The last several weeks have been a whirlwind for your humbled author, as I made the five-day, 65-kilometer Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and lived to tell the tale. The tale lasted two weeks in total and included Cuzco, Lima and the lost city of Machu Picchu in between.
In this post I outline how you can fly business-class and stay in luxury resorts for pennies on the dollar. So here you go: here’s how to travel to and stay in Machu Picchu, Peru using your hard-earned frequent flyer miles.
My readers know that I love Chase cards – they consistently offer the best sign-up bonuses and have offerings for both personal and business needs. And, most importantly, their in-house Ultimate Rewards platform transfers to United Airlines (among many, many others).
This is precisely the route I recommend taking if you have Peru in your travel crosshairs: the Chase United Explorer and Chase Sapphire Preferred will do the trick in getting you there. Both applications can be made at the same time, as long as you are able to hit the combined $5,000 in three months.
This will net you 100,000 United miles (after transferring the Ultimate Rewards points), more than enough for today’s journey. For hotels, I recommend the Chase Marriott and American Express SPG card. Again, both can be applied for at the same time although I recommend waiting a few months to apply for the third Chase card.
So what will all this net you? United Airline miles allow you to book flights on it's partner, Copa Airlines. While the flight to Cusco from mainland U.S. will likely require two stopovers, the two airline cards above will net you enough miles for a round-trip business class ticket - if you avoid high season - to help keep you comfortable.
While the Boeing 737 to get you there does not offer fully-flat beds, the extra space comes in handy during a 16-hour flight - see pictures below. We traveled in mid-April and were able to secure roundtrip business class tickets for 70,000 miles each.
Cuzco was our first destination and a necessary stop for any Machu Picchu trek as it takes two to three days to acclimate to the high altitude (and trust me, you’ll need it). Even if you are taking a bus or train, Cusco will likely be your home base for at least a night.
As such, there are many good options for hotels in Cuzco – so much so that I actually recommend you pay for lodging at this point if you’re able to. The Casa Andina Private Collection costs just over $100 a night and gets consistently high reviews. While the rooms weren’t to die for, the quality of service and bedding was enough to satisfy our needs – see pictures below. Cheaper alternatives are plentiful if you’re looking to save your hotel points for more expensive areas of the world.
If luxury is what you seek, I recommend the JW Marriott Cusco – the room rates go as high as $450 a night and offer a level of quality unmatched in the city. Book on points for 25,000-30,000 a night – three nights can be had using the Chase Marriott card’s bonus and by transferring leftover Ultimate Rewards points.
Urubamba isn’t a city that is recommended by many, but it was a perfect addition to our journey. We had one reason for heading there: after 65 kilometers (and no hot water for far too long), it was time to treat ourselves to Tambo del Inka. The SPG luxury hotel gets some of the top reviews I've ever seen on TripAdvisor, registering over 95% of five-star reviews.
They get those reviews good reason – the spa is excellent, rooms spectacular and food exceptional. While we did have some hiccups with regards to the service, overall the experience was a great one and one I recommend to you. The best part is that the hotel has it’s own train station, meaning you can make it to Machu Picchu and back in a day, if trekking isn’t your thing. By hitting the spend on the American Express SPG bonus offer, you will net up to three nights at the luxury resort. And this for a hotel that routinely charges over $400 a night…zero dollars never went so far.
Lima was another stop in our Peruvian experience and one we saved for the end. The city didn’t disappoint. Lima is home to over 9 million people – almost a third of the population in Peru. Miraflores, an amazing neighborhood on the water with some of the best restaurants in the world, is where we spent most of our time and where I suggest you spend yours.
The JW Marriott Lima is centrally located in Miraflores and the rooms have amazing views of the water when clear. The hotel is probably not the best use of your points at 30,000-35,000 a night when rooms retail for as low as $250, especially considering the other options available.
Here I leave you a choice: spend the Marriott points in Cusco or Lima, and either pay or omit the other city from your journey. Either way you scored free nights at an amazing resort in an amazing place. For the record though, my vote goes to Lima.
And there you have it Milers - my template to get to and stay in the wonderful country of Peru for far, far less than you could have dreamed. While getting to Machu Picchu will cost something (whether by train or multi-day trek - which, if the latter, I strongly recommend Llama Path), the rest is taken care of. Especially in a place where you can find incredible meals for fewer than ten dollars, this trip can be as lavish or cost-conscious as you choose. Once you lay your eyes on Machu Picchu though, the cost won't matter - moments like those are why we travel.