Redeem American Airlines Miles: Part 11 — Redeeming for Central and South America

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Let’s talk about how to use American Airlines miles for awards to Central and South America. American Airlines flies more routes from the United States to Central and South America than any other carrier–by far!

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Me in Rio de Janeiro during the last World Cup, Christ the Redeemer in the background

 

“Redeeming American Airlines Miles” Series Index

Central and South America

Central and South America (excluding Mexico) is divided into three regions.

Central America is:

  • Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama

South America Zone 1 is:

  • Bolivia
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Peru
  • Manaus (Brazil)

South America Zone 2 is the rest of the continent:

  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Chile (excluding Easter Island)
  • Falkland Islands
  • Paraguay
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

As I noted in the post on American Airlines award routing rules, awards to South America Zone 2 must fly directly from North America to the South America Zone 2 region. They cannot transit Central America or South America Zone 1. That would break the trip into two awards and increase the miles price.

The Partners for Central and South America Awards

American Airlines partners with direct flights from North America to Central America and South America:

  • American
  • LATAM and its affiliates (eg LATAM Argentina)
    • The airlines LAN and TAM joined in May, 2016 to become LATAM

Award space on American is searchable on aa.com. Here’s how to search aa.com.

Award space on LATAM is searchable on ba.com. Here’s how to search ba.com.

Pricing

From North America to Central America American Airlines charges:

  • 12,500 miles one way in economy from September 7 – November 14 and April 27 – May 20 flown exclusively on American Airlines planes
  • 17,500 miles one way for other economy awards
  • 27,500 miles one way in Business Class

The peak economy is the same prices that United and Delta charge to Central America in economy. American’s Business Class price is a little cheaper than the competitors’. The most value can be found using the economy Off Peak awards, which are the same price as most airlines charge for a one way within the continental United States.

From North America to South America Region 1, American Airlines charges:

  • 17,500 miles one way in economy from January 16 – June 14 and September 7 – November 14 flown exclusively on American Airlines planes
  • 20,000 miles one way for other economy awards
  • 30,000 miles one way in Business Class

Prices are similar flying United or Delta economy–the best deal is flying during the Off Peak dates to take advantage of the discounted economy award price. To fly Business Class, using American miles to is definitely a better deal (5,000+ miles cheaper) than redeeming either United or Delta miles.

From North America to South America Region 2, American Airlines charges:

  • 30,000 miles one way for economy awards the rest of the year
  • 57,500 miles one way in Business Class
  • 85,000 miles one way in First Class

Economy prices are on par with what United and Delta charge. Business and First Class are cheaper when redeeming United miles. Delta miles should be your last choice to use for premium cabin flights to Southern South America–they are the most expensive in Business Class and you can’t redeem them on partners’ First Classes.

Routes & Award Space

American Airlines has a massive, massive route network from Miami to Central and South America.

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image from gcmap.com

American also has a smaller network from Dallas and Charlotte in addition to the LATAM flights to South America from around the country.

While American flies to nearly every major city in the region, it doesn’t hit all the tourist destinations like Patagonia, Galapagos, and Machu Picchu. But even here American Airlines miles shine. LATAM Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru have massive route networks that get you wherever you need to go in South America for no extra miles.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 2.05.55 PM
LATAM Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina flights
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LATAM Paraguay and Brazil flights
Award Space on American Airlines Flights

Award space varies by destination and season, but the general pattern on American Airlines flights is OK economy award space and poor Business and First Class award space that gets slightly better the last few weeks before departure. I also notice that there is often better premium cabin award space from South America to the United States than from the United States to South America.

For instance, here is Buenos Aires to Miami. There are three days in the next week with two Business Class seats on the same flight.

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Miami to Buenos Aires only has one such flight (today) in the next few weeks.

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Similarly here is Miami to Rio de Janeiro. There are seven days in the next three weeks with two Business Class seats.

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But from Rio to Miami, there is more Business Class award space for two people–nine days out of the next three weeks.

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Finally, as I said, economy award space is just OK. Here is award space for two from Miami to Santiago mid September through mid October. You can find space if you’re flexible, but it is not available daily.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 2.44.56 PMLATAM Award Space

LATAM’s award space from the United States to Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador is pretty bad.

LATAM award space to Chile looks pretty open for Southern South America summer at the moment. This week in mid July has tons of options flying economy or Business, up to seven seats in each with multiple flights a day from New York City.Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.09.30 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.09.19 PM

LATAM’s award space to Brazil is very good. Here is a day in November with 8+ Business Class award seats and 8+ economy award seats from Miami to Sao Paulo.
Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.20.52 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.18.49 PMIntra-South America, LATAM has pretty good award space. It’s a common sight to see several daily Lima to Cuzco flights with award space, like this day in mid November that has ten flight options.
Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.25.03 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.25.36 PM

I couldn’t find LATAM Argentina award space from Ushuaia or Calafate to Buenos Aires for January 2017–the peak of high season in Patagonia, but much of the year, there is such award space from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires.

LATAM Ecuador has decent economy award space to the Galapagos Islands from Quito and Guayaquil if you are flexible, like this day with seven award seats from Quito.

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LATAM Brazil has great award space within Brazil.

Booking the Award

If the backbone of your award is American Airlines flights to Central and South America, begin your search on aa.com. If you need to add LATAM flights, search for those next or simultaneously on ba.com.

If your award is only American Airlines flights, book online. If it includes LATAM flights, you need to book by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880. The good news is that you will pay zero phone booking fee, since that fee was waived when an award can’t be booked online.

If you want to fly a premium cabin, you can book economy now and if space opens up closer to departure, you can change the award for no change fee to a higher cabin.

If you want to take a grand tour of South America, consider hopping around with:

Bottom Line

American Airlines miles are fantastic to get to pretty much every town and city in Central and South America in economy. There is some premium cabin award space, mostly right before departure with more on the flights to the United States than from the United States.

Awards to Central and South America are cheap if you take advantage of American Airlines’ Off Peak economy awards.

For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® is offering 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles and Admirals Club lounge membership, among other awesome benefits, after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

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By meeting the $5,000 total spending requirement you’ll earn at least 65,000 American Airlines miles. With just a little more spending, you’d have enough to fly two people roundtrip to Northern South America during Off Peak dates (January 16 – June 14 and September 7 – November 14).


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. I flew to Ecuador in January (started checking in October, used ExpertFlyer to set award seat alerts). Initially American did not offer any MIA-UIO economy award seats from mid-December through the end of January. Then, about 30 days out, they opened seats on many dates between January 13 and January 31. On the return, I saw a similar pattern – initially no seats available, then many dates became available 30 days out, and additional dates became available 5-7 days out.

    • Great tip. They definitely release last minute award space on a lot of South American routes. I don’t see it as much to Europe.

  2. I’ve been traveling in Argentina and Uruguay for the last two months. I was looking forward to using AAs excellent 6k “wholly” in awards in Argentina, but as you say LAN is extremely stingy with award space in high season. The only AEP-USH available the whole month of Jan was 445am on Jan 1st. Califate impossible. Bariloche same thing. I’ve had similar trouble with Iguazu, Salta, Cordoba but award space is a bit better on those routes.

    I’ve had to resort to flying Aerolineas who have excellent award space (even last min) but are a much worse value. Also booking with LAN kms directly is an option albeit you’ll probably have to transfer from SPG and that makes it less attractive.

    Side note. I have been able to book Mersocur (TAM Paraguay) award space by calling AA. I’m probably the only person looking but I didn’t know the had officially joined OW?

      • I want to specify that TAM Paraguay is currently only available on international routes. For instance, I was unable to grab AGT-ASU as an award, but I was able to book IGU-GRU-ASU and ASU-VVI for 10k miles each + taxes. I need to get that visa on arrival or I would have just bused AGT-ASU.

        I appreciate your AA redemption series. I’m taking this whole year to travel and burn a large stash of miles. One of your posts allowed me to secure AUH-SYD-NAN for 60k + $67 in taxes. As an exec plat anything I can grab with AA is a huge bonus.

  3. Thanks for posting this! I’m looking to travel South & Central America with my husband for 6-9 months hopefully leaving in the fall of this year.

    I’ve been hoarding as many AA miles & Chase Ultimate Rewards as I can to prepare for our trip. Looking forward to using them wisely.

    • You can book your first leg now. Pay special attention to those links I threw in at the end about the cheap intra-region awards. I didn’t mention Avios, but you should of course check ba.com for award availability if any of the legs you want to fly within Central and South America have a direct LAN or TAM flight. (Your Chase UR transfer 1:1 to BA Avios.)

  4. I’m a beginner here so sorry for the probably stupid question. Why would you end up with 82,500 pts. after meeting the minimum spending requirement? Where do the extra 7,500 pts. come from?

    Thanks

    • 75,000 is the bonus. You also get 1 mile per dollar on all spending including the $7,500 you spent to meet the minimum spending requirement. That’s the extra 7,500 miles.

  5. I’m having a very hard time finding MilesAAver award space to Buenos Aires in September/October from Seattle. Any tips on using less than 55k miles for a one-way ticket?

    • AA releases almost no Saver space to Buenos Aires. I think it has to do with the fact that Argentines are filling the planes as a consequence of the dual exchange rate there. Google ‘blue dollar Argentina’ for more info on that.

      • I was able to find saver space for two people 28th December last year (peak season) SFO-DFW-EZE but booked 7 months in advance. You have to be very flexible to get into EZE. Did you try MVD or SCL?

        Argentinians love 3 things: Soccer, Malbec and looking for dollars. It’s possible they are moving currency and eating up award space but they have pretty tight controls at the airport and currency sniffing dogs. A lot of people take dollars in and out via ferry to/from Uruguay.

        • Argentines aren’t using award space. They are paying for the tickets with money, which just means AA won’t open award space since they are selling out flights.

          They don’t need to carry dollars out of Argentina. They can go abroad and get dollars from an ATM at the dolar tarjeta rate, which is 35% above the official (ie b-llsh-t) exchange rate. The dolar blue (ie real) exchange rate is 63% above the official rate, so there is major profit for an Argentine in going abroad and buying things with a credit card or using an ATM.

          They can get a dollar at an ATM for 12.43 pesos and then sell it in Buenos Aires for 14.9 pesos.

          • I didn’t mean they were actually booking awards, but potentially eating up the space by filling seats.

            I just spent two months there this year and understand the situation. I routinely changed money on the street and went to Uruguay to collect more dollars.

            Locals do take massive amounts of dollars/euros out of the country to avoid the foreign currency restrictions in Argentina. How much goes on planes I don’t know. Typically, Uruguay was the main offshoring country but the government there has cracked down recently. According to my Argentine friend Panama is still a very attractive to store foreign currency.

            14.9 now? It was only 13.4-13.6 in Feb/Mar. Great time to visit!

          • You can keep track of the blue rate at http://www.ambito.com/

            Especially if you are there for weeks or more, find a money-changing place (cueva) with a fixed address. The street is an unnecessarily sketchy place to change money.

  6. I am having problem seeing LAN flights through the British Airways or American. Looking at booking a trip in South America during August 2016. I can find award flights from USA to South America without a problem, but nothing within South America. I tried going through the British Airways website as suggested but all I get is no availability no matter what I flights I look at or what countries.

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