Gold Mine Award Space to All of Argentina

Edit 9/3/14: Readers are reporting that Air France and Delta cannot ticket all the space shown on airfrance.us. There may be some sort of glitch. I’ll try to get to the bottom of this.

Award space is wide open in economy and business class between the United States and Argentina for the next 11 months, including award space over the peak December to March summer period.

You can book this award space on wide-open Aerolineas Argentinas flights with your Delta or Flying Blue miles. You can fly the awards into cities other than Buenos Aires to explore more of one of my favorite countries.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 1.42.48 AMWhether you’re interested in tango, steak, wine, Patagonia, or Iguazu Falls, you can get there for as little as 50,000 miles + $120 roundtrip.

This award space even extends over Christmas and New Year’s and for 2+ people.

Plus right now Delta miles and Flying Blue miles are even easier than usual to accumulate.

  • What is the award space picture?
  • How is Aerolineas Argentinas Business Class space?
  • What costly mistake do you need to avoid while booking?
  • How can you book the awards?

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The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 25k to 150k Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles get a bad rap–very deservedly so–for the lack of low-miles-price award availability that Delta releases, the fuel surcharges Delta charges on awards, and the fact that you can’t redeem miles for oneway awards at a fair price.

But it does not follow that Delta miles are worthless. In fact, you can get great value and do some pretty cool things with Delta miles. My top choices to burn 150k, 120k, 100k, 80k, 60k, and 25k SkyMiles after the jump.

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Anatomy of an Award: intra-Argentina Flights with Avios and SkyMiles

I spent five hours booking a roundtrip from Buenos Aires to Bariloche this week. But at least I avoided an hour and a half in taxis to pick up paper tickets! HUH!?

Bariloche is 851 miles to the southwest of Buenos Aires as the plane flies.

Image from gcmap.com

I decided to book a last-second economy award for two because Bariloche is on the northern edge of Patagonia, and summer is over. I needed to get there quickly if I wanted to enjoy biking and hiking instead of skiing and snowboarding.

The route from Aeroparque–Buenos Aires’s domestic airport–to Bariloche is served by two carriers: LAN Argentina and Aerolineas Argentinas.

LAN with Avios

My first thought was to use Avios to book LAN flights. The number of Avios needed for an award depends on the distance, and this award would cost 15,000 Avios per person roundtrip.

I tried to search ba.com for space, but I ran into the same problem as I detailed for intra-Peru space. For whatever reason, ba.com doesn’t think it has any partners that fly to BRC, so I couldn’t input the airport code. That meant I couldn’t perform the search. (No, the solution I laid out for Peru didn’t work.)

I called British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS. I told the agent I wanted to fly LAN Argentina from AEP to BRC. She told me that British Airways had no partners that flew that route.

When I said LAN Argentina flew the route, she informed me that British Airways “partners with lan.com,” not LAN Argentina. A lot of phone agents for a lot of airlines are clueless, but saying your airline partners with a website not an airline is a new one from a phone agent. :)

I pointed out that British Airways lists LAN Argentina as a partner on its partner page, and LAN Argentina flies the route.

Eligible subsidiaries of LAN for BA redemptions include LAN Argentina

But I wasn’t sure how to talk her through booking LAN Argentina, so I hung up and called back. The second agent was competent, and found a few flights to choose from on my outbound and return dates.

She said the price was 15,000 Avios and $99 per person. I asked her to waive the $25 phone fee since the award wasn’t bookable online, and she said she had, and that it was still $99 per person. I asked for a breakdown, and she said it was $25 fuel surcharges and $74 in taxes.

I found that perplexing because the breakdown on the ITA Matrix was only about 300 pesos in taxes. I didn’t push the issue, though, because currency issues in Argentina are difficult. Maybe the 300 pesos was $60, and I was on the hook for 20% more because of a new tax on foreigners buying travel.

I thanked the agent and hung up. I wanted to check out my other option.

Aerolineas Argentinas with SkyMiles

I tried to search for Aerolineas space on airfrance.us. Here’s a post on how to use airfrance.us to look for SkyTeam space. I know airfrance.us shows Aerolineas award space on its one route to the USA.

Image from airfrance.us

But Air France’s site doesn’t display Bariloche as a city option, so I couldn’t search there. I headed to ExpertFlyer, which I explained how to use here.

Space was excellent, showing award space several flights a day. Note that Delta has access to T space, not X space.

Image from expertflyer.com

I called Delta at 800-323-2323 and told the agent my airports and dates and told her that I had my flights picked out. She quickly found the flights and informed me the cost would be 20,000 SkyMiles and $37.80 per person. I asked if that included a phone fee, which she said it did. I asked her to ask a supervisor to waive the fee, since the award cannot be ticketed on Delta.com. She came back a minute later and said the fee would be waived.

The new cost was 20,000 SkyMiles and $12.80 per person.

Which is better for intra-Argentina travel: Avios or SkyMiles?

That’s a poorly worded question. It depends on the route. SkyMiles will always charge 20,000 miles roundtrip plus minimal taxes. LAN flights with Avios will charge more cash and a miles price between 9,000 and 20,000 Avios roundtrip since the awards are based on the distance of the flights and Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world.

For each award where you have an option on Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN, and as a cash ticket, you should determine the cost of each, and which one you consider cheapest based on your mile values.

For me, the cheapest cash tickets would have been $600 per person. The Avios ticket was 15,000 Avios + $99. The SkyMiles ticket was 20,000 miles + $12.

I value Avios at 1.7 cents and SkyMiles at 1.22 cents. That makes the Avios redemption “cost” $354 (.017 * 15,000 + 99) and the SkyMiles redemption $256 (.0122 * 20,000 + 12).

From my valuations, I think only the shortest hops of under 650 miles would be a better deal with Avios intra-Argentina.

Ticketing the SkyMiles Award

I called Delta back and got the same award priced at 20,000 miles + $12 per person again. When it got time to give the credit card information, the agent panicked and put me on hold. She came back with some strange news: Aerolineas Argentinas wouldn’t let Delta issue an electronic ticket. I needed to go to an airport with Delta staff to have a paper ticket issued.

I hung up and called back several times getting the same information.

I want to spread this information because with some forewarning, this could be converted into only a minor inconvenience. If you can call Delta and put your Aerolineas Argentinas award on hold a few days before your trip to Argentina, you can then ticket it at an airport that Delta serves, which will probably include every airport you fly through on the way to Argentina.

But since I was already in Buenos Aires, it would have been very inconvenient and around $40 for a roundtrip taxi to the international airport (EZE). That combined with the fact that I wasn’t sure ticketing would go smoothly made me bite the bullet and purchase the more expensive Avios ticket.

Note that last week The Points Guy’s managing editor published a very different account of ticketing an Aerolineas Argentinas award intra-Argentina with SkyMiles. I can only attribute the differences to him booking the award a few weeks before me, and Aerolineas Argentinas having changed its policy in the meantime.

Ticketing the Avios Award

I called British Airways and had the Avios award ticketed in ten minutes. The British Airways confirmation number was recognizable by LAN, so online check in at LAN.com was easy the day of our flight.

LAN has a great baggage policy of 50 lbs of free checked bag per person on these flights, which we didn’t need. LAN also had a pleasant flying experience with free Havanna-branded–a recognizable snack brand here–snack boxes on the two hour flight.

Recap

I looked at all my options to get down to Bariloche in a hurry before it got too cold. Cash tickets at $600 per person were out. Luckily Delta and British Airways both have award partners that fly the route with plenty of award space. Plus neither program charges fees for ticketing awards at the last minute.

The Delta award on Aerolineas Argentinas was a better deal, but would have required an expensive and time consuming trip to the nearest Delta agents at Ministro Pistarini airport to get a paper ticket!

For that reason, I went with the Avios award and flew LAN to Bariloche. Based on my time in Bariloche so far, this award has definitely been worth it!

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Anatomy of an Award: Membership Rewards to Argentina

I recently booked a family of four an economy award from Miami to Buenos Aires with their Membership Rewards. It was an interesting award that I think demonstrates the complexities and fun of booking with American Express points.

I won’t talk about that award specifically, but I’ll use it as a jumping off point for discussion since it illustrates a typical Memberhip Rewards situation. Imagine you have a family of four trying for an economy roundtrip from Miami to Buenos Aires for two weeks in October with 300k Membership Rewards.

Membership Rewards are awesome because they can be transferred to any of the three airline alliances, so you can use them to book on almost any airline in the world.

But Membership Rewards are frustrating because they transfer to programs with which you may be unfamiliar like ANA or programs with major drawbacks like British Airways’ fuel surcharges.

I would approach an award like this looking first at the flying options, then at the transfer options. I know if I could find award space, I can probably find a transfer partner with access to that space. And if I find several ways to get to Buenos Aires, I cancompare the transfer options to see which is the best deal with Membership Rewards.

From checking the Buenos Aires international airport’s (EZE) wikipedia page, I know there are direct flights to/from Miami on American, LAN, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Of course, United and Delta also fly to Buenos Aires from their hubs.

Aerolineas Argentinas

Aerolineas Argentinas is the state-owned flag carrier of Argentina. I haven’t heard too many kind words about it, but it does have a direct flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The best way to search for the space is on ExpertFlyer.

ExpertFlyer only displays economy award space on the airline. The space that Aerolineas’ SkyTeam partners like Delta have access to is T class space.

Aerolineas Argentinas flies twice daily between Miami and Buenos Aires–its only US route–once in the morning and one redeye. Up to seven seats are widely available on each!

The return is also wide open.

This was a promising start!

American

American has direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires also. The best place to check for space on those flights is aa.com.

I can look at the whole month of October in just a few seconds with AA’s awesome calendar view. Unfortunately there is no MileSAAver outbound space–the low-miles-price space open to partners– in October, though there is some space on return flights.

Outbound: No Saver Space

Return: Some Saver Space

LAN

LAN is another oneworld airline with direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires. I go to ba.com to check for LAN space to Buenos Aires, since aa.com doesn’t display LAN space.

I ca’t find any LAN space on ba.com, though it did pick up the same American Airlines space I’d seen on aa.com.

ba.com not finding any LAN space

…but it did find the same space on American Airlines

Delta

Yes, it seemed like a complete longshot that Delta would have space for four from Miami to Atlanta to Buenos Aires at the low-miles-price because Delta has putrid availability to South America, but I checked anyway.

Green shows low-miles-price itineraries. There actually are some returns possible.

While oneway tickets with Delta miles are a huge mistake since Delta charges the roundtrip price for all awards even oneways, I kept the returns in mind because AMEX has some transfer partners like Flying Blue that can be used to book oneway Delta awards reasonably.

United, TACA, Copa

The final place I checked was united.com to see what United, Copa, or TACA award space there was that I could snag with a transfer to a Star Alliance partner.

Green and yellow days have an award with four economy seats.

I found a few more possible awards to add to the bounty.

Search Results

I found space in both direction on Aerolineas Argentinas’ two daily flights. I found space in both directions on connecting United and Copa (via Panama) flights. I found return space on American Airlines and Delta, but no outbound space. I found no space on LAN.

Transfer Options

Delta

We can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta to book the Aerolineas Argentinas space and/or the Delta space. Delta charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Argentina in economy class whether you fly it or one of its SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas.

Although Delta does charge fuel surcharges for awards on a lot of its partners, it does not collect fuel surcharges on Aerolineas redemptions.

That means a transfer to Delta would mean the transfer of 240,000 Membership Rewards to 240,000 Delta miles. American Express charges $7 per 10,000 miles transferred to US-based airlines, with a maximum charge of $99, This transfer would incur that $99 charge. The award itself would have government taxes of around $75 per person, meaning a total cost of 240,000 Membership Rewards and approximately $400 for four people.

In return for that outlay, the family could get direct flights in each direction or could sub a one-stop itinerary on Delta on the return if they really didn’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas.

Flying Blue

Air France’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is not always the best option because it levies heavy surcharges on several partners. But it doesn’t levy surcharges on Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. And it’s price from the US to Argentina is 25,000 miles each way.

I’m not sure why the taxes collected exceed those collected by Delta by $15 per person, but that’s a minor concern. Flying Blue costs 25,000 miles each way, and it can be used to book oneways, which is a far better deal than Delta’s 60k miles roundtrip, which is the price whether you book oneways or roundtrips.

That means for 200k Membership Rewards and $360, a family of four could get on the same flights as with Delta miles: Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas flights.

British Airways

We can transfer Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, but that would only enable booking the return leg in this case. Avios can be used to book American or LAN flights. We found only space on American, and only on the return.

The good news is that it’s only 25,000 Avios from Buenos Aires to Miami.

That means the return would be 100k Membership Rewards and $300.

ANA

I recently sang the praises of All Nippon Airways as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. ANA has a distance based award chart. You add up the distance of all the segments and see how many miles that trip will cost. Here is the economy chart.

Miami to Houston to Buenos Aires roundtrip is just over 12,000 miles. That works out 60,000 ANA miles (60,000 Membership Rewards) roundtrip. That’s not fantastic or awful.

But Miami to Panama to Buenos Aires is under 9,000 miles, meaning it is only 43,000 ANA miles roundtrip. That’s the lowest miles total we’ve seen.

image from gcmap.com

In neither case would there be fuel surcharges. ANA never charges fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights, and Copa doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this routing.

No fuel surcharges on Copa from Miami to Buenos Aires, so ANA won’t collect any.

That means ANA miles used to fly Copa would be 172k Membership Rewards and about $480 in taxes.

Transfer Options Summary

To summarize:

  • All the options here receive 1:1 transfers from Membership Rewards and incur only government taxes–no fuel surcharges.
  • Transferring to Delta is a bad idea. Why pay 60k Membership Rewards for a roundtrip when the same flights are 25k each way via Flying Blue? Total: 240k + $400
  • ANA is the cheapest option overall at 43k roundtrip if we route through Panama on Copa. Total: 172k + $480
  • British Airways and Flying Blue are the cheapest direct options at 25k each way. Total: 200k + $300

If you really value direct flights, take the Aerolineas Argentinas flight one direction for 25k Flying Blue miles and return on the American Airlines flight for 25k Avios.

If you really value the cheapest flights or want a free stopover in Panama, look for Copa flights for 43k ANA miles.

Recap

Membership Rewards have awesome versatility, which also means it’s more work to figure out the best deal. For a simple Miami to Buenos Aires roundtrip, all three alliances are possibilities.

Because some transfer partners have region-based charts, some have distance-based charts, some charge fuel surcharges sometimes, and some never do, you have to investigate every option for the best deal.

For Buenos Aires to Miami roundtrip, the best deals are with ANA miles on Copa to take advantage of the distance-based chart of a combination of Flying Blue miles and Avios to take advantage of their partners’ direct flights.