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Three Days in Rio de Janeiro – Introduction
Alaska Airlines Economy Class B737 Seattle to San Francisco
United Global First Lounge San Francisco
United Airlines First Class A320 San Francisco to Washington
Lufthansa Business Lounge Washington
Lufthansa Senator Lounge Washington
United Global First Lounge Washington
United Airlines Global First B777 Washington to Sao Paulo
Azul Brazilian Airlines Economy Class E190 Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Exploring Rio de Janeiro
Azul Brazilian Airlines Economy Class E190 Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo
Star Alliance Lounge Sao Paulo
United Airlines Global First B777 Sao Paulo to Washington
United Airlines First Class B737 Washington to San Francisco


United published a few good fares between the U.S. and Brazil a few weeks ago and since I hadn’t yet been to South America, I thought that a weekend in Rio de Janeiro would be a great idea. The fare was reasonably good at about ~4.5 CPM, and that’s both award and status miles… therefore it would be excellent to fly to Brazil for the weekend to re-qualify for Star Alliance Gold instead of doing mileage runs around the U.S.

What’s even better is that the deal was in Global First (United’s international “First Class” – heavy emphasis on the quotes), so not only would I earn about ~50.000 miles (award and status), but I would also be able to fly a new First Class product to add to my list. For ~4.5 CPM, that’s very good, especially considering I can book Lufthansa or SWISS First Class using these miles.

United Global First

United Global First

The only issue for me was that the fare was from either San Francisco, San Diego, or Las Vegas (on the west coast) to Sao Paulo, Brazil. So two minor issues here – I live in Seattle and I wanted to visit Rio de Janeiro. I needed to position myself to San Francisco and I did that for 7.5k Avios each way on Alaska Airlines. As far as Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, I booked a short, cheap domestic flight with Azul Brazilian Airlines and credited those few miles to United since they’re partners.

I was also able to experience United’s new Domestic First Class on their A320 – the seats are actually very comfortable!

United's new Domestic First Class

United’s new Domestic First Class

What’s interesting is that if I wanted to add that last flight from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro to the United First Class fare, the price jumped up by $400 USD and the Azul flight booked as a United codeshare… while alone the flight cost under $100 USD… airline pricing fascinates me. Anyway, I was able to “add” segments to my trip for a relatively low cost in order to take advantage of the United Global First fare. The flights were as follows:

18 February: Alaska Airlines 320 Seattle – San Francisco, 06:00 – 08:06, Economy
18 February: United Airlines 309 San Francisco – Washington, 10:57 – 19:04, First
18 February: United Airlines 861 Washington – Sao Paulo, 22:05 – 10:40 (+1 day), Global First
19 February: Azul Airlines 2404 Sao Paulo – Rio de Janeiro, 15:10 – 16:13, Economy
21 February: Azul Airlines 6924 Rio de Janeiro – Sao Paulo, 16:17 – 17:35, Economy
21 February: United Airlines 860 Sao Paulo – Washington, 23:05 – 06:45 (+1 day), Global First
22 February: United Airlines 424 Washington – San Francisco, 09:00 – 12:15, First
22 February: Alaska Airlines 307 San Francisco – Seattle, 13:00 – 15:05, Economy

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Friday afternoon and left Sunday afternoon, meaning that I had half of Friday and Sunday, and the whole Saturday to explore the city and relax on the beach. I was actually able to sleep for about 6-7 hours in Global First and therefore I wasn’t jet-lagged at all, so it was nice to sleep normally at night in Rio de Janeiro.

Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

I previously shared my frustration with hotel loyalty and booking “chain” hotels since in Rio there are two Sheratons and a Hilton, but they are super far away from the actual city centre and the main points of interest… so I said screw it and booked a nice hotel in Rio that included free breakfast for under $70 USD a night… much better value even though no hotel points were awarded.

Naturally my friends and parents thought I was crazy to go to Brazil for the weekend.. especially when the journey lasted 28+ hours each way.. but as such is life and our obsession with miles/points and of course, visiting new places. I really enjoyed Rio de Janeiro and it was beyond beautiful. The only “bad” thing that happened is that I got super sunburnt, so my entire body and face is really, really red. Other than that, I had a wonderful weekend and it was awesome to finally visit a place in South America – I’m also planning on going to Argentina and Chile later this year.

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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.