In this award travel tutorial we will book the award flight for South American vacations for only 15,000 miles more than the cost of a US domestic economy flight.
What do we do first? We go straight to my frequent flyer miles stash!
I will use Buenos Aires as my example city and since only American Airlines flies direct from Buenos Aires to New York City I start my search there.
Straight Away I can tell this is a good deal and that I should put a five day hold on the award so I don’t lose my chances of getting MileSAAver off-peak in both directions:
I have both flights of the roundtrip award for a low all in price of 40,000 AAdvantage miles plus some taxes/fees.
But I know I can find a way to tease out more bang for my miles on South American vacations so I am going all in.
Buenos Aires for 12,500 Avios Points
My secret weapon for AAdvantage MileSAAver redemption is the frequent flyer currency of the Brit’s- British Airways Avios points.
For far too long Avios have gotten a bad wrap just for having a distance based reward chart and the impressive awards of British Airways used to give out but I have found a sweet spot that gets me huge savings.
If I change my two AAdvantage MileSAAver awards into two Avios reward flights I save 25,000 miles off of their full price.
A one-way Buenos Aires to New York City flight using Avios price options to supercharge my rewards value:
Typically this one-way reward flight costs 25,000 Avios plus the $74.82 in the taxes and fees column.
The column “price per person” is the extra cash you have to pay when you redeem this reward flight for only 12,500 Avios points. This tactic is a win, win. You get to save your Avios points for other reward flights in the future and you still get huge value from your current reward flight.
In my example the American Airlines roundtrip flight would cost $1,500. Instead I would use 25,000 Avios points plus $320 in cash co-payments. I can afford to pay $320 for a flight but not $1,500.
The Avios points are the same, no matter if you are booking JFK-EZE or EZE-JFK, the only variable that you would see changes in is taxes/fees slightly increasing because of airport or government taxes.
British Airways Avios
To find out the value I get from my Avios points on this trip I take the $320 I am paying now and subtract it from the $1,500 I would have to pay if I did not have Avios points, leaving me with $1,180. Finally I take that $1,180 and divide it by the 25,000 Avios the trip costs me to find I am getting a value of 4.9 cents per Avios point.
Not only did I keep all 40,000 of my AAdvantage miles I had been saving for a different travel aspiration I also spent 15,000 less frequent flyer miles and increased the overall value of my reward flight redemption.
This works exceptionally well for me because I use British Airways Avios points almost exclusively for this exact redemption and using the 12,500 points instead of 25,000 per segment allows me to double the amount of round-trips I can afford, four and two respectively.
JFK-EZE One-Way’s vs. Roundtrip:
50,00 Avios per Roundtrip Reward
100k Avios = 2 R/T
Separate into TWO one-way awards and use Miles + Cash price options:
25k + $320
100k BA Avios Points = 4 R/T + $1,624
Now some of you care about miles lost from a reward flight, or using cash co-payment options and you are allowed to disagree. But I said it before and I’ll say it again, I am in this for free travel everything else, elite status, is just a bonus. I simply could not afford these flights at ~$1300 R/T three times a year without the help from frequent flyer currency like Avios points.
But I am still left wondering if I could do something more with my frequent flyer miles…
Buenos Aires for 7,500 AAdvantage Miles
American Airlines gives you a free flight from your North American gateway city on international reward flights.
When you are exit North America on an American Airlines flight you get a free flight from that exiting airport to anywhere within the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska), Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
In my case, since she is coming from Buenos Aires to New York City this trick would only work on the return segment New York to Buenos Aires.
From here you can see in Flight #2 she is leaving from JFK so in order to get a free North American gateway flight she has to have Flight #1 coming into any NYC area airport.
The SFO-JFK economy MilesAAver award is 12,500 if I booked it alone, making the JFK-EZE trip cost me only 7,500 miles.
Now that gets me settled for the return leg of the trip but now I am left with the outbound EZE-JFK segment.
This is when the North American Gateway city power starts to shine for trips originating outside of the US. I can book the EZE-JFK outbound segment with a JFK-SFO segement right after it making sure it aligns with my SFO-JFK free flight I got with the JFK-EZE one way reward flight. Now we have come full circle.
One Full trip from Buenos Aires to New York with a full trip from New York to San Francisco embedded inside of it. Now that is value!
Or if I had an extra JFK-SFO leftover from a different flight I could just use Avios Points for a one-way reward.
I turn to my ally across the pond for some help on the one way EZE-JFK flight that costs $2320 nonstop. Instead of paying that revenue fare and ruining any value I thought I had with a 7,500 mile award to Argentina, I am getting it for only 12,500 Avios plus $160 in cash co-pay.
By combining the strengths of Avios points and AAdvantage miles I have booked a roundtrip economy flight from Buenos Aires to New York City PLUS half of a trip to San Francisco for 32,500 total frequent flyer miles.
All The Different Pricing Combinations
- EZE-JFK roundtrip is 40,000 AAdvantage miles plus SFO-JFK one-way of 12,500 AAdvantage = 52,500 total AA miles
- EZE-JFK roundtrip is 50,000 Avios Points plus SFO-JFK one-way of 12,500 AAdvantage = 62,500 total Avios
- JFK-EZE for 7,500 AAdvantage miles plus EZE-JFK for 12,500 Avios plus SFO-JFK one-way for 12,500 AAdvantage miles= 32,500
- EZE-JFK for 15,000 AAdvantage Miles Plus JFK-SFO full trip for 25,000 = 40,000 AAdvantage Miles.
That is a total savings of between 20,000 and 30,000 miles depending on which program you usually book your reward flights with.
AAdvantage Credit Card
If you have an AAdvantage Credit Credit one of the perks is to earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles each calendar year. By spending the 40,000 AAdvantage miles on this amazing trip you get 4,000 AAdvantage miles back. That means after accounting for the full 25,000 miles the JFK-SFO trip costs you would only be paying 11,000 AAdvantage Miles for Argentina roundtrip.
Frequent Flyer Miles get a bit more complicated as you try to book advanced reward flights that give you the best value propositions.
I know I introduced you to a lot of different options but I only did it because reward flights to South America are a perfect storm of how diversity and a bit of advanced frequent flyer program knowledge can get you huge deals.
The Avios price option to use cash co-payments and the AAdvantage North American gateway free flight can be used on more than JFK-EZE flights but for my reward travel purposes it was all I was looking at. You can experiment with the AAdvantage North American gateway trick by using any of AA’s gateway airports to any international destination you want. Keep teasing out your options, don’t forget about business and first class, until you find awards that actually COST LESS when you use this tool.
The NA Gateway is awesome but it still leaves you either needing to book the other end of your free flight or if you are starting travel from outside the US – like in my example – you would need to book your one-way trip to get there. That’s where the British Airways Avios can become the perfect complimentary tool by using their cash co-payment you can book the entire roundtrip reward flight at steep discounts on top of the low tier or off-peak awards.
Do you have any other ideas you would like to share or if you need help putting all of this into practice let me know in the comments section below.
To Your Frequent Flyer Miles Success!