Best ways to get to South America using miles (premium cabins)

10

Looking for the best ways to get to South America using miles? This post outlines the best options available to get there in business class using frequent flyer miles programs available to the major US transferable currencies like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Capital One Miles, and Marriott Bonvoy points. This continues our series on the best ways to get to various regions around the world using miles, including:

South America will always hold a special place in my heart because it is where I had my first extended trip abroad. I spent the better part of a year living in Quito, Ecuador and traveled around that country and parts of Northern South America while there. I left South America with strong intentions to return at the next opportunity and it has simply gotten pushed off again and again ever since.

While I’ve traveled to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Oceania on award tickets many times in the years since discovering points and miles, I have never booked a ticket to South America using miles. My travels in this region all occurred before discovering points and miles and happened on a shoestring budget. For that reason, this post will be a work in progress as I look to add additional programs. Please let us know in the comments if you know of other sweet spots worth a mention and we will add them to this resource.

Note that this series continues to focus on premium cabin travel since that typically offers the best bang-for-your-buck in terms of using airline miles. While that is also true to South America, high cash prices to much of Southern South America can make even economy class a pretty good deal. Further, with the absence of any truly luxurious premium cabin options and what are in some cases relatively short flights, economy class might be a desirable option for some award travelers. We’ll review the best options for economy class in a future post.

Transferable Currencies

If you want to use airline miles, it’s great to have transferable points.  Transferable point programs let you transfer your points to any of a number of airline programs.  This is great because it gives you the freedom to book many different flights through many different methods, some of which are strikingly cheaper than others.  If you’re not familiar with transferable points programs, please check out our guides:

Amex Membership Rewards Complete Guide Capital One “Rewards miles” Complete Guide Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide
Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

Best ways to South America using miles (premium cabins)

The deals below are sorted alphabetically. Remember that the lowest price isn’t the entire picture: be sure to consider which airlines levy fuel surcharges and the ease of amassing the miles for your chosen award. See each description for where to search, how to book, and which partners you can use to transfer. It is always best to confirm availability before transferring miles to be sure that the award you seek can be booked with the miles you intend.

Air France / KLM Flying Blue

  • The short story: Air France has variable pricing that isn't great but could be attractive if you hit a transfer bonus and/or need to combine points from different programs to book an award.
  • Miles required: Varies, but around 50.5K one-way to Northern South America in business class or 72K in business class. These prices become more attractive when a transferable currency offers a 25% transfer bonus. Keep in mind that in addition to Delta, Air France partners with Copa.
  • How to find awards: Use the Virgin Atlantic 5 week award search to find availability (see this post for details). Next, confirm your findings at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone when the website returns errors.
  • Key warnings: Air France's website is buggy and will often return errors when trying to complete a booking. If that happens, try calling.

Alaska Mileage Plan

  • The short story: Alaska has solid rates to South America on both AA and LATAM, though with Alaska joining oneworld and LATAM having recently left, the future of the LATAM partnership is questionable.
  • Miles required: Alaska maintains separate award charts for each partner. Business class on LATAM is 45K miles each way. Business class on American Airlines to South America Zone 2 (which includes Argentina, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela) is 57.5K miles each way, while business class to South America Zone 1 (the rest of South America) is 30K miles each way.
  • How to find awards: Search AlaskaAir.com for American Airlines award space or Delta.com for LATAM award space.
  • How to book awards: Book at AlaskaAir.com for American Airlines flights. For LATAM flights, call Alaska at 1-800-252-7522.
  • Key warnings: Finding premium cabin space on AA is generally very difficult. With Alaska joining oneworld and LATAM's recent departure (and heavy investment from Delta), it is questionable as to how long the LATAM partnership will last.
  • Transfer from: Marriott

American Airlines

  • The short story: American now offers variable pricing for its own flights, which can sometimes make them very good deal for award flights to South America (though note that they are no longer partners with LATAM, which has taken away their competitive advantage in some cases).
  • Miles required: Varies. While the traditional pricing was 57.5K miles in business class to Southern South America, we have seen web specials for 40K miles each way. You'll need to search AA.com for your dates and compare to prices from oneworld partners.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AA.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at AA.com.
  • Key warnings: Variable pricing means that deals come and go and prices are unpredictable. It is inadvisable to collect American Airlines miles for a specific future award since you can not predict the price, but if you already have miles or have earned them through a credit card welcome bonus it is worth checking to see if AA has specials for your dates and cities.
  • Transfer from: Marriott

ANA Mileage Club

  • The short story: ANA charges just 88K miles round trip for business class to South America. The catch is that you must book round trip.
  • Miles required: 88K miles round trip on Star Alliance carriers between North and South America (United / Copa / Avianca).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or ANA's website (though ANA requires searches to be round trip, so it is easier to find availability by searching one way at United first).
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA.
  • Key warnings: Note that transfers to ANA are not instant. Transfers typically take 2-3 days from Amex Membership Rewards or a week or more from Marriott, so there is risk of award space disappearing while you wait for a transfer.
  • Transfer from: AmexMarriott

Asiana Club

  • The short story: Asiana offers amazing award pricing on Star Alliance flights to/from South America. The difficulty is in earning the miles since they only transfer from Marriott, though they do have a credit card.
  • Miles required: 27.5K miles each way in business class to South America 1 (includes Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Peru) or 35K miles each way in business class to South America 2 (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay). Here is a link to search the award charts, though note that Asiana lists the round trip prices. Travel is Free has a handy one-way chart.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com
  • How to book awards: Book over the phone with Asiana.
  • Key warnings: Transfers from Marriott may take 7 days or more.
  • Transfer from: Marriott

Avianca LifeMiles

  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive Star Alliance pricing to both Northern and Southern South America with no fuel surcharges. Note that you can mix cabins on partner awards to save miles, which can be useful if you need a positioning flight.
  • Miles required: According to the old award chart, flights to Northern South America are 35K each way in business class and Southern South America costs 60K one way in business class. However, flights on Avianca metal appear to be pricing out at 40K - 55K (while partner awards follow the old chart).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Also note that as of May 2020, Avianca has filed for bankruptcy protection. LifeMiles is not yet affected by this process and may not be, but given the uncertain state of global economics it may be wise to hold off on bookings that aren't time-sensitive.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

British Airways Avios

  • The short story: British Airways has excellent award pricing for shorter distance American Airlines award flights, whereas you're better off booking with another program for longer flights or if you need connections (since British Airways prices each segment separately). Keep in mind that while LATAM has left oneworld, their flights should still be bookable with Avios.
  • Miles required: From 22K miles (Miami to Bogota falls in this distance band) to 92,750 miles (Los Angeles to Buenos Aires is in this distance band) each way in business class. The best deals will be from Miami to Northern South America for 22K or 38,750 miles one way depending on distance (and assuming direct flights). See the full award chart here at One Mile at a Time.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at BritishAirways.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at BritishAirways.com
  • Key warnings: Note that British Airways periodically stops showing American Airlines award availability. When this happens, phone agents are generally unable to book the space either and your best bet is to keep searching or book through another partner.
  • Transfer from: AmexChaseMarriott

Etihad Guest

  • The short story: Etihad's award chart for American Airlines flights is very competitive. The struggle is finding award space in premium cabins on AA flights.
  • Miles required: Etihad offers zone-based pricing on American Airlines flights, with business class to South America Zone 1 for 30K miles each way (includes Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Belize, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, and Venezuela). Business class to South America Zone 2 is 50K miles each way (includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (excludes Easter Island), Paraguay, and Uruguay).
  • How to find awards: Search BritishAirways.com or Qantas.com for American Airlines award space, then call Etihad Guest.
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Finding premium cabin space on AA is generally very difficult.
  • Transfer from: Capital OneCiti, Marriott

EVA Mileage Lands

  • The short story: EVA offers decent Star Alliance award pricing from North America to/from South America. The best value is booking round trip since EVA allows 2 stopovers (one each way) on a round trip (max 6 segments, no stopover on a one-way). Note that stopovers can not be booked online.
  • Miles required: 52K miles each way. See the award chart assembled at Travel Is Free.
  • How to find awards: Search United.com.
  • How to book awards: Book simple awards online at EVAAir.com. Must call and book over the phone for stopovers.
  • Key warnings: You'll likely need to call EVA for complex bookings.
  • Transfer fromCiti

Qantas Frequent Flyer

  • The short story: Qantas offers good award pricing on shorter oneworld routes, like Miami to parts of Northern South America. Keep in mind that though LATAM has left oneworld, their flights can still be booked with Qantas points.
  • Miles required: 41,500 miles for itineraries with a cumulative distance of 1201-2400 miles or 57,000 miles for itineraries with a cumulative distance of 2401-3600 miles.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Avios, either through British Airways or Iberia, might be a better value if you have direct flights (though this varies with precise distance) if you have access to points which transfer to Avios. However, for flights with connections, Qantas can be a better deal.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Singapore Krisflyer

  • The short story: Singapore typically beats United for pricing to/from Southern South America and there are no fuel surcharges. Fly United, Copa, Avianca, or Air Canada.
  • Miles required: 57.5K miles each way in business class to/from South America (note that Singapore prices all of South America at the same rate, whereas United charges fewer miles to Northern South America). See the full award chart here.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or SingaporeAir.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer.
  • Key warnings: Note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Marriott

United Mileage Plus

  • The short story: While award flights to Southern South America are cheaper with other Star Alliance partners, United offers good pricing on award flights to Northern South America whether on United, Copa, Avianca, or Air Canada. The excursionist perk could be leveraged for a free flight within Northern South America when booking round trip.
  • Miles required: Variable, but generally saver awards are 38.5K miles each way to Northern South America or 66K miles each way to Southern South America.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at United.com
  • Key warnings: Since United eliminated its award chart, pricing can now be variable and "saver" rates may not always match those above.
  • Transfer fromChase, Marriott

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic offers much better pricing for award flights on Delta flights than Delta airlines would charge its members. Since Virgin Atlantic partners with most major transferable currencies, it is very easy to put together the miles for an award.
  • Miles required: 45K each way in business class. See the award chart here.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com. Keep in mind that it may not always correlate to the lowest pricing on Delta.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.
  • Key warnings: The Virgin Atlantic website can be a bit finicky to deal with. See How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles for more info.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott

How to get the miles

The following chart shows the available transferable points programs for each of the above airline frequent flyer programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer RatioChase Transfer RatioCiti Transfer RatioMarriott Transfer RatioCapital One Transfer Ratio
Air France KLM Flying Blue1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Alaska MileagePlan60K to 25K
ANA Mileage Club1 to 160K to 25K
Asiana60K to 25K
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Avios1 to 11 to 160K to 25K6000 to 3000*
Etihad Guest1 to 11 to 1
(~1 week)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands1 to 1
(~2 days)
1000 to 750
Qantas Frequent Flyer1 to 11 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 500
United MileagePlus1 to 1
(instant)
60K to 27.5K
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K
Email:*
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide

10
Leave a Reply

avatar
6 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
7 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
7 Comment authors
FlyerDadPierreAndrewDarleneNick Reyes Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of
jeph36
Guest
jeph36

Good info, I hope to take advantage of one of these in the next couple years. My only quibble is with your definition of alphabetical order – ‘U’ is before ‘V’ :-).

Doug
Guest
Doug

No mention of American Airlines OW J class from North America to the northern half of South America for 30K miles? That was one of my favorite redemptions ever (2 J tickets on LATAM 787 NYC to LIM for 60K miles).

Pierre
Guest
Pierre

Hey Nick,
I’m long time reader. Thank you for sharing great info. I wanted to mention JAL mileage bank. JAL miles are hard to come by but distance base chart got some amazing mix of partners along side it’s one world partners. Awards are bookable on line. Reasonable taxes and 25$ cancellation fee are pros. Availability is great on hard to find awards. Generous 5 to 7 stops policy and one way awards bookable on half price are my favourite. Like Turkish Miles and Smiles, JAL mileage bank is full of sweet spots and I think it’s somewhat underrated.

Darlene
Guest
Darlene

Thank you Nick for such a complete guide to booking premier seats to South America!!! It is brilliant. As we say in Hawaii, You da best. Nick no ka oi.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Thanks for these posts! I think you forgot to list Amex as somewhere you could Transfer From to Etihad.

FlyerDad
Guest
FlyerDad

Hi Nick: Just got an e-mail from LATAM that they are offering great business class fares through end of October (and free changes). So you can use Chase points to fly non-stop from LAX to SLC in business for 120,000 RT if you have a CSR. And–you could fly to Easter Island with a stopover in Santiago for about 140,000 RT (again, using a CSR). That’s a pretty sweet deal considering that LATAM is supposed to have the best business class and it’s the only non-stop from the west coast. And you can earn miles back (maybe credit to Alaska while you can)!

However, you are spot on that AA has some amazing webfares–you can fly for 80,000 RT in business (but only to SLC, not Easter Island), although from LAX it is through MIA. So I wonder whether another 40,000 points (not taking into account miles earned) is worth the convenience of a non-stop and slightly better in-flight experience.

Along those lines, you note that none of the carriers is really super luxurious, but are there any cabins that you’d recommend (or recommend we avoid)? Very timely series–thank you.