Being The Points Guy: Maximizing Points and Miles to Book a Trip to Brazil

May 28, 2019

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There is so much to see, do and eat in a country as diverse as Brazil. Aside from the most delicious açai bowls and bottomless caipirinhas, Brazil is famous for having some of the best parties. With Carnaval right around the corner, Brian had the perfect excuse to make Brazil the next destination he visits for his vlog, Being The Points Guy.

So, what exactly does a trip to Brazil entail for The Points Guy? First-class flights, lots of shopping, suite upgrades and more. Here’s how Brian booked his trip and how you can do the same.

Flights

All three major airline alliances offer nonstop flights between the US and Brazil. However, if you want to fly first class, as Brian did, your only option is to fly American Airlines.

American offers its Flagship First product on one long-haul aircraft: the Boeing 777-300ER. It serves daily flights to São Paulo (GRU) out of Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), New York Kennedy (JFK) and Miami (MIA).

A saver first-class award between the US and Brazil (excluding Manaus) will set you back 85,000 AAdvantage miles (worth $1,190 based on TPG’s valuations) each way. Unfortunately though, it isn’t always easy to find saver first-class award availability on these flights and there wasn’t any availability for the dates Brian needed. So, he used the Platinum Card® from American Express to pay for a business-class ticket and earn 5x Membership Rewards points on the airfare purchase and then applied a systemwide upgrade (SWU) to move up to first class.

SWUs are the most coveted upgrades in AA’s system as they allow you to confirm an upgrade to the next-highest class of service (economy or premium economy to business and business to first) with nearly any fare class. A few exceptions include award tickets, basic economy tickets, military and government fares, charters, companion tickets, infant tickets and employee fares. SWUs are only given to AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Concierge Key members, but they can gift them to any traveler, whether or not they’re traveling together.

(Photo by Ileana Ravasio/Attimi Photography for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ileana Ravasio/Attimi Photography for The Points Guy)

As previously mentioned, the only Brazilian destination with Flagship First service is São Paulo. Since Brian’s trip finished off in Rio de Janeiro and he wanted to fly nonstop back to New York (JFK), he flew business class on American’s Boeing 777-200 for the return.

American charges 57,500 miles one-way for business-class flights between Rio (GIG) and the US. You can get all the miles you need to book this flight by applying for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard. Alternatively, if you’re short on AAdvantage miles, you could top off your account by transferring them from Marriott Bonvoy.

Accommodations in São Paulo

There are plenty of options when it comes to using hotel points in São Paulo. Marriott fields the most options, with four hotels available for 25,000 points per night. Out of those, the Renaissance São Paulo Hotel is the nicest and best-located.

Under the Hilton umbrella, there’s the Hilton São Paulo Morumbi, which costs between 17,000 to 80,000 points per night, depending on the season, as well as some more budget-friendly options like the Hilton Garden Inn Santo Andre.

(Photo courtesy of the Hilton Sao Paulo Morumbi.)
(Photo courtesy of the Hilton São Paulo Morumbi)

The IHG family also offers something for all budgets. There’s a Holiday Inn for 10,000 points per night for budget travelers, a Staybridge Suites for 25,000 points for those with a moderate budget and a InterContinental for 35,000 points per night for those wanting something more upscale.

Hyatt has just one hotel in the city — the Grand Hyatt São Paulo — and it costs 12,000 points per night.

Although they can help bring down costs, none of the points options are especially fabulous or offer a local experience, so Brian decided to look elsewhere. The hotel Brian ended up picking was the Fasano São Paulo and it did not disappoint. The hotel is located in the posh Jardins district and is the city’s best of the best.

Standard rooms typically cost around $500 per night, meanwhile deluxe suites, like the one Brian stayed in, cost around $1,600 per night. Not being a part of any of the major hotel brands, Brian’s best option was to book through Hotels.com using his Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which offers 10x miles on hotel stays booked and paid for through Hotels.com Venture through Jan. 31, 2020. After stacking that bonus with the Hotels.com loyalty program, Brian effectively got a 20% rebate (or up to a 24% rebate, factoring in our 1.4-cent valuation of Venture miles, which now transfer to 15 airline partners) on his booking.

Alternatively, Brian could have booked his stay at the Fasano through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Program, which he has access to with Platinum and Centurion-branded cards, such as the Amex Platinum and the Business Platinum Card® from American Express. By booking through the program, Brian would’ve received perks like such as a room upgrade, free daily breakfast, late check-out, a $100 spa credit and more. However, in this case, the return on spending with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card was much more attractive.

Accommodations in Rio de Janeiro

Although not as large as in São Paulo, aside from IHG, all the major hotel brands also have a presence in Rio de Janeiro.

Right smack on Copacabana Beach is the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro. It isn’t that luxurious, but its location and rooftop pool make up for it. Award nights here cost 35,000 points. A cheaper alternative is the Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort, which costs 25,000 points per night, but note that it isn’t as centrally located.

Also located on Copacabana Beach is the Hilton Rio de Janeiro Copacabana. However, finding standard-level award space at this hotel is practically impossible so you’ll most likely need to shell out at least 52,000 points per night for a premium room award.

(Photo courtesy of the Hilton Rio de Janeiro Copacabana)
(Photo courtesy of the Hilton Rio de Janeiro Copacabana)

The most upscale option points option is the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro and award nights here cost a reasonable 12,000 points. However, it’s relatively far from the city center (20 miles).

Since Brian wanted to stay somewhere that was upscale and centrally located, he booked the Emiliano Hotel Rio. Standard rooms here start around $450 per night. Like the hotel in São Paulo, the Emiliano isn’t a part of any of the major hotel brands so Brian booked through Hotels.com/venture using his Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to 10x miles on booking, plus another effective 10% back thanks to the Hotels.com loyalty program.

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)

Bottom Line

Booking a first-class trip to Brazil isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. Just don’t forget to apply for a Brazilian visa before your trip.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe to Brian’s YouTube channel and hit the notification bell, so you don’t miss a post — new videos go up every Tuesday and Thursday.

Featured photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy.

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