How to Use Your Points and Miles to See the Total Solar Eclipse This Summer
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Ever wanted to be part of history and witness — live and in-person — an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon? Well, if you don’t have travel plans yet for the holiday week of July 4, you may want to dust off those solar eclipse glasses and get the family ready for an adventure. On July 2, 2019, skygazers in a few select locations on planet earth will have the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse or “The Great South American Eclipse” as it’s affectionately being called.
A total solar eclipse takes place when the sun, moon and earth are in a direct line, and the moon entirely blocks the sun from reaching the earth. This moment of “totality” on July 2 is expected to last approximately four minutes and 32 seconds.
This wondrous occurrence will create partial eclipses that will be seen in Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay and even on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti but the “path of totality” will only be seen in parts of Argentina and Chile. Seeing a partial solar eclipse may sound cool to many people, but the rarity and communal spirit of witnessing a total solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime memory. The path of totality across South America will cut a line from La Serena, Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The following towns will be in the primary path for spectators to see the solar eclipse in totality:
- Bragado, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Junín, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- La Serena, Chile
- San Juan, San Juan, Argentina
The “path of totality” is within a reasonable drive or flight from significant cities in Argentina and Chile, including Santiago in Chile, and Mendoza and Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The towns of Bragado and Junín are just a three-hour drive from Buenos Aires and the city of San Juan is just under a 2.5-hour drive from the heart of South America’s wine country: Mendoza, Argentina. These towns are a prime spot to witness the total solar eclipse. If you plan on experiencing the total solar eclipse in Argentina, fly into Buenos Aires’ Ministro Pistarini Airport (EZE) or El Plumerillo Airport in Mendoza (MDZ), both welcome hundreds of international flights daily.
La Serena, Chile, is a five-hour drive from Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benítez Airport (SCL), Chile’s capital city airport. Assuming you prefer to fly, there are affordable direct flights lasting just under an hour from Santiago to La Serena operated by LATAM Express, JetSmart and Sky Airlines.
More interestingly, Chile’s Elqui Valley, a 45-minute drive from La Serena, is home to four major astronomical research bases with several observatories. Totality will cross some huge observatories here. The Elqui Valley is known for its largely cloud-free viewing vantage points, so much so, it was declared the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary during the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union.
Flights to See the Solar Eclipse
Assuming that you don’t have plans for the first week of July, that you’ve always wanted to visit Argentina or Chile and that we’ve piqued your interest, we’ve compiled the best flight and lodging options for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Keep in mind that you can use flexible point currencies like American Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards to transfer to the airline of your choice but only a few will make sense because of the approaching date of this natural phenomenon. TPG contributor Eric Rosen shares extensive posts on which airline miles are best when flying to Chile and/or Argentina.
July is winter in both countries, so we had no trouble finding MileSAAver award space with American Airlines flying into Santiago (SCL) or Buenos Aires (EZE), leaving the weekend prior to July 2. Here’s an example of finding MileSAAver space at 30,000 miles one-way from Dallas to Santiago, Chile, on American Airlines for the first week of July. From Santiago or Buenos Aires, flights on LAN within Chile or within Argentina are only 6,000 Aadvantage miles so that’s another good option.
You can also use British Airways Avios to book the same DFW–SCL flight as listed above but for fewer miles at a cost of 25,750 Avios.
American offers nonstop direct flights to Santiago from Dallas and Miami and nonstop direct flights to Buenos Aires from Los Angeles (LAX), Dallas (DFW), New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA). However, you can connect for no additional miles from your local airport on an AA-operated flight to one of these airports for your flight to South America. Here’s an example of flying from Chicago (ORD) to Miami (MIA) to Buenos Aires (EZE) for 60,000 AA miles round-trip. The connecting flight from ORD to MIA, prior to the long-haul flight to Argentina, costs no additional miles and you only pay $96 in taxes and fees.
United also operates flights from the US to Argentina and Chile from many US cities but only from its hub in Houston will you find a nonstop direct route. Here’s an example of award space for a one-way flight at the 30,000 miles Saver level with United Airlines from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) to Santiago, Chile (SCL), which happens to be the only Star Alliance airline that flies nonstop direct to Chile from the United States.
Unfortunately, not all miles will work for a trip to Chile or Argentina to see the total solar eclipse. Delta operates only one nonstop flight to Santiago and Buenos Aires from its hub in Atlanta. While searching Delta.com for SkyTeam availability on dates prior to July 2, I found the cost for a one-way is more than double what it costs to fly round-trip with United or American. I found zero award space on the Delta website for Skyteam partner airlines Aerolineas Argentina and Aeromexico, although both fly to Argentina and Chile from the US with stops.
Meanwhile LATAM, the largest airline in South America, offers nonstop services from the US to Chile and Argentina from Los Angeles, New York and Miami. Your best bet would be to use Alaska Airlines miles as it charges 30,000 miles each, allows stopovers and Alaska miles can easily be transferred from the Marriott Bonvoy program. However, finding award space is a tedious task and you’d have to search the British Airways website and then call Alaska to book the award. If you don’t live in a city that offers LATAM flights, you’d have to connect on a revenue ticket or another award to LA, Miami or NYC if you wanted to use Alaska Miles to fly LATAM.
Best Option: If you want to fly to Buenos Aires or Santiago to catch the “path of totality” for the upcoming solar eclipse, your best bet would be to find award space on AA.com from Miami or Dallas and then find SAAver-level space from your home airport so your connection is included at no additional cost in miles.
Where to Stay
You can expect large crowds and traffic going from the major cities to the four prime viewing towns so you’d be wise to spend a few nights before the solar eclipse arrival exploring the countryside and sleeping in the Elqui Valley or in the towns of Bragado, San Juan or Junín. You won’t find any points hotels and lodging in the towns experiencing the “path of totality” are very limited, because of the number of travelers visiting the region to experience the eclipse.
However, what you will find are Airbnb listings in the Elqui Valley and in the vicinity of the prime viewing towns in Argentina. As a cool alternative to traditional lodging, you could also look into astro camping or book a tour that specializes in eclipse chasing like Santiago-based travel company, Upscape. Our advice would be to use credit cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to book your lodging or tour as this cards allow you to “erase” travel purchases.
The path from the coastal town of La Serena in Chile inland to Vicuña, the main town in the urban center of the Elqui Valley and capital of astronomical observation, has more than 200 Airbnb listings still available for booking. Prices are a bit higher than normal because of demand but the solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle in these parts and many of the listings mention the solar eclipse in their titles. The majority of these listings range from very modest accommodations with twin beds in a single room to an entire private home with rustic touches.
You can opt to stay in La Serena where you may find more modern lodging and better room availability and simply make the one-hour drive to visit one of the many observatories deep inside the Elqui Valley.
You’ll find plenty of Airbnb and hotel options in the coastal town of La Serena, only one hour inland by car from the observatories of Elqui Valley and clear skies to view the solar eclipse.
Two years ago TPG Contributor Dia Adams spent a week in La Serena and reports that even in July, temperatures were in the low 60s and sunny during the day. La Serena is more of a local’s beach town than more famous Chilean beaches such as Vina del Mar, but the wide sandy beaches hold a lot of appeal even in low season.
Trying to make it a road-trip within Argentina? Booking.com displays 33 properties in San Juan, Argentina, within a two-hour drive from Mendoza, Argentina. You can arrive the weekend before in Mendoza, tour vineyards and enjoy wine-tasting before taking off for the night before to San Juan, Argentina, to witness the total eclipse.
Do you prefer a visit Buenos Aires? You’ll have a better chance at finding quality last-minute lodging and basing yourself in Junín rather than Bragado as the former has more than double the total population and about 3x the lodging options. There are about 19 listings on Airbnb still available for July 1–July 3 in Junín, with four of those being from Superhosts. If you’re not familiar with home-sharing sites like Airbnb, we share some tips to help you pick the best vacation rental for you or your family.
Best Option: Depending on whether you intend to start from Santiago or Buenos Aires, it would be imperative that you prepare to arrive at your lodging option the day before (or two) from July 2. You’ll find an array of vacation rental options despite last-minute planning but we suggest you check OTAs (online travel agencies) such as hotels.com and booking.com to see what’s still available. For a higher probability of finding adequate lodging in remote locations (usually better views of the sky), your best bet is Airbnb.
Chile and Argentina are in prime locations to witness the path of totality for the upcoming total solar eclipse on July 2. If you’d like to experience The Great South American Eclipse in person, you still have time to book your flights and accommodations with points and miles while flight and lodging availability exists. Just remember to use safe solar eclipse glasses and soak up the darkness of the path to totality!
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