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Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly from the U.S. to South America from 25,000 miles

Nov. 14, 2021
10 min read
Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio
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Sweet Spot Sunday is a weekly series highlighting the best-value award redemptions across loyalty programs.

Anyone who says Delta SkyMiles are worthless isn't looking hard enough.

There are some tremendous redemption opportunities — especially for travelers who don't mind economy. With one of Delta's more recent partners, LATAM, you can redeem SkyMiles for travel between the U.S. and South America at low rates. Best of all, some routes have wide-open award space, making this an award that's a good deal and easy to book.

For travelers who don't already have a healthy SkyMiles balance, it's also easy to transfer miles into your account from American Express Membership Rewards. Most transfers process instantly, so you can move points over just before you're ready to book.

Let’s take a closer look at these redemptions in this week’s edition of Sweet Spot Sunday.

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Why it's special

Machu Picchu in Peru is a bucket list destination for many (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Delta offers excellent award pricing when using miles to fly from the U.S. to South America, with most flights operated by its partner, LATAM. Some other frequent-flyer programs, like American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus, charge 30,000-33,000 miles one-way for these flights. By contrast, on Delta, these awards are frequently offered for just 25,000 miles each way. That makes this an excellent way to redeem your SkyMiles and save some points in the process.

And if that's not enticing enough, you'll find lots of award space and low taxes on your trip, making this a good option all-around.

Economy awards

Here's an example route from Miami (MIA) to Sao Paulo (GRU). As you can see, even on peak season dates, the route is consistently offered for 25,000 miles + $5.60 in taxes one-way.

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Escape winter weather at home by heading to Brazil on an award. (Screenshot from delta.com)

When you dig in deeper, you'll notice you even have your choice of departures. Travelers can choose the schedule that works best for them.

Both daytime and overnight routes have availability at the lowest price. (Screenshot from delta.com)

You'll notice that there's space for nine passengers at this award price (and yes, that's true on multiple dates and routes).

This route is admittedly a gold mine for award space, but it's not cherry-picked. In general, LATAM is generous with partner-bookable economy award space. You'll also find 25,000-mile seats on routes like Los Angeles (LAX) to Santiago (SCL) and New York-JFK to Lima (LIM).

(Screenshot from delta.com)

If you don't live near a LATAM hub, you're not out of luck. You can often add connecting flights within the U.S. to get to a starting hub and add segments within South America. For example, I was able to find a decent flight from Buffalo (BUF) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) at the same low price. Even a week later, to arrive just in time for Carnaval, was only a little more expensive at 29,000 miles one-way.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

It's worth mentioning that you won't always get a 25,000 mile award to South America, especially when you need to add domestic flights within the United States. Delta uses dynamic pricing so that those U.S. segments may increase the final price considerably. The flexible dates calendar tool on Delta.com makes it easy to find which dates have reasonably priced flights.

Related: A Review of LATAM’s A350 in Coach From São Paulo to New York

Business-class awards

Sadly, LATAM is pretty stingy with releasing business-class space between the U.S. and South America, regardless of your preferred route.

If you find it, Delta typically charges 95,000 miles one-way for partner awards traveling between these regions. That's not a great price, especially since you can sometimes find cash sales on some routes. If that's the case, you may be better off using flexible points to cover the cost of your purchase instead of redeeming miles through a frequent flyer program.

Taxes and fees

Taxes heading southbound from the U.S. to South America are usually $5.60 one-way, though it might be slightly higher if you're adding connections along the way.

When you head back to the U.S., taxes will vary by the country you're departing from since every country sets its own departure taxes. However, most trips tend to cost about $50 for the one-way trip, like this Lima to Orlando (MCO) award.

Taxes and fees departing from South America are consistently reasonable on Delta/LATAM awards. (Screenshot from delta.com)

In most cases, a round-trip award between the U.S. and South America on LATAM will cost you 50,000 miles and approximately $45-60 in taxes.

Related: Book this, not that: SkyTeam award tickets

How to book

LATAM Economy seating (Photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy)

Booking LATAM flights via Delta is simple. You can start your search right on the Delta website, similar to how you'd search and book a paid ticket.

Step 1: Enter your desired itinerary.

To search, enter your desired itinerary and check the "Shop with Miles" box. Delta typically pre-selects the box for flexible dates, which is great since it'll automatically search for a full week of availability all at once.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Step 2: Choose from the available dates

Your results will come back showing a full week of award dates, including your preferred date and the three days before and after it. Since LATAM economy availability is generous, you'll likely have several dates to choose from at the 25,000-mile level if you're flying a nonstop route.

For even more options, switch to the "Price Calendar" tab to show five weeks of pricing and availability at a time. This is especially helpful if you're flying to or from a non-hub airport but can be a great tool on simple routes as well.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

If you're searching for a round-trip award, your results will come back as an availability matrix.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

As you can see, Delta labels the lowest-price awards and highlights them in green to make it easy to find a good value redemption. Your preferred dates are also highlighted.

Once you've settled on a date (or set of round-trip dates), click on it to move on to the next phase of the booking process.

Step 3: Choose specific schedules

After you've confirmed your date(s), Delta will take you to a more detailed page showing available flights. Often, there may only be one option at the lowest price. But in some cases, there may be multiple daily departures with different schedules and/or connections to choose from.

Just like with paid flights, you'll need to select and click through the specific flights you want to book. In this case, I selected the nonstop award (shown in blue) from Santiago to New York.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Step 4: Log in to your SkyMiles account to confirm and pay

If you're not already logged into your SkyMiles account, the website will prompt you to enter your member number and password at this time.

Then, you'll be taken to the final booking page, which shows a summary of the flights you've chosen and the total cost. If all looks good, fill out all required passenger info and payment information. Some or most of this information may be saved in your account and pre-filled on your behalf.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Don’t forget to pay the taxes and fees with a credit card that earns bonus points on flights and includes basic travel protections in case of unexpected delays or cancellations, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Delta has a flexible change policy for flights originating in North America: as long as you make your changes at least 72 hours before your flight, there are no fees to change the date, time or location of your trip (though you'll have to pay any additional miles or taxes if you choose a more expensive flight).

For flights originating elsewhere (including if you booked a one-way award from South America), you're only responsible for change fees if you booked a Basic Economy ticket. LATAM flights aren't bookable in Basic Economy, so this is only an issue if you booked a flight starting in South America operated by Delta itself.

Related: The best websites for searching SkyTeam award availability

How to earn points for this award

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The easiest way to earn Delta SkyMiles is by transferring miles in from American Express Membership Rewards. Transfers process at a 1:1 ratio and usually happen instantly.

You can also transfer miles from Marriott Bonvoy to Delta at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-SkyMiles bonus awarded for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. Transfers aren't instant, but in our experience, they typically take 24 hours or less.

There are currently some great ways to earn Membership Rewards, like welcome offers when approved for a new account:

You can also earn Delta SkyMiles by using a dedicated Delta credit card, such as the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card.

Check out our full guide to earning and redeeming with Delta for more earning methods.

Bottom line

The SkyMiles award program prices things all over the place, with some astronomically priced awards and others that are an excellent deal.

Thankfully, flights to South America on LATAM fall on the value end of the spectrum, especially if you can tack on extra segments within the continent to get to harder-to-reach places like Patagonia, the Amazon rainforest or bustling cities like Buenos Aires.

If heading south is on your radar, bookmark this article to refer back to when you're ready to book. At 25,000 Delta miles one-way or 50,000 miles round-trip, this is a great deal.

Feature photo by f11photo/Shutterstock.com.

Featured image by (Photo by f11photo/Shutterstock.com)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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  • Annual Fee

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more