Under one hundred and thirty five dollars. That is how much a friend of The Flight Deal recently paid for her 2 week roundtrip ticket to Chile and Argentina in November. How did she do it when a coach ticket to Chile alone is over $1,200?
Simple! MILES and she only started collecting them in 2010.
Our friend became interested in miles when we told her about our holiday in Thailand and Malaysia on Cathay Pacific First Class for $35.50. Prior to 2010, she did not even have a frequent flyer account and she traveled once or twice a year for work in addition to her leisure travel (all those miles…gone!). Once she realized miles = going to destinations on a practical budget, she got serious about collecting miles. It took her a few months to accumulate the necessary miles (52,500 miles) for her trip and this is how she got the miles:
- Signed up for an American Airlines AAdvantage account
- Putting her AA frequent flyer number on her work & personal travel
- Signed up for AA Dining Rewards
- Applied for a Citibank AAdvantage World MasterCard and put most of her daily spending on it
Over the course of 6 months, with the significant sign up bonus (35,000) for opening the Citibank AAdvantage, our friend had enough miles to go in coach for her multi-country trip (yes, there were other higher bonuses available when she applied and she could have gotten more miles, but that’s neither here nor there). Around July, she came to us and told us that after her great trip to Peru last year, she wanted to see more of South America. She picked Chile and Argentina.
We helped her with finding awards seats and minimizing the miles that she needed to do both countries by optimizing her routing. AA wants 40,000 miles roundtrip to South America; however, it does not allow for stopovers (only origin and destination). For an additional 12,500 miles, our friend was able to get to Chile and back to the States. Her final itinerary ended up being:
New York – Santiago (22 hour stay — stays under 24 hours are considered a layover and not stopover) – Buenos Aires (4 days) – Santiago (She will go to Maipo, Vina Del Mar & Valparaiso the rest of the time) – New York. The entire itinerary was with LAN Chile, which our friend liked on her previous trip to Peru. AA is part of the oneworld alliance and as such, miles can be earned and redeemed with all its partners, which includes LAN Chile.
Now with her flights taken care of, our friend is looking forward to eating bife de lomo at La Caberra in Buenos Aires, tangoing in San Telmo, surfing waves of Ritoque beaches near Vina del Mar in Chile, and drinking copious amount of Argentinean and Chilean wines.
Our friend did this with a minimal change in her habits — she changed her credit card and started crediting her flights to a frequent flyer account. All this required no additional cash outlay (the annual fee for the credit card was waived for the first year) — it was already things she was already doing. You can too and it doesn’t have to be hard.
The key takeaways for traveling inexpensively:
- Lead time: our friend had almost a year before her actual travel date to start planning
- Focus: our friend focused her mileage accumulation on one program — American Airlines. If our friend had scattered her accumulation over multiple programs, she would have not been able to take this trip inexpensively
- Flexibility: our friend wanted to come home on a Sunday, but no award seats were available until Monday. Award tickets are capacity controlled (meaning, there might be only a few a day) and are not like revenue tickets.
- Maximize: our friend leveraged her miles to hit multiple destinations
Airline: American Airlines requires 40,000 miles to South America (off-peak season / March 1 – May 31st & August 16th – November 30th). Options to South America with American miles includes American Airlines, LAN Chile, LAN Peru, LAN Ecuador, and LAN Argentina. 12,500 miles for intra-South America travel
Visa: US Citizens – None, but both Chile and Argentina charge a $140 reciprocity fee on arrival