Weekend at the Falls: American Business Class, Gol Domestic, and the Sheraton Iguazú Resort: American to Miami in first, then Business Class to Sao Paulo

  1. American to Miami in First, then Business Class to Sao Paulo
  2. Gol Smiles VIP Lounge and Domestic Service to Foz de Iguassu
  3. Sheraton Iguazú Falls Resort & Spa
  4. The Wonder of the Falls
  5. Gol Domestic Back to Sao Paulo and the Admiral’s Club Sao Paolo
  6. American’s Business Class to Miami and on to DC

Standing in line at TSA an inquisitive fellow (perhaps a wannabe Behavior Detection Officer) was asking me where I was headed. I told him Iguassu Falls. He asked where that was. I told him I was going for the weekend. “Gotta do something this weekend.”

Coupled with top tier elite status on American and some extra systemwide upgrades, along with a bonus promotion meant to incentive additional flying by passengers from the oneworld Mega DO in January, I could fly business class and earn. I started looking around for confirmable upgrade seats. There were plenty of South America via Miami.

One of the places on my ‘list’ that I’ve always wanted to see has been Iguassu Falls, and since I could get confirmable upgrades to and from South America, why not? I’m not especially keen on American’s old angled business class seats, I’m really looking forward to the rollout of their new business hard product, but for a South America flight departing in Miami I’m really just in the air a bit over 7 hours, eminently doable.

There are several routes to fly and an airport both on the Argentina side and on the Brazil side. As an American, I need a visa for Brazil and they charge a higher fee because the U.S. government is extortionate to foreigners, it’s their way of striking back at the American people, but since we individually have little say in the matter it doesn’t change U.S. policy, it just deters tourism. And yet I’m sympathetic.

If I were to enter via Buenos Aires or Rio I wouldn’t need a visa to fly to the Argentina side of the Falls, but I would have to pay a similar reciprocity fee.

The only way to visit the Falls without that $140+ tax as an American would be to arrive on the Argentina side but not via the two major Argentinian gateways. I dismissed that entirely since I didn’t want a land transfer or a longer flight than necessary in intra-South American economy. Besides, I wanted the option of visiting the Brazilian side of the Falls in any case. I booked flights with confirmable upgrades via Sao Paolo.

Of course that meant I had to get a Visa. And Brazil doesn’t make that process easy. Naturally you need a couple of passport photos, those are easy enough to come by. And you’ll mail in your passport. The fee, though, is payable only by US Postal Money Order. And they will only mail back your passport in a US Postal Service pre-paid Express Mail envelope.

I went to get the postal money order but hadn’t realized that they required an Express Mail envelope, so it was back to the post office. I genuinely don’t recall the last time I was in a post office, we don’t keep Express Mail envelopes at the office, they tell me no one has asked for one of those for as long as can be remembered. (Folks who are self-employed have another hurdle, the requirement to submit a bank statement showing sufficient funds for the intended stay.) It also wasn’t obvious where to mail the package to, the website referenced a physical location based on a street corner rather than a street address. So that took some extra research.

I sent the passports off and hoped for the best. In theory you’re able to track progress online, and after a few days the package showed up as having been received. No further progress was checked off until the passports were actually completed with Visas. The whole process took about two weeks.

A couple of months passed and I hadn’t thought much about the trip beyond booking a hotel. I did a bit of research on lounges in Sao Paulo, but otherwise figured I would just show up and figure out how I wanted to approach the park.

Last Wednesday towards the end of the work day it was time to head out to National airport, the usual $20 cab ride.. much faster than changing trains on the metro and cheaper than parking. I couldn’t check in online for the trip and couldn’t check in at the kiosk, so I walked over to the premium line. It was several people deep, the woman in front of me was traveling to school for 2.5 years and had about 8 pieces of oversized luggage which the AAgent didn’t charge extra for.

After about 10 minutes I was up to the podium, the inbound aircraft for my flight to Miami was delayed, it was coming out of Miami and doing a straight turnaround but weather in South Florida was bad. The flight was already showing an hour’s delay but looked to increase a bit from there, my 2 hour connection was no longer looking as comfortable. I was confident I’d still make it but the system had flagged me for rebooking, to the agent moved me to the late Miami – Sao Paulo flight. I’d increase my layover in Miami by two hours but I’d still make my flight to Iguassu Falls with plenty of cushion.

Two seats were issued in the middle section of business class for the 777, and I was told nothing else was available.

On the plus side, the tickets were re-issued in J class rather than C which is what’s used for business class upgrades. I got it into my head that I might be able to upgrade the J ticket to first class, an on the way through security rang the Executive Platinum desk which told me that seats in A (first class upgrade) were available. Once through security I went straight into the elevator and up a level to the Admiral’s Club where I asked about an upgrade. The agent took one look at the reservation and said that I couldn’t be upgraded further since I was already upgraded to business. Rats! It was that obvious? I had hoped the J re-booking would obscure that but no such luck. I had further hopes that I would earn bonus miles for a business booking on the segment, but didn’t have any luck with that either.

The agent did, however, offer to see if she could get row 8 seats unblocked, the row only exists on the right side of the aircraft, so two seats in the row instead of 6. It’s near the lavatory but it’s the most private, and it’s a window and aisle rather than 3 seats in the middle, there would be no stranger to sit next to. She had to make a phone call, and brought me new boarding passes in the lounge.

A short while later it was time to board, we were further delayed than it appeared on arrival to the airport, we wound up closing the aircraft doors a bit after 6pm rather than the planned 4:40pm departure time. My connection in Miami would have been down to 40 minutes, still doable but I had no reason not to accept the re-booking so there would be no rush on arrival.

It was a standard domestic first class flight, short-haul dinner was served, I had the chicken. The 737 had both Gogo wireless internet and seat power. And the flight attendant providing most of the service up front continually acknowledged each passenger by name without looking at his manifest. That’s really all I could possibly ask for out of a 2.5 hour domestic hop!

Arrival into Miami was extremely choppy, the weather that delayed our aircraft in the first place was still sitting there. I watched as we approached the weather through online flight tracking, it was a massive storm. Though pretty well shaken, we were no worse for wear on arrival.

Since I had about 3 hours to kill before departure of the flight to Brazil, I stepped outside for some fresh (i.e. humid) Miami air. That necessitated going back through security, and the lines were atrocious. The premium line took about 30 minutes to get through. There was only one checkpoint open for the D terminal, and pre-check was closed for the evening.

Nude-o-scopes were in use, I opted out as per usual. I’m not so much concerned about my privacy, I have no shame about my manhood. I really just object to being asked to ‘assume the position’ though have considered going through and flipping the bird, that would be consistent with the required stance in the machine. I had perhaps the most thorough full body rub/screening that I’ve experienced to date, but was finally through and headed to the Admiral’s Club near D30.

The place was deserted. There was no problem grabbing seats, of course. I had internet. And I decided to grab a snack from the café’, unlike many other Admiral’s Clubs where there’s a menu and you might order a sandwich from the bar this one has a small room with a food display behind glass, you go there to order and pick up your food and the choices are more extensive. I had a salad.

Around 35 minutes prior to departure I headed out to the gate, the 7 gate trek can actually be done via the airport’s monorail system but I decided to walk. The terminal was deserted.

By the time I approached the gate, boarding was already about two-thirds complete. I walked straight on through the premium boarding lane, had a few minutes’ wait on the jetway, and found my seat in row 8.

There at the seat was a blanket and pillow in plastic wrap, and a bottle of water in the seat’s cubby hole. There was no amenity kit, which didn’t seem odd until I saw others in the cabin with one. I asked a flight attendant who seemed shocked, “A coach passenger must have taken it! That happens all the time, you have no idea. I’ll have to see if we can find one for you.” Another flight attendant came over and they had a discussion about it. Again, agreement that it must have been taken by a coach passenger on their way to the back. There was no discussion of the possibility that it might have been forgotten, the two seats in row 8 had no amenity kits and of course that’s the ‘hidden’ row in the- cabin. After this discussion one of the flight attendants came by with amenity kits. Not that I especially needed the contents, I come prepared most of the time.

Menus were also at the seat and I was pleased to see that there would be one of the Richard Sandoval entrees on offer, the halibut which I’ve had before (on the MegaDO) and enjoyed. Also pleased that one of the breakfast options would be the Sandoval eggs over biscuits, which I tried on the ground at American’s premium services media event the week before.

We sat on the ground for awhile, about half an hour past scheduled departure, with no word from the captain or crew, but once airborne the pilot announced a flight time of 7 hours 26 minutes, and that we would have an on-time arrival.

Shortly after takeoff I decided to change. One thing I’ve learned in my travels is that pajamas are not just a gimmick. They’re not just a first class extravagance. I actually feel much more comfortable, relaxed, and sleep better if I change into them for the flight. So even though I was flying business, I brought a couple of pairs with me (one for each international business class leg of the trip). On the outbound I put on the American first class PJs which I had picked up in Dallas the week before. For the return I had a pair of Singapore Airlines first class (Givenchy) pajamas.

Meal service began shortly thereafter. I skipped the soup. The salad and entrée were served on a single tray. As expected the Sandoval entrée was good, it was certainly a ginormous piece of fish! Though the halibut was a bit overcooked which was disappointing.

After I’d had my fill, really mostly the side dishes and a few bites of the fish, a flight attendant took my tray and asked for my choice of cheese or ice cream. I chose the ice cream.

I started watching The Iron Lady but began dozing off about halfway through. Some people find the seat I had annoying because of its proximity to the lavatory, other passengers passing by during flight. But I really didn’t notice it, and since there’s no one across the aisle from me it felt more private, more conducive to sleep (my spiffy AA pj’s didn’t hurt, either).

I woke up just before breakfast, naturally I went with the eggs.

Boarding cards were distributed prior to landing, I filled my out on the way down, touchdown was smooth but then we had about a 20 minute wait for a gate. Once we’d disembarked I was out quickly to the immigration queue which was less than a minute, Brazilian citizens were lining up but there were few non-citizens waiting.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] on Rental Cars – View from the Wing on Avis Extends 3000 US Airways Miles for 3-Day RentalsGary on Weekend at the Falls: American Business Class, Gol Domestic, and the Sheraton Iguazú Resort: Americ…Gary on Weekend at the Falls: American Business Class, Gol Domestic, and the Sheraton Iguazú […]

  2. […] American to Miami in First, then Business Class to Sao Paulo Gol Smiles VIP Lounge and Domestic Service to Foz de Iguassu Sheraton Iguazú Falls Resort & Spa The Wonder of the Falls Gol Domestic Back to Sao Paulo and the Admiral’s Club Sao Paulo American’s Business Class to Miami and on to DC […]

  3. […] American to Miami in First, then Business Class to Sao Paulo Gol Smiles VIP Lounge and Domestic Service to Foz de Iguassu Sheraton Iguazú Falls Resort & Spa The Wonder of the Falls Gol Domestic Back to Sao Paulo and the Admiral’s Club Sao Paulo American’s Business Class to Miami and on to DC […]


  1. MIA- “I had perhaps the most thorough full body rub/screening that I’ve experienced to date”

    Funny I felt exactly the same when I was in MIA in January. The agent was surprisingly thorough than what I have ever (so far) experienced at any other airport. He must have spent a good five minutes on my ‘pat down’ (no exaggeration). On the other hand, my shortest one was probably 30 seconds (literally) and it was obvious the agent was feeling beyond awkward, whatever his reasons may have been – he definitely did not do his ‘job’.

  2. This seems like an odd trip — although the first time I visited Buenos Aires was for 4 days. I was living in Miami, and had just started my first job. I basically had no vacation days, but I did have the long Thanksgiving weekend. The overnight flight in each direction was very efficient — 4 days in Buenos Aires!

    Your quick trip, will all the stops, seems — with all due respect — nuts. 🙂

    But more importantly, what were you thinking when you stepped outside security in MIA “for air”? Had you not been to MIA recently? Last month, I contributed my MIA layover story to an existing flyertalk thread about that facility. Basically, MIA is easily the most “annoying” airport in the USA, if not the world, and voluntarily going through security (and “opting out” no less!) is FAR nuttier than going down to Iguazu Falls for the weekend. 🙂

  3. @iahphx It was a great trip, perfect amount of time to see the Falls, and done in a premium cabin so why not? Plus quadruple miles 🙂 As far as MIA is concerned I do know this, and your point is a fair one 😀

  4. “As an American, I need a visa for Brazil and they charge a higher fee because the U.S. government is extortionate to foreigners, it’s their way of striking back at the American people, but since we individually have little say in the matter it doesn’t change U.S. policy, it just deters tourism. And yet I’m sympathetic.”

    Here’s what Brazilians have to do if they want to come to the States: arrange to travel (at their own expense) to the nearest American consulate in one of nine cities for an in-person interview, without any guarantee of success. And pay the same fees. I know plenty of Brazilians who haven’t and won’t bother to travel to the US.

    I’m sorry to had to go to the post office.

  5. @Mark T we are very much in agreement, though I don’t think the ‘reciprocity’ has the desired effect, in fact it is counterproductive.

  6. @Z as explained I’m eligible for an American promo having participated in the oneworld MegaDO which bonuses activity greater than prior year for March/April/May

  7. I do not apologize for the U.S. visa requirements for Brazil and other Latin American countries. If we had visa waiver with them or did not conduct interviews at our consulates, they would absolutely overstay their visas and become immigrants. And the interview is vital in preventing visa fraud.

    My wife is a foreigner and before we were married we were able to get her a U.S. tourist visa and while it took a bit of effort, the $140 fee was well worth it to compensate for the overhead involved.

  8. @Carl even the Visa Waiver now comes with a fee! And the US even requires a visa (or ‘visa waiver’ which must be requested in advance and paid for – hah) for transit. Further, the cost hardly matches what other countries charge visitors, except of course those countries which choose to match for US citizens what their own citizens are charged by the US.

  9. @Gary – but the issue here is whether we should grant visa waiver to Brazil and the answer to me is absolutely not. To compare visa requirements for a developed nation like the U.S. to a developing nation like Brazil assumes the risk of the traveler becoming an immigrant is the same for both, when it is clearly not. The risk of U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil, overstaying their visas, and using Brazilian taxpayer services at little or no cost is not even remotely the same.

  10. I fully agree with Carl. Additionally, I would have done Iguassu from Argentina. Fee yes, visa required, no. Buenos Aires is a great city —-

  11. You said: there was a “bottle of water in the seat’s cubby hole”. I guess we aren’t Lucky enough to see a picture of the water bottle? Sad…

  12. Gary as a blogger of miles why do not incluse the cost Of miles and fees or ticket prices paid , thats the most important part fo newbees looking to explore new destinations

  13. Nice post however I believe there is only one hotel worth staying at near Iguazu (the only one inside the park and therefore the only one giving you the possibility to visit the falls outside of visiting hours.


  14. If you need a Brazilian visa – you can use Travisa visa service to avoid some of the hassles. Last month I filled out the forms online, got the passport photos, and sent everything to them via Fed Ex. Got my visa back in 2-3 weeks; total cost about $250 for Travisa’s service. (The only downside is that you are without your passport for 2-3 weeks.) Have also used Travisa in the last year for India and Russia visas; everything went smoothly.

  15. @EuroDude I’ve heard Hotel Cataratas is the place to stay, but Sheraton is definitely in the park (on the Argentina side)

  16. @Thalha this was a paid ticket, upgraded with American Executive Platinum systemwides (eVIPs) and I earned about 40,000 miles flying it.

  17. You do not mention the quality of the busıness class seat. Last tıme (Bolıvıa) and next tıme (Quıto) – not even a foot rest on American business class. Was it better for you?

  18. @Gary Steiger yes I had the angled-flat seats. I’ve written quite a bit comparing business class seats recently, especially in the context of American’s planned new business seat (the Cathay seat, basically, which is outstanding). The old angled flat seats I don’t find especially comfortable, but they’re better than the recliner-style seating that’s still found on a couple of the United 777s (but that should be gone by year’s end). They’re similar to what you get in Lufthansa and Air France business class, but not as good as true lie flat seats. These are not the domestic first class seats.

  19. You began at one of the most convenient airports in the world to get to via mass transit from the city center and you took a cab?

  20. @Dan I wasn’t in the city center, I would have had to change trains and I didn’t have time — 12 minutes vs 35.

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