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LAN Airlines, the flag carrier of Chile, has daily flights from Santiago to Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui and Isla de Pascua. That route makes sense to connect Easter Island to its capital city.

What makes far less sense is the weekly flight from Easter Island another five hours west to Tahiti. There’s also usually a summer seasonal (our winter) route from Lima to Easter Island, though it hasn’t been announced for 2015/2016.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.18.53 AM

LAN is a member of a oneworld, so you can use American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios to book the flights. These flights can be a creative use of either type of miles. For instance, with American Airlines miles, you could take a trip like this to South America, Easter Island, Tahiti, and Hawaii.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 3.40.08 AM

The Routes

Santiago to Easter Island is daily.

Easter Island to Tahiti operates on Mondays with the return flight on Tuesdays. It doesn’t appear to operate every Monday, but I don’t discern a seasonal pattern. You can check LAN’s timetable one week at a time to see when the flight operates.

Lima to Easter Island has been seasonal during our winter (their summer.) It is not yet on the schedule for our 2015/2016 winter, but I also don’t see any announcements that the route has been discontinued, so I think it will appear.

Award Price

Different miles, different price.

American Airlines Miles

American Airlines considers Tahiti and Easter Island to both be part of the South Pacific.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.04.32 AM

That makes tickets from Lima or Santiago to Easter Island outrageously expensive with American Airlines miles.

Between Santiago (or anywhere else in Southern South America) and Easter Island one way:

  • 37,500 AA miles in economy
  • 50,000 AA miles in Business
  • LAN doesn’t have First Class

Between Lima (or anywhere else in Northern South America) and Easter Island one way:

  • 40,000 AA miles in economy
  • 65,000 AA miles in Business
  • LAN doesn’t have First Class

Easter Island and Tahiti are in the same region, so award prices are much more reasonable one way:

  • 20,000 AA miles in economy
  • 30,000 AA miles in Business
  • LAN doesn’t have First Class
BA Avios

Avios awards are distance-based, and all three segments discussed in this post are between 2,000 and 3,000 miles flown, which means they cost one way:

  • 12,500 Avios in economy
  • 37,500 Avios in Business
Other Interesting Routes

Tahiti to Bora Bora:

  • Miles cannot be used on the route. Purchase with cash or points that can be used like cash for airline tickets–like Arrival miles or ThankYou Points.

Tahiti to Honolulu:

  • 27.5k/47.5k Hawaiian Miles one way in Hawaiian economy/First.
  • 37.5k/62.5k American Airlines miles one way in Hawaiian economy/First
Bottom Line on Which Miles to Use

There are no fuel surcharges on any of these routes, and taxes and fees are the same no matter which miles you use.

  • Use Avios between South America and Easter Island. Also use Avios in economy between Easter Island and Tahiti
  • Use American Airlines miles to fly LAN Business between Easter Island and Tahiti.
  • Use Hawaiian miles between Tahiti and Hawaii.

Award Space on LAN

You can search LAN award space on ba.com. Since you basically have to search one day at a time, make sure a flight is operating before you bother searching that day for award space. Here is how to search ba.com.

I found decent award space for one passenger between Santiago and Easter Island. Business Class costs 37,500 Avios + $11.
Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.06.37 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.06.42 AM

Some days have as many as seven award seats in each cabin.Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.07.26 AM Some days also have “First Class” award space listed. There is no LAN First Class, and if you try to select that space, you get an error.

Economy awards from Santiago to Easter Island cost 12,500 Avios + $11 or 4,000 Avios + $87, which is a better deal and ridiculously cheap. (Learn more about Cash & Avios awards.)Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.07.43 AMWhen Easter Island to Tahiti is operating, award space is good in economy.
Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.10.26 AM

It prices slightly higher because of taxes, but you can still book one of the most interesting routes in the world for an astounding 4,000 Avios + $106. (Why my BA account is in euros.)Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.19.20 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.19.24 AM

 

Getting Avios, American Airlines Miles, and Hawaiian Miles

For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 2.52.22 PM

The British Airways Visa offers 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months. You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards 1:1 to Avios.

The Hawaiian Airlines MasterCard offers 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. You can also transfer Membership Rewards 1:1 to Hawaiian Miles.

Bottom Line

LAN flies some interesting routes in the South Pacific from Easter Island to Tahiti, Santiago, and Lima. Award space is searchable on ba.com and bookable with Avios and American Airlines miles.

Hawaiian Airlines flies Tahiti to Honolulu if you don’t want to backtrack.

All the necessary miles are easy to get with credit card bonuses from 35,000 to 75,000 miles.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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Yesterday I published “How to Book a RTW Trip in 2015. Use These Underpriced Awards Around the World,” which I am very proud of. Take a look if you’re an adventurer who wants to take a BIG trip. In the comments, John Domingo asked about getting between South America and Australia.

The best flights to get between South America and Australia/New Zealand are the direct flights on LAN Airlines and Qantas, booked with American Airlines miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.47.01 PM
Source: gcmap.com

Qantas flies directly from Sydney to Santiago. LAN flies the same route but breaks it up with a layover in each direction in Auckland. LAN has the rights to carry passengers on any segment or the whole route. Between Australia/New Zealand and Southern South America, American Airlines charges:

  • 37,500 miles one way in economy
  • 50,000 miles one way in Business Class
  • no one serves the route with First Class
  • American doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on either airline, just minimal government taxes

Award space is excellent on the Qantas flights in economy, though Business Class award space is super rare. Award space is rarer on the Auckland <-> Santiago LAN longhaul, but excellent on the Sydney <-> Auckland portion.

What is the Business Class Product on These Routes?

Business is such a tiny premium over the economy price on this route that it’s the obvious choice if you can find award space.

Qantas flies its 747 on its Sydney <-> Santiago route. According to Seat Guru, the Business Class is in the nose and upper deck and is fully flat. Here’s my review of Qantas Business Class on the A380.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.07.13 PM
Source: http://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Qantas_Airways/Qantas_Airways_Boeing_747-400RR_V2.php

LAN flies its 787 Dreamliner from Santiago to Auckland to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.37.36 PM

The LAN Dreamliner has fully flat beds in Business Class. Here is a video about the LAN Dreamliner in Spanish.

How to Search Award Space

Qantas award space can be searched right on aa.com. Here’s how.

LAN award space is not searchable on aa.com. Search it on ba.com. Any space you see there should be bookable with American Airlines miles.

What Is the Award Space Picture?

Award space is excellent between Sydney and Santiago on the direct Qantas flight in economy for most of the next 11 months, especially next Southern Hemisphere summer.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.32.03 PM

The flight operates four days per week, and for stretches of the year, award space is available on all four weekly flights in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.32.28 PM

Even over Christmas and New Year, the height of the tourist season in early summer, there is award space.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.31.35 PM

Unfortunately Business Class award space almost doesn’t exist. There is only one award seat in Business Class between Sydney and Santiago for the next 11 months, July 10.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.29.13 PM

LAN flies its route seven days a week, but with worse award space than Qantas. I searched the next month from Santiago to Auckland and found only one award seat in Business Class and none in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.37.02 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.37.08 PM

Then I searched all of October 2015 and found just three days with economy award space and zero with Business Class.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.19.23 PM
Source: Award Nexus

February 2016, a time I’d rather fly the route, has better award space, on eight days with LAN.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.14.31 PM

The above images just look at the longhaul from Santiago to Auckland. The plane continues to Sydney, and you can book just the trans-Tasman hop. Award space here is excellent. Almost every day has some award space on the route.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.41.21 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.41.27 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.42.01 PM

Oddly some of the award space is in First Class. I can’t even figure out what that mistake represents because the LAN 787 has only economy and Business, no third cabin at all (not First, not Premium Economy.)

Connections

As long as your connection follows the published-fare rule, you can start your trip anywhere in Australia/New Zealand and end anywhere in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, or Bolivia for the same number of miles. Or vice versa.

It was easy on aa.com to pull up Perth to Santiago awards for 37,500 miles…

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.33.40 PM

…or Auckland to Santiago awards for the same price.Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.34.50 PMIf you want to use LAN flights intra-South America, you’ll have to search that award space on ba.com.

How to Book

If all your legs were searchable on aa.com (ie all Qantas flights), book right there.

If one or more of your legs is not searchable on aa.com (ie LAN flights), note the date, cabin, and flight number of all the award space you find on aa.com and ba.com, and call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to book. Give the agent that information, and book with no phone fee.

Pay your award taxes with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes.

Getting the Miles

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings. There is no annual fee the first year, then $95.

Bottom Line

The only two flights between Australia/New Zealand and South America are flown by American Airlines partners, so American Airlines miles rule this part of a possible RTW trip.

Award space is good-to-excellent in economy and extremely rare in flat bed Business Class, which at only 12,500 miles extra is a steal if you do find space.

You can start the award anywhere in Southern South America and end it anywhere in Australia or New Zealand for the same number of miles. You’re only on the hook for government taxes, not fuel surcharges or a phone booking fee.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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LAN Airlines is putting its Boeing 787 Dreamliner into service between Los Angeles and Lima starting July 1st according to airlineroute.net, and the award space is widely available.

Like all LAN longhaul flights, the plane is configured with two cabins, economy and Premium Business with fully flat beds. You can get on the flights from the west coast to Peru for only 17,500 miles each way in economy or 30,000 miles in a fully flat bed–a steal for the 8hr20min flight.

How can you get on the flight and when is the best award availability?

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The best value destination for people who want to use their miles to travel in flying beds is Peru.

My favorite South American country is the perfect sweet spot of being far enough away for two airlines–LAN and United–to fly fully flat business class seats from six American cities, and being close enough that the flights are a steal with American and United miles.

Usually with miles, there is a “but.” In this case, I don’t see one. The award space is great, the products are fantastic, the miles can be earned easily, and Peru is my favorite country to visit in the world.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

I spent five hours booking a roundtrip from Buenos Aires to Bariloche this week. But at least I avoided an hour and a half in taxis to pick up paper tickets! HUH!?

Bariloche is 851 miles to the southwest of Buenos Aires as the plane flies.

Image from gcmap.com

I decided to book a last-second economy award for two because Bariloche is on the northern edge of Patagonia, and summer is over. I needed to get there quickly if I wanted to enjoy biking and hiking instead of skiing and snowboarding.

The route from Aeroparque–Buenos Aires’s domestic airport–to Bariloche is served by two carriers: LAN Argentina and Aerolineas Argentinas.

LAN with Avios

My first thought was to use Avios to book LAN flights. The number of Avios needed for an award depends on the distance, and this award would cost 15,000 Avios per person roundtrip.

I tried to search ba.com for space, but I ran into the same problem as I detailed for intra-Peru space. For whatever reason, ba.com doesn’t think it has any partners that fly to BRC, so I couldn’t input the airport code. That meant I couldn’t perform the search. (No, the solution I laid out for Peru didn’t work.)

I called British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS. I told the agent I wanted to fly LAN Argentina from AEP to BRC. She told me that British Airways had no partners that flew that route.

When I said LAN Argentina flew the route, she informed me that British Airways “partners with lan.com,” not LAN Argentina. A lot of phone agents for a lot of airlines are clueless, but saying your airline partners with a website not an airline is a new one from a phone agent. :)

I pointed out that British Airways lists LAN Argentina as a partner on its partner page, and LAN Argentina flies the route.

Eligible subsidiaries of LAN for BA redemptions include LAN Argentina

But I wasn’t sure how to talk her through booking LAN Argentina, so I hung up and called back. The second agent was competent, and found a few flights to choose from on my outbound and return dates.

She said the price was 15,000 Avios and $99 per person. I asked her to waive the $25 phone fee since the award wasn’t bookable online, and she said she had, and that it was still $99 per person. I asked for a breakdown, and she said it was $25 fuel surcharges and $74 in taxes.

I found that perplexing because the breakdown on the ITA Matrix was only about 300 pesos in taxes. I didn’t push the issue, though, because currency issues in Argentina are difficult. Maybe the 300 pesos was $60, and I was on the hook for 20% more because of a new tax on foreigners buying travel.

I thanked the agent and hung up. I wanted to check out my other option.

Aerolineas Argentinas with SkyMiles

I tried to search for Aerolineas space on airfrance.us. Here’s a post on how to use airfrance.us to look for SkyTeam space. I know airfrance.us shows Aerolineas award space on its one route to the USA.

Image from airfrance.us

But Air France’s site doesn’t display Bariloche as a city option, so I couldn’t search there. I headed to ExpertFlyer, which I explained how to use here.

Space was excellent, showing award space several flights a day. Note that Delta has access to T space, not X space.

Image from expertflyer.com

I called Delta at 800-323-2323 and told the agent my airports and dates and told her that I had my flights picked out. She quickly found the flights and informed me the cost would be 20,000 SkyMiles and $37.80 per person. I asked if that included a phone fee, which she said it did. I asked her to ask a supervisor to waive the fee, since the award cannot be ticketed on Delta.com. She came back a minute later and said the fee would be waived.

The new cost was 20,000 SkyMiles and $12.80 per person.

Which is better for intra-Argentina travel: Avios or SkyMiles?

That’s a poorly worded question. It depends on the route. SkyMiles will always charge 20,000 miles roundtrip plus minimal taxes. LAN flights with Avios will charge more cash and a miles price between 9,000 and 20,000 Avios roundtrip since the awards are based on the distance of the flights and Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world.

For each award where you have an option on Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN, and as a cash ticket, you should determine the cost of each, and which one you consider cheapest based on your mile values.

For me, the cheapest cash tickets would have been $600 per person. The Avios ticket was 15,000 Avios + $99. The SkyMiles ticket was 20,000 miles + $12.

I value Avios at 1.7 cents and SkyMiles at 1.22 cents. That makes the Avios redemption “cost” $354 (.017 * 15,000 + 99) and the SkyMiles redemption $256 (.0122 * 20,000 + 12).

From my valuations, I think only the shortest hops of under 650 miles would be a better deal with Avios intra-Argentina.

Ticketing the SkyMiles Award

I called Delta back and got the same award priced at 20,000 miles + $12 per person again. When it got time to give the credit card information, the agent panicked and put me on hold. She came back with some strange news: Aerolineas Argentinas wouldn’t let Delta issue an electronic ticket. I needed to go to an airport with Delta staff to have a paper ticket issued.

I hung up and called back several times getting the same information.

I want to spread this information because with some forewarning, this could be converted into only a minor inconvenience. If you can call Delta and put your Aerolineas Argentinas award on hold a few days before your trip to Argentina, you can then ticket it at an airport that Delta serves, which will probably include every airport you fly through on the way to Argentina.

But since I was already in Buenos Aires, it would have been very inconvenient and around $40 for a roundtrip taxi to the international airport (EZE). That combined with the fact that I wasn’t sure ticketing would go smoothly made me bite the bullet and purchase the more expensive Avios ticket.

Note that last week The Points Guy’s managing editor published a very different account of ticketing an Aerolineas Argentinas award intra-Argentina with SkyMiles. I can only attribute the differences to him booking the award a few weeks before me, and Aerolineas Argentinas having changed its policy in the meantime.

Ticketing the Avios Award

I called British Airways and had the Avios award ticketed in ten minutes. The British Airways confirmation number was recognizable by LAN, so online check in at LAN.com was easy the day of our flight.

LAN has a great baggage policy of 50 lbs of free checked bag per person on these flights, which we didn’t need. LAN also had a pleasant flying experience with free Havanna-branded–a recognizable snack brand here–snack boxes on the two hour flight.

Recap

I looked at all my options to get down to Bariloche in a hurry before it got too cold. Cash tickets at $600 per person were out. Luckily Delta and British Airways both have award partners that fly the route with plenty of award space. Plus neither program charges fees for ticketing awards at the last minute.

The Delta award on Aerolineas Argentinas was a better deal, but would have required an expensive and time consuming trip to the nearest Delta agents at Ministro Pistarini airport to get a paper ticket!

For that reason, I went with the Avios award and flew LAN to Bariloche. Based on my time in Bariloche so far, this award has definitely been worth it!

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Unfortunately, all great trips must come to an end. Three-and-a-half months before the end of my stay in Argentina, it is time to book my oneway return to the US: from Buenos Aires (EZE) to Denver (DEN).

Planning

I need to be be in Denver for a wedding at the end of July. Because of this, my travel dates are limited–I want to maximize my time in Argentina while still arriving in Denver before the wedding. This gives me about five days of wiggle room.

As this is a oneway trip, I only want to book an award with an airline that will allow me to book a oneway award for half the price of a roundtrip. Luckily, the American Airlines AAdvantage miles I currently have will allow me to do this. I got 105,000 AAdvantage miles last fall using the (now defunct) two-browser trick.

I really wanted to use these miles instead of my new United miles, which I plan on using to Europe at some point.

Searching for American Space

I began with the most simple of searches on AA.com: Buenos Aires to Denver. There was no MileSAAver (low-priced level) award space available in any class–only AAnytime (high-priced level). MileSAAver space would be 30,000 miles, and I am not going to pay double that just to sit in the back of the plane.

 

Rookie tip: just because my first search showed no space at the miles price doesn’t mean there is no way to find the low miles price. Many airlines’ award search engines don’t show all their partners’ award space, which always prices at the low miles price.

This is such a case. AA.com doesn’t show LAN–a South American member of oneworld–space.

Searching for LAN Space on ba.com

Knowing that American Airlines does not show the available space for all of their partner airlines, I next searched ba.com because it displays more oneworld airlines than aa.com does, and American Airlines miles can be used to book all the oneworld space found on ba.com.

My first search was for Buenos Aires to Denver. The original date I searched returned no available award space in either Economy or Business.

Something to remember when searching for partner space on ba.com is that you must use the tabs that list the surrounding dates in order to see if there is available partner space. Skipping this may result in you missing out on available space. Additionally, you have to run a new search in order to change the class that you want to search for.

Unconvinced that there was zero available award space in any class on any partner flight during the week I needed, I decided to search segment-by-segment.

Rookie tip: award search engines often miss possible itineraries that have connections because of flaws in their computer programming. You can search possible routes segment-by-segment to construct awards yourself that you will later call the airline whose miles you are using to book.

I used Wikipedia to see what US destinations LAN flies to out of Buenos Aires.

So this time instead of searching Buenos Aires to Denver on aa.com, I searched Buenos Aires to Miami. A quick search showed me that there in fact was business class space on a number of LAN flights that week!

They weren’t the direct flight I wanted, but I could handle a stop in Santiago. And they weren’t in economy class, but I was willing to spend 50,000 miles for a business class award. That sure beats the 60,000 aa.com wanted for an economy ticket.

I had found my way to Miami! Now I just needed to find space on a flight from Miami to Denver. Because I was flying international business, I would be allowed to fly domestic first.

Rookie tip: On international business class awards, your domestic portions can be in economy or first class on planes with only two cabins.

I ran a search on aa.com looking for first class award space from Miami to Denver, and found that there was availability on the day that I needed.

Unfortunately, the only direct availability comes with a 12 hour layover in Miami. Any suggestions on ways to pass the time?

I can live with this three flight business class award with a 12 hour layover in Miami to get to Denver when I want to and for a good price.

Booking

Knowing I would be unable to book this award online, and that I was booking with American miles, I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to make the reservation. I gave the agent my account information, and the flight numbers I had picked out. I requested to hold the reservation for a few days before ticketing. The agent complied, telling me that they would hold the award for five days–standard operating procedure for American Airlines. Two days later, I received a rather cryptic email from American:

When I called the number, I was told by the American agent that they were not supposed to hold reservations for seats on LAN flights, and that I would need to ticket the reservation immediately. By politely explaining that I had to confirm a detail before ticketing, the agent allowed me to hold the reservation for a few more days before purchasing the ticket.

Here is my complete itinerary:

This complete itinerary cost my 50,000 miles and $102.30 in taxes including that unavoidable $25 American Airlines Telephone Ticketing Services fee.

 At least I’ll be getting 5,000 miles back because I have an American Airlines credit card. And I’ll have a chance to enjoy lie flat business class on the LAN segments, which is something I haven’t yet experienced.

What I Could Have Done

I could have booked a free stopover in Miami if I had more flexibility in my travel dates. Since Miami is my international gateway city, it is the only place on the itinerary that I would have been able to book a free stopover.

I could have had a shorter layover in Florida. When I searched aa.com for availability from Miami to Denver, I saw a few routes that would allow me to leave Florida hours earlier by flying out of Ft. Lauderdale (FLL). I could have had a three hour layover–rather than a twelve hour one– by taking a taxi to and flying out of Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami on my last leg.

I could have rolled the dice: after not finding any space on American for a date remotely close to the one I needed, I consulted Scott. He told me that American rarely opens up last second award space, but United open up a ton. If I wanted to use my United miles and book in the last week, I could probably have snagged an easy Buenos Aires to Houston to Denver itinerary.

Here’s what Buenos Aires to Denver looks like for this week for instance.

EZE-DEN for this month. Pretty good space is open at the last minute.

In terms of getting the best deal, this may have been the way to go–simply wait until mid-July and start searching for available space on United. I could have potentially saved 20k miles by flying economy. However, I am extremely risk averse and would prefer to have my flight locked in more than a week or two prior to departure. Plus I really would prefer to use American miles instead of United miles for this trip.

Recap

This award is a relatively simple one, but it highlights some good rookie tips too.

If you are searching for a route and keep coming up with zero availability, that does not necessarily mean that you will have to adjust your dates. Use Wikipedia to see where your airline flies to from your origin airport, and then do your search. This often yields hidden space that did not show up before.

Know where to search for each partner. In this case I searched for LAN space at ba.com and American space at aa.com then combined them by calling American.

Don’t forget that you can fly domestic first class on international business awards.

Every airline has different stopover rules on awards. American’s rule allowed a stopover in Miami that I won’t be using, but it’s nice to know the option.

Some airlines open last second space, and some don’t. Even if you think you have the miles to get space at the last minute, you might prefer to lock in your award in advance to save yourself the stress.

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I recently booked a family of four an economy award from Miami to Buenos Aires with their Membership Rewards. It was an interesting award that I think demonstrates the complexities and fun of booking with American Express points.

I won’t talk about that award specifically, but I’ll use it as a jumping off point for discussion since it illustrates a typical Memberhip Rewards situation. Imagine you have a family of four trying for an economy roundtrip from Miami to Buenos Aires for two weeks in October with 300k Membership Rewards.

Membership Rewards are awesome because they can be transferred to any of the three airline alliances, so you can use them to book on almost any airline in the world.

But Membership Rewards are frustrating because they transfer to programs with which you may be unfamiliar like ANA or programs with major drawbacks like British Airways’ fuel surcharges.

I would approach an award like this looking first at the flying options, then at the transfer options. I know if I could find award space, I can probably find a transfer partner with access to that space. And if I find several ways to get to Buenos Aires, I cancompare the transfer options to see which is the best deal with Membership Rewards.

From checking the Buenos Aires international airport’s (EZE) wikipedia page, I know there are direct flights to/from Miami on American, LAN, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Of course, United and Delta also fly to Buenos Aires from their hubs.

Aerolineas Argentinas

Aerolineas Argentinas is the state-owned flag carrier of Argentina. I haven’t heard too many kind words about it, but it does have a direct flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The best way to search for the space is on ExpertFlyer.

ExpertFlyer only displays economy award space on the airline. The space that Aerolineas’ SkyTeam partners like Delta have access to is T class space.

Aerolineas Argentinas flies twice daily between Miami and Buenos Aires–its only US route–once in the morning and one redeye. Up to seven seats are widely available on each!

The return is also wide open.

This was a promising start!

American

American has direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires also. The best place to check for space on those flights is aa.com.

I can look at the whole month of October in just a few seconds with AA’s awesome calendar view. Unfortunately there is no MileSAAver outbound space–the low-miles-price space open to partners– in October, though there is some space on return flights.

Outbound: No Saver Space
Return: Some Saver Space

LAN

LAN is another oneworld airline with direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires. I go to ba.com to check for LAN space to Buenos Aires, since aa.com doesn’t display LAN space.

I ca’t find any LAN space on ba.com, though it did pick up the same American Airlines space I’d seen on aa.com.

ba.com not finding any LAN space
…but it did find the same space on American Airlines

Delta

Yes, it seemed like a complete longshot that Delta would have space for four from Miami to Atlanta to Buenos Aires at the low-miles-price because Delta has putrid availability to South America, but I checked anyway.

Green shows low-miles-price itineraries. There actually are some returns possible.

While oneway tickets with Delta miles are a huge mistake since Delta charges the roundtrip price for all awards even oneways, I kept the returns in mind because AMEX has some transfer partners like Flying Blue that can be used to book oneway Delta awards reasonably.

United, TACA, Copa

The final place I checked was united.com to see what United, Copa, or TACA award space there was that I could snag with a transfer to a Star Alliance partner.

Green and yellow days have an award with four economy seats.

I found a few more possible awards to add to the bounty.

Search Results

I found space in both direction on Aerolineas Argentinas’ two daily flights. I found space in both directions on connecting United and Copa (via Panama) flights. I found return space on American Airlines and Delta, but no outbound space. I found no space on LAN.

Transfer Options

Delta

We can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta to book the Aerolineas Argentinas space and/or the Delta space. Delta charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Argentina in economy class whether you fly it or one of its SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas.

Although Delta does charge fuel surcharges for awards on a lot of its partners, it does not collect fuel surcharges on Aerolineas redemptions.

That means a transfer to Delta would mean the transfer of 240,000 Membership Rewards to 240,000 Delta miles. American Express charges $7 per 10,000 miles transferred to US-based airlines, with a maximum charge of $99, This transfer would incur that $99 charge. The award itself would have government taxes of around $75 per person, meaning a total cost of 240,000 Membership Rewards and approximately $400 for four people.

In return for that outlay, the family could get direct flights in each direction or could sub a one-stop itinerary on Delta on the return if they really didn’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas.

Flying Blue

Air France’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is not always the best option because it levies heavy surcharges on several partners. But it doesn’t levy surcharges on Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. And it’s price from the US to Argentina is 25,000 miles each way.

I’m not sure why the taxes collected exceed those collected by Delta by $15 per person, but that’s a minor concern. Flying Blue costs 25,000 miles each way, and it can be used to book oneways, which is a far better deal than Delta’s 60k miles roundtrip, which is the price whether you book oneways or roundtrips.

That means for 200k Membership Rewards and $360, a family of four could get on the same flights as with Delta miles: Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas flights.

British Airways

We can transfer Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, but that would only enable booking the return leg in this case. Avios can be used to book American or LAN flights. We found only space on American, and only on the return.

The good news is that it’s only 25,000 Avios from Buenos Aires to Miami.

That means the return would be 100k Membership Rewards and $300.

ANA

I recently sang the praises of All Nippon Airways as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. ANA has a distance based award chart. You add up the distance of all the segments and see how many miles that trip will cost. Here is the economy chart.

Miami to Houston to Buenos Aires roundtrip is just over 12,000 miles. That works out 60,000 ANA miles (60,000 Membership Rewards) roundtrip. That’s not fantastic or awful.

But Miami to Panama to Buenos Aires is under 9,000 miles, meaning it is only 43,000 ANA miles roundtrip. That’s the lowest miles total we’ve seen.

image from gcmap.com

In neither case would there be fuel surcharges. ANA never charges fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights, and Copa doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this routing.

No fuel surcharges on Copa from Miami to Buenos Aires, so ANA won’t collect any.

That means ANA miles used to fly Copa would be 172k Membership Rewards and about $480 in taxes.

Transfer Options Summary

To summarize:

  • All the options here receive 1:1 transfers from Membership Rewards and incur only government taxes–no fuel surcharges.
  • Transferring to Delta is a bad idea. Why pay 60k Membership Rewards for a roundtrip when the same flights are 25k each way via Flying Blue? Total: 240k + $400
  • ANA is the cheapest option overall at 43k roundtrip if we route through Panama on Copa. Total: 172k + $480
  • British Airways and Flying Blue are the cheapest direct options at 25k each way. Total: 200k + $300

If you really value direct flights, take the Aerolineas Argentinas flight one direction for 25k Flying Blue miles and return on the American Airlines flight for 25k Avios.

If you really value the cheapest flights or want a free stopover in Panama, look for Copa flights for 43k ANA miles.

Recap

Membership Rewards have awesome versatility, which also means it’s more work to figure out the best deal. For a simple Miami to Buenos Aires roundtrip, all three alliances are possibilities.

Because some transfer partners have region-based charts, some have distance-based charts, some charge fuel surcharges sometimes, and some never do, you have to investigate every option for the best deal.

For Buenos Aires to Miami roundtrip, the best deals are with ANA miles on Copa to take advantage of the distance-based chart of a combination of Flying Blue miles and Avios to take advantage of their partners’ direct flights.

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