One of my closest friends, Sergio, is originally from Brazil, and for years has been talking about going to an area called Fernando de Noronha, which is an archipelago of 21 islands about 220 miles off the coast of the mainland. He told me the area was a real hidden gem and that he had dreamed about going since he was a child. He started planning a trip there a couple months ago for this April, and when the chance for me to join him came up, I jumped at the opportunity. but first I had to figure out how I was going to get there.
To get to this scuba diving paradise, I wanted to make use of some of the 100,000 miles that I got for signing up for the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard. Right now is is actually considered the off-peak time for the region, so I found an economy SAAver economy off-peak award on American for a flight non-stop from Miami to Recife using just 20,000 miles. I knew that I could have flown from Miami and routed via Sao Paulo in TAM first class, but as I mentioned in my economy post, adding many hours to a flight meant less time on the ground to enjoy the destination. I felt that for such a short trip (I was only going for 3 nights) being able to get there easily was worth sitting in economy, plus the $800+ fare for only 20,000 and around $26 in taxes was a steal!
As I had an 11:30pm departure from Miami, my game plan was to tire myself out in order to sleep during the eight-hour flight. Before I left for the airport, I took a strenuous 6:40pm class at Barry’s Bootcamp to whip my body into shape and tucker me out. I wanted to be as tired as possible for the flight. After I sweated out my toxins, I got to the airport around 10pm, had a bite to eat and I was ready to go.
Unfortunately, TSA PreCheck closed at all terminals at MIA at 10pm so I had to go through the regular security line. At first, the security agent had said I could keep shoes on as I’m PreCheck-eligible, and the go through metal detector but the head supervisor called me out and said I would have to go through normal security. These types of nuisances make me realize how much I love PreCheck under normal circumstances, especially at MIA where the line is quick and very well staffed.
As I really wanted a meal, I didn’t bother heading to the Admiral’s Club. Even though my Amex Platinum no longer gives me access to the lounge, I still could have gotten in for free as I’m a oneworld Emerald and you can gain entry on international tickets, plus I’m also an AA Executive AAdvantage cardholder.
Though I was fine with my economy reservation, I had set an ExpertFlyer alert set in case any business SAAver seats opened up and I would have reticketed (at a cost of 30,000 more miles / 50,000 miles total), but sadly none did.
Luckily I had been able to snag an exit row window seat, so at least I had the most possible room in economy. Up until departure, the exit rows were empty, but people started filing in. A couple sat next to me, sadly but then got booted by a man who actually had the aisle so we ended up having the middle seat open, which definitely helped. I have broad shoulders so having extra space was nice, especially being able to put my bag underneath the middle seat so that I didn’t have to climb over my seatmate to get to the overhead every time I needed something. Plus it didn’t block my legroom. Now the downside to this extra space? My seat didn’t recline, even though it really should have.
Obviously for a flight of this length, having a seat that doesn’t recline is not ideal in the least bit, however given the opportunity and knowing ahead of time, I would probably choose the same row, assuming the seat reclined this time! I usually don’t like the front two exit rows because people crowd around waiting for the lavatories. The first row of coach is also pretty much aisle seats (there is no window seat due to the plane’s door), but people congregate there throughout the flight so it could be noisy and disturb my sleep. Honestly, I wish AA would add real Economy Plus seats that recline more – it seems like the ones on this plane were just exit rows.
The good news is, I sent a quick email to American customer service about my seat problem, and as compensation, they offered me 15,000 miles – that means my ticket to Brazil only ended up costing me 5,000 miles!
I was also disappointed that there was no inflight entertainment at my seat, and only overhead TV’s in the aisles (which I banged my head on numerous times!) , so I would highly recommend you bring some entertainment on your own. Fortunately the seats were equipped with power outlets so I was able to charge devices as I attempted to sleep.
As the frills of economy class are few and far between, I brought one of my old amenity kits with an eye mask and my own Bose Quiet Comfort ear phones (plus my trusty friend Xanax) to help lull me to sleep even when I’m not 100% comfortable. The flimsy pillows provided don’t do much for me, so I wrapped a blanket around it to firm it up a bit. In the middle of the night, the AC was in full blast on the plane and the cabin was a frigid polar vortex, so I was very happy that I brought some thick socks and a hooded sweatshirt to keep me warm.
I was able to get to sleep (even with a child kicking the back of my chair throughout the flight), though I never really felt like I was in a deep sleep since the exit row has a lack of padding on the seats which is a big issue. I can’t sleep sitting straight up (which shows how spoiled I’ve become due to business/first class international and being able to use miles to fly there cheaply), so when I’m forced into an awkward position like I was while I was sitting in the non-reclining exit row seat, the lower half of my body was numb!
I didn’t eat dinner because it was an 11:30pm departure and I wanted to sleep as long as possible, if at all possible. Even though I didn’t sleep great, I was sleeping during breakfast service, but the flight attendant left me a box in the morning which contained crackers, cheese and water and it hit the spot- enough to hold me over until I could get a regular breakfast.
Before too long, though – and feeling had returned – we were landing in beautiful Recife. Arrival was a breeze, immigration was painless (the Non-Brazilian line was super short, which is always a nice sight when you’ve reached your destination) and the checked bags were out right away. I was in a taxi en route to Sergio’s hotel (the Nobile Beach Class Executive) within 20 minutes, where I met him for a decent breakfast buffet near the beach. The taxi cost all of $33 and I was able to pay with credit card in airport as the ATMs did not work for me for some reason. After 5 short hours exploring Recife, I was back at the airport for my Azul flight to Fernando de Noronha – reviews of both experiences to come.
Overall, despite some trepidation at a fairly long-haul economy flight and the lack of creature comforts, I really had a good experience. The low amount of miles I needed to redeem the award were reason enough to jump on it, but having the exit row was definitely crucial. Of course, if the seat properly reclined I would have been more pleased, but what can you do about that? Overall, I left and arrived on-time and I got to my destination quicker than most other methods, so I valued the convenience, though I was happy I did book a business saver level award for my trip home, which ended up being ridden with delays, cancellations and last-minute trips to Sao Paulo, so stay tuned for that!
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