Tag Archives: Avios

Ten Minute Three Day Trip with Avios and Hawaiian Miles

Anatomy of an Award posts highlight real awards I’ve booked to show you the techniques needed to book your dream trip.

I recently made a last-second decision to head to Las Vegas and Phoenix for three days for a mix of work and pleasure.

I planned and booked the trip in 10 minutes with miles and points, saving myself $1,500 in the process and getting to fly First Class on one long flight. The cost? Only 40,000 Hawaiian Miles, 8,500 British Airways Avios, and $102.50.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 9.04.07 AM

When you need to make a last minute trip for a family or work emergency or when you want to take a last minute trip for spontaneous adventure, having balances with the right types of miles is key.

  • When I decided to travel to Phoenix and Las Vegas, what miles did I immediately think to use?
  • How did I find my direct flight options?
  • Which airlines charge a booking fee for last-minute awards and which don’t?
  • How did I search for award space?
  • How did I book my awards?

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Free Spreadsheet to Download for Cash & Avios Award Analysis

Super Reader Jorge sent me an awesome spreadsheet that instantly does all the math on British Airways’ Cash & Avios awards, so you can quickly see whether booking one is a good deal.

Usually when redeeming British Airways Avios for an award ticket, you are offered a menu of prices. You can pay the normal amount of miles + taxes + fuel surcharges (though there are no fuel surcharges on these partners.) Or you can pay fewer Avios and more cash. Here’s a typical menu of six options on a one way economy award from Los Angeles to Lima.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.54.29 PM

  • What does Jorge’s spreadsheet do with those options?
  • How can you use the spreadsheet when booking Avios awards?

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Life after the American Airlines Explorer Award? Maybe It’s Not So Bad

JB books awards for the MileValue Award Booking Service. He was an expert on the now-defunct American Airlines Explorer Awards and had been planning to book one for himself. With that option gone, he improvised this solution to the problem of how to book a round-the-world trip in a world without Explorer Awards.

By combining the strengths of American Airlines’ zone-based award chart and British Airways’ distance-based award chart, you can actually improve on the now-defunct American Airlines Explorer Award for only a few extra miles.

I was banking American Airlines miles for two years for my wife and me, so I was upset when American eliminated Explorer Awards several weeks ago with no notice as part of the 17 changes to the American Airlines and US Airways loyalty programs.

I wanted to book the trip of a lifetime, and Explorer Awards were perfect for that.

Explorer Awards allowed 16 segment/15 stop around-the-world trips using all of American’s oneworld partners.

After a sufficient grieving period, I started thinking about what to do with all those American Airlines miles I had saved. I ended up putting a trip together with eight stops and 35,879 miles flown. I booked it as a series of American Airlines and British Airways awards.

When I priced it all out, I realized it was not much more expensive than an Explorer Award and had a lot more flexibility.

Planning My Trip

Here is my trip.

final with ewr

This itinerary has stops in Berlin, Paris, London, Cape Town, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore, and Hong Kong–AKA the 5 continents tour.

Here is how I went about constructing the itinerary, and some of the choices I made to maximize routes, keep taxes/fees low, and pick cities compatible with the oneworld network.


All mileage is listed as economy/business.

Scott’s post about how and where to search for oneworld space came in handy here. I used the British Airways, American Airlines, and Qantas sites to search, verify availability, and determine taxes.

JFK to Helsinki to Berlin
20K (offseason) or 30K AA miles and $18 in economy / 50K AA miles and $18 in business on Finnair

I searched the American Airlines site for this award, since it shows Finnair and Air Berlin award space.

There was plenty of award space via London, but by avoiding British Airways’ fuel surcharges and the United Kingdom aviation taxes, I saved $317 in economy / $482 business! Per person!

Berlin to Paris
4.5K British Airways Avios and $38 in economy on airberlin. There are no fuel surcharges on airberlin flights.

I searched the British Airways site for this.

Paris to London
4.5K British Airways miles and $27 economy in British Airways economy. On intra-Europe flights, British Airways collects a flat cash payment instead of taxes and fuel surcharges.

I searched the British Airways site for this.

London to Johannesburg to Cape Town
30K AA miles and $500 economy / 37.5K AA miles and $750 business on British Airways.

This represents both high departure taxes from the United Kingdom and high fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. Sometimes you just have to pay those if you want to enjoy time in London and want to fly somewhere that British Airways flies most conveniently and comfortably.

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

My Gamble

I had planned on a London to South Africa leg in business or first class, but I could not find any business/first space to Johannesburg or Cape Town further than 2 months out from today. Nothing. Clearly they are keeping a tight leash on that premium space (economy was widely available).

I looked at the Johannesburg airport Wikipedia page for other American Airlines-partner airlines I could take.

Etihad connects via Abu Dhabi, but that would break the American Airlines award into two award tickets because I am transiting the Middle East region. Flying Qatar Airlines has the same issue.

So I skipped this leg for now. I feel fairly confident that I will find business class space closer to the date, and worst case I fly economy. This is also a good time to point out two benefits of booking multiple AA and BA awards compared to the old Explorer Award: I can book a leg later, and if I want to book First Class for just this leg, I can do that without increasing the price of the entire set of awards.

minus lhr-jnb

So far, with the big hole from London to South Africa

Cape Town to Johannesburg to Sydney
37.5K AA miles and $160 economy / 50K AA miles and $190 business on British Airways then Qantas.

I searched the American Airlines site, since British Airways and Qantas are searchable there.

Award space for this route is scarce. Unlike London to South Africa on British Airways, which has good availability closer to the date of departure, the Qantas flight from Johannesburg to Sydney is uniformly spread thin. I found some space close to the dates I wanted, so I decided to go back and change my other flight legs to accommodate the direct flight I found on Qantas. Always work backwards from the most difficult segment.

Sydney to Auckland
10K Avios and $50 in Qantas economy
(4 hour flight so I chose economy)

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Auckland to Sydney
10K BA and $50 in Qantas economy
(4 hour flight so I chose economy)

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Sydney to Singapore
25K AA miles and $74 economy / 35K AA miles and $74 business on Qantas

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Singapore to Hong Kong
10K BA miles and $54 economy on Cathay Pacific
This is a 4 hour flight so I will do it in economy

I searched the British Airways site for this.

Hong Kong to Newark
35K AA miles and $33 economy / 55K AA miles and $33 business on Cathay Pacific

There was plenty of direct Cathay Pacific space that you can search on the Qantas website. I called American Airlines to confirm they could see it, and to get the taxes.

Here’s the final routing again.

final with ewr

Comparison Between American Airlines Award and Multiple AA/BA Awards

Now, let’s compare how much the old Explorer award would have cost versus the AA/BA mix of awards I used. I’m including the economy/business mileage numbers.

The Explorer Award was based on total mileage. For a 35,879 mile trip it would have been:

Total Countable Trip Miles = 35,001 – 50,000
Economy: costs 160,000 AA miles plus taxes
Business: costs 220,000 AA miles plus taxes

The final tally of AA/BA miles and taxes on my actual trip broke down to this:

AA: 167,500 miles and $863 economy / 227,500 miles and $1143 business
BA: miles: 39,000 and $219 all in economy

The grand total is 206,500 miles and $1007 economy / 266,500 miles and $1257 business.

The mostly business class award I booked will use 266,500 miles while an all business class Explorer Award would have cost 220,000 miles. I paid 46,500 miles extra. But for paying extra, I got some important advantages:

1) unlimited number of segments (the Explorer Award was limited to 16)
2) unlimited routing and date changes with some change fees (the Explorer Award allowed only date and cabin changes, not routing or airline changes)
3) you can backtrack, transit cities multiple times, and have unlimited open jaws (Explorer Awards had strict rules on these)
4) you can tinker with the itinerary before and during travel

I don’t know if that completely mitigates having to pay extra miles, but it certainly lessens the sting quite a bit.

And importantly, my stash of American Airlines miles didn’t become useless with the abolition of Explorer Awards. I was still able to book the trip of a lifetime for just a few more miles.


With some British Airways Avios and the same amount of AAdvantage miles as a comparable Explorer award would have required, I am to able to book my around the world trip and have a lot of flexibility to make changes before and during travel.

Are the BA miles worth it for the extra flexibility? What do you think?

If this kind of trip gets you excited, and simultaneously bewildered about how to book it, consider hiring our Award Booking Service.


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British Airways Cash & Avios Option Quietly Got Much Better! (Now As Cheap As 1.1 Cents per Avios)

I have already written the ultimate guide to Cash & Avios redemptions.

The gist is that on some, but not all, British Airways Avios redemptions you are given a menu of prices like this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 2.59.45 AMYou can spend the full price in Avios (plus government taxes and fuel surcharges on some partners) or you can pay fewer Avios and make up the difference by paying more cash directly to British Airways.

Not all awards offer Cash & Avios options–for instance American Airlines domestic flights don’t–and the “price” of Avios varies widely on Cash & Avios awards.

The pattern generally was that on economy awards, you could save your Avios by paying about 1.3 cents per Avios saved. On business awards, the price was almost 2.6 cents per Avios saved. First class awards were in the middle at about 1.9 cents per Avios saved.

Since I value one Avios at around 1.7 cents, I generally recommended maximizing Cash & Avios awards on economy awards by paying with the minimum number of Avios and maximum amount of cash. But since the “price” was too high on business and first class awards, I recommended not availing oneself of the Cash & Avios options on premium awards.

Now things have improved for the better!

  • How cheap are Cash & Avios awards now?
  • What is the best cabin for a Cash & Avios award?
  • On which Avios partners can you get the best Cash & Avios awards?

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The Times When BA.com Doesn’t Show Award Space You Found on AA.com

On Monday, I wrote about US Airways and TAM joining the oneworld alliance. That meant that US Airways and TAM flights were now bookable with British Airways Avios, a founding member of oneworld.

In the renewed interest in searching ba.com for award flights, there were some hiccups that people noted in the comments. Often the best way to plan an Avios award is to search aa.com, and then when you find the award space you want, go to ba.com to book it.

AA.com and ba.com didn’t seem to be matching up in the availability that you could book. See these two comments:

Scott, one example [where aa.com and ba.com don't match] is DFW-HNL, 12-7 to 12-12 (My hub is DFW). AA shows availability. I see availability on the outgoing but not the incoming on BA.


So, I tried AA.COM to find one ways from PHX – OGG. For example, PHX-OGG 9/9/14 (or any that week) show available Economy MileSAAver Off Peak. BA.COM shows no flights available.

Why doesn’t ba.com show the same availability as aa.com?

There are two times when ba.com won’t match aa.com on Saver availability. One of the times, you can call British Airways to book the missing award space, and the other time you are out of luck.

What are the two times that ba.com won’t show the same Saver award space as aa.com?

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British Airways (Yet Again) Tweaks Search Tool For the Better

While other airlines search engines regress in functionality (looking in your direction, Delta), British Airways’ award tool continues to improve. While researching for another article, I came across the slightly modified ba.com and noted a subtle consumer-friendly change.

Though the change is minor, British Airways has exhibited a recent history of positive improvements to their search tool. With these steps in the right direction, we can safely anoint BA.com as the go-to site for comprehensive oneworld partner availability.

Simple Tool

This simple search engine packs a punch relative to its peers.

Scott wrote up a detailed guide on how to use BA.com to search for oneworld partner award space. Make sure to check out his post, Free First Class Next Month: Searching BA.com to Find oneworld Award Availability. We’ve also detailed British Airways recent and noticeable improvements to their site here and here.

What’s the newest change to the BA.com engine? When should you search ba.com versus aa.com versus qantas.com? (Hint: it has nothing to do with what type of miles you want to book your award with.)

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Buy Avios for 1.37 Cents Each (and Why You’d Want to)!

You can currently buy Avios for 1.37 cents each through a miles-transfer promotion. At that price:

  • A roundtrip from the west coast to Hawaii is $347.
  • A roundtrip of less than 651 miles flown each way in the US is $128.
  • A roundtrip from Boston to Dublin is under $450.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 2.04.02 AM

How can you buy Avios for 1.37 cents? Why would you want to?

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How to Get More Free Stopovers and Use Fewer Miles on Your Next Trip to South America

Did you miss 20k Miles (or Less) to All of South America All Year yesterday? That post is a competing trick with this one, and it might be an even better deal for you.

Chicago to Santiago “should” cost 30,000 American Airlines miles each way in economy. And you “shouldn’t” be able to stop in Peru on the way to Chile (or even layover there.)

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Do not pay 30,000 American Airlines miles for this award!

Instead of playing by American Airlines’ rules, though, we can combine our American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to book dream trips to South America with more stops for fewer miles.

In the Chicago to Santiago example, we could pay only 15k American Airlines miles plus 10k Avios each way and stop in Peru either or both directions.

I’ve already explained how American Airlines has incredible off peak awards that allow you to travel for large swaths of the year at discounted rates. For Central America and Northern South America–Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador–you can fly one way from the US for only 15k miles for seven months out of every year.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.02.00 PM An off peak award to Northern South America plus one or more Avios awards creates a dream vacation with more stops for fewer miles.

How do I put it all together?

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You Still Get Priority Security and Boarding on Avios Awards that Fly American Airlines

I noticed in August 2012 that on my Avios award flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, my boarding pass printed with “Priority AAccess,” granting me priority security and priority boarding.

This (unintended?) benefit of British Airways Avios awards on American Airlines flights is still alive. I flew Los Angeles to Honolulu today for 12,500 Avios and $2.50, and I again had “Priority AAccess” printed on my boarding pass.

Today priority boarding was a lifesaver because I had two way overstuffed carry ons that weighed about 65 pounds total to put into overhead bins.

I wouldn’t pay much extra for Priority AAccess, but it is a nice free throw in on what is already an incredible value award.

For other top values to get to Hawaii, see The Cheapest Ways to Get to Hawaii.

The only other thing of note on my trip was that I had two potential checked bags–one that weighed 53 pounds and another that was 65 linear inches.

In the past, I’ve gotten a little bit of a pass for bags slightly over 50 pounds, so I wasn’t worried about that one. Worst case scenario, I pull something out for a carry on.

The box that was 65 linear inches worried me though because American Airlines charges $200 extra for checked bags more than 62 linear inches.

FedEx quoted me $115 to ship the box, but if American enforced its baggage rules, I’d have to pay $235 ($35 for a second checked bag plus $200 for an oversized bag) for the box.

I tried to estimate the chances of the $200 fee being imposed. I wondered whether they would be lower if I tried to check it with a Sky Cap while I held a $20 bill in my hand.

In the end, I figured there was more than a 50% chance of being charged the fee, so my expected cost was cheaper by shipping the box.

But after checking the overweight bag with a SkyCap, I regretted my decision to ship the box. The SkyCap had no scale, presumably no tape measure, and walked away with my bag in such a way that it would have been very difficult to track me back down to collect $200.

What would you have done with my oversized box? (Note that I could not have used a smaller box.)

Membership Rewards 20% Transfer Bonus to Avios through December 31, 2013

American Express Membership Rewards transfers to British Airways will come with an automatic 20% transfer bonus from now through December 31, 2013.

It’s transfer bonus season with Membership Rewards. Yesterday I detailed how the 30% Transfer Bonus to Virgin Atlantic Means 14k Point Awards to Europe and 35k Roundtrips to Argentina.

Is this British Airways transfer bonus a good deal? Should you take advantage of the 20% transfer bonus?

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When Does British Airways Add Fuel Surcharges to Avios Awards?

British Airways collects fuel surcharges on almost all award redemptions. People constantly complain to me that their recent “free ticket” cost $650 or $1,000 or more in “taxes.”

In fact, taxes make up a small share of the cash component of most British Airways awards. Instead British Airways is collecting fuel surcharges on almost all awards, making those awards very poor values.

But there are exceptions where taxes can be as low as $2.50 on an award with no fuel surcharges. And we only want to use our Avios on these exceptions.

When exactly does British Airways collect fuel surcharges on Avios awards and when does it not?

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Should You Convert Starpoints to Avios with a 56% Bonus through October 15?

Until October 15, you can convert 20,000 Starpoints to 31,125 Avios, a 56% transfer bonus.

Ordinarily 20,000 Starpoints transfer to 25,000 Avios, the same 5,000 mile bonus you get on every 20,000 Starpoints transferred to all 1:1 airline partners. Until October 15, British Airways is giving a 25% bonus on all incoming transfers of hotel points to Avios. That means that the normal 25,000 Avios becomes 31,250 Avios.

The headline figure of a 56% bonus on transfers from Starpoints to Avios is eye catching, but is it a good deal? That depends on your valuation of Starpoints and Avios, which depends on how you use them.

For whom is transferring Starpoints to Avios a good deal? For whom is it a bad deal? How can you get Starpoints to transfer?

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Unlimited Free Stopovers on British Airways Awards, But No Free Oneways

You get unlimited stopovers on awards booked with British Airways Avios

But you can’t get any free oneways on awards booked with British Airways Avios.

Huh? How can that be?

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Cash & Avios Analysis

When you get to the payment page of booking an award with British Airways Avios, you’re offered a rare proposition in the world of frequent flyer miles:

  • pay the stated amount of Avios + taxes and fuel surcharges
  • pay 50-90% of the stated amount of Avios + taxes, fuel surcharges, and an extra cash co-pay.

This extra-cash-plus-Avios option is one to consider in advance, so I’ll do the work, so you can do the travel.

What’s your best play?

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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.


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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