How You Can Use Less Than 75,000 Miles & Points to Replicate Our Recent Trip to Machu Picchu, Easter Island, Lake Titicaca, Lima, Santiago, and More!

This is part 2 of a series of posts devoted to our whirlwind tour of Peru & Chile.

  1. Less than $1,000 per person all-in for our 11-day tour in Peru & Chile
  2. How you can use <75,000 points to replicate our itinerary to visit Machu Picchu, Easter Island, and more
  3. How to prepare for altitude sickness in Machu Picchu & Lake Titicaca
  4. What to bring for your trip to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and/or Easter Island
  5. How many different sets of tickets do you have to buy for that one-day visit to Machu Picchu?
  6. How to Create Your Own Machu Picchu “Inka Trail” Experience in One Day
  7. Using the Tambo del Inka, a Starwood Luxury Collection Resort, as Your Base for Your Visit to Machu Picchu
  8. Tour Guide #1 – Sabino for Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Peru
  9. Tour Guide #2 – Silvia for Puno, Lake Titicaca, Sillustani, Peru
  10. How We Did Lima, Peru in One Day
  11. Tour Guide #3 – Sergio for Easter Island, Chile
  12. Taking Advantage of an Airport Hotel for Our Walking Tour of Santiago, Chile
  13. Airport Lounge Access + LAN International Business vs. Economy
  14. Budgeting for Your Next Big Dream Vacation
  15. You Won’t Believe What Happened on Our Way Home!

During our recent South America adventure, we each flew over 16,000 miles with 10 segments. Had we had to pay for those flights, it would have cost over $20,000 for 3. You CAN replicate our entire itinerary (in economy) for less than 75,000 miles/points per person (or 35,000 for Machu Picchu only), originating in North America (even if you live in Hawaii, Alaska, or Canada)!

Our Cost for 3 Adults (all miles & points came from credit card sign-up bonuses):

  • 220,000 BA miles (including a few long-haul segments on LAN Airlines’ flat-bed premium business seats)
  • 6,120 Southwest points (3 tickets from Los Angeles to Las Vegas)
  • $580.22 (taxes, fees, and 2 tickets between Las Vegas & Los Angeles on AA)

A 3rd seat disappeared during the process of booking, so we had to split on the way to Lima. TravelWhimsy and I flew to Lima (LIM) via Los Angeles (LAX), and mom flew to LIM on AA via Miami (MIA).

 

 

In late 2009, TravelWhimsy and I received 200,000 British Airways (BA) miles by each signing up for the Chase BA Visa Card. We also transferred many of our American Express Membership Rewards (Amex MR) points to BA last year when a 50% transfer bonus was offered (this transfer bonus is again being offered until May 31, 2012, in case you are interested).

Before November 16, 2011, the open secret among the miles & points community was to use BA miles on Cathay Pacific for Asia and LAN for South America to maximize value (and avoid hefty fuel surcharges levied by BA flights). A round trip on Cathay Pacific from New York City to Asia with a stopover in Hong Kong only required 50,000 BA miles (2x for business class & 3x for first class), and a round trip on LAN from North America to South America with UNLIMITED stopovers only 40,000 (or 80,000 for its premium business class with lie-flat beds).

In late October 2011, after a tireless search for availability and several frustrating conversations with a few not so helpful BA agents, a competent BA agent finally helped us catch the last gravy train by securing 3 seats (a mix of business and economy) for our May 2012 celebration of my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday.

LAN International Segments for Two (120,000 BA miles + $281.14 in taxes/fees, booked on 1 reservation):

LAX – LIM Business Class
LIM – Easter Island (IPC) Business Class
IPC – Santiago (SCL) Business Class One-way trip technically ends, @ 40K miles
SCL – LAX (via LIM) Economy Class One-way return @ 20K miles

 

AA+LAN International Segments for One (40,000 BA miles + $163.07 in taxes/fees, booked on 2 separate reservations):

Las Vegas (LAS) – LIM (via MIA) Economy Class One-way trip booked separately @ 20K miles + $56.30
LIM – Easter Island (IPC) Business Class (lie-flat bed for free!)
IPC – Santiago (SCL) Business Class (lie-flat bed for free!)
SCL – LAX (via LIM) Economy Class This and the above two segments priced @ 20K miles + $106.77

 

You might have noticed the shocking discovery made during the booking process. After the 3rd business-class seat on the LAX-LIM flight disappeared, the agent tried to duplicate the rest of the trip on a separate itinerary and the system priced mom’s itinerary at the economy level, despite two 6-hour segments in premium business cabin!

Unfortunately, when BA miles officially became Avios (nicknamed “Adios”) points on November 16, 2011, the exploitability of that shocking discovery died, too. Now, BA awards are distance-based and need to be booked segment by segment. However, all is NOT lost, for the purpose of getting you to Machu Picchu and/or Lake Titicaca.

Cusco (Cuzco) is the gateway to Machu Picchu. A bus ride from Lima to Cusco takes 17-24 hours, so for those of us short on time, the best option is to fly. Visiting Machu Picchu is made very expensive by non-local tourist-only pricing. A typical round-trip plane ticket between Lima and Cusco could cost $350-600. Without knowing how BA was going to change its award rules, I bit the bullet and booked a domestic trip on LAN for 20K BA miles + $12.97 each.

Had I waited until after November 16, 2011, to book our domestic segments, I could have saved 19,500 BA miles for the three of us. What you can do now is:

  1. LIM – Cusco (CUZ): 4,500 BA points;
  2. CUZ – Juliaca (JUL): 4,500 BA points;
  3. JUL – LIM: 4,500 BA points.

Note that those short LAN flights have economy-class seats only (3×3 configuration), so don’t waste your miles on business-class seats (the first three rows of some planes block the middle seats and charge premium prices).

Some of you audacious experts out there might have also noticed that I could have found a BA agent willing to include those domestic segments on our international tickets. I knew I could have done better by spending only 160,000 instead of 220,000 BA miles, but just did not want to try my luck, as the agent I had was nice/proficient enough and seats were disappearing as the clock ticked.

To replicate our itinerary (in economy), you will need about 35K AA miles and 39.5K BA points. The key to success is to remain flexible (splitting your party, getting different segments with different carriers). Fortunately, BA, AA, UA all allow one-way tickets, so you can play around with ticketing options with your own stash of various miles & points. Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points can be converted to UA and BA miles, and American Express Membership Rewards (MR) points to BA.

For those of you interested in learning more about the various booking options/details, I leave you with a few tables that might help you think about and plan your trip. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but if you find a better solution, please leave a comment below to share with all of us.

For those of you planning to visit Machu Picchu (or + Lake Titicaca) only:

Segments Economy Business Comments
Home – LIM (each way)
  • BA: 25K (Miami only)
  • AA: 30K
  • UA: 35K
  1. Limitation of using BA miles: non-stop flights on LAN or AA only.
  2. AA oneworld allows mixed carriers, so you could tag on CUZ on LAN for 17.5K (30K biz class), but have to pay phone booking fee of $25 / ticket.
  3. I was NOT able to construct a trip to CUZ with UA miles online.
  4. AA defines North America as the U.S. (including Hawaii and Alaska), Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
  5. UA: Mainland U.S., Alaska & Canada; Hawaii requires 2,500 extra miles each way.
LIM – CUZ (1-way) BA: 4.5K BA: 4.5K Domestic award availability on LAN is generally good. Read this post by MillionMileSecrets on how to look for partner awards on BA.
CUZ – JUL (1-way) BA: 4.5K BA: 4.5K Alternatively, you can take a bus between Cusco and Puno (5+ hours each way).
JUL – LIM (1-way) BA: 4.5K BA: 4.5K Make sure you select a non-stop flight (duration: ~1.5 hours).
“Machu Picchu Only” Trip Tally (round-trip)
  • BA (Miami only) 34K
  • AA (oneworld) 35K
  • AA off-peak 30K + BA 9K
  • AA peak 35K + BA 9K
  • UA 40K + BA 9K
  • BA (Miami only) 59K
  • AA (oneworld): 60K
  • AA 60K + BA 9K
  • UA 70K + BA 9K
  1. Beauty of using BA from Miami is that all segments can be booked separately to ensure a Lima stopover.
  2. AA award involving LAN airlines has to be booked over the phone, and you might not be able to have a stopover in Lima if your final destination is Cusco.
  3. If you decide to fly business class, get your seats on LAN, as AA does not have flat-bed business seats (yet)!
Machu Picchu + Lake Titicaca Additional 4.5K BA points Additional 4.5K BA points Depending on the rest of your ticket routing, this could require 9K additional BA points for two one-way segments.

 

To continue onto Easter Island (IPC) & Santiago (SCL) in Chile:

Segments Economy Business Comments
LIM – IPC (1-way) BA: 12.5K BA: 25K Entering Chile through IPC saves you $160 visa fee per person! But there are only two non-stop flights from LIM each week. Check LAN timetable here.
IPC – SCL (1-way) BA: 12.5K BA: 25K Domestic segment in Chile – no immigration upon arrival.
SCL – LIM (1-way) BA: 10K BA: 10K
  1. You could do your Lima stopover here if you choose this option.
  2. Don’t waste your miles on fake business class seats on this segment.
Total Trip Tally (round-trip, duplicating our itinerary)
  • BA (Miami only) 73.5K
  • AA (oneworld) 35K + BA 39.5K
  • AA off-peak 30K + BA 48.5K
  • AA peak 35K + BA 48.5K
  • UA 40K + BA 48.5K
  • BA (Miami only) 123.5K
  • AA (oneworld): 60K + BA 64.5K
  • AA 60K + BA 73.5K
  • UA 70K + BA 73.5K
Adding on Easter Island & Santiago requires a bigger chunk of miles, especially for business class seats. I will comment on the necessity of flying business class for this trip in future posts.

 

Alternative for Santiago (SCL) to home:

Segments Economy Business Comments
SCL – Home (1-way)
  • AA: 50K
  • BA (JFK, MIA only): 50K
  • UA:50K
One-way trip home from Chile
Total Trip Tally (round-trip, using 1-way alternative SCL – Home)
  • AA off-peak 35K + BA 38.5K
  • BA (Miami only) 76K
  • AA peak 47.5K + BA 38.5K
  • UA 50K + BA 38.5K
  • BA (Miami only) 138.5K
  • AA 80K + BA 63.5K
  • UA 85K + BA 63.5K

 

Let me know what you think! I respond to all comments.

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