5 expert tips when booking award travel to South America
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South America is an amazing continent — and I learned a lot about award travel to the region when I lived in Brazil for five years.
Using your points and miles to visit sandy beaches, go to Carnival festivals or explore the jungles can be amazing. But award travel to and within South America also can be tough to get the hang of, especially since you’re relying on foreign carriers to fly you around the region.
As more and more people begin traveling internationally again, traveling to South America may be on your radar. Here, I’ll dive deep and show you the best ways to redeem miles on flights to and within South America. These are tips I’ve picked up from my years of living in and traveling throughout the region.
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Redeeming miles to visit South America
First things first: You’ll need a plane ticket to get to South America if you’re coming from the U.S. Luckily, using miles for award tickets to South America is relatively simple — even if you want to fly business class.
You can use almost any type of points and miles to fly between the U.S. and South America. This is in large part because Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam carriers all operate routes between the U.S. and South America.
Of course, depending on where you live and where you want to go, different programs are better for different itineraries. But as a general rule for flights from the U.S. to South America, some of the best deals include:
- 35,000 American AAdvantage miles for round-trip economy flights from the U.S. to the northern half of South America on American.
- 50,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles or Delta SkyMiles for round-trip economy flights from the U.S. to southern South America, as long as your flights are on LATAM.
- 88,000 ANA Mileage Club miles for round-trip business-class tickets from North America to South America on United.
- 60,000 and 100,000 Etihad Guest miles for round-trip business-class flights to Northern and Southern South America, respectively, on American.
LATAM is one of the largest airlines in South America, offering numerous flights to/from the U.S. to Brazil, Chile and Peru. As you’d expect, the airline also runs a large intra-region network, with hubs in major South American cities like Lima (LIM), Sao Paulo (GRU) and others, so you can connect to smaller cities.
On the other hand, American, Delta and United all operate flights to South America, but American has the largest route network. From its Miami (MIA) hub, you’ll find nonstop flights to cities like Buenos Aires (EZE), Lima (LIM), Rio de Janeiro (GIG) and others. If you’re considering booking these flights through Etihad Guest, you can use the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card to earn Capital One Miles that transfer 1:1 to Etihad Guest.
If you want to fly Delta to South America, you’ll want to search with Air France-KLM Flying Blue and Delta SkyMiles. Both SkyTeam loyalty programs employ dynamic pricing, so prices vary day by day. Flying Blue generally has the best prices with one-way Delta business class seats starting at 50,500 miles on many dates.
Not all awards are bookable online
While you have no shortage of options to redeem miles for flights to South America, not all awards can be booked online.
LATAM flights don’t appear on the Alaska Airlines website. Instead, you’ll want to search for award flights on Delta’s website and look for flights wholly operated by LATAM. Award flights that appear on Delta’s website should be bookable with Alaska miles too, so down the flight numbers and then call Alaska Airlines at 800-252-7522 to book.
Additionally, Alaska Airlines can only ticket award travel within South America if the operating carrier is listed as LATAM International, LATAM Peru or LATAM Argentina. Notice that this leaves out Chile- and Brazil-based LATAM flights.
This same concept applies to American Airlines flights if you’re trying to use Etihad Guest. That program simply can’t see American Airlines-operated flights online, so you’ll need to find Saver award space on American’s website and call 866-892-2598 to book.
Booking intra-South America flights
Now that we understand how to book flights to get to South America, what about flights around the region? Award travel within South America has a range of options, as well, but there are some oddities that you should be aware of when planning a trip.
Book Gol flights with American, Etihad
Delta recently bought a 20% stake in LATAM, which caused the airline to leave the oneworld alliance and end its partnership with American Airlines. After this, American struck up a new partnership with Gol (which had a diminishing partnership with Delta).
Unfortunately, you cannot book Gol award tickets or easily find award space online, so you’ll have to call American and have the representative help you find award space. We hope this changes soon as the two airlines expand their partnership.
You can redeem American miles on Gol at the following rates:
|Intra-Brazil||7,500 miles||17,500 miles|
|South America 1* to South America 2**||12,500 miles||25,000 miles|
|Intra-South America 2||10,000 miles||20,000 miles|
|South America 2 to the U.S.||30,000 miles||57,500 miles|
* South America 1 includes: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Manaus (Brazil) and Peru
**South America 2 includes: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela
Emirates Skywards also has a partnership with Gol. Again, you’ll need to call to find and book award tickets, but you can leverage its distance-based award chart for solid deals. Plus, Emirates is a transfer partner of all the major transferable points programs.
You can book LATAM with Delta, British Airways
Intra-South America LATAM flights are bookable online with Delta SkyMiles, which prices LATAM-operated flights based on where you’re flying to and from. For example, a one-way Brazilian domestic flight costs 10,000 SkyMiles plus minimal taxes and fees, while a flight from Sao Paulo to Lima costs 22,500 SkyMiles in economy and 32,000 in business class.
You can also book LATAM award tickets with British Airways Avios, but not online. You must first find award space on Delta’s website, write down the flight numbers you want to book and call British Airways to book. This process is time-consuming, but remember that BA’s partner award chart is great for short-haul flights.
It often makes sense to pay cash
On the topic of flights totally within South America, it’s often worth forgoing a redemption and paying cash for a flight.
There are a host of cheap flights within South America. Azul, Gol, LATAM and even low-cost carriers like JetSmart, Sky and Viva often have very cheap fares for domestic flights. You can usually get the best deal when booking a few weeks in advance on high-demand routes with lots of competition.
For example, you can book Sao Paulo to Brasilia (BSB) for just $22 on LATAM on many dates.
Or, Sao Paulo to Santiago (SCL) for just $77 on budget carrier Sky Airline.
It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, if the cash ticket from here to there is under $100 with a bag, it might not be worth the miles you’d otherwise cough up. Of course, you should do the math and see what’s best for your particular situation.
This can also be a good way to leverage the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal.
You have your pick of hotel loyalty programs
Luckily, the hotel aspect of vacationing in South America is more straightforward than the airline side.
All of the major hotel programs (IHG Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt and Hilton Honors) have hotels spread around South America. In turn, free nights booked using award certificates or points are available in all of the major tourist cities. While not every city has every hotel chain represented, you have a fair number of options wherever your plans may take you.
In my experience, Marriott tends to have the most properties in major South American cities — and many of them are excellent deals. For example, you’ll find five Marriott brands represented in the posh Miraflores neighborhood in Lima, Peru. The most luxurious is the JW Marriott Hotel Lima, a Category 5 hotel that runs between 30,000 and 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, depending on the date.
If you end up in Chile, you can stay at high-end Marriott properties like the W Santiago or Ritz-Carlton Santiago with your Marriott Bonvoy points. The Ritz-Carlton is especially intriguing, given it’s one of the few Category 6 Ritz properties. You can book it for as low as 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night on off-peak dates.
Hilton Honors points are also useful in South America. You can often get a good deal at mid-tier and high-end properties, like the Anselmo Buenos Aires, Curio Collection by Hilton. This property can be booked for as few as 24,000 points on many dates in the winter, giving you the perfect escape from a cold winter.
Hyatt has some good properties around South America — like the Park Hyatt Mendoza in Mendoza, Argentina — but your selection is limited when compared to Marriott and Hilton.
Like flights, however, always double-check whether or not it makes sense to book South American hotels with points. Oftentimes paid rates are cheap even in the biggest cities, so compare the cash and award price before you pull the trigger on a booking.
I love exploring South America. There can be some quirks to work around, such as odd baggage rules with Azul or the inability to book certain award flights online. However, there are also positives like tons of availability for hotels and a wide range of flight options across all the alliances.
Whether you’re going to Carnival for the first time or are a frequent visitor of the peaks in Patagonia, hopefully, these six tips can make booking award travel easier for you when it comes to your first — or next — trip to South America.
Feature photo by Andre Pinto/Getty Images
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