Sunday Reader Email Question: Help Me Plan a South America Trip Using British Airways Miles

by on September 18, 2011 · 54 comments

in British Airways, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Apurva writes:

“I’m trying to plan a trip using BA miles. Flying out of WAS/IAD/DCA .. for 3-4 week trip in Oct 2012. We would like to get hit the following destinations

Guayaquil (stop for 1 week trip to Galapagos)
Lima (spend 1 week, including road trio to Cusco/Machu Picchu and back to Lima)
Santiago (maybe stop, 1-2 days)
Easter Island (2-3 days)
Buenos Aires (2-3 days)


Any tips on how to maximize the award miles using the stopover rule? I’m only interested in economy class. I’m getting I’d need to use a 25k domestic ticket to get to Miami from DCA .. is this route even possible and what other options?”

If you leave from the DC area to South America, your only Oneworld option would be to fly American Airlines and since they don’t fly intra-South America, the stopover rule wouldn’t help you unless you wanted a domestic US stopover at one of their hubs.

The real moneymaker with the stopover rule is flying LAN, since they have a ton of intra-South America flights. From the US, Lan only flies from NYC, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles, so you’d have to get yourself to and from one of those hubs. Once there, you can fly to Guayaquil (stop), Guayaquil-Lima (Stop) – Lima- Santiago (stop) – Santiago – Easter Island (Destination). Then return Easter Island-Santiago-Buenos Aires (that may be a stretch since Buenos Aires is actually south of Easter Island and the stopovers are technically supposed to be unlimited “en-route.” A phone agent could easily say that Easter Island to the US does not allow routing through Buenos Aires, however it can’t hurt to try). From Buenos Aires you’d have to route back through Santiago/Lima/Guayaquil on LAN.

Another option would be to use miles for a separate Easter Island to Buenos Aires one way ticket, then fly AA nonstop Buenos Aires-Miami or JFK.

In general, piece every leg of your journey together and let the rep know that you already did the heavy lifting in terms of finding award space on and you just need them to enter in your exact dates, routes and flight numbers and ticket it since doesn’t do a good job with partner stopover awards.

Also remember that British Airways allows a cash and miles option, which is an incredible deal for coach redemptions. You can end up getting that whole South America trip for about 25,000 BA miles and $250ish. See more on that option here.

If you don’t have any British Airways miles, but this sounds interesting to you, you can currently transfer American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards instantly to British Airways at 1:1 ratios. Starwood Preferred Guest also allows point transfers at 1:1 with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.

In general, I highly recommend redeeming as many British Airways miles before November 15th as possible, since there is the potential for a massive devaluation in Oneworld partner awards. They won’t give any details, so I’d rather prepare for the worst and hope for the best!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Lantean

    what do you use to find LAN availability? i can’t get BA or Qantas to show all routes… so i guess we’re left with KVS?

  • Hhhhh

    LAN doesn’t release all sears

  • Lantean

    that wasn’t my question, was it?

  • Benthelefty

    Can you explain a little the stopover rule? I understand you can make stops for free on your ticket, but I was under the impression it was only 24 hours or something? How exactly does this work? Thanks in advance!

  • Anon

    I suspect a lot of folks based in North America are going to try to book the S. America dream vacation over the next 11ish months. I like the itinerary above, with a slight modifications. My dream SA vacation:

    Miami – Guayaquil (stop, Galapagos) – Lima (stop, then by road or separate award booking to Cusco/Machu Picchu) – Easter Island (stop) – Punta Arenas (stop in beautiful Patagonia region) – back to USA

    So, it turns out there are twice a week direct flights from Lima to Easter Island (I think Wed and Sundays) .. with a little planning, I hope to avoid the Santiago/Chile entry fee also.

    If I can get this booking on BA for 40K and low fees/surcharges for two, I’d be more than just a happy camper. Now I need to figure out the best time to visit? Right now I’m planning for an October 2012 trip which seems like a shoulder season in South America but that’s probably the only time I can get time off for a 3 week adventure.

    Any advice on the best way to make this booking with lowest fees? i heard that calling the UK call center is generally a better idea for US based folks. Is that true?

    Also, what is the best tool to view LAN award availability? is just a PitA and I’d rather not sign up for some pay-service. thanks

  • Yi

    one part of my trip during winter holiday would be Miami-Buenos Aires (stop over for 2 days )-USH(Ushuaia) (stop over for 2 days)-FTE (EI Calafate). I made the Miami-Buenos Aires on AA since no LAN availability. Buenos Aires-USH-FTE is on LAN and I made it by phone.

    the 2nd is FTE-BUE(stop over for two days)-IGR(Iguazu)(stop over for two days)-BUE(connecting)-Miami. the problem about this one is either AA or LAN didn’t have economy seats released until late Jan while I need to go back to Miami by Jan 5.

    Also, there’s no availability for the flights from BUE-IGR. That’s quite frustrating.

    TPG, would you please give some comments on how to book the 2nd route? FTE-BUE is Ok, but no fights for BUE-IGR, while BUE-MIAMI is still waiting for space .


  • Latimer

    LAN also has a hub in SFO. I booked my vacation already and its similar to the reader’s

    40k BA miles in business
    SFO – LIM (stop) – IPC on LAN

    12.5 BA miles in coach
    IPC – SCL – EZE

    20k AA miles in coach
    EZE – DFW – SFO

    Keep in mind that the lima to easter island direct flights leave on wednesday and sunday starting in january 2012. Also, if you fly to easter island and make that your chilean entry point, you avoid the ~$150 reciprocity fee charged to Americans. My suggestion is to make Santiago a stop AFTER easter island because of this.

  • Kansi

    What about doing a South America trip with Skyteam?

  • Anonymous

    Nope- a transfer is 24 hours or under. A stopover can be days/weeks. BA allows unlimited “en route” stopovers

  • Anonymous works fine for me. Just break down each route leg by leg. If you don’t see seats it means they aren’t available

  • Cory Stinebrink

    Not sure what the reader meant by “Road Trip” to Cusco/Machu Picchu out of Lima. Flying to Cusco is easiest. Not sure what driving or taking a bus would be like, but the times it took to take a train from Lima to Cusco shocked me. I remember it being about an hour flight, but the train rides I saw posted would take more than a day. I imagine taking a train through the Andes requires a lot of winding through the country. So, just something to think about if the reader is assuming a quick road trip is possible. Oh, and do the Inca Trail :)

  • Nick

    I’m confused by this line: “From Buenos Aires you’d have to route back through Santiago/Lima/Guayaquil on LAN.” Does the routing on the way back have to be the exact same?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    I spent nearly all day yesterday booking Lan trips, the first from Miami to Chile, Easter Island, Bolivia, Peru and back for 50k miles + $296. The second an open jaw New York to Santiago, Foz de Iguacu to Lima to JFK for 20k miles + $344 and filled it in with a $155 open jaw on Pluna, Santiago to Montevideo to Asuncion. Not easy but amazing deals can be had. See my post for tips from the experience:

  • Wrightbro2

    I have many BA miles but don’t foresee traveling before the supposed devaluation on November 15th.

    To which airline within the alliance should I transfer my BA miles in order to maximize their future use?

    Are any transfer BA promos coming up (e.g. 20% more per 10K transfer) I should be aware of?

    Thanks! Love your site. I’m learning so much about traveling for free.

  • Benthelefty

    Thanks for this. Do any other airline allow stopovers? I googled it and couldn’t get a clear idea if yes or no..

  • Chris S

    I’ve heard that Chile charges a hefty $140.00 “gringo tax” to tourists arriving on an international flight through Santiago. They do not, however charge this fee to passengers flying into Easter Island.

    You may consider, to save each passenger $140, flying the Lima-Easter Island segment that LAN is reintroducing in the early part of 2012. Then your Easter Island-Santiago leg is domestic, so you avoid the gringo tax.

    Plus you get the Easter Island stamp in your passport.

  • YessMissWin

    Booked SFO>LIM>SCL>IPC and then home thru LIM to SFO. I wasn’t aware of the Santiago entry fee and could save 1/2 by paying the $70 change fee to BA for my booked award travel, but question is … all that flight searching and date planning was a hassle. Is it worth $80?

  • Gavinmac

    The person asking the question may have a tricky situation if they want to fly in October 2012. If the redemption rules are changing on November 16 they won’t have much time to book before the change, since October 2012 seats won’t become available until November 2011, right?

  • EGWG

    When did LAN resume the LIM-IPC route?

  • EGWG

    disregard, i read the comments below

  • gogate99

    My wife and I recently did a very similar trip. We were able to book Easter Island to Buenos Aires on LAN via Santiago. So you should be able to do the same. Even though Buenos Aires is technically south of Easter Island we could book it no problem (availability was pretty decent). Good luck!

  • KP

    I just booked SFO-LIM-IPC-SCL-EZE-MIA $172 in taxes, 40k miles. I don’t particularly care to do this route in Business and will reserve my remaining BA miles for DFW/SFO/LAX/JFK-SYD-MEL-AUK-DFW/LAX/SFO/JFK on Qantas.

  • The Pooch

    I am also planning a South American tour with the following itinerary:

    SFO – LIM (stop or transfer – not sure) – IPC (stop) – SCL (stop) – MDZ (stop) – AEP (stop or transfer – not sure) – IGR (stop) – AEP (stop or transfer – not sure)/EZE – LIM (stop or transfer – not sure) – SFO

    Is this routing possible?

    One of the reasons I am going to IPC (Easter Island) and MDZ (Mendoza), besides it being worth a visit, is to avoid the SLC and EZE/AEP, US citizen entry tax of $140 per person at each airport. I would rather spend it in IPC or MDZ or elsewhere.

    I am also open to going to Cusco and the Galapagos Islands.

    Any suggestions or comments would be greatly appreciated.

  • Steve Kamb

    “In general, piece every leg of your journey together and let the rep know that you already did the heavy lifting in terms of finding award space on”

    Pardon the ignorance – when you say “let the rep know” are you referring to calling a LAN rep? or a BA rep to book this?

    Not sure who to make the phone call to make this type of booking in South American but using BA points.



  • Yi

    I have paid attention on this for a while and never see the flight from buenos aires to IGR in Jan, 2012

  • KP

    Read my post below! I attempted to go from EZE-GIG as my last stop destination and the agent was one of the best as he got all my routing and dates but said it escaped the region and would require an additional 12.5k. To me for 52.5k and 5 destinations for under $200 that is Golden! To do that routing it may be tough as you’ll back track through EZE or LIM.

    If anyone knows where I can go after EZE, I would love to add another destination on. Galapagos ?

  • Federico

    This is easy ;-), your best option is get a r/t flight from WAS to MIA (best LAN HUB), usually is $160~250



    there is not direct flight (on LAN) between LAX/SFO/JFK-GYE

    if you have some SPG points

    GYE-GPS-GYE is 15k Lanpass kms
    LIM-CUZ is 16k Lanpass kms
    Total:31k kms -1k km that you get when you open a Lanpass account=30k each (60k total for both, you said “we”)

    Transfer 25k SPG points for 60k Lanpass kms (20+bonus+5) or 15k SPG form each account

    I want yo do the same trip on October 2013, I think that October is the best time for GPS, CUZ and IPC and the weather for LIM, SCL and EZE is perfect.

  • guest

    i understand the fascination of the mysterious Easter island stone scultures and the motivation to maximize your miles etc.- But what the hell do you people do there for more than a day??

  • guest

    It may not be your cup of tea but anyone who is mildly interested can easily spend 4 days there.

  • Mark

    ALL reservations with BA miles must be made through BA. This is a universal rule–always call the airline where you have the miles, not the one you want to travel on.

  • Mark

    many do, but few are as generous as BA

  • guest

    It’s weird that you say there is no direct LAX/SFO/JFK-GYE flights. The LAN timetable,, shows there are JFK-GYE flights but I have not been able to find any on

  • Frustrated

    There is no simple way to find all availability. Only the phone reps can see te availabilty. does not show all the availability.

    ‘classic’ awards that u find on lan’s site are not always released for BA use.

    There’s no way to search everything without asking each flight of the phone rep and s/he searching.

  • Federico

    You are right, there is a JFK-GYE flight, I did’nt seet it last night (rev on Kayak).
    I have found few JFK-GYE, you have to use Qantas for XL (Lan Ecuador) and 4M (Lan Argentina) and a good Rep.

  • Matt Langdon (@theherocc)

    That trip seems an absolute bargain. Has anyone managed to get to Australia from the US with BA Miles for under 50,000 so far?

  • Trixie

    Thanks for the reminder: just booked SFO to Buenos Aires for next spring on BA miles for $94 in fees. Suh-weet!

  • Lantean

    really? even JFK-Guayaquil? there is a non-stop flight but BA award search never sees it… as if it didn’t exist… weird…

  • Lantean

    do you know when Lima-EA flights will be loaded into the system? i don’t even find them available for regular book on LAN website… thank you.

  • Elizabeth

    Just to give folks some more ideas on what can be done with BA miles and S. America, I book and flew this trip in the spring this year. MIA-LIM (stop)-IPC(stop)-SCL (connection, but could have stopped if I wanted to)-EZE (stop)-LIM-MIA.

    A couple of notes- by flying into IPC first, I avoided the $130ish reciprocal fee that Chile charges US passport holders. I also tried to avoid the $130ish fee that Argentina charges at EZE by routing through MDZ or AEP first, but was told that was not allowed for my routing.

    I flew LAN business and I was very happy with it. The seats are similar to UA’s new biz seats and the food and service is even better.

  • Anonymous

    Great advice, thanks! FYI I flew from punta del este to AEP and still had to pay the fee

  • diamondvargas

    Anyone else having trouble finding anything on LAN out of NYC or MIA into GYE or LIM? I feel like I’ve tried virtually every date for those 4 combos throughout the Dec / Jan and not seeing anything except AA flights. Seems wasteful to not fly out of the US on LAN and miss the unlimited stopover opportunity.

  • MM

    Pretty similar but not sure where it will be allowed to do stops vs. where I can just connect. Any ideas if this is somehow possible? LAX-LIM-IPC-SCL-PUQ-EZE-UIO-LAX? I realize I’m trying to hit up a lot of places in this trip but any suggestions for a better route, more so allowed routing? I want to make sure and hit up Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, and anywhere in Patagonia. Help???

  • Dan

    I’m reading all of the above and thinking that many of you, based on the itn’s I’ve read, are heading to South America for 3 weeks. We’re planning on a 10 day trip in the first half of 2012.

    If we spend 5 days in EZE, and 2-3 days in Lima, Santiago, and possibly Easter Island, then add tarvel time between those locations, I’m running out of days. Who’s planning on a 2 week trip?

    FYI, on our last trips, we’ve spent a week in Barcelona and a week Prague, rather than do 2 days here and 3 days there if you know what I mean.

  • Dan

    Meant to type 14 days, not 10 as posted above.

  • incaman

    Yesterday booked MIA-LIM stop-IPC dest-LIM-stop MIA for May 2012 but finding economy Lan (vs AA) seats out of MIA for our schedule (around birthday and wedding) was fairly limited. 40,000 BA miles, $174.08 tax/fees. Just a note to those that may hold dual citizenship, entry is free into Chile or Argentina using the passport from another Andean country for that part of the trip.

  • Hilary

    If you do go to the Galapagos, I’d recommend having enough time (at least 5-7 days) to take a cruise–that is far and away the best way to truly see the various islands and wildlife. It’s worth saving up to take one of the best operators, such as Lindblad Expeditions. Check out our post:

  • mi.dreaming

    We worked the “puzzle of airline flights” on Oct 5, and booked on Oct 6 for Feb 2011 SFO-LIM, LIM-EZE (STOP), EZE-SCL (STOP), SCL-IPC (DESTINATION). IPC-LIM (STOP), LIM-MIA (DESTINATION) 2 people economy for 40,000 points and $423 total.
    Once we had a rough sketch of where we wanted to go, I looked up LAN’s flight schedule for how many flights they had on what days, this helped with narrowing down availability.
    Now we’re just trying to figure out how to get upgraded and some lounge passes! ;) We can’t thank you enough, Brian!

  • mi.dreaming

    there is so much more to do than look at statues. Diving (up to 60 m visibility), surfing, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and of course learning about a different culture.

  • Pob312

    Why should I do the heavy lifting? If the tix can’t be booked online I’ll let the CSR earn the phone fee.

  • calbear77

    I know you posted this a month ago, but I figured that since more people were posting dream itineraries than real ones, I thought I’d add my experience booking a flight today:

    To get more specific about how BA allows the stopovers, it has to not only be in the same direction, but it has to be the natural route. So if you want to do SFO-LIM-IPC-SCL-PUQ-SCL-LIM-SFO like I just booked, it gets more complicated than a simple 40K + taxes booking.

    For me, I had 92K points on a Chase Ultimate Rewards account, and I needed nearly all of them to make this work for a trip for me and my wife:

    Itinerary 1:
    SFO-LIM-IPC (Easter Island)
    40K miles plus $256 taxes plus $510 fare

    Itinerary 2:
    IPC-SCL-PUQ (Punta Arenas)
    50K miles plus $122 taxes

    90K miles + ~$900

    The fare for this itinerary booked on LAN directly was $4483, so it was a monster savings and well worth it.

    Last, you’re probably now looking at the October timeframe, since the Spring itineraries are now pretty much booked up. Getting a flight from SFO to LIM in March was not easy at all.

  • calbear77

    My wife and I were originally thinking two weeks, but as we added legs to the trip and things we wanted to do, we ended up booking for 4 weeks! Couldn’t help ourselves, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

  • AC

    Just booked our flights today after the last flight we want opened up (BA does not hold seats like AA). We booked LAX-LIM (stop)-IPC(destination), IPC-SCL(stop)-EZE(stop)-SCL-MIA(destination) for 160K for two people in business class. I wanted to book EZE to MIA via LIM but the flight I prefered was not avaiable.

    But the agent on the phone couldn’t be any knowledgable that he was able to book us from EZE to MIA through SCL which I did not know that’s allowed since we will be backtracking to SCL. The agent also mentioned there are a lot more people booking flights to S. America and he is pretty familiar what to do in term of routing…I wonder why :)

    Our fee is $365 (business) for two people and I notice someone’s fee is a bit higher (economy) than ours even though we have almost the same routes.

    One tip I learn from using the BA tool is to look for flights by segments. For example for our last flight home, look for EZE to LIM and LIM to MIA, do not do EZE to MIA since it won’t show up in the system if you are looking the dates at 331 days out.

  • KB

    Ok, so maybe I’m a little slow on the draw here. Trying to book 3 award tickets from NYC to Montevido, Uruguay in either Feb or April of next year. I’ve tried,, they are not showing anything available. I also tried flying into Buenos Aires, and tried searching for a single ticket on all of the above scenarios — still not a single thing showing available. Where/how else can I look?? I know I need to use these 120,000 BA miles before the program changes soon.


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