South America is a great destination to visit and I am going for the second time in December. My first trip there in 2012, I spent 8 days in Brazil. This winter, I am hitting Argentina and visiting my dream destination Easter Island. We have many miles programs to choose from and the task of deciding exactly which miles to use when can be daunting. In this post, I will look at which miles are, in my opinion, best for trips to South America and explain which miles we should use in each situation.
When we look for options to collect miles for a certain trip, we want miles that are flexible to use among many different partners, but that also allow us flexibility for stopovers in different cities to make the most of our trip. Because oneworld is such a dominant force flying to and within South America with four major partners right now, their members American Airlines, US Airways and British Airways are a natural choice to look at. Lufthansa, on the other hand, has retained its partnership with big South American network airline TAM and allows multiple stopovers and open-jaws on its award tickets. We’ll do a deep dive and analysis of these four programs so we can all plan the best trips to South America with the fewest miles we can!
Lufthansa Miles & More charges a flat 60,000 miles for round-trip awards from the US to South America, but allows two stopovers and two open-jaws on its awards. Leveraging these routing rules, we can fit three or four cities into a single award ticket.
US Airways Dividend Miles only allows one stopover, but is extremely flexible with where that stopover may be. For 60,000 miles, we can visit Brazil or Argentina (or both) and stop in Central America or anywhere in North America along the way. Or, for 80,000 miles, we can continue all the way to Easter Island with a long stop in South America beforehand.
American Airlines AAdvantage does not allow any stopovers, but does give us an off-peak award chart for much cheaper miles prices to South America in the spring or fall. When visiting in March-May or August-November, we can get away with 40,000 miles round-trip. American Airlines also charges just 35,000 miles round-trip for visits to the northern countries.
British Airways Executive Club Avios are not very good for flying the long-distance flights to South America, but once there, they can offer great value for short flights between destinations or making side-trips. This program charges by distance per segment and allows you to book short flights for as little as 4,500 miles each way.
Best for Visiting the Most Cities on One Award
Lufthansa Miles & More is definitely the most generous when it comes to the number of stopovers you can have and cities you can visit. It also has partnerships with a good number of airlines for the flexibility to visit many cities. What makes Lufthansa unique is the ability to have a stopover in each direction on a round-trip flight plus two open jaws. This mean you can visit three cities on one 60,000 miles itinerary with all the flights in between covered. If you’re willing to cover a short flight on your own, then you can actually visit four. You cannot have stopovers in Central America or North America, but if you’re looking to maximize cities in South America, then it’s definitely a program worth looking into.
I wrote a post on maximizing Lufthansa Miles to South America:
The cost of award tickets to South America with Lufthansa miles:
- 60,000 miles round-trip from US to South America in Economy.
- 105,000 miles round-trip from US to South America in Business Class.
With Lufthansa, you can redeem miles with any of their Star Alliance partners traveling to South America as well as TAM Airlines. TAM Airlines has left the Star Alliance, but has retained a relationship with Lufthansa. This means that Lufthansa Miles & More will allow combining award seats on United Airlines, Avianca, Taca or TAM. That’s a good number of partners to choose from.
How to redeem Lufthansa miles to South America
Search for Star Alliance award availability on the United Airlines website. Search for TAM availability on the British Airways website. After piecing together your award, call Lufthansa Miles & More Customer Service to book.
How to earn Lufthansa miles
Until June 30, the Lufthansa Premier Miles & More Card is offering an increased sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 within 3 months (Update: This offer is now expired). Afterwards, the bonus will likely be dropping back to 20,000 miles.
Best for Off-Peak Discounted Travel
American Airlines does not allow any stopovers and charges a flat rate based on region, but it does have two very good advantages: the off-peak award chart and pricing to the northern countries of Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia being far cheaper than the others. I previously wrote about the American Airlines AAdvantage Off-Peak Award Chart and highlighted the following regions:
Central America, Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Venezuela:
- 15,000 miles (vs. 17,500 miles regularly).
- January 16 – June 14; September 7 – November 14.
South America Zone 2: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (excluding Easter Island), Paraguay, Uruguay:
- 20,000 miles (vs. 30,000 miles peak).
- March 1 – May 31; August 16 – November 30.
If you’re thinking of visiting Brazil or Argentina in the spring or fall, then American Airlines may be a very good bet. You can use American Airlines to fly there for just 40,000 miles round-trip and then bounce around locally with British Airways miles on short flights.
American Airlines miles can be redeemed on the oneworld partners US Airways, American Airlines, LAN and TAM along with additional partner Alaska Airlines. All these can be combined on a single award.
How to redeem US Airways Miles to South America
To find oneworld partner availability, you can search on the British Airways website. Alaska Airlines availability can be found on the American Airlines website. You should then call American Airlines AAdvantage Customer Service to book the award.
How to earn American Airlines Miles
American Airlines has a number of co-branded credit cards with Citibank. The best offer right now is for 100,000 miles after spending $10,000 within 3 months. The card has a $450 annual fee so may not be for everyone, but for some, it may be worth it: Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard
Best for Short Flights Within South America
The British Airways award chart works completely differently than the others. Rather than charging a flat rate from one region to another (the way most other airlines charge 60,000 miles from US to South America), British Airways charges by distance per segment.
You pay more miles for long distance flights, but can potentially get a great deal for very few miles for short distance flights. This makes them mediocre for actually flying to South America, but once you’re, they’re amazing for short flights. Their lowest award redemption starts at 4,500 miles each way for flights of under 650 miles and goes up from there.
- Buenos Aires to Santiago: 7,500 miles each way
- Lima to Cusco on LAN: 4,500 miles each way
- Rio de Janeiro to Iguassu: 7,500 miles each way
- Santiago, Chile to Easter Island: 12,500 miles each way
How to book with British Airways miles
British Airways miles are actually very easy to book with as their search engine actually shows the South American partner award availability. You can search for LAN and TAM flights online and book them right then and there.
How to earn British Airways miles
There are tons of ways to earn British Airways miles so I’ll just give an overview. Other than having its own co-branded credit card with Chase, British Airways is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
Best for Flexible Routings and Combining with Central America or South Pacific
US Airways allows one stopover on a round-trip to South America, but where you can stop is extremely flexible. The advantage of US Airways miles is that you can combine two different regions in a single itinerary. On your trip to South America, you can schedule a stopover along the way in the US, somewhere in Central America or even go all the way to Easter Island stopping in South America along the way.
US Airways award pricing to South America:
- 60,000 miles round-trip from US to South America in Economy Class.
- 100,000 miles round-trip from US to South America in Business Class.
If you do want to go all the way to Easter Island or the South Pacific building in South America as a stopover, then here are the prices:
- 80,000 miles round-trip from US to South Pacific in Economy Class.
- 110,000 miles round-trip from US to South Pacific in Business Class.
I explained how to book Easter Island awards with stopovers in South America with US Airways Dividend Miles in: How to Fly to Easter Island with US Airways Miles
US Airways can be redeemed on the oneworld partners US Airways, American Airlines, LAN and TAM.
How to redeem US Airways Miles to South America
To find oneworld partner availability, you can search on the British Airways website. You should then call Customer Service to book the award.
How to earn US Airways Dividend Miles
US Airways has its own co-branded credit card US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® with Barclays, which is currently offering a 40,000 mile sign-up bonus after your first purchase and paying the $89 annual fee. This is probably the easiest way to rack up some miles for a ticket to South America, Easter Island or anywhere else.