Sunday Reader Email Question: Help Me Plan a South America Trip Using British Airways Miles
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)
Back to WAS/IAD/DCA
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 BA.com and you just need them to enter in your exact dates, routes and flight numbers and ticket it since BA.com 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!