I always like to scan award charts for sweet spots. I would define a sweet spot as one of three things:
- An award that is much cheaper with one airline’s miles than another airline’s miles. In this post I’ll talk about EZE-BOG, CLO-BOG-EZE in Avianca business class costing 30k US Airways miles vs. 80k United miles.
- An award that is much cheaper than a slightly different award on the same airline. And ideally the sweet spot award can be turned into the highly similar award cheaply. For instance New York to Istanbul oneway in economy is 20k miles using AA miles between October 15 and May 15. New York to Amman those same dates is 45k miles oneway in economy. New York to Istanbul is a sweet-spot award and can be turned into New York to Amman by adding Istanbul to Amman on Royal Jordanian for 7,500 Avios.
- An award that is very expensive with dollars and very cheap with miles. A lot of domestic Avios awards are like this. Charlottesville, VA to Chicago oneway on American Airlines is $392 in October. Or you could buy the flight with 4,500 Avios and $2.50. Sweet spot.
You are truly maximizing your miles when you’re booking awards like the ones above. Today I noticed a few of sweet spot type one–much cheaper with one type of miles than another–awards on US Airways’ chart from South America.
I think the fact that US Airways has some really cheap awards out of South America is related to the fact that they are the only US legacy carrier with only one region that covers South America.
Their competitors split the continent into Northern and Southern South America for award purposes. (This, in turn, may be a related to the fact that US Airways only has one flight to South America–Charlotte to Rio de Janeiro.)
I’ll talk about three awards out of South America with US Airways miles: intra-South America, South America to Europe, and South America to the Middle East. Here they are on the US Airways partner award chart.
One of the best values with US Airways miles is any intra-South America roundtrip for 25k/30k/40k in economy/business/first.
These awards are especially valuable for flights from Northern to Southern South America. For shorter hops, you may find more value using British Airways Avios or LAN kilometers on LAN flights.
Also I don’t think there’s any value in the three-cabin first class award for 40k miles roundtrip since the only Star Alliance flight I know of on a three cabin plane is United’s Rio to Sao Paulo flight. (If you know of any, alert me in the comments.)
The star award here is a US Airways business class award from, say, Buenos Aires to Colombia. For instance Buenos Aires to Bogota, returning from Cali to Buenos Aires is an incredible deal with US Airways miles! (Yes, this trip is an open jaw.)
United would charge 80k United miles and $96. US Airways would charge less than half that: 30k US Airways miles and $146. The extra $50 is a US Airways award processing fee.
Unfortunately I can’t find the seat map for Avianca’s A330, but even if these seats were only like domestic first class on a US legacy carrier, 30k miles is a steal for the roundtrip. Better seats would just be gravy on top of our sweet-spot award. (Mixed food flavor metaphor?)
Since, with US Airways miles, a roundtrip in business is only 5k more miles than a roundtrip in economy, I can’t imagine every booking an economy award intra-South America with US Airways miles. But even that award would be much cheaper with US Airways miles than with United miles.
To take advantage of this deal, you should know about the Star Alliance’s South American partners: Avianca (hub: Bogota) and TACA (Taca Peru hub: Lima). Also keep in mind that you may be able to route through Panama on COPA (hub: Panama City). Several of my Cali to Buenos Aires options routed through Panama City.
South America to Europe (or vice versa)
South America to Europe goes for 70k/100k/130k for roundtrips in economy/business/first on the US Airways chart.
This is an incredible deal both compared to what United charges for the exact same flights (95k/140k/160k) and compared to what US Airways charges for much shorter North America to Europe awards (60k/100k/125k).
Let’s look at a specific award. United wants 140k miles and $143 for 27 hours of flying in Lufthansa business class roundtrip between Buenos Aires and Frankfurt.
US Airways gives you a 40k mile discount, though, charging only 100k US Airways miles and $193. (There’s that annoying $50 award processing fee again.)
That’s the same number of miles–and about the same taxes–as US Airways would charge to fly Lufthansa between JFK and Frankfurt, which is only half the flying.
Lufthansa has direct flights from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires to Frankfurt. Don’t forget the only way to get Lufthansa first class seats–though US Airways has been intermittently blocking Lufthansa first class space.
South America to Middle East
No need for more screen shots, but US Airways wants 80k/120k/150k in economy/business/first class for roundtrips between South America and the Middle East. United wants 120k/160k/190k for the same flights!
From South America, there truly are some incredible values–true sweet spot awards. Now the bad news.
The flights are from South America. US Airways definitely has some sweet spots from the USA that I’ve talked about before–90k in business to North Asia and 110k to Australia compared to the 120k and 135k United charges– and I’ll probably talk about again soon.
That said, I do think these ex-South America awards present value even for US-based flyers, which I’ll share more about tomorrow.
The second piece of bad news is that these awards are not eligible for free oneways. US Airways award rules permit either a stopover OR an open jaw. You need both (or a stopover on a oneway award) to construct a free oneway.
No free oneways lowers the value of these awards, especially compared to United awards, which do offer free oneways.
For instance if you book EZE-FRA, FRA-EZE on a United award, you could add EZE-LIM several months later for no additional miles charge–something you couldn’t do on an otherwise identical US Airways award.
The last piece of bad news is that US Airways doesn’t allow oneway awards for half the price of roundtrips. This is just something we have to deal with when using US Airways miles.
US Airways offers incredible deals on intra-South American awards as well as awards from South America to Europe and the Middle East, especially in premium classes!
These sweet spot awards will generally use US Airways’ Star Alliance partners like Avianca, Taca, Copa, and Lufthansa.
These awards may not be practical for everyone. Beyond originating in South America, they don’t allow oneway awards or free oneways to be added onto roundtrip awards.
How can I write any post about US Airways award chart sweet spots without mentioning the ultimate sweet spot: off peak awards like 60k roundtrip between the US and Europe or US and Rio.
Plus see my post on when to use US Airways miles and when to use United miles.