Booking Award Tickets to Brazil’s Maldives: Fernando de Noronha

So I haven’t been to Fernando de Noronha or Maldives yet, but if you want BoardingArea readers to click, ‘Maldives’ is a good keyword.

Fernando de Noronha

Photo by Henrique Pinto, flickr

Seriously, I have been intrigued by this island archipelago paradise since I first noticed it on the Travelers Century Club list.

Having remote islands potentially the match of the Indian Ocean and Pacific while in roughly the same time zone as the US is appealing. When a trip is primarily intended to be for rest and lazy days, at 12-timezone, 20+ hour trip back home negates a chunk of the psychic benefits.

Much of the area is a natural park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Permits are pricey. Lodging is mostly local and way overpriced at all levels. Yet it looks incredible.

Airline service comes and goes. Currently Gol flies to FEN from Recife, and Azul from Recife and Natal. These are economy only services. Tam pulled out a couple years ago.

Delta is a Gol partner and has poured a ton of money into Gol. In the early years of the partnership I never could successfully book a Delta award. Gol had terrible availability (accessed erratically by flightstats, but don’t rely on it) and eventually I turned up that FEN was the only airport excluded from Delta’s initial partnership with Gol. I let it sit a couple years and was shocked when recently a trip to Brazil came up and called Detla to find flights available and easy for the agent to book. 25k roundtrip within Brazil. Yay!

Gol also has a paid airpass that is an alternative, if you can find out how to actually book the darn thing through travel agencies.

Azul can now be booked with United miles, also for 25k roundtrip within Brazil. United’s website supports many Azul flights, however does not have airport FEN in its system so returns errors. You can instead find award availability on wandr.me. You can set up connections on the United website then call in to add the FEN segments.

In my United test it took several agents saying some form of ‘no,’ ‘not available,’ or ‘not bookable,’ before finding an agent who explained, “tell agents they need to price it as airline code AD and as a revenue ticket in class T or Z, and then they can book the award.” I don’t know enough to know about United to say how that works, but it does.

I stuck with Gol because of better flight times for me and I always spend Delta miles ahead of United.

I am all set for next week! I have only one night and will make it count.

Readers, any Fernando de Noronha recommendations?

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  • Best opening sentence for a blog post ever. It looks spectacular, you couldn’t work in another day?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Kenny – sandwich between biz trips to India and in Sao Paolo, the flights coming in from India and on to Brazil I just couldn’t get to work better hike still allowing me to stop home for a few hours and say hi to not happy wife. Many of the overnight flights to Brazil from the US get in to major cities mid-morning, too late to pick up FEN connections. I am taking a mid-afternoon Cops flight from JFK which is priced cheap because it is like US domestic first.

  • purcitron

    1 night.. pretty risky.
    do take some photos.
    and.. с днем рождненья

  • Aptraveler

    That’s awesome that you’re able to squeeze it into such a tight schedule. We ALL will be looking for some COOL photos!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Aptraveler – yeah, you don’t see other bloggers flying Copa to Brazil instead of a nonstop, lie-flat, just to get there. 😉

  • Andrew C

    I know it’s probably a half dozen trips ago for you now, but any chance to get a follow up post (or email) about your visit to Fernando de Noronha? I recall seeing photos on twitter from this trip, so I know you made it there!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    Andrew C – sorry, it is my worst blogging habit. I am thinking of putting up a list of trips I haven’t blogged to shame myself into doing them. I have had the Fernando map in my briefcase since the trip and still not blogged on it. I will get that post up by Sunday, deal?

  • Andrew C

    The list is actually a great idea – gives a central place for people to bug you on them! And deal, Sunday would be great! Considering a trip to Fernando with my wife, and the (apparently trustworthy) information elsewhere online is surprisingly thin.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Andrew C – it is an unusual destination and partly why I have delayed is to try to do it justice. It is very expensive yet far from the luxury beach experience many seek, it is more for the beach bum type. Add to that if you go to Brazil for a beach do you want empty sand or hot bodies cheek to cheek?

  • Andrew C

    Good points, definitely what I’m mulling as we consider it. The uniqueness and outdoors aspect are the draws for me – no real interest in high end resorts and hot body beaches! The biggest issue I’m mulling over for this trip is what the weather will do – we’d be looking at a May trip, which is during the rainy season, so that could put a damper on things.

    And I keep seeing it referred to elsewhere as high-cost, but I assume this is mostly relative to other non-big-city destinations in Brazil / South America – my brief look at lodging prices was not particularly shocking in terms of actual affordability (coming from an east coast US perspective).

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Andrew C – the high flight cost you can deal with on an award ticket. Lodging is typical Brazil, meals are a bit higher, which are as expensive or more than NYC. The permits are a pain. If you don’t mind the overall cost of Brazil, which is high relative to other South American countries, then your budget will be ok.

    Tacked on at arrival or prepay is the environment tax, about US$18/day for the first 4 days then some discounts kick in for longer stays. This cannot be avoided. http://www.noronha.pe.gov.br/

    Also, much of the island and the best beaches are in the natural park which is US$60/person for 5 days, no other ticket options for shorter or longer stays. You do not have to go there if you do not want, but would miss many of the highlights. http://www.fernando-de-noronha.org/information/environment-tax.php

    Those are some stiff fees for a family to absorb.

  • Andrew C

    Fees like that are easier to justify in my mind because I only take 1-2 big trips per year! (Which is recognize is absurd in the grander scheme, but small beans compared to many around these parts) But definitely understand/agree that fees like this and high meal costs inflate expenses in ways that are not easily mitigated. Painful, but fortunately within our means, and probably worth it to me not to go stay in another Hyatt/Hilton/etc for the cookie cutter experience.

    We ran into the same in doing a self-drive safari earlier this year in South Africa (spent far more than this on fees even!) – but of course in hindsight I don’t mind at all having paid given the experience overall.

    By the way, does that environmental fee constitute the permit for visiting? I’ve seen reference to there being a limited number available, but no clear (English language, anyway) method to reserve one.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Andrew C – the environment fee is the fee for visiting. That link I have in Portuguese allows you to pay, I didn’t bother and dealt with it on arrival though you want to be first off the plane. I did not find any current evidence of really limiting the numbers beyond the few flights. If you get a seat on a plane you will be ok.

  • Andrew C

    makes sense. thanks for the advice!!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    Andrew C – need another day!

  • Andrew C

    No problem at all – thanks!!

  • Pingback: Brazil's Anti-Maldives: Fernando de Noronha - Rapid Travel Chai()

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Andrew C – I got the post up, I hope it’s useful and that you get a chance to visit.