To get this out of the way, I’m talking about flights (business class, of course) and hotels (Luxury Collection worked just fine!) but not things like food, tips, guides, and taxis. That should be obvious, but it’s not always to everyone so… disclaimer made 😉
As you read, I’ll go over the value of the miles/points/certificates so you get the full picture.
But yes, we spent 5 nights in Peru, with the primary bucket list goal of hiking at Machu Picchu achieved, flying Business Class from New York to Cusco, Peru (via Lima) and staying at two Marriott Bonvoy “Luxury Collection” hotels for a total of $132 out of pocket.
Of course, we used points and hotel free night certificates, and those have associated costs and values, so I’ll lay it out both ways 🙂
In this article
Flights to Cusco with Points
LATAM is the easiest way to get to Cusco from New York because you can transit Lima with the New York to Lima flights both flying overnight, leaving at approximately midnight in both directions.
The absolute best way to do this is with Alaska Mileage Plan miles as Alaska charges just 45,000 miles each way + a bit over $66 in taxes and booking fees. So we spent 180,000 miles round trip for the two of us, plus $132 in taxes and fees.
Note that this does include the onward connection to Cusco, although saver availability on that route is tricky and often only available as a married segment, so you really want to make sure you remember to book all the way through. Else, you’ll need to get either lucky with T class availability later or get a really skilled Alaska agent. What I mean by that is that technically there is a way for them to create a new itinerary and then move over only the LIM-CUZ segment into your existing reservation – but most agents won’t know how to do that.
Other ways to book LATAM are via British Airways Avios (more miles and distance based so it varies based on departure point) and Delta (many more miles).
If this trip is in your plans, Alaska credit cards are certainly the best way to accrue miles (DM me for a referral link).
Notes on the LATAM Flights to/from Peru
- Business Class seats on the JFK-LIM route (and presumably other non-stops to Lima from the US) go quickly. I booked at exactly 330 days (referencing the MilesTalk table on when airlines open award space) and from that day on, I never saw another open business class seat on our flight available. But at 330 days I was able to secure two seats.
- The planes are old 767s that have been refurbished. they look nice and have new IFE screens and hard product in general, but the seat wells are NARROW. We both had a bit of difficulty and discomfort in finding a sleeping position due to this, but we did both sleep!
- They will serve a full meal despite the midnight departure time, but meal service can take up to 2 hours from takeoff. On an 8 hour overnight, that means you are down to 5 hours and change to sleep. In light of that, I ate at the airport in both directions and slept the whole flight.
- Service was very pleasant, but on the outbound they would not give us menus, insisting we look on with them at the one printed menu they had and make a quick decision (I only ordered breakfast in both directions, but would have considered dinner if anything looked really special. Nothing did.) On the return, they did have menus at each seat so I’m not sure if they just somehow ran out on the outbound?
- There is no LATAM lounge at JFK. You are invited to use the Delta lounge.
- There is no LATAM lounge at LIM (or CUZ for sure – that airport is TINY). In LIM, you can use the Sumaq VIP Lounge. You’ll want to choose that over the similar Priority Pass lounge next door simply because the Priority Pass lounge will likely have a massive line while Sumaq will not. Your boarding pass is valid for two drinks at the bar (yes they count) and you may pick a drink exactly off their menu with absolutely no customizations whatsoever. Pretty strange but that is the deal! There is also a Priority Pass restaurant with what looked like typical Peruvian food and across from that is a bar that takes Priority Pass. The restaurant was crowded and the bar was jam packed.
- Overall, expect a pleasant and perfectly average business class experience.
- When transiting LIM on the way to Cusco, you will have to collect bags, exit customs, and re-check in. You do not do this on the return.
A Few LATAM Business Class Pictures
Since I did not stay up for what promised to be an “ok” meal, I only have a picture of the menu.
Value of the Miles Used
I think it’s important that, despite the flashy title (I can’t fit the whole thing in there!), we ascribe a value to the points. I value Alaska miles at 1.8 cents (perhaps that needs to start dropping slightly as we head towards their new streamlined award chart in March 2024?).
That’s $3,240 worth of airline miles, but I acquired all of them over the years with credit card bonuses and MileagePlan shopping and dining, so there was little opportunity cost there. Add the $132 in tax and we used about $3,372 total or $1,686 worth of miles and the small cash co-pay.
The flight prices out at around $2,305 each in cash – so the CPP isn’t amazing, but the reality is that we paid $132 🙂
I’ll also note that if you pay cash, the LIM-CUZ segment puts you in Premium Economy while Alaska can only book standard economy. There is no difference except for avoiding a ~$10/pp seat selection fee and being in the first 3 or so rows with, possibly, a blocked middle seat. It’s an hour flight.
Hotels in the Sacred Valley and Cusco with Points
This is where I really felt like we scored big using Marriott Bonvoy credit card certificates, which only worked since they have implemented the points top-off feature (which I still don’t quite get why they limit to 15,000 points).
We stayed at two hotels.
I decided that the best way to fight altitude sickness (aside from taking Diamox) was to head straight to the Sacred Valley from the airport rather than start in Cusco. Many people to start in Cusco (it seems natural to stay where you land) but the elevation is much higher in Cusco than the Sacred Valley, so it’s easier to acclimate if you head right there.
We stayed the first three nights at Tambo Del Inka, a Luxury Collection property in Urubamba – a town in the Sacred Valley. Here is my review of Tambo Del Inka.
We stayed the last two nights in Cusco at the Luxury Collection brand Palacio Del Inka.
Why did we choose the Palacio Del Inka over the JW Marriott that is a few blocks more central and much newer? Well, we actually had the JW booked initially, but communication over email before the stay was very wishy washy. Since one night was coming from my Titanium account and one was coming from my wife’s Silver account, I was requesting that they honor the Titanium benefits for both nights. They are 100% not required to do so – it would be as a courtesy – but they would only commit to a late checkout. Furthermore, the Palacio Del Inka waives the resort fees for Platinums and up while the JW does not.
I called the Palacio Del Inka in advance of the trip and asked if they would be able to accommodate and during the phone call a manager said if I went ahead and booked it and emailed him he would take care of it including a suite upgrade for both nights. I did, and he immediately blocked a suite for us. Couldn’t beat that! So that is why I chose the Palacio over the JW.
I didn’t review the Palacio Del Inka for two reasons: 1) We didn’t spend enough time in the hotel for a true review and 2) I was honestly a bit disappointed with the time we did have there in a unique way. The owners are the same as Tambo Del Inka – yet the Palacio Del Inka felt far less special.
It showed its age, the thermal circuit was tiny and honestly a bit lame, the breakfast was similar but the restaurant at dinner paled in comparison to the Tambo. We had a nice suite but there was nothing spectacular about it. I also found out later they would have arranged a complimentary shuttle to the airport but didn’t mention it when we asked for a car to the airport which they arranged and charged for.
I will say that the staff were all very nice and helpful besides that last bit.
Perhaps if we’d visited the Palacio first, I’d have been more impressed, but following the Tambo it was a letdown.
All of the nights (Tambo and Palacio) were paid with credit card certificates (35,000 point values) topped up with points.
And in case you missed my subtle link above, don’t miss my review of Tambo Del Inka.
Note that I have Titanium status with Marriott Bonvoy and managed suites for 4 of the 5 nights.
Value of the Points Used
Tambo Del Inka was averaging about $500 a night for the nights we stayed, plus a resort fee of around $38 a night. We were able to leverage Marriott Bonvoy credit card certificates for all three nights, with a top off. The certificates were all worth up to 35,000 points and Tambo Del Inka averaged 48,000 points a night. So that’s one certificate plus 13,000 points a night. I value 13,000 points at around $78 and the credit cards (the legacy Bonvoy Amex and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless) carry $95 annual fees.
So, that worked out to three free nights, but let’s count the “true price” at $173 a night by valuing the cost to have the certificate ($95) plus the value of the miles. So even properly valuing that, we “saved” 65% off the cash price. That’s a huge win in my book!
As you’ll read, the Tambo Del Inka was a spectacular hotel, one of the very top hotels in the area, and well worth it!
Back in Cusco, as mentioned above, we stayed at the Palacio Del Inka for two nights. We again used credit card certificates topped off with points – also 13,000 points each night. These nights had a sticker price of a bit over $300 the night we were there, so this was more like a 43% discount by using certificates and points.
I am not accounting for the cash price of suites despite the upgrades we got since I would not have paid for a suite, though it would make the math “look” lots better 😉
Getting to and from Machu Picchu from Tambo Del Inka
One of the very special things about Tambo Del Inka is that it has its own nearly private (one other hotel is apparently also served) train station. However, it only leaves and returns to this station (which is an offshoot track from the Ollantaytambo stop).
We arranged a tour to Machu Picchu well in advance. General rule of thumb is to have that done 6 months or more in advance because there are limited tickets available each day. If you are doing just one day at Machu Picchu as we did (as opposed to the multi day treks), you can choose from 3 hikes – but again, all have very limited slots and you really should have a tour guide although it’s not technically mandatory. I personally cannot imagine having done this without one.
Three poplar day trip hikes are Montaña Machu Picchu, Huyana Picchu (this is where the Stairs of Death are), and a very new short hike that just opened a few years ago called Huchuy Picchu. This is not an exhaustive list, but they are what I found most often when trying to locate what hikes one could do after arriving by train and bus. I don’t have a picture of the Stairs of Death, but definitely search in Google before deciding on that one!
From Tambo Del Inka, we woke up at 3am to get a 4am ride to Ollantaytambo (since the stop at Tambo Del Inka didn’t leave for another few hours and we wanted to make sure we had enough time to see the ruins and do the hike). I also wanted to stop at the local hot springs after and I’ll save P2 the trouble here – they were not worth the effort to get to in any way. Skip for sure.
From Ollantaytambo, it was about a 1.5-2 hour train ride to Aguas Calientes where we met our tour guide for the 20 minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu. We took a couple hours to tour the ruins and get some amazing pictures and then did the Huchuy Picchu hike. All told, it was much less of a hike than I really wanted (taking me less than 45 mins round trip) but it was an accomplishment nonetheless! I would not have minded doing one of the others (minus those Stairs of Death – holy cow!) but I’m happy to have both seen and hiked at Machu Picchu – a bucket list trip for me.
After we finished Machu Picchu and the local hot springs (again, skip those), we caught the Vistadome train back to Tambo Del Inka.
The Vistadome train was a nicer train (with bigger windows) than the one we took there and after 99% of the passengers alighted at Ollantaytambo, we stayed on and moved to the front seats (amazing views) for the last hour. I have to note that the last leg from Ollantaytambo to Tambo is very slow. So slow in fact that what is just a 30 minute drive is a 60 minute ride on the train. Still, I’m very happy we did it as it was a totally unique experience.
The Train to Tambo Del Inka
Since I think that the ride between Ollantaytambo and Tambo Del Inka is not one that most experience, I recorded about 9 minutes worth which you can watch below if you are a train fan like me….
Beyond that, if you have any questions about any of this, ask in the comments below!
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New to all of this? My “introduction to miles and points” book, MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Travel Dreams Using Miles and Points is available on Amazon and at major booksellers.