I am planning a trip to Europe that begins in Madrid, departing South America when it starts to grow cold down here and warm up in your hemisphere. I recently booked a British Airways Avios award to get myself there from São Paulo, Brazil flying Iberia Business Class on an A330.
Looking at My Options
A flight from South America to Europe is a long one. If I could help it, I decided I wanted a Business Class flight. The brand new long haul low cost carrier LEVEL, owned by IAG, had just announced flights from the west coast of the United States, Puerto Rico, and Buenos Aires to Madrid. While the product the airline offers is the opposite of Business Class, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the $200 introductory prices were available between Buenos Aires and Madrid around my desired travel date. I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of that one as there weren’t any super cheap fares available the last week of May. I think I’ll leave low cost carrier traveling for shorter hops.
At the time I was looking to book, these were the rewards I had decent sized balances of:
Unfortunately Alaska miles can’t book awards between South America and Europe.
Delta miles can book multiple carriers that fly direct between Buenos Aires and Europe, but I probably would opt to fly one direct to Madrid on Aerolíneas Argentinas or Air Europa. Delta no longer publishes an award chart, but Travel is Free made the most recent one by hand last November. As it says in that chart, one way in Business Class between Southern South America and Europe costs 90,000 miles. I could stop there and not even worry about fuel surcharges as I had no where near 90k Delta miles, nor would I want to spend that on Air Europa or Aerolíneas Argentinas Business Class.
American Airlines Miles
American Airlines miles can book multiple carriers that fliy directly between Buenos Aires and Europe, but to Madrid the one option would be Iberia. It costs 87,500 American Airlines miles to fly one way in Business Class between South America Region 2 and Europe.
I also know that Iberia flights booked with American Airlines miles have fuel surcharges. Not that that matters, as I don’t have that many American Airlines miles.
Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines are the only Star Alliance partners that could get me to Europe, and neither could do so directly to Madrid. Either way, it costs 70k one way, which I don’t have–not to mention what I’m sure would be hefty fuel surcharges.
Again, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines are the only Star Alliance partners that could get me to Europe, and neither could do so directly to Madrid. It costs 78k one way as well as whatever Lufthansa or Turkish charge in fuel surcharges, as Singapore will collect them. Yet again, left hanging, as I don’t have that many Singapore miles.
That left nada, as far as my current rewards stash went.
I am also expecting a bonus of Membership Rewards, which, if I had waited until about two weeks from now to book, would give me access to…
- AeroMexico Club Premier Miles
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air France Flying Blue
- Alitalia MilleMiglia Club
- ANA Mileage Club
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- British Airways Avios (250 MR = 200 points)
- Iberia Avios (250 MR = 200 points)
El Al Matmid Points (1,000 MR = 20 points)
- Emirates Skywards Miles
- Hawaiian Airlines Miles
JetBlue TrueBlue Points (250 MR = 200 points) must be transferred in 250 point increments Singapore KrisFlyer Miles
- Virgin America Elevate Points (200 MR = 100 points)
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
I crossed out the options I have already been over as well as those I knew wouldn’t do me any good, and will spare you the boredom of going through each of the rest of miles’ specifics. I knew the majority of the rest of my options would collect fuel surcharges, but it looked like that would be a reality I’d have to weigh.
Here’s the summary.
I used Miles.biz to save time, a great tool for finding the cheapest miles prices between two places. I input EZE (international airport in Buenos Aires) in the origin, and MAD (Madrid) as the destination. I left the drop-down menu on all programs so the results would show prices in all major frequent flyer programs.
Here were my top options in Business Class according to Miles.biz:
- 52k ANA miles flying Lufthansa or Turkish Airlines Business + fuel surcharges…but ANA requires a roundtrip redemption, 104k miles, so that was a no go.
- 51k Iberia Avios IF my dates happened to be Off Peak, flying Iberia Business + fuel surcharges.
Note that Miles.biz only shows mileage prices, not fuel surcharges. You have to check on those by hand, either on the frequent flyer program your using’s website, or by calling them.
Finding Award Space
I searched for Iberia award space on britishairways.com. You can also find Iberia award space on iberia.com. Nothing was available between Buenos Aires and Madrid.
Strike out. Time to re-think the strategy.
I thought about potentially positioning to São Paulo via either a cash flight or an Etihad award flying GOL for 9k Membership Rewards + taxes–whichever was a better deal. The other huge benefit of flying out of Brazil is that I wouldn’t incur any fuel surcharges, which are illegal on flights originating in Brazil. Or at least, they’re supposed to be.
Since flying Lufthansa or Turkish would already require connecting in one of their hubs before arriving in Madrid, I knew the direct Iberia flight between São Paulo and Madrid would be my ideal award. One flight from Buenos Aires to São Paulo, and one more to Madrid.
DING DING DING! We had a winner, folks. By the good grace of the award space gods, there was a Business Class seat on the exact day I wanted to travel in Iberia Business Class on an A330, a totally lie-flat bed. And it was only 42,500 Avios (British Airways or Iberia Avios) + taxes! But wait–do you remember the transfer rate between Membership Rewards and either of those programs? It’s 250:200. Bummer.
I was so satisfied with my personal discovery of this Avios sweetspot, I was determined to get the award for the 42.5k Avios price. I did something I’ve done in the past that has always been reciprocated and worked out quite well–I asked a fellow miles freak for a loan. I have a friend with a ton of Ultimate Rewards, so he was ok with booking me the award. One day I will return the favor and book him some sweetspot he nerds out on that only I have access to with my rewards.
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda?
Yes, I’m kicking myself a little bit since Iberia awards have just gone on a 25% off sale and I could’ve booked the same award for only 31,875 Avios (São Paulo – Madrid is in Band 6 of the Iberia award chart). But what can you do? I had no idea Iberia awards would go on sale. And if I had waited around, the seat probably would have disappeared. It was the only Business Class award seat on the route for weeks surrounding my desired departure. At one point, it disappeared and then reappeared before I had booked it. I’m more than fine that I snagged a 42.5k flat bed Business award seat to Europe from South America, wtih no fuel surcharges.
My friend transferred 42.5k Ultimate Rewards to British Airways Avios. The transfer was instant.
Then, from his account he booked me in Iberia flat bed Business Class, departing from São Paulo and arriving to Madrid.
My Iberia flight is on an Airbus A330 with 36 flat bed Business Class seats.
I’ve never flown it, and I don’t believe Scott has either. The Luxury Travel Expert has a trip report from January flying the same plane between Madrid and Johannesburg. The lounge details will obviously be different but you can get a feel for the plane’s product.
Getting to São Paulo
For the Buenos Aires to São Paulo leg, there are multiple options that line up with a sufficient amount of connection time. I set a Google Flights Price Tracking alert to keep an eye on the price of the ticket. I’ve seen dips low enough to merit buying a ticket instead of booking a 9k Etihad award, especially when you consider the expensive departure taxes leaving Argentina (around $60) I’d incur on an award. I’ll watch the price for a bit longer to see if it dips any lower than its current record low, and most likely purchase a revenue ticket on a dip.
Pro tip: If you’re ever flying out of Buenos Aires to a surrounding country or to somewhere else within Argentina, always try to get a flight out of Aeroparque (AEP) as opposed to Ezeiza (EZE). Aeroparque will be much closer to where you’re staying in Buenos Aires and much easier to deal with than Ezeiza–I can almost guarantee that.
This year, I plan on spending the South American winter in Europe’s summer. I’ll be heading to Spain first, Ireland afterwards, Italy after that, and finish it off with a camping trip in Norway. I’ll keep you updated as I continue to book awards/cheap cash flights. The majority of my accommodation will most likely be in Airbnb’s, aside from Ireland where I’ll be road tripping and likely staying at small bed & breakfasts/hotels spur of the moment as well as with friends and family of my good Irish friend I’ll be making the trip with. And in Norway, I’ll be sleeping in a tent.
I recently booked the first transoceanic leg of my summer trip, with 42.5k British Airways Avios and only $35 in taxes as fuel surcharges are illegal departing Brazil. I will be flying Iberia Business Class in a fully flat bed between São Paulo and Madrid.