Guide: How To Book Central & South American Airlines Awards Online

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Guide: How To Book Central & South American Airlines Awards Online

Central & South American airlines and their award bookings are a mystery to some people. Living in Brazil, we experience the ease and the frustration of traveling with these airlines regularly. While we prefer some over others for factors beyond the ease of booking, ease of booking is important. A majority can be booked online, yet one in particular is strange. Lastly, it’s important to note that partner airlines don’t always show the same flights during searches. When booking award travel on Central & South American airlines, remember to check multiple sources for your best deal and best itinerary. With the transfer partners list in hand, let’s go.  Here is my guide to which Central & South American airlines can be booked online!

Star Alliance partners

The reason this article includes “Central America” is because of Copa Airlines. The major player for Star Alliance in South America is Avianca.

Copa – Based in Panama

Verdict: Can book online

Copa Airlines flights can be booked online quite easily. They fly all over South America from their hub in Panama, but different Star Alliance partners show different availability. Since Copa Airlines only receives points transfers from Marriott, you’ll probably use a partner:

  • Avianca (Amex, Citi & Capital One)
  • United (Chase)
  • Air Canada (Amex MR)
  • Singapore (Amex, Citi & Chase)

United is the most reliable of these for me. Singapore shows me different flights after refreshing my browser and can be frustrating. In my experience, Singapore is more reliable for business class than economy on Copa.

Copa Airlines via Singapore
Copa Airlines via Singapore
 
South American Airlines
Booking Copa Airlines via United
Copa Airlines award booking
Copa via Avianca
South American Airlines - Copa Airlines award booking
Booking Copa via Air Canada’s Aeroplan

Avianca – Based in Colombia

Verdict: Can book online

Avianca’s main hub is in Colombia, but there are 2 separate sub-companies, as well: Avianca Peru and Avianca Brasil. The latter is prohibited from flying internationally right now, and I encourage you to not book with them. The government is repossessing some of their planes, and they’re not flying reliable schedules. (side note: September 8, Singapore has taken Avianca Brazil bookings out of their system. Agents told me they’re not allowed to book anything onto Avianca Brazil, only Avianca Peru & Colombia). Avianca Colombia & Avianca Peru fly reliably and can be booked online. Strangely, though, Singapore never finds Avianca flights for me. Use Avianca or United.

Avianca award booking
Booking Avianca award travel
South American Airlines award travel
Booking Avianca via United

It’s worth noting that Aeroplan and Singapore don’t show me Avianca flights that I know to exist.

South American Airlines - Avianca award search on Aeroplan
Aeroplan doesn’t show Avianca flights I see elsewhere

One World Partners

LATAM – Based in Chile

Verdict: CANNOT book online

LATAM formed from a merger of Chile’s LAN and Brazil’s TAM. It’s a major player in South America and the biggest One World partner in the region. However, they do not fully share their award calendar. Booking requires a phone call. American Airlines (transfer from Marriott only) cannot see any LATAM flights at all.

LATAM award search on American
American Airlines cannot view any LATAM flights

Unlike American, British Airways (transfer from Chase and Amex) can see some flights for LATAM. However, what they see is…lacking…at best. Look at my sample search for flights from São Paulo (which has 3 airports) to Rio de Janeiro (which has 2 airports). On my first day, British saw no flights. 1 day prior, it sees routing only if you go through Brasilia. There are multiple flights a day from São Paulo to Rio, but British Airways can’t see them.

British Airways search LATAM
LATAM airways availability on British Airways is lacking

Your best bet is a cash search on LATAM’s website for flights you want, checking the taxes, then calling to book. AA has a zone chart, and British Airways has a distance-based chart. Depending on your route, one is better than the other.

The weirdest thing you should know about using AA miles in South America is that the amount of points changes when crossing one of Brazil’s borders. It’s not just based on the zone, either. If your flight is entirely on LATAM Brazil, it’s only 7500 miles one-way in economy. If your flights use LATAM Chile or LATAM Peru, you need more points. Basically, this works for LATAM flights domestically in Brazil that are NOT a continuation of a flight starting in another country. Look for the ‘operated by ___’ when searching flights on LATAM’s site.

Sky Team Partners

Aerolineas Argentinas – based in Argentina

Verdict: Can book online

As its name implies, Aerolineas Argentinas is based in Argentina. It has a ton of domestic flights, as well as flights to Uruguay, Paraguay, the southern half of Brazil, and 1 city each in Colombia, Bolivia & Peru. It can be booked online easily with Air France (transfer partner of everything) or Delta (Amex or Marriott).

Air France award search
Booking Aerolineas Argentinas via Air France
Delta award search
Booking Aerolineas Argentinas via Delta

Non-Alliance Airlines

GOL – Based in Brazil

Verdict: Can book online

GOL isn’t a full member of Sky Team, but they act like they are. GOL is often the connecting leg from our city to where the actual Sky Team airline picks up the rest of our journey. You can also fly domestically within Brazil, along with these connections.

Booking Gol via Delta
Booking Gol via Delta
Booking Gol via Air France
Booking Gol via Air France

Shout-out to ‘brteacer’ in the comments for tipping me off on using Emirates and Etihad to book GOL, as well. They both have distance-based charts that are here for Emirates and here for Etihad. While both require a phone call for booking, that Etihad-GOL chart is a steal! I compared the Emirates chart to what I used on Delta for GOL flights to Paraguay earlier this year, and it’s the same amount. For a short trip, though, that chart looks great.

Azul – Based in Brazil

Verdict: Can book online

Like Gol with Sky Team, Azul is not a full member of Star Alliance but partners with all of its airlines. You can use Azul to connect to Star Alliance flights or even fly domestically when the points make a better deal than their cheap cash prices. United shows Azul flights. Avianca, Aeroplan, and Singapore don’t.

South American Airlines award search
Booking Azul via United

Final Thoughts on Central & South American airlines’ award bookings

There are other South American airlines, but I haven’t included any that don’t offer awards from the major transfer partners. There are tons of budget airlines great for cash prices, but this post focuses on award bookings.

Now that you know which flights can be booked online and which can’t, you’re ready to book. Use the partners that show the airline you want to fly, and see who gives the best deal / best routing. They rarely offer the same flights with the same itinerary. Obviously, the points are never the same. Now that you know what works, use those options and have a great trip. Central & South American Airlines mostly can be booked online. The ones that can are a simple process. Maybe 2020 will be the year for LATAM to join in the fun.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. GOL is best booked with Emirates or Etihad points, and that requires a phone call (but use Delta to check availability).

    • Wow! I never looked at Etihad’s chart for GOL. Amazing!
      The Emirates chart shows the same as what I get priced from Delta for GOL.
      Thanks for this tip!

  2. Are you saying that LATAM flights may be available at the saver level that do not show up as available on the BA or Qantas websites?

    • YES. Case in point, I spent multiple hours yesterday trying to find saver space for my mother-in-law yesterday. I called AA, and they checked the standard routing (everything goes through Guarulhos!) and didn’t know that AA has a daily flight to Brasilia which then connects to LATAM flights all over Brazil. The space was hard to find, and they wanted an insane amount of points for routing through Rio or SP. I had to tell the agent the routing I wanted, then she manually searched, and she found saver space for a r/t to Miami and back to Brazil for 30k AA in economy.
      If using BA avios, not only is it good to know this flight exists, it’s also the CHEAPEST on miles for us with avios. If we fly south to Rio or SP, we bust into the next distance zone with BA. If we fly northward and connect in Brasilia, Belem, etc. we need fewer avios.

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