once qualified for Euro Cup! )
- you don’t have a ticket to a match that day
- you aren’t there for the whole tournament
With that experience under my belt, my personal goals for Brazil 2014 were to get to the country for a week or 10 days, not spend much money, and go to at least one match in person.
Seeing the USA or Brazil play would be a whole ‘nother level of awesome, but I am not going to break the bank to do it. I was going to let award space dictate my trip to me.
That’s because I accept one of the core truths about miles and points. Airlines (and hotels) use them to fill otherwise empty seats and rooms. They don’t want to displace paying customers, so they don’t make space available during peak times.
Considering all that, I have a pretty incredible itinerary.
I fly into Sao Paulo during the Group Stage of the tournament and out of Sao Paulo eight days later. I am flying on flat beds the whole way with only one stop in each direction in Washington, DC.
In Sao Paulo, I have a five night reservation at a Holiday Inn that is charging $300 per night for 20k IHG Rewards points per night (worth about $100 to me.) The other three nights, I’ll probably be down in Rio de Janeiro at a hostel or CouchSurfing.
I have requested match tickets to three matches. We’ll see if I get any in the ticket lottery, but I will find a way to get into at least one game in person. The rest of the time, I’ll spend in Fan Zones watching games, visiting interesting sites in Sao Paulo and Rio, or out celebrating with the winning teams’ fans.
I will not be going to any USA games. Our draw is atrocious–both in terms of opponents and locations. There was no easy way for me to get to our games in Recife, Natal, or Manaus because intra-Brazil award space wasn’t available and cash tickets were going for about $800 roundtrip from Sao Paulo.
I plan on busing five hours to Rio de Janeiro for a few days during my trip. It will give me a chance to possibly see a game at the famous Maracanã Stadium and explore Brazil’s most famous city.
I’ve always wanted to explore more of Brazil than just Sao Paulo and Rio, but I’ll save that for a future trip.
How I Booked My Trip
The best award space I found for my schedule was on United flights in First Class. United charges 67,500 miles each way in First Class from the US to Brazil. US Airways charges a little less at 125,000 miles roundtrip.
I had 100,000 US Airways miles from the Share Miles promotion in October. I had 70k Starpoints from getting the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express in September.
I transferred 20k Starpoints to 25k US Airways miles as described in this post. It posted two days after the transfer.
With my 125k US Airways miles, I had enough to book a roundtrip in First Class on United flights to Brazil.
I searched for award space on united.com as described here. I found Saver award space there and called US Airways at 800-622-1015 to book it. The US Airways agent pieced together the flights I found and priced it at 125k miles + $59 government taxes + $50 award processing fee. I paid with my US Airways Premier World MasterCard to earn double miles and had my ticket squared away after a ten minute call.
I then called United at 800-UNITED-1 to select seats. The Honolulu <-> Washington-Dulles legs are on a 767 with a 2-1-2 configuration in (two-cabin) First Class. I chose the middle bed, so I would have aisle access without having anyone climb over me.
The Washington-Dulles <-> Sao Paulo legs are on a 777 with a 1-2-1 configuration in First Class. I chose a window seat since they have aisle access too.
To book my hotel nights, I went to ihg.com and booked a Holiday Inn in Sao Paulo for 20k points per night that costs $300 per night. I had enough points in my account because I just participated in the Big Win and earned 154k bonus points for a few mattress runs. (There is a new Big Win you can register for right now!)
I still have a few nights unaccounted for. I’ll fill them with hostels–which will probably be $75 per night!–or CouchSurfing.
How You Can Do It
Part 2 will share my secrets for booking this trip for yourself including specific routes, hotels, and how to get tickets.