I recently booked an award for my parents that departed from their home–Charleston, South Carolina–to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We used a combination of their United miles and their Ultimate Rewards, transferred to United MileagePlus, to book the award in United Business Class. I wrote about the process of exploring price options out of their available rewards, sifting through award space, and booking in Anatomy of an Award: Charleston to Rio de Janeiro in United Business.
This post will go over the process I went through booking their return flight back to the United States from Buenos Aires, where my parents spent another week after being with me in Rio for a week. We took a GOL flight between Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires–more on that later.
We redeemed American Airlines miles on LATAM Business Class through Bogotá to Miami, where the award ended. They took a cheap cash flight between Miami and Charleston as there was no Saver Level award space that lined up with the Miami flight.
Looking at Options
My parents had the following types of rewards at the time I was looking to book their award:
- American Airlines miles
- United miles
- Ultimate Rewards
They had enough American Airlines mile for two one ways in Business Class, enough United miles for one one way in Business Class, and enough Ultimate Rewards for one one way in Business Class to Southern South America.
But at the time of searching, outbound award space in flat bed Business to Brazil (the desired award) was a scarcer resource than flat bed Business in the other direction, so the award space I found described in this Anatomy of an Award dictated what rewards I was left with and the timing of the return. Their award to Brazil would deplete all of their United miles and the majority of their Ultimate Rewards, so I was left with American Airlines miles to work with.
Redeeming American Airlines Miles
American Airlines miles can book two carriers that fly to South America from the United States: American Airlines and LATAM. It would cost 57,500 American Airlines miles + taxes to fly one person in Business Class to South American Region 2.
Finding Award Space
Finding Flat Bed Business
American Airlines planes that fly between Buenos Aires and the United States feature flat bed Business Class. Check. The other carrier they could potentially book with their American Airlines miles, LATAM, also features a flat bed Business product. How do I know? You can use seatguru.com to double check.
For example, here’s how I checked for the first leg of the award between Buenos Aires and Bogotá. Fill in your flight information on the home page…
And the seat map with details pops up on the following page.
I searched American Airlines award space right on aa.com. No tricks. Also no award space.
I did not search LATAM award space on aa.com, as that is a oneworld carrier who’s award space doesn’t show up there. Instead I combed through tons of results segment-by-segment searching on britishairways.com, which displays LATAM space.
I eventually found the following itinerary flying LATAM Business Class about two weeks out from the outbound award, which is roughly the length of time my parents wished to stay in South America.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina > Bogotá, Colombia (overnight in Bogotá, but the connection was less than 24 hours so segments priced as one award)
- Bogotá, Colombia > Miami
Unfortunately there was no Saver Level economy nor Business Class segment on American Airlines that lined up with the Miami flight, and cash tickets between Miami and Charleston, my parents’ home, were cheap. So the last domestic leg of their journey they paid for out of pocket with their Barclaycard Arrival Plus, which is an amazing rewards card for covering flights in which redeeming traditional miles doesn’t represent a good value. Arrival miles essentially offset any travel expense greater than $100 inside your Barclaycard account within 120 days of the purchase, like any flight.
The itinerary required them to book an airport hotel in Bogotá, which they also charged to their Arrival Plus card and were reimbursed for by redeeming their Arrival miles on the charge.
No transfer of points was required as we were booking these LATAM Business seats with American Airlines miles directly. Since you can’t book LATAM awards on aa.com, I called AAdvantage at (800) 882-8880 equipped with my father’s account information and booked the award for them.
By the way, you can do this for just about anyone, as long as you have their AAdvantage account info and basic information. I’ve done it many times for friends/family and via MileValue’s Award Booking Service for clients and never had an issue.
The AAdvantage agent I spoke with did not try to charge a fee for booking the LATAM award over the phone, as they shouldn’t since it’s not bookable online. But be aware that a less competent agent might try to and make sure you aren’t stuck with an unfair fee.
I recently booked LATAM Business Class from Buenos Aires to Miami via Bogotá for my parents to return back to the United States after their trip with me in South America. Read about the process we went through booking the outbound portion of their trip to Rio de Janeiro in this Anatomy of Award.
The LATAM Business award cost 115,000 American Airlines miles and about $170 in taxes. There are cheaper ways to fly between Southern South America and the United States, but with the scarcity of award space on the outbound and the types of miles they had, it was the best option.
We had a great time in La Ciudad de la Furia (Buenos Aires), the place I’ve come to call home. If you’re interested in suggestions on places to eat and drink, check out my Buenos Aires Restaurant and Bar Guide!