What's the best way to earn points for travel around South America?

Answered Closed

Hi everyone,

I’m loving the site although it takes a while to get my head around everything. I have a question that isn’t covered much at the moment – flights a round South America. I will be going to South America once or twice a year on business and I was wondering what the best way to accumulate points for those flights would be. It looks like LAN, TAM Avianca and Copa are the main airlines for travel there.

What would be the best way to accumulate points for travel there? I was thinking of applying for Krisflyer and then using the points to transfer to Copa or Avianca. Would this be the best or would another program associated with LAN be easier to accumulate points?

Any help would be greatly appreciated

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Great Response

Hi Wicka15:

Firstly, I need to give you a few basic explanation on how frequent flyer programs (FFP) work so you have a clearer understanding before you decide on which program to credit your points to.

A common misconception people have is FFP points are transferable between programs. No, in most cases, even amongst partners, you can’t transfer points. Eventhough Krisflyer (KF) and Avianca’s Lifemiles (LM) both belong to Star Alliance, you can’t transfer between the 2 FFPs. Only a few exceptions in the world such as KF and velocity, or BA and Iberia’s Avios. But generally, the answer is no.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t redeem partners award. So if you want to redeem Avianca flights, you can use KF points to redeem it. But you don’t redeem with Avianca but you redeem with Singapore Airlines. So you need to contact KF and Singapore will be the airline that issues the ticket on an Avianca operated flight.

Or, alternatively, you can credit your Singapore airline flight (if that’s the one you fly to South America) to LM. So when you book the flight, you simply put down your LM number, then you can use the LM points to redeem Avianca flight or any other star alliance flights including Lufthansa, ANA, Asiana, Swiss…etc.

Likewise, if you fly LAN or Qantas, you can credit the points to either program and redeem flights on either airlines or any other Oneworld partners (including Cathay, BA, AA, JAL…etc).

On with these basic understanding, you need to ask yourself, which airlines and what route are you most likely to redeem your points on. It doesn’t have to be restricted to South America. I have millions of points with LM yet I have never flown Avianca (I haven’t even seen one in real life!) and have been to South America for a week only in my entire life! So knowing which route and airlines that suits you most, then you can decide on which FFP to credit your points in. Each FFP has it’s pros and cons and I advise you to read the guides section in Keith’s blog to see which one suits you best. Everyone’s need is different, and I can’t really tell you which one to use. If your need is simply flying in South America, then any Star Alliance or Oneworld airline’s FFP can do that. But each one suits different needs (eg. If you are looking at short hops <1000 miles, BA’s executive club is the best. But if you are looking at one end of South America to another, then a zone based program such as KF may be more suitable.)

With regards to which program is easier to accumulate points, again it depends how you plan to accumulate. KF can be easily earned using many credit cards in Australia. This can be very useful to top up points. Alternatively, if you credit your points to LM, it is very easy to purchase miles from LM. If you want a program that is affiliated with LAN and is easy to earn in Australia, you can’t go wrong with Qantas.

Sorry I mightn’t have answered your question yet. But with a few basic understanding, I hope this will help you decide which is the best to choose. Let us know your goal and perhaps we can recommend one that suits your need.

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Hi Michael,

Thanks very much for your response so far it’s already proved helpful. In regards to your overall question I’m really looking for ways to maximise the travel I will have to do for work. I will be flying to, from and around South America around twice a year so it seems like a waste not to make use of all the flying I will be doing.

There are pretty much two main parts of travel involved. Firstly the flights from Sydney to South America. This can be done either by qantas and LAN or alternatively via the USA with Qantas, United or American Airlines. Once there I will be flying several short trips like Bogota to Lima, Lima to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Santiago etc. I make the itinerary so I can plan the route that suits me best.

This is where i get confused as it seems rational that Qantas would be best with LAN as it will cover the longer flight as well as smaller flights with LANs smaller planes. I’m unsure of this as I’ve heard a lot about the small returns people get on Qantas FF and the diminishing seats available. As a result I was thinking of the Avianca route which like you said has options for buying miles at a discount and using the Krisflyer program (thanks for clearing that up as well, it’s one of the things i found confusing). Then i could book almost all my internal flights with them.

Are there other ways to accumulate miles with either of those airlines or alliances that I’m missing at the moment?

Like I said it’s a lot to get my head around so if you can recommend a way to make the most out of all the flying I will have to do over there I’d very much appreciate it.



  • Yes, it’s very confusing when you first start. But once you get it, it is quite easy.

    So before we look into each FFPs, it’s better to look at alliances. In your case it is clearly the decision between either Star Alliance (*A) or Oneworld. (OW) There is another alliance called Skyteam, which consists of airlines that many considered as drop outs. Itself is a mess so we won’t worry about it.

    So if you fly Qantas and LAN, then it’s clearly OW. But you don’t have to deposit your miles with Qantas. You can deposit it with American Airlines (AA), which has an award chart that is much cheaper than Qantas (although a major devaluation is coming in Mar 16). Or you can deposit it into Asia Miles (AM), the FFP of Cathay Pacific, which also has award chart that is cheaper than Qantas.

    If you take the option of UA and Avianca, you are obviously into *A and you can either deposit into KF or LM. Or you can deposit into UA.

    But if AA or AM is cheaper than QF, then why don’t we just credit all QF flights to AA or AM?. The problem is the earn rate would be different. Eg. BNE to SYD in QF, the distance is about 400 miles. Qantas will give you a minimum earn of 800 QFF points. But if you choose to deposit to AA, for a discount economy, AA would only give you 25% of miles flown, so you get 100 AA points. For AM, you earn nothing, zippo on discount economy seat on QF flights. Ok, simple math, for this flight, you will earn 800 QFF or 100 AA or zero AM points, which one would you deposit it in? So even though QFF is expensive to redeem, since it’s miles is much easier to earn, then in this case it makes sense to deposit miles into QFF.

    The same would go with KF, UA and LM. How many miles you earn will depend on the airline and class of travel and you need to look into it and decide what is the best.

    Then you need to consider how easy it is to redeem points. KF is very good for redeeming their own flights as SQ won’t release most of its long haul F&J seats to partners. But for it’s *A redemption, the cost is not as cheap.

    Then you need to consider fuel surcharges (YQ) as well. Some FFPs charge it (KF, QF, AM) and some don’t (AA, UA, LM). Basically what it means is when you redeem your “free” ticket, the FFP that charges YQ will cost few hundred dollars more than those that don’t. Sometimes the difference can be up to $1000!

    It is confusing I know, but the airline made it that way because even though these airlines are partners, they are still competitor. So ultimately, they still want you to fly with their own airplane.

    In terms of other ways to accumulate miles, other than CC and buying miles, there are car rentals, hotel stays, online shoppings…etc. many ways to earn. It is probably worthwhile going through the beginners’ course with Keith.

    Just join all of the above FFP mentioned. Other than QF, all are free to join. Have a play with each search engine to see what the availability is like for your desired redemption, and check the award charts. Read through the guides about the pros and cons of each FFP and you should decide which suits you the best. I generally would pick the ones that would get you the highest earn rate on your flight with the cheapest redemption and preferably no YQ. And of course other easy ways to top up the miles so it wouldn’t take you decades before you can get a decent redemption.

  • Thanks Michael, It has helped a lot. I’ll take your advice and join all the free programs and then look through available flights and deals

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