Problems with Infrastructure and High Prices for Flights
It's no secret that Brazil is facing some "challenges" regarding the World Cup. The Brazilians are phenomenal at a lot of things, but having a government that spends tax payer's money efficiently and wisely is not one of them. Not only are the stadiums behind schedule, but so are the renovations of the Airports.
Last week Brazil's government agency Anac approved an extra 2,000 flights during the World Cup, which will add even more stress to the already over-burdened airports. They did so because they wanted to reduce the price of airfares, however by putting out one fire they are fanning the flames of another.
To be honest though, something needed to be done. According to Business Week, TAM flights to Rio the day before the Final are up to 10 times more expensive than the same flight one month later.
How to find cheaper flights during the World Cup
Interested in gauging the level of prices for myself and comparing it with all the hype, I searched for 6 flights from 6 different websites, getting a total of 36 different price points to analyze. (Flight 1: São Paulo to Natal, Flight 2: Natal to Brasília, Flight 3: Brasília to Cuiaba, Flight 4: Cuiaba to Brasília, Flight 5: Brasília to Salvador, Flight 6: Salvador to São Paulo)
I chose the four airlines that do business in Brazil: TAM, GOL, Avianca, Azul, and two aggregators: Kayak and EDreams.
Below is a Summary of what I found:
- The average price of these 6 flights was 241 USD. The President of Avianca said that the average fares are normally between 119 USD and 191 USD. Based on those numbers and my sample, the prices of flights are between 26% and 102% higher than normal. High yes, but still reasonable based on the demand.
- TAM offers their best fares on their "Brazilian" website. A flight from Brasília to Salvador costs 217 USD from the English language site and only 174 USD from the Brazilian site. That's almost 25% more expensive! Unfortunately, life is not fair. You need to have a Brazilian credit card and identity number to complete the purchase from the Brazilian site. If you have a friend that is Brazilian, have him or her book the ticket online for you.
- Of the 6 flights, Avianca was the cheapest for three flights, TAM for two and EDreams for one.
- Avianca and Azul are "committed" to providing low-cost solutions and voluntarily have capped prices at 999 Reais or about 425 USD. Thanks guys for wrapping up a turd and calling it a present. Still, if you find a price more expensive than that with TAM or GOL, make sure to check with these two carriers.
- For every Azul flight I checked, the price was between 969 and 999 Reals, so pretty much at the cap already.
- Many times prices were more expensive the day before and the day after a match. If you can be more flexible, you may be able to save a couple of Reals.
- Currently the TAM Airpass, an airline deal only available to non-Brazilian tourists, is not available for flights during the World Cup. If it becomes available, I will make sure to let you know. It's a great option - four national flights anywhere in Brazil for 532 USD plus taxes.
- Round Trip flights are not cheaper than one way flights.
Bus Transport can be a cheap and comfortable alternative
Although I had an extremely uncomfortable experience on a greyhound bus (a bus service located in the USA) involving a toothless meth addict who wanted to tell me secrets, people have assured me that the bus system in Brazil is a valid form of Transportation between World Cup 2014 Cities.
In fact, some friends of mine will be using the bus system exclusively because they think the airports are going to be an epic disaster. If you would rather avoid the headache, the bus could be a good alternative.
Stick to the Executivo and above.
There are three classes of bus tickets:
- Convencional - usually older buses with minimal leg room.
- Executivo - more leg room and space. Seats are more comfortable.
- Leito - Supposedly "lie flat" seats, however they are more like old-school business class seats that airlines used to offer. They recline, but not completely.
In the Convencional, you may get stuck with a Bus that doesn't have AC and you may end up sitting uncomfortable close to a sticky neighbor. In Executivo the AC is always working and my Brazilian girlfriend and her sister assure me that the bus experience is quite comfortable in this class. Just make sure to bring an extra blanket, as the AC can be a little strong.
Also, many buses drive overnight, which serves a dual purpose. First you can sleep through most of the trip and second, you can save the cost of a hotel.
The price of a bus will generally be cheaper than the price of a flight, but not always, so make sure you check both if you are thinking of taking the bus.
The main problem with a bus is the distance. Brazil is bigger than the continental USA, so you won't be able to take the bus between every city. Check prices and availability at http://www.buscaonibus.com.br/en.
Below is a list of cities and the time it takes the bus to drive between them - more or less. I would stay away from anything over 15 hours, because, well, staying in a bus for over 15 hours sounds pretty nasty to me.
Along the coast and in the south, São Paulo, Rio, Belo Horizonte and Curitiba are all doable by bus.
In the north, Natal, Recife, Salvador and Fortaleza also have pretty good connections although Salvador is a bit of a hike.
Rent a Car only if you are comfortable driving in heavy traffic and on poor roads
The above table can also be used as a benchmark for travel times with a car - minus perhaps 10 to 30% depending on the route.
São Paulo has the. worst. traffic. I have ever seen. On a Friday afternoon, it took me three and half hours to drive across the city.
Renting a car can be an option if you want a lot of flexibility to go off the beaten track. It can also be cost-effective if you split the cost among a group of people.
Not all the roads in the Brazil are paved. I learned this the hard way while driving from São Paulo to Parati. It was like driving on a giant piece of swiss cheese. It is not a road gringos take unless they have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. I had a Fiat and ended up paying around 350 USD in damages to the undercarriage. So get the extra insurance or use a credit card that already includes auto insurance coverage.
Avis, Hertz, Thrifty and countless national carries offer cheap car rentals. I have found Thrifty to be the cheapest of the international carriers.
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