Best Uses of American Express Membership Rewards Points by Region: South America

Introduction
Domestic (Including Hawaii)
Europe
Asia
Australia
Middle East/Africa
South America


For travel to South America the best Membership Rewards transfer partners are as follows:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)
  • British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)
  • Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)

Aeroplan charges 60,000 miles for coach or 95,000 miles for business class between the US and Southern South America, and 50,000 miles for coach or 75,000 miles for business to Northern South America.

The good news is that they don’t impose fuel surcharges for most of their partners to South America, which include TAM, Avianca/TACA, Copa, United, and US Airways.

TAM is extremely stingy with award space and only rarely releases coach award space, and almost never releases first or business class award space. US Airways’ only route to South America is Charlotte to Rio de Janeiro, on which they don’t release a lot of award space. United has flights out of several of their hubs to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and other destinations in Northern South America. Availability is decent, though not great.

That leaves Copa and Avianca/TACA. Both release a good amount of award space. Copa is based in Panama City and their fleet is entirely made up of 737s, so expect a standard “domestic first class seat” if you fly with them in business class.

Avianca is based in Bogota and TACA is based in San Salvador. Both operate several routes to North America though their product isn’t typically considered to be very good.

British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)

One of the destinations for which Avios are still extremely valuable is South America. LAN belongs to OneWorld, and has the most extensive route network within South America, the best award availability, and a fantastic fully flat business class product. British Airways also partners with American, which is the US airline with the most service to South America. Best of all, British Airways doesn’t impose fuel surcharges for travel on either airline to South America.

British Airways doesn’t publish an award chart though their award chart is very similar to Iberia’s which looks as follows:

For example, Miami to Lima one-way is just 12,500 Avios in coach or just 25,000 Avios in business class. Then a connection to Santiago or Buenos Aires costs the same, but best of all you can have as many stopovers as you want, since each segment is priced individually.

The best place to search award space for travel on LAN is on British Airways’ search tool, which is pretty good for South America travel. LAN is even taking delivery of several 787s, so you can fly those out of Los Angeles starting in January.

American also has pretty good award space to South America, and you most easily search that space on aa.com. The great thing is that they have a calendar search option, so you can search availability for travel on American for weeks at a time. If there’s saver award space you should be able to make a booking using Avios as well.

Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

Delta’s award availability on their own flights to South America is abysmal. As a result there are three partners to consider, all of which have good availability at the saver level of 60,000 miles in coach or 100,000 miles in business class roundtrip for travel to Southern South America, or 45,000 miles in coach or 90,000 miles in business class roundtrip for travel to Northern South America.

The first partner is Aeromexico, which has excellent business class award availability out of Mexico City to Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago, and Sao Paulo. Alaska Airlines and Aeromexico both have reasonably good award space from the US to Mexico City, so positioning there shouldn’t be an issue. See this post for all the details on booking an Aeromexico award through Delta SkyMiles. Award availability can easily be searched on Delta’s website directly.

Delta also partners with Aerolineas Argentinas, which flies daily between Miami and Buenos Aires. Unfortunately you have to call Delta to ask about availability and book, though last I checked availability was quite good.

The last good option is Korean Air, which flies daily between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo. The catch is that they’re not very good about releasing award space, though for the dates they do they’re probably the most reliable and comfortable SkyTeam option out there at the “low” level. Just keep in mind that Korean Air has blackout dates in addition to not having great award availability.

It’s also worth noting that Air France has similar redemptions to Delta for travel to South America, except they allow one-way travel for half of the roundtrip cost.

Conclusion

LAN is by far the strongest airline for award travel to South America, so if that’s the direction you’re headed I highly recommend keeping an eye out for Membership Rewards transfer bonuses to British Airways, as they’re quite frequent. So in most cases LAN is not only the best value, but also has the best business class product. As a backup plan both Aeroplan and Delta are worth considering, though should only be necessary if you’re traveling during peak times.

Comments

  1. says

    How will AA’s 77Ws compare to LAN’s 787s? I wouldn’t mind trying out AA’s new business class and South America will be much cheaper than LHR.

  2. lucky says

    @ Kris Ziel — Their new business class will probably be a bit better in terms of hard product, while the service and food probably won’t be quite as good as LAN’s. I’d try them both out if they fly routes that are useful to you.

  3. Mike says

    Lucky, Is Costa Rica considered in South America for mileage redemption? I have tons of M.R. Points and would like to know what you think is my best option with their partners. Thanks in advance.

  4. lucky says

    @ Mike — No, it is considered part of Central America so typically cheaper. While the best deal depends on where you’re originating, it’s tough to beat using Avios for travel on American to Costa Rica.

  5. David says

    Why would you say AV/TA doesnt have a good level of service? Unless you are on a regional inter-Colombia flight, you will have an almost brand new 320 family aircraft or a 330. If its a 330, you will have a very comfortable recliner in business, and in the 320 family, a US first class seat. On most of the 320 family and the 330s, you will have seat back monitors for IFE etc. There are great perks like 2 free bags for everyone etc. As to LAN, unless you get a widebody, you are not getting a recliner in Business, just a normal US Domestic First Class Seat….actually in some of the intra-South American flights, there is no true Business Class, just a blocked middle seat. I think you are overgeneralizing too much without hands on knowledge. And yes, I live, work and travel extensively through S America and am an AA Ex-Plat.

  6. says

    @Lucky
    I’ll wait for you to do the heavy lifting in terms of reviewing the products, it will be a few months before I have 60K MR points.

  7. ffi says

    DL had wide open availability for mid level = 135k awards to SA for 6 seats at a time.
    The problem with LAN and BA is that they need far less miles, but released only 4 seats together, so for convenience, we needed DL more.

  8. lucky says

    @ David — I say it for exactly the reasons you mention — much of their fleet consists of A320s, and those have standard domestic first class seats. They fly these to many destinations in the US, and that’s just not a very good hard product when you could get a flat bed on LAN.

  9. LoganGuy says

    You mention LAN is the best value for traveling to South America and that we should use BA’s web site. I tried looking for something from IAD, DCA, and BWI to Buenos Aires. I searched each day for several months and only found 1 or 2 flights with american airlines. I used the “book with avios” link. What am I doing wrong with my search?
    thanks

  10. lucky says

    @ LoganGuy — I’d suggest first searching space out of one of LAN’s gateways, like Miami, New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Then I’d later go back and try to add the domestic segment. BA’s website isn’t very good at building complex itineraries.

  11. LoganGuy says

    One more question. The web sites of BA and LAN do no allow the search for a 3 legged points trip. Can this be accomplished on the phone? Are you sure the business class on LAN is worth the trouble as compared to COPA or American?

  12. lucky says

    @ LoganGuy — You could book this either by phone or you could book it segment-by-segment online.

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