High and low points of Chile and Argentina tour

This item appears on page 25 of the March 2012 issue.

My wife, Lois, and I took a Grand Circle Travel tour of Chile and Argentina, Jan. 9-23, 2011. We live in the Northwest and did not know when we booked the tour what air routing we would be assigned. For us, it was four flights and 32 hours to get from Bend, Oregon, to Santiago, Chile, and the same going from Buenos Aires back home.

The tour began upon our arrival in Santiago on Tuesday morning, and we had to stay awake all day. After three days in Santiago, we flew to Puerto Montt and spent two nights in Puerto Varas at the Cabaña del Lago Hotel.

At this hotel, the first room we were offered did not have a lock, plus it was pretty tiny and had no closet in which to hang clothes. The front desk gave us another room that was not much better.

The high point of our stay there was a visit to a horse ranch, where we saw an amazing demonstration with horses of the oldest New World breed, dating to 1544.

The group then took a bus over the Andes to Bariloche, Argentina. The route had some good scenery and included, at a cattle ranch, a stop at one of the world’s largest collections of Studebaker autos. That was a worthwhile stop.

We stayed three nights at the Cacique lnacayal Hotel, which sits on the lake and has, for most rooms, good views. Unfortunately, since we had no seniority with Grand Circle, our room was tiny, had a view of the parking lot and was at the end of the building in sort of a wind tunnel that made it hard to sleep.

We made a visit to a cattle ranch outside of town, where we had a barbecue. The scenery along the way was great, including soaring condors overhead. We went on a short hike in the foothills by the ranch for some great views.

From there we flew to Buenos Aires, where we stayed three nights at the NH Lancaster. Again, we were given a small, crowded room, later finding out that others who had been with Grand Circle Travel before had much larger rooms with some views. They also had hot-water pots with which to make tea or coffee. After Santiago, we never had a room with coffee or tea capability.

A very good restaurant we found near the hotel was Las Nazarenas (Reconquista 1132, Buenos Aires; phone [54] 11 4312 5559), specializing in grilled food. Our party of three had very good steaks and pork chops with salad, dessert and good wine for $70.

We went to the Esquina Carlos Gardel tango show, which included dinner, for $95 per person. In our opinion, it was like a bad Vegas review show from the 1950s, and the food was not good. In fact, that evening, Thursday, I wound up getting sick (I believe from the carpaccio I had).

On Saturday we had lunch at the NH Lancaster and then, on the way to the airport, our group looked at some gardens and other parts of the city. Unfortunately, my wife had to stop the bus twice as she now had an intestinal disorder similar to what I had.

With insurance and airfare (except for airfare from Bend, Oregon, to Los Angeles), our tour cost over $7,000 for two, and we felt it was not worth it. (In 2010 we took a tour of Turkey with Grand Circle and it was excellent.)

We sent in a review to Grand Circle that was unfavorable and said we would never recommend them and they have not contacted us after a month.

Bend, OR

ITN e-mailed a copy of the previous letter to Grand Circle Travel (347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210) and received the following in a reply.

Before we received a copy of the letter that Mr. Bihary sent to ITN, we received his survey on the trip. While he rated his guide as “poor” and his air arrangements as less than ideal, there were few other comments, so we did not know that he had other issues with us.

In their tour cost, Mr. Bihary had us include their airfare from Los Angeles. We believe that he made his own air arrangements to LAX from Oregon and that perhaps there was a required connection* or else a long wait time at LAX. Otherwise, the flights into and out of Miami (both on the departure and return) had connection times of 2½ hours, which is our normal routing for passengers on the nonstop from Los Angeles. The Miami flight flies directly to the Arturo Merino Benítez Airport in Santiago, Chile.

Either way, later in 2011 we launched a True Choice** program for travelers that provides them with a wide range of air routing options.

On this trip, there were 38 passengers. Of these, 21 completed post-trip surveys, and of these 21, 84% rated their experiences as excellent. I am sorry that Mr. Bihary did not agree.

In the surveys received, no one else remarked about getting sick from the food, so we hope that the Biharys’ experiences were isolated incidents.

Regarding hotels, it is true that, when available, we assign the best rooms to our most frequent travelers. These travelers are “Inner Circle” members, and we do offer special benefits and recognition when we can to thank them for their loyalty. Mr. and Mrs. Bihary are now Inner Circle members as well.

We received a letter from another passenger who also complained that Inner Circle members had better room views than did she.

We really appreciate Mr. Bihary’s additional comments about two of the hotels he stayed in through us and about the poor quality of the food at the optional tango show. We have passed these comments along to our Quality department here as well as to our office in Santiago.

PRISCILLA O’REILLY, Vice President, Public Relations, Grand Circle Travel

*Mr. and Mrs. Bihary flew between Bend, Oregon, and Los Angeles via Portland.

**Grand Circle writes of their True Choice option, “When you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing or you can request that one of our Air Travel Consultants contact you to discuss other options, including choosing a specific airline; selecting the most direct routes between your home city and destination; upgrading to business or premium-economy class; choosing to ‘break away’ before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own, or combining your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value. These options will involve an additional fee of $75-$100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).”