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LATAM, which is the new airline that’s the result of the merger between LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines of Brazil, is the biggest airline serving South America.
If you want to explore the diverse continent of South America, where airfares are high, using your miles can save you thousands of dollars. While most people in the U.S. don’t have any LATAM miles, there are many ways to use the miles from partner airlines like American Airlines and Alaska Airlines to book LATAM flights and save on airfare.
LATAM space on flights from the United States is pretty hard to come by if you’re not flexible. It’s not unusual to find a Business Class seat on a LATAM flight, with a total lack of availability in Economy. And when there is availability in Business Class, LATAM usually opens only 1 seat at a time on key routes, such as New York to Lima or Santiago.
If you’re flying from New York, it’s much easier to find a flight to Lima via Guayaquil. LAN often has plenty of award seats on this route. Even if Lima is not your final destination, it’s usually not an issue to find a flight between Lima and Buenos Aires or Santiago, while getting a flight from the U.S. to South America is a more difficult task.
Unlike many airlines that limit access of partners’ members to premium class award inventory, LATAM appears to be a bit stingy in general. It’s not unusual to find a Business Class seat on a LATAM flight, with total lack of availability in Economy. And when there is availability in Business Class, LATAM usually opens only 1 seat on key routes, such as Lima or Santiago.
LATAM generally doesn’t have Business Class award space to São Paulo from New York. Even Economy Class seats are not easy to come by. If you want a Business Class award to Brazil from New York, getting an American Airlines flight is easier.
Availability from Orlando and especially Miami is considerably better, and flights originating from Miami have a lot of connecting options.
American AAdvantage miles are the best currency for LATAM Business Class flights to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Manaus, Brazil. You will pay 30,000 miles in Business Class per one way flight. This can be an excellent value for a lie-flat seat, considering that LATAM’s flight between New York and Lima clocks at 7hr 40min.
For an Economy Class seat, American, at 20,000 miles, is usually the best option too, but for flights from Orlando and Miami, the honor belongs to British Avios at 12,500 miles for a flight. Coach availability between these cities and northern South America is hard to find, however.
For a Business Class seat, the best value between the U.S. and Southern South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile) is Alaska Mileage Plan. You will pay 45,000 miles each way for travel anywhere in South America. For Economy Class flights, it’s either Alaska (25,000 miles for off peak and 30,000 for peak travel) or British Airways Avios on some routes (25,000 miles between Miami and São Paulo).
Special Mention: Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be an extraordinary bargain for flights to South America due to the program’s incredibly relaxed routing rules. Asia Miles has the OneWorld partner multi-carrier awards chart, which allows up to 5 free stopovers and up to 2 open jaws.
There is one small catch in that you must fly at least 2 OneWorld airlines in order to use this chart, so, in this example, you’ll have to use both LAN and American Airlines to take advantage of its prices and free stopovers.
You can, for example, fly from New York to Galapagos (Baltra or San Cristobal), Machu Picchu, and Lima for 65,000 miles in Economy or 95,000 miles in Business Class. And don’t worry about crossing GYE and LIM twice – backtracking is allowed.
Or you can fly from Los Angeles to Santiago, to Buenos Aires, to Rio, to São Paulo on LATAM, and back to LA on American for 85,000 Asia Miles in Economy and 115,000 Asia Miles in Business Class. That’s an incredible deal for Business Class travel provided that you can find award space. Compare it to 115,000 American miles that will only buy you 1 round trip flight to Southern South America.
American AAdvantage miles will often be your best bet for booking a short flight within South America. The American chart has the following “Wholly Within” redemption rates for one way flights:
These are excellent rates, especially for Ecuador and Brazil.
American levels for Ecuador include Galapagos and can be a huge bargain, since a ticket between Galapagos and the mainland can easily reach $500 per roundtrip.
As for Brazil, the country is huge, and LATAM’s coverage is extensive, so if you want to explore the wonders of this fascinating land, 7,500 miles per one way trip (not per segment) is a terrific rate, as well.
However, for short non-stop flights try to explore whether British Airways Avios would be better, since it lets you book any single flight that’s under 651 miles for 4,500 Avios poitns. For example, all most popular tourist places in Peru, including Cuzco, Iquitos, and Juliaca would fall into the 650-mile radius from Lima and would cost you 4,500 Avios. And Colombia is the same story.
Basically, if you can find an under-650-mile nonstop flight between two cities in these or other countries served by LATAM, Avios is a better choice. Otherwise, stick with American AAdvantage miles.
Alaska Airlines has a unique award chart that offers great redemptions on LATAM if you can handle the quirks. Most importantly, Alaska has a separate award chart for each partner and only allows one partner’s flights and Alaska’s own flights on a single itinerary.
This means that if you don’t live in a city that offers a LATAM flight, you will either need to fly Alaska there or find another way there outside of the award, which could include driving, a revenue ticket, or another award ticket.
Also, at this time, Alaska miles can only be used for LAN-operated flights, but Alaska is working to have all TAM-operated flights added to their system until the LAN+TAM merger is complete.
On the plus side of Alaska’s quirks is that they allow stopovers on one-way bookings. So, if you want to fly from Washington D.C. to Buenos Aires on LATAM via Lima, you can stop in Lima for a few days and you won’t have to pay additional miles. You could do the same thing on your return ticket.
Unfortunately, one more quirk of Alaska’s chart is that you can only redeem for flights between regions that are listed on Alaska’s LATAM chart. These regions and corresponding prices are listed below:
|Continental U.S. to South America||Price (Each Way)|
|Easter Island to South America|
|South America to South America|
Off-peak dates for LAN coach flights are available from March 15 to June 30 and August through November. Peak awards are offered from January 1 to March 14 and all of July, September, and December.
Alaska Airlines is not a transfer partner of any of the major transferrable points currencies other than Starwood Preferred Guest. SPG points transfer to Alaska at a 1:1 ratio. If you transfer in increments of 20,000 SPG points, you’ll receive a 5,000 mile bonus making the effective transfer ratio 1:1.25.
LATAM flights are only bookable over the phone with Alaska Airlines. You can call 1-800-252-7522 in order to book.
Of all of the programs listed, Asia Miles is, by far, the most complex. We won’t be going into the full ins and outs of booking with Asia Miles here, but will rather just give you an introduction to what is possible.
Asia Miles transfer from Citi ThankYou Points, Amex Membership Rewards, and SPG points at a 1:1 ratio. If you transfer SPG points in increments of 20,000, you will receive a 5,000 mile bonus.
Like British Airways, Asia Miles operates with a distance based award chart. But, to make things complicated right away, know that Asia Miles has many award charts. The first step to figuring out how much an award will cost is to figure out what award chart you should even be looking at.
For most bookings on LATAM flights, people flying from the U.S. should be concerned with the standard award chart (for one carrier, or two if one is Cathay Pacific – probably not applicable for most people reading this article) or the Oneworld award chart when two or more carriers are involved (like American Airlines and LATAM).
The next complicated thing involves trying to figure out how much an award should actually cost. We recommend that you check out our full cheat sheet on Asia Miles to find out how to calculate the price for your specific itinerary, but here are a few prices to give you an idea:
|Route||Economy Class (Each Way, Single Carrier)||Business Class (Each Way, Single Carrier)|
|Washington DC – Lima||25,000||45,000|
|Los Angeles – Santiago||40,000||70,000|
|Lima – Buenos Aires||20,000||30,000|
|Lima – Cusco||10,000||N/A|
LATAM provides a discount for booking round trip awards versus two one ways, so know that if you are planning to book a round trip, you won’t pay double the prices listed above. For example, a one way flight from LAX to Lima costs 45,000 in economy class or 80,000 round trip if you are flying a single partner.
The same flight would cost 60,000 one way or 85,000 round trip if you fly two partners, for example if you needed to make a short connection to LAX on American Airlines.
American Airlines’ award chart is a little bit more flexible than Alaska’s and allows you to book any of LATAM’s flights. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to call in if you want to book, since LATAM flights don’t show up on the AA.com website. You can reach an agent at 800-433-7300.
American prices awards based on which region you’re flying to. In South America there is the South America 1 and South America 2 region.
American Airlines defines South America 1 to include Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Manaus, and Brazil. South American 2 includes Argentina, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile (excluding Easter Island), Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Easter Island is located in American Airlines’ South Pacific zone.
Booking at the prices listed below is subject to American Airlines routing rules, which limit how you can reach each region. One thing that’s a little bit interesting about American Airlines is they do not allow routing through a third region.
That means, if you want to go to ‘South America 2’, which includes most of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, you can’t connect through a city in a different region like Lima, which is in ‘South America 1.’
This can make booking LATAM awards pretty difficult because Lima is one of LATAM’s biggest hubs.
Routing through South America 1 is not allowed if your final destination is in South America 2, which can make booking an award on LATAM difficult in practice with American Airlines miles.
|USA – South America 1||Price (Each Way)|
|USA – South America 2|
|Within (One Of) Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile|
|South America 1 – South America 1|
|South America 1 – South America 2|
|South America 2 – South America 2|
|South America 1 or 2 – South Pacific (Easter Island)|
American AAdvantage is not a transfer partner of any of the major transferable points currencies other than Starwood Preferred Guest. SPG points transfer to AA at a 1:1 ratio. If you transfer in increments of 20,000 SPG points, you’ll receive a 5,000 mile bonus making the effective transfer ratio 1:1.25.
British Airways offers a distance based award chart, which charges based on the distance of each individual flight you take. The chart is below, and the distances are for each one way flight. So you should double these prices if you plan to tkae a round trip. All LATAM flights are booked at the ‘Peak’ price, and the ‘Off Peak’ price is only for British Airways flights.
When referencing British Airways’ award chart, the ‘Peak’ prices are applicable to flights on partners, including LATAM. If you want to figure out the cost for a specific flight, you should check out British Airways’ award calculator. To give you an idea, here are a few prices for LATAM flights:
|Route||Economy Price (Each Way)||Business Price (Each Way)|
|Washington DC – Lima||20,000||60,000|
|Los Angeles – Santiago||30,000||90,000|
|Lima – Buenos Aires||10,000||20,000|
|Lima – Cusco||4,500||N/A|
As you can see, the long haul routes are really not competitive with other program’s award prices – especially in business class, but short haul flights can be a steal!
LATAM doesn’t charge fuel surcharges, either, which means you won’t be paying much on top of the mileage cost. This makes redeeming BA Avios for LATAM flights a really great use.
One really nice thing about using BA miles to book LATAM flights is that you don’t need to call in to book. If you see the availability online through BA’s website, you can immediately book that award space with no extra hassles.
British Airways Avios transfer 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards and SPG points. If transferring from SPG, you will receive a 5,000 mile bonus when you transfer in increments of 20,000 points. American Express Membership Rewards also transfer at a 1,000:800 ratio, so 10,000 Amex points gets you 8,000 Avios.
Where to Search for Space
You can also do the search on the Qantas website, which is quick and has a friendly interface, but it frequently displays “phantom” availability. So, it might be worth your time to use BA.com since the BA searches are usually accurate and display the number of available seats when the seats are limited. Although, make no mistake, BA.com is also known to display phantom LAN award space every now and then.
Another free option is the Award Finder Chrome Extension that we have reviewed before.
Booking LATAM rewards takes some effort, but if you have a big adventure planned in South America, using miles can make a dream trip a reality without a lot of money.
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