Getting To Colombia With Airline Miles

Most frequent flier programs divide the continent of South America into northern and southern regions.  Colombia, which has an amazing bird list with over 1900 species recorded, falls into the northern region.  I already have a blog with my recommendations for which programs to join if you are new to the world of miles and points.

The major gateway cities for Colombia include Bogota (BOG), Medellin (MDE) and Cartagena (CTG).   It will be the same number of miles no matter which you choose.   Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out Wikipedia will show you all the airlines that fly into Bogota, Medellin, Cartegena and any of Colombia’s airports.  To present examples below, I will be using Bogota as the example gateway airport.

ONE WORLD OPTIONS

From North America you can use American Airlines,  LATAM.

From South America you can use LATAM.

From Australia and New Zealand you can use Qantas or LATAM via Santiago.

From UK and Europe you can travel via the USA using BA or IB to get to the USA, then AA, LATAM to South America.

From Asia or Africa there are no direct flights so you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.

STAR ALLIANCE OPTIONS

From North America you can use United, Air Canada, Avianca-Taca or Copa.

From South America you can use Avianca-Taca or Copa.

From Europe you can use Avianca, Lufthansa or Turkish Airlines.

From Australia and New Zealand, Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you can use NZ to Buenos Aires (EZE) or travel via the USA.  Depending on which program’s miles you have, this may require one or two awards.

SKYTEAM OPTIONS

From North America you can use AeroMexico or Delta.

From Argentina & Southern South America you can use Aerolinas Argentinas.

From Europe you can use Air Europa, Air France or KLM, or you can connect in the USA on Delta.

From Australia, Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.

HOW MANY MILES WILL IT COST?

Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program.  They often have alliances with other airlines outside the program.  I have made some reference charts for the airline alliances and I strongly recommend that you check out the program of the airline in your country and the USA based partners of each program as the USA airlines tend to have the most lucrative bonuses.  Americans can get very generous credit card bonuses.  Details of credit card partners (and other partners) will be on each airline’s website, however often there are more lucrative sign up bonuses.  Details are usually posted in the Flyer Talk thread so I strongly suggest you read this thread and the Miles Buzz forum before you apply for any cards just in case a better bonus has been offered.  I don’t have any affiliate links and I recommend you do extensive research on your own when applying for airline credit cards.

USING ONE WORLD

AMERICAN AIRLINES

No matter where you live, frequent flyer programs based in the USA usually offer the best deals but it’s still a good idea to look at other members of the alliance.  Try to avoid carriers that charge a fuel surcharge.  Looking at AA’s award chart, we can see that Colombia is in South America Zone 1.

So let’s look at the chart.  AA no longer has all zones on one convenient chart so you need to look at the website for the region you are departing from.  You will notice there are taxes and fees with certain routes and that the awards are prices as one way trips.

We can see that a South Pacific to Central/South America award will cost 45,000 miles each way (90,000 round trip) in economy, 82,500 (160,000 round trip) in business class and 112,500 each way (225,000 round trip in first class.  AA doesn’t allow you to transit the USA on this award so you must fly on the only carriers that operate between Australia and South America-Qantas and LATAM.

If you are based in North America, economy will cost 30,000  each way (60,000 round trip), business class  is 57,500 each way (115,000 round trip) and first is 85,000 each way or 170,000 round trip.  You would be flying on AA or LATAM.

AVIOS (BA OR IB)

Avios can be a great bargain for shorter flights.  The awards are priced by distance flown per segment rather than zone to zone.

Avios

Avios chart

Using the Great Circle Mapper, we can see that a direct flight from Miami to Bogota would cost 10,000 Avios each way, a direct flight from LAX to Bogota would cost 20,000 Avios and a direct flight from NYC to Bogota would cost 12,500 Avios.  If you are using credit card miles, transferring them to Avios rather than UA or AA could save you some points.  If you need a connection from elsewhere in the USA to the gateway city, you need to pay for that segment separately with the Avios cost for the distance flown.  Example OKC-MIA is 1222 miles so you need to add 10,000 Avios to the total price of the ticket.

Avios BOG

QANTAS FREQUENT FLYER

For Qantas, it is easiest to use their points calculator to see how many points you need, then look for availability.  Not all itineraries can be booked online, sometimes you have to call them.  Using the example of Sydney to Bogota we can see that they route through the USA (probably because the Santiago route is very hard to get) and economy is 60,000 points one way.  If I were making this trip for real, I would be putting a lot more effort into finding a routing on QF through Santiago.  Although business class shows availability on the random date I chose, if you hover over the seat icon you will see that the DFW-BOG segment is in economy.  I am actually amazed that SYD-DFW has premium seats!  On the next screen you see the points plus taxes & fees that must be paid by credit card.

QF BOG1 QF BOG2 QF BOG3 QF BOG4

If you are based somewhere else, leave a comment if you don’t understand this part and I will help you out.  Meanwhile, here is a reference list for other One World carriers.

USING STAR ALLIANCE

United, Avianca and Singapore are probably the most common Star Alliance programs in use because of good credit card deals and buy miles promos.

UNITED AIRLINES

United Airlines is a USA based carrier that offers one way awards on its own flights and other Star Alliance carriers.  Due to the size of their award chart, I can’t paste it here so will link to it and give examples.  For example Orlando to Bogota has availability on several dates which I picked at random.  They are colour coded for economy, business/first or all three classes.  Make sure you scroll all the way down to see all the options.  Some routes are only 20k and others are a whopping 45k!  And beware of routes where it is cheaper to fly business class than economy!

UA BOG1 UA BOG2

AVIANCA TACA LIFEMILES

Lifemiles has some very attractive promos to buy and share miles.  While this doesn’t give you a free trip, it can greatly reduce the cost of a trip especially if you are after business or first class awards.  You need to be an existing member of Lifemiles when they announce  a promo so join now if you haven’t already.  Use their calculator to get an idea of award costs.  This will be a range which depends on class and any promos.

 

They have a Star Alliance Award chart and you can see that they divide the continent of South America into northern and southern regions.  Colombia is in the Northern South America region.  Australia and New Zealand are in the “Others” category.  The chart shows one-way awards.   I prefer to keep my Lifemiles for intra-South/Central America awards which can get pricy but are bargains using awards.

Avianca1 Avianca2

SINGAPORE AIRLINES

SQ miles have become much easier to get in recent years.  Americans can use Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thank You, Amex Membership Rewards.  Aussies can use the Australian Amex Membership Rewards.  Everyone can use SPG.  Just beware of the high fuel (carrier) surcharges when you use Krisflyer.  Personally, I would be happy to use SQ miles for intra-South America awards where surcharges are low or even non-exixtant but would use other programs to get from Australia to South America.  SQ has only one region for all of South America so their awards can be a bargain if you are traveling around the continent!

SQ South America

I don’t use all the programs that are out there but these are the most commonly used programs by travel hackers in the USA and Australia so do some research to see which one works for you!  Bear in mind that the tickets are not completely free, there is usually a booking fee of $25-50 and various taxes, but you would have to pay the taxes whether you pay cash or miles for the ticket in any case.

WHAT ABOUT JUST PAYING CASH (WELL, CREDIT CARD)?

No, it’s not blasphemy but sometimes it is a good idea to save your miles and simply pay for the ticket.  The 3 main Central/South American carriers – Avianca, Copa & LATAM have been very competitive lately ex-USA and releasing some very good deals.  These are a few examples but they expire soon so always check the airlines’ website for current specials.

Avianca Colombia Avianca Colombia2 Copa Bog Latam Bog

 

 

 

Getting To Ecuador With Airline Miles

Most frequent flier programs divide the continent of South America into northern and southern regions.  Ecuador, which is one of the best destinations for eco-tourism falls into the northern region.  I already have a blog with my recommendations for which programs to join if you are new to the world of miles and points.

The gateway cities for Ecuador include Quito (UIO) and Guayaquil (GYE).  I have a separate post for using Guayaquil as a gateway city so in this post I will be using Quito as the example.  In any case, it will be the same number of miles.     Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out, Wikipedia will show you a list of all airlines that fly into Quito.

 

ONE WORLD OPTIONS

From North America you can use American Airlines or LATAM.

From South America you can use LATAM.

From Australia and New Zealand you can use Qantas or LATAM via Santiago.

From UK and Europe you can travel via the USA using BA or IB to get to the USA, then AA, LAN or TAM to South America.

From Asia or Africa there are no direct flights so you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.

STAR ALLIANCE OPTIONS

From North America you can use United, Avianca-Taca or Copa

From South America you can use Avianca-Taca

From Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you can use NZ to Buenos Aires (EZE) or travel via the USA.  Depending on which program’s miles you have, this may require one or two awards.

SKYTEAM OPTIONS

From North America you can use AeroMexico or Delta.

From Europe you can use Air Europa, Air France or KLM, or you can connect in the USA on Delta.

From Australia, Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.

 

HOW MANY MILES WILL IT COST?

Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program.  They often have alliances with other airlines outside the program.  I have made some reference charts for the airline alliances and I strongly recommend that you check out the program of the airline in your country and the USA based partners of each program as the USA airlines tend to have the most lucrative bonuses.  Americans can get very generous credit card bonuses.  Details of credit card partners (and other partners) will be on each airline’s website, however often there are more lucrative sign up bonuses.  Details are usually posted in the Flyer Talk thread so I strongly suggest you read this thread and the Miles Buzz forum before you apply for any cards just in case a better bonus has been offered.  I don’t have any affiliate links and I recommend you do extensive research on your own when applying for airline credit cards.

USING ONE WORLD

AMERICAN AIRLINES

No matter where you live, frequent flyer programs based in the USA usually offer the best deals but it’s still a good idea to look at other members of the alliance.  Try to avoid carriers that charge a fuel surcharge.  Looking at AA’s award chart, we can see that Ecuador is in South America Zone 1.

So let’s look at the chart.  AA no longer has all zones on one convenient chart so you need to look at the website for the region you are departing from.  You will notice there are taxes and fees with certain routes and that the awards are prices as one way trips.

We can see that a South Pacific to Central/South America award will cost 45,000 miles each way (90,000 round trip) in economy, 82,500 (160,000 round trip) in business class and 112,500 each way (225,000 round trip in first class.  AA doesn’t allow you to transit the USA on this award so you must fly on the only carriers that operate between Australia and South America-Qantas and LAN.

If you are based in North America, economy will cost 30,000  each way (60,000 round trip), business class  is 57,500 each way (115,000 round trip) and first is 85,000 each way or 170,000 round trip.  You would be flying on AA or LAN.

AVIOS (BA OR IB)

Avios can be a great bargain for shorter flights.  The awards are priced by distance flown per segment rather than zone to zone.

Avios

Using the Great Circle Mapper, we can see that a direct flight from Miami to Quito would cost 10,000 Avios each way, a direct flight from LAX to Quito would cost 20,000 Avios and a direct flight from NYC to Quito would cost 12,500 Avios.  If you are using credit card miles, transferring them to Avios rather than UA or AA could save you some points.  If you need a connection from elsewhere in the USA to the gateway city, you need to pay for that segment separately with the Avios cost for the distance flown.  Example OKC-MIA is 1222 miles so you need to add 10,000 Avios to the total price of the ticket.

gcm uio

QANTAS FREQUENT FLYER

For Qantas, it is easiest to use their points calculator to see how many points you need, then look for availability.  Not all itineraries can be booked online, sometimes you have to call them.  Using the example of Sydney to Quito we can see that they route through the USA (probably because the Santiago route is very hard to get) and economy is 60,000 points one way.  On the next screen you see the points plus taxes & fees that must be paid by credit card.

qf uio1 qf uio2

 

If you are based somewhere else, leave a comment if you don’t understand this part and I will help you out.  Meanwhile, here is a reference list for other One World carriers.

USING STAR ALLIANCE

United, Avianca and Singapore are probably the most common Star Alliance programs in use because of good credit card deals and buy miles promos.

UNITED AIRLINES

United Airlines is a USA based carrier that offers one way awards on its own flights and other Star Alliance carriers.  Due to the size of their award chart, I can’t paste it here so will link to it and give examples.  For example Seattle to Quito has availability on several dates which I picked at random.  They are colour coded for economy, business/first or all three classes.  Make sure you scroll all the way down to get the best price.  Some routes are only 20k and others are a whopping 45k!

ua uio1 ua uio2

 

AVIANCA TACA LIFEMILES

Lifemiles has some very attractive promos to buy and share miles.  While this doesn’t give you a free trip, it can greatly reduce the cost of a trip especially if you are after business or first class awards.  You need to be an existing member of Lifemiles when they announce  a promo so join now if you haven’t already.  Use their calculator to get an idea of award costs.  This will be a range which depends on class and any promos.

 

They have a Star Alliance Award chart and you can see that they divide the continent of South America into northern and southern regions.  Ecuador is in the Northern South America region.   Australia and New Zealand are in the “Others” category.  The chart shows one way awards.  Personally,  I prefer to keep my Lifemiles for intra-South/Central America awards which can get pricy but are bargains using awards.

Avianca1 Avianca2

SINGAPORE AIRLINES

SQ miles have become much easier to get in recent years.  Americans can use Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thank You, Amex Membership Rewards.  Aussies can use the Australian Amex Membership Rewards.  Everyone can use SPG.  Just beware of the high fuel (carrier) surcharges when you use Krisflyer.  Personally, I would be happy to use SQ miles for intra-South America awards where surcharges are low or even non-exixtant but would use other programs to get from Australia to South America.  SQ has only one region for all of South America so their awards can be a bargain if you are traveling around the continent!

SQ South America

I don’t use all the programs that are out there but these are the most commonly used programs by travel hackers in the USA and Australia so do some research to see which one works for you!  Bear in mind that the tickets are not completely free, there is usually a booking fee of $25-50 and various taxes, but you would have to pay the taxes whether you pay cash or miles for the ticket in any case.

WHAT ABOUT JUST PAYING CASH (WELL, CREDIT CARD)?

No, it’s not blasphemy but sometimes it is a good idea to save your miles and simply pay for the ticket.  The 3 main Central/South American carriers – Avianca, Copa & LATAM have been very competitive lately ex-USA and releasing some very good deals.

Getting To French Polynesia (Tahiti) With Miles

The first thing you need to deal with is that flights into PPT, the international airport of Tahiti, French Polynesia are very limited.  Coming from Australia, our only options were through Auckland.  People coming from North America can connect through LAX and Honolulu and people coming from Europe could connect through Paris.

.

STAR ALLIANCE

Air New Zealand is the only Star Alliance airline serving Tahtiti.  You can get an idea of availability on United’s site.  I couldn’t find anything until Feb 2015 and economy class only.

.

For the last year, NZ has not been releasing any seats at all between Brisbane and Auckland so even if I could have snagged a couple of rare AKL-PPT seats I would have had to pay extra to get us to Auckland.  I didn’t like that option!  Air New Zealand used to be more generous with award seats, in 2011 I redeemed business class to Rarotonga but these awards are a thing of the past.

ONE WORLD ALLIANCE

LAN is the only OneWorld member flying to Tahiti so unlikely to be of use to people reading this blog, especially since AA no longer offers RTW mileage awards.

SKYTEAM ALLIANCE

Air France is the only Skyteam member that serves Tahiti.  From Paris, one way awards start at 40,000 miles economy and fuel surcharge varies.

.

From the USA, rock bottom ex-LAX seems to be 30,000 miles with 146 EUR fuel surcharge.

.

The real challenge is trying to get connecting flights on Delta to LAX to hook up with your AIr France flight to Tahiti.  I tried a few random dates in late 2014 and mid 2015 using flexible dates and couldn’t find anything to use as a screenshot example.

AIR TAHITI NUI

Air Tahiti Nui serves Auckland and LAX and is a partner of both American AAdvantage and Delta’s Skymiles.  For Americans, you will face the same problem trying to get low-level award space on Delta from your home airport to LAX and Delta charges a fuel surcharge.  AAdvantage has better availability for domestic USA awards to LAX.

For Aussies, you will fly on Qantas from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne to Auckland, then transfer to Air Tahiti Nui.  Award space was pretty good as long as you avoid holidays.  You can see Qantas award space easily using AA’s tool.

Sometimes Air Tahiti Nui availability can be searched using the Flightstats tool.

.

If the systems are hooking up, you can see the fare buckets still available.  This is what it will look like using the more easily searched AKL-BNE route.  Ecomony seats are W class, business seats are I class.  More information and photos of the cabins can be found on Flyertalk.  Business seats are not lie-flat and it’s only a 4.5 hour flight so in most cases economy will be sufficient.

.

 

HAWAIIAN AIRLINES

One last option is Hawaiian Airlines.  If you are a member of their program, you can redeem online at these award levels.

.

Otherwise, Hawaiian Airlines partners with many other frequent flyer programs such as United Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways, Alaskan Airlines, ANA, Korean and Virgin Australia so you may be able to use their miles to construct an award Mainland USA – HNL-PPT.

SUMMARY

In summary, getting to Tahiti using miles is one of the most challenging awards you will ever book so you do need to plan well in advance and research your airlines and award levels.  I found the easiest option for availability to be on American’s AAdvantage program but as usual, your miles may vary!

 

SriLankan Airlines Joins Oneworld

It’s official, Sri Lankan Airlines is the latest member of OneWorld, hot on the heels of US Airways and TAM!  Depending on the routing rules of your OneWorld airline’s frequent flyer program, this can open up some great opportunities for mini-eco-tourism stops when flying between Europe & Asia.  Have a look at the route map.  I highlighted the destinations Sri Lankan serves with their own metal as code-shares usually can’t be booked as awards.

SriLankan RoutesSPENDING A DAY LAYOVER IN COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

Most nationalities can transit Sri Lanka without a visa.  This makes it very easy to do a day trip to Kithulgala for some amazing birding!

Transit visa

Transit visa up to 48 hours currently issued free of charge only at www.eta.gov.lk (travelers must have ETA reference number)

If there is any inquiry regarding ETA pleases contact:

Hotline: 0094 71 9967888
fax: 0094 11 2674631
email: eta@immigration.gov.lk

Now in actual practice, you will only get less than 24 hours if you are using a transit through Colombo as part of an award.  This is still time to make a day trip to Kithulgala.  I’ve blogged about my stay there last year.  Even though we stayed the night, it’s close enough to the airport that you could hire a taxi for the day in the arrival hall to go there.

IMG_3184a

Avios Quick Tip – Bargain Destinations From Your Home Town

Since the OneWorld alliance is becoming more valuable with the new partners joining up, here’s a quick tip for Avios members to help you find bargain destinations from your home town.

We know that awards are distance based as below.

Avios Award Chart

Let’s see where I could go with Avios for less than 10,000 Avios one way.  To do this, I use Great Circle Mapper.

.

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?R=650nm%40BNE%0D%0A1151nm%40BNE%0D%0A2000nm%40BNE&MS=wls&DU=mi

Do you see where BNE repeats 3 times in the url?  Simply substitute your own home town airport code for BNE.  The smallest circle will give you destinations for 4500 Avios.  The middle circle gives you destinations for 7500 Avios and the largest circle gives you destinations for 10,000 Avios.  Even though cities aren’t named on the map, most people have a pretty good idea of what potential destinations would lie within each circle.

Then use the Great Circle Mapper to get the exact distance to make sure it’s within range.  For example on the first map, there are a lot of enticing Pacific islands in my largest circle – including Fiji!  Brisbane to Fiji, Port Moresby (as a birding jump-off point), Vanuatu or most of New Zealand for 10,000 Avios on Qantas!  Even better – Noumea, New Caledonia for 7500 Avios!   A reader has pointed out that some of these destinations are not currently available as awards on Avios even though they are available through QFF.  These flights are QF codeshares with Air Pacific, Air Vanuatu and Air Niugini, and not QF metal.  Some routes can be done via SYD or CNS using QF metal but it would be 2 sectors so not the bargains I had hoped for on Avios.  

Just another reason I hate the codeshare system!

.

If you are trying to get your head around the new US Airways routes available to OneWorld members, let’s draw the map from their hub at Charlotte (CLT).  As long as US (or AA, TAM or any OneWorld airline) flies there, I see lots of bargains to the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, Colombia & Venezuela!

.

TAM & US Airways Join OneWorld Alliance

Although I am not sure what time in which time zone, sometime within the next couple of hours, TAM and US Airways will have officially left Star Alliance and joined OneWorld.  If you are a member of American AAdvantage or British Airways Avios, this means you now have 2 new airlines to book awards on!  If you are a member of US Airways Dividend Miles, this means you will now be booking your awards using the OneWorld alliance partners. You will find US Airways listed as an American Airlines affiliate since they are in the process of merging.