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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