The return trip in first class (Costa Rica adventures part 3)

IMG_3514With some advanced planning, my fiancée and I were able to return home from Costa Rica with two first-class tickets via Honduras. While our time in Honduras was enjoyable it was not enormously remarkable due to the fact that we flew on January 1st when most (if not all) businesses were closed. Our taxi driver was quite nice and brought us to a food court-like outdoor area with a few family-owned lunch places open. We had an amazing plate of fried fish, plantains, rice, and beans for only $5!
Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 6.24.02 PMOur flights back were award tickets booked through the United website. Since there were no saver (read: cheaper) tickets available from United, we opted to get flights on Copa Airlines and Avianca Airlines, connecting in San Pedro Sula, Honduras (yes, it is the murder capital of the world, though not as dangerous as you would think in the center of the city). Since both airlines are within the Star Alliance, it was actually cheaper to book with them due to United’s partner award rule chart.

The first class product on Copa Airlines was quite an experience. We had access to the VIP lounge in the San Jose airport; we were treated to a simple snack/meal on the plane; and we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm. It was a short flight but very smooth with good service. There was, unfortunately, no non-meat option for the snack so my fiancée was a bit upset.

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The flight from San Pedro Sula, Honduras to JFK airport was of a higher quality for a longer flight. The seats were comfier, there was an in-flight entertainment system with many new release movies (as well as some older ones), and the food was plentiful. For this flight my fiancée made sure there was a non-meat option for her to eat (in this case fish). The service from the flight attendants was wonderful and we also received an amenities package in a TUMI case – quite fancy. From start to finish the experience was high quality.

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The beauty of isolation (Costa Rica adventures part 2)

One of the reasons we chose Costa Rica as a warm vacation spot this year was that my fiancée’s aunt and uncle have a small house in the mountains where we could stay. Since money is a major influence on anything we decided to stay there (and they had space for us) for the week. Their house was a bit north of a town called Dominical on the southern Pacific coast which we learned quickly was not the biggest in terms of traditional Western amenities.

One of the other things I missed in researching requirements for this trip (aside from reading rental agreement conditions) was the fact that most people rent 4 wheel drive vehicles in this region because the “roads” are not asphalt all the time and often have steep grades to them. Because we were staying in an isolated house in the mountains, this was even more so. As you can see from the photo below, the house is in the middle of a forest/jungle and the road going by is quite steep and rocky.

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Luckily for us our small Nissan Versa was capable of making the climbs and dips while driving between 20-40 kph for the 40 minutes required to get from “town” to the house. Since it was so out of the way we made sure to only do this once per day to reduce wasted time and unnecessary damage to the car. By the end of the week, the car was fine (we were a bit rattled) and we did not lose any money from our deposit (despite the car being caked in dust).

Probably the main excitement of being in this region of Costa Rica is the lack of people around to bother you on your journey. Even while eating dinner or sitting on the beach in Dominical, there are few people around to bother you or make you feel overwhelmed. The “busy” beach probably had 40 people within earshot of you at all times. The other beaches we went to had even fewer.

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A sand bar between two beaches at Playa Ballena. Every day at high tide it gets covered and becomes not passable.

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An unmarked beach south of Dominical. There were never more than 10 people that we could see and the beach went on for miles.

While it was sometimes annoying because we could not just slip our of the house for dinner without thinking of the 40 minutes journey, it was also liberating not to have to think about all the things we could do because there were fewer options. We cooked and ate dinner outdoors; explored the jungle on small hikes (a beautiful waterfall was a 10 minute walk from the house); and we relaxed and read books for hours. It was a great experience to be so isolated!

Read your rental car agreement’s fine print (Costa Rica adventures part 1)

My fiancée and I went on a trip to Costa Rica over my school’s winter break in order to get some warmth, beach time, and relaxed exploring of a new country. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that I look forward to writing about for some time on this blog.

For this first entry I want to focus on the rental car that I had reserved for this occasion. The flight down was uneventful (United airlines from Newark) although we were pleasantly surprised to have video on-demand service on the flight even though everything I had read told me otherwise. When we arrived at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, we retrieved our bags relatively quickly after customs and were taken on a shuttle bus to the Avis location off-site.

We arrived and I immediately walked up to the Avis Preferred area (there was no line otherwise but I know I am an Avis Preferred member). I began discussing the rental costs with the agent and discovered quickly that I would be mandated to pay for insurance I did not want.  The Costa Rican government has required these payments to cover damage to other people’s cars in case of a collision. This was written quite clearly in the terms and conditions of my reservation:

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Since I had not contacted my credit card company ahead of time in order to get the letterhead statement of insurance coverage, I had to pay the minimum amount of $19/day in this case.

Then, based on something the rental agent told me I did some quick research on my phone to discover that because I have to take this mandated insurance, I am no longer allowed to use the insurance from the credit card that I have:

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Visa is a company that requires you to decline the rental company’s insurance. Therefore, with this scheme in place, in order to be covered for the other vehicle as well as my own car, I had to pay $34/day to get fully insured.

The final unfortunate blow came when I was told I could not use the credit card I normally use to earn double points (my Chase Sapphire Preferred) because it does not have raised numbers. Even though it worked everywhere else in Costa Rica, at the rental agency they use the old-style credit card slider-with-carbon-paper and require the ridges of raised numbers. This, along with a warning about debit cards, was also listed in my terms and conditions:

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Suffice it to say that I learned a lot about my rental car insurance during this trip to Costa Rica. I will be doing more thorough research in the future to ensure I do not get scammed again. And, when return to Costa Rica (because it really is a beautiful country), I will be getting a letter explaining the waiver to use my credit card’s insurance.

More blog posts to follow about our Costa Rica trip. Check out Part 2 soon regarding how we actually booked our tickets with miles!