We’re working on strategies for booking award tickets on various airlines (not necessarily using that airline’s own program). Next, an airline that doesn’t see a whole lot of attention, is LAN Airlines. While LAN and TAM have joined as LATAM, this post applies primarily to LAN flights.
Where can you go?
Destinations served nonstop by LAN from the U.S. are Buenos Aires, Santiago, Bogota, Guayaquil, Quito and Lima.
LAN serves Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru, and also has nonstop service to Argentina as well as flights within South America. For most cities within Argentina, you’d have to fly via SCL, or to EZE and then continue on from Buenos Aires’ other airport, AEP.
All LAN long-haul flights from North America to South America are on A340, 763 or 787 aircraft with 32″ seat pitch in Economy and lie-flat beds in business class. The competition with the most award availability is Copa, which has no lie-flat beds at all. That’s worth considering if you’re looking for a more comfortable ride, as many of LAN’s flights leave the U.S. late at night and are 7-13 hours.
Miles or points to use:
American miles – the 5-day hold offered by AA may be critical to getting the flights needed for award travel to South America on LAN, particularly in premium cabins. From North America to Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, AA award tickets on LAN including AA, Alaska or US flights require 17,500 miles each way in coach or 30K in business class. That’s a 7-8 hour overnight flight in business class for 30K miles – a similar length flight to Europe requires 50K!
LAN’s own program, LANpass Kilometers, and miles and points from any other Oneworld airline as well as Alaska Airlines and Aeromexico can also be used. Hereare some sample roundtrip costs:While LAN prices appear much higher, remember that this is partly due to the fact that they speak metric 😉
Starwood points can be transferred to LANpass kilometers, and by taking advantage of the bonus given for transferring in blocks of 20K, 20,000 SPG points will give you 37,500 LANpass KMs. US Bank also issues a LAN co-branded credit card. The standard bonus is 20K – occasionally the bonus is doubled.
Searching for space:
For space available to LAN partners, I use britishairways.com and search one segment at a time. Unfortunately LAN flights are not displayed online at aa.com or alaskaair.com.
When to book:
You’ve probably heard the advice: “Plan to book family award travel early! Like as soon as the schedule opens up!”
And then you’ve heard the counterpoint: “Some airlines don’t even offer saver level seats at the end of their calendar, plan to book 8-10 months out (or at the last minute or some other time frame).”
LAN takes the guesswork and tracking out of it – in order to redeem with partner programs you pretty much have to plan 11 months in advance. But if you can, it has the best availability and route network to much of South America. That’s why I recommended using AA miles and AA’s free 5-day hold policy on award tickets for booking travel on LAN (except Easter Island or Avios sweet spots). Here’s what I have found in searches over the past couple of months:
- There are 4 business class award seats (occasionally 5) and at least 7 coach award seats available on nearly every single flight and on nearly every single day.
- With the exception of a few routes and lone coach seats, all long-haul flights are available for booking at 329-331 days out, and available for one-two days only! These seats are not being booked during the one+ day they are available, LAN simply opens them only for that short window and then pulls them from partner award inventory.
- The routes that most frequently have seats for longer are from Miami and Mexico City. However, even those rarely last a week.
- Some short-haul flights within South America have generally good availability throughout the calendar. Other routes have similar availability to the long-haul calendar. I recommend doing dummy searches 340-350 days before your planned travel, for flights a few weeks before you plan to go, so you’ll know what to expect.
- The exact timing for releasing seats seems to vary a little by route but be consistent for each route. As I look right now, JFK-SCL is available only for 331 days out, LAX-SCL only for 330 days out.
AA award holds are free. They cost nothing. Use them. Yes, you have to call. But by placing each direction of your travel on hold as soon as the flight you want opens up, you give yourself 5 days for AA/US/AS flights to open up and figure out plans. However, you should expect that LAN seats will not become available again if you allow the award hold to run out.
I found availability using LANpass KMs to be good at 110%-140% of their saver level rates on coach seats throughout the schedule, as well as on business class seats if booked well in advance. Business class rates for this summer were generally much higher.
LAN will not show you a route online with mixed fare classes, so many routes that require a short flight on a single-class plane can’t be booked online as part of a business class ticket. You’ll have to call in to confirm pricing and book. Otherwise LAN’s site works well for LAN space and also shows TAM space for some routes.
Recent reports indicate SPG transfers to LAN take a few days.
If you are calling AA to book, record and be prepared to give the agent the full flight number with airline code that you found at BA’s site, which may begin with LA for LAN, LP for LAN Peru XL for LAN Ecuador and so on.
After Robert commented below on the lack of LAN Ecuador seats, I found that BA only seems to show XL flights when combined with another LAN flight. So for the JFK-GYE flight he needs, I could only find it by searching JFK-LIM.
AA will not allow you to get to Southern South American via Northern South America. So no LAX-LIM-EZE or anything like that when booking with AA miles, unless you want to book two separate awards which would allow a stopover and cost 32,500 miles in coach or 62,500 miles in business class.
The fact that the time window to book flights is so narrow basically rules out any of the awesome stuff you could do on LAN flights with stopover-friendly programs such as Japan Airlines miles. Unless you can find a way to put your award on hold for as long as your trip will be.
There are a few airports that don’t show up on britishairways.com, including San Andres Island (ADZ).
LAN’s transpacific routes are supposed to be difficult to find. This is, of course, due to people not studying LAN award availability and understanding it. It’s wide open to partners at 331 days out and gone after that! The same is true of their SCL-AKL flight which presents a potentially fun way to get to New Zealand (or continue on to Sydney) in business class with a stopover in South America.
By using Alaska’s stopover rules, you could book U.S.-SCL, stop over, and then continue on to Easter Island, all in business class for 45K miles and then use 12,500 Avios to get to Tahiti in coach.
Ecuador is particularly interesting both for award pricing and family adventure possibilities. From the Galapagos Islands to volcanoes and the Amazon rain forest, it offers an incredible diversity within a relatively small area. And one-way flights within Ecuador on LAN can be gotten for 4,500 Avios or 5,000 AA miles!
I’m hoping to put this research to use myself very soon, so I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the release of award seats. If anything changes with LAN’s award seat schedule, I’ll update this post! Is there an airline you’d like me to dig into the nuances of award booking for? Let me know in the comments!