The number of travellers from Australia visiting South America is on the up—and with good reason. It’s a continent rich in culture, landscapes and travel experiences.
In this guide, I go through your nonstop options to get from Australia to South America using points. I also look at alternatives when award availability is tight, as well as advise what is a good price to pay for Economy Class tickets.
Point Hacks South America Series
Part I: The Why: A (very comprehensive) destination guide to South America
Part II: The How: How to use your frequent flyer points to get to South America
The quickest way
There are three nonstop services from Australia to South America:
- Sydney to Santiago on Qantas
- Sydney to Santiago on LATAM (from 27 October 2019)
- Melbourne to Santiago on LATAM
Qantas from Sydney
Australia’s flag carrier currently serves Santiago, Chile nonstop 3-6 times per week depending on the season (more flights in summer). However, from 24 June 2020, there will be daily flights on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Until 23 June 2020, you’ll be onboard a Boeing 747, meaning you’ll get lie-flat Business Class seats, but in the old 2-2-2 configuration. Regardless, getting a good sleep is important on this 12- to 14-hour flight (depending on the direction).
Premium Economy on the 747 is set up in a 2-4-2 configuration, with recliner seats and improved service compared to Economy Class.
From 24 June 2020, this service will move to daily on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This aircraft features a far superior Business Class seat, but a tighter Premium Economy seat.
Sydney to Rio de Janeiro is also slated to be a new route with this aircraft.
Here is what it will cost you for a one-way redemption flying Qantas between Sydney and Santiago:
|Frequent flyer program||Business||Premium Economy||Economy|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||96,000/108,400*||72,000/81,300*||41,900|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||75,000||50,000||40,000|
|American Airlines AAdvantage|
|British Airways Executive Club|
**AAdvantage does not currently allow Premium Economy redemptions on partner airlines
You cannot use Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles for travel between Australia and South America.
LATAM from Sydney or Melbourne
LATAM is a Chilean-Brazilian airline and is currently part of the oneworld alliance. However, it was announced in late September 2019, that they will leave the alliance at an unknown date in the future (expected 2020).
LATAM currently flies daily from Sydney to Santiago with a two-hour stop in Auckland. However, from 27 October 2019, half of these flights will go nonstop from Sydney to Santiago.
In addition, three times a week you can fly nonstop from Melbourne to Santiago.
All these flights are operated by a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with, again, lie-flat Business Class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. If you had the choice between Qantas and LATAM, I would recommend Qantas for superior customer service and dining options.
LATAM does not operate a Premium Economy cabin on this aircraft.
Here is what it will cost you for a one-way redemption flying LATAM between Sydney/Melbourne and Santiago:
|Frequent flyer program||Business||Economy|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||119,200||50,300|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||75,000||40,000|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||82,500||45,000|
|British Airways Executive Club|
It’s generally easier to find award space on the Melbourne flight than the Sydney one.
When should I book an award ticket?
As far in advance as possible. Due to the low number of flights between Australia and South America and high competition for seats, it’s best to book 11-12 months before departure.
Qantas Gold, Platinum and Platinum One members get access to award seats on most long-haul flights like these ones at 353 days before departure. Bronze and Silver members have to wait until 297 days, by which time they may have already been snapped up.
How do I search for an award ticket?
You can use the Qantas website to search for award tickets on both Qantas and LATAM flights.
If you want an easier monthly view for Qantas flights, the American Airlines website is a good option.
Using the British Airways website is another way to look for LATAM flights.
Once you find award space, you can book online with most programs for Qantas and LATAM flights. The only exceptions are that to book LATAM flights, you’ll need to phone Asia Miles and AAdvantage.
What is a reasonable cash price for Economy Class tickets?
Flying from Australia to Santiago for under $1,000 return is a steal. For connections to other major cities like Rio, Lima and Buenos Aires, under $1,200 is a great deal. If you see a ticket at these prices, my advice is to jump on it. Here is an example of a good flight deal to Santiago.
Once the price pushes over $1,500, then I would start to look at using points for an Economy Class ticket. During December-January, prices are usually over $1,800 and are unlikely to drop.
If you are going to pay for a Business Class flight with cash, then under $3,500-4,000 is a good price to pay.
Alternative options to get to South America using points
- Fly LATAM from Auckland to Santiago
- Fly Air New Zealand from Auckland to Buenos Aires (almost impossible to find Business Class availability on this route)
- Fly to the US first and then down to South America (Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Atlanta, Miami and New York offer connections to South America)
- Fly from Perth to South America via South Africa or the Middle East, e.g. it takes ~25 hours from Perth to Rio or São Paulo via Auckland and Buenos Aires with Air New Zealand, or just three hours more to fly with only one stop via Johannesburg with South African Airways or Dubai with Emirates
Once I’m in Santiago, how should I get around South America?
Santiago is a good hub to start and end your South American trip. However, South America is a big continent and, together with Africa, is one of the more expensive ones to get around.
Using Qantas Points and oneworld points currencies
You can reduce the cost of flights by using Qantas Points, Asia Miles, AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios (my favourite) for Economy or Business Class flights with LATAM. It’s the largest airline in South America and has subsidiaries in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru, which means it covers most places you’ll want to visit. Whilst it doesn’t have a subsidiary in Bolivia, it does fly to and from there from other countries.
As an example, I used 4,500 Avios (now 6,000) + ~AU$30 to offset a ~AU$600 cash ticket for a one-hour LATAM flight from Santiago to Temuco in Chile’s Lakes District. This gave me a redemption value of over 12 cents per point, which is about six times the value I put on those points.
Using KrisFlyer miles and Star Alliance points currencies
Your second option would be to use your KrisFlyer or United miles or LifeMiles to fly Star Alliance partner Avianca. It’s the second-largest airline in South America and operates mainly in the top half of the continent, in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, as well as some Central American countries.
Using Velocity Points
Options include flying Delta from New York and Atlanta, Alitalia from Rome, and South African Airways from Johannesburg.
Finally, the past few years have seen the low-cost-carrier boom spread to South America. Look out for cheap flights with (but not limited to):
- Argentina: Norwegian Air Argentina
- Brazil: Azul and GOL
- Chile: Sky Airline
- Colombia: VivaColombia and Wingo
- Peru: Star Perú and Viva Air
Can I stop in South America as part of a round-the-world trip?
Yes, you can!
Using 318,000 Qantas Points or only 240,000 Asia Miles, you can fly Qantas or LATAM Business Class into Santiago and then leave the continent with another oneworld airline (or vice versa).
Using 240,000 KrisFlyer miles or 372,000 Velocity Points, you can also piece together a round-the-world trip in Business Class flying Star Alliance airlines.
The key to securing an award seat to South America in Business or Premium Economy Class is planning well in advance (one year ahead).
Those with access to oneworld points currencies like Qantas Points and Asia Miles are best-placed to travel on Qantas and LATAM.
Within South America, you can use your points to reduce the cost of expensive domestic and international flights.
Enjoy your trip! South America is a fantastic place to visit!
Have you had any success booking award seats to South America? How did you go about it?