How we found flights for less than $500 a person.
The Road to Rio Itinerary
-Peru (Cusco/Machu Pichu & Lima) 12 days
-Chile (Santiago) 4 days
-Argentina (Buenos Aires) 7 days
-Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) 19 days
The most common question asked when I tell people I’m going to South America for 5 weeks this Summer is – how much are you paying for all this?! It must be really expensive!! And to be honest, if time was money it would have cost us A LOT but luckily it isn’t. And lucky for me I have a flight pro as my right hand man. I know most of you think I’m “cheating” because my right hand man happens to also be a flight expert but actually you can have him too by inputting your ideal itinerary at http://www.flightfox.com/john its a very affordable way to get expert help without any gimmicks, if they don’t save you money-you don’t have to pay. Easy as that.
So back to how we are traveling to 4 countries in 43 days for $500 dollars. The short answer is credit cards; and no I don’t mean just charging it to a credit card and racking up a bill, I mean signing up for cards that offer the most bang for your buck. As someone in their early twenties and starting to build credit without screwing myself over for the future I thought all credit cards were a scam and my money was better spent as cash. WRONG. As long a I don’t spend outside my means, they make flight travel affordable – especially for those who are American. The majority of our flights were booked through 3 different credit cards utilizing the bonus points received after signing up for a new card. By using miles, we only had to pay the taxes and fees associated with the flights, which in many cases are very minimal. But like I said before, we spend a lot of time researching the best cards, routes and value for our points and money.
Leg #1 Newark, NJ –> Cusco, Peru
A cash ticket for this flight would run us upwards of $700 each. But with the bonus miles from the United Mileage Plus Explorer credit card we were able to book 2 tickets for 40,000 miles with 2 short stops in Panama and Lima, Peru. With this booking we were also able to get 2 free United Club Lounge passes valued at $59 a piece.
Our Price: 20,000 United Airline points and $60 for taxes and fees
United Airline Price: $632 USD plus $59 for the United Lounge Pass
Leg #2 Cusco, Peru –> Lima, Peru
We used 9,000 British Airways Avios Miles to book two award tickets on Latam airlines from Cusco to Lima. This route is really short and usually costs about $200 per person. But last summer, John and I easily earned 9,000 Avios from flying to Croatia last summer with British Airways. Our flights to Croatia were only about 450$ round-trip, plus we earned enough points to cover this short leg of our journey. British airways offers short distance redemption’s at only 4,500 points, which is very good deal for a lot of routes.
Our Price: 4,500 British Airways Avios Miles
Latam Airlines Price: $182 USD
Leg #3 Lima, Peru–>Santiago, Chile–>Buenos Aires, Argentina
This route was the only cash ticket we bought since award redemption’s on these routes were hard to come by and did not fit our schedule. Low cost carrier Sky Airlines had one-way flights from Lima to Buenos Aires for around 250$ per person. All the flights had a stopover in Santiago, Chile so we decided to extend the stopover for a couple days and see a new country. Two countries for the price of one!! We decided it was better to pay cash for this leg and save our points for a flight with better redemption value.
Our Price: $250 USD
Leg #4 Buenos Aires, Argentina –> Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It’s extremely expensive to fly to Rio just a couple days before the Olympics, even from nearby Argentina. One-way tickets were starting around $600 per person for this short flight. Luckily, I signed up for the Delta Skymiles Credit Card and got a large point bonus to book a non-stop flight on Delta’s partner Gol Airlines. Delta Skymiles were hard to use for most of our travelling, so it was easy to justify using 24,000 points on tickets that would have cost us about $650.
Our Price: 12,000 Delta Miles and $100 in taxes and fees
Delta Price: $631 USD
Leg #5 Sao Paulo, Brazil –>Philadelphia, PA/Burlington, VT
Flights originating in Rio during the Olympics where very expensive and award availability were extremely hard to come by so we opted to fly home from Sao Paulo which is about a 6 hour car ride from Rio. We allowed ourselves a few days post Olympics to travel slowly to Sao Paulo and site see along the way. John and I combined our American Airlines Miles from each of our AA Citi Cards to get award flights for 20,000 miles each. A cash ticket for a trip like this during peak time after the Olympics would be over $2500!!
Our Price: 20,000 American Airlines Miles plus $88 in taxes and fees
American Airlines Price: $2,699 USD!!! (OUCH! Expensive!!)
Our total cost:
20,000 United Points
4,500 British Airways Miles
12,000 Delta Miles
20,000 American Airlines Miles
Total Miles- 56,500
$250 cash ticket
$248 taxes and fees
Total Price – $498
**If we had bought cash tickets for all flights we would have paid over $4,500!!
Although 50,000 miles sound like a lot, most signing bonuses offer around 50,000 points when you hit the minimum spend in the first few months – this is often a doable thing. Without using these credit card bonus miles we would not have been able to afford these flights, let alone the additional costs of accommodations, food and activities.
In addition, I need to give credit to John- he was the one that had the knowledge to find these flights and use the miles, I simply just signed up the cards he said best fit our criteria and hit the minimum spend. I advise those with points to know how to utilize them to their full potential and know when it is better to pay cash and save the points. There are many people out there whose expertise is in this exact field who are very happy to help out with questions and concerns, the system can be very confusing!
UPCOMING… The Road to Rio; affordable accommodations and (rough) activity itinerary
The Road to Rio; pro packing picks and tricks