In this post, we continue our series on guides to flying to different parts of the world. We’ll look at the best ways to redeem points for business class between North America and South America, with a particular focus on departures from Canada.
South America’s air travel infrastructure still has room to grow, meaning that the selection of airlines and premium products is going to be limited, and you won’t really find ultra-luxurious, world-class airlines operating these routes.
However, since a majority of flights are scheduled overnight to optimize rest, it can definitely be worth paying the mileage premium for a lie-flat bed on your journey across the Americas. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the seven top-choice airlines for that purpose.
In This Post
- 1. Air Canada
- 2. American Airlines
- 3. Avianca
- 4. United
- 5. Copa Airlines
- 6. Azul Airlines
- 7. LATAM
1. Air Canada
Air Canada maintains a respectable route network throughout South America. There are daily non-stop flights between Toronto and São Paulo, Santiago, and Bogotá.
From Montreal, flights to São Paulo operate five times per week, and flights to Bogotá are offered six times per week.
While there used to be a fifth-freedom flight between Santiago and Buenos Aires, it has changed to depart daily from São Paulo instead. To get from Toronto or Montreal to Buenos Aires, you’ll have to stop in São Paulo first.
In addition, Air Canada also offers seasonal direct flights from Toronto to Lima. This route was previously served by Air Canada Rouge, which doesn’t offer lie-flat seats. It appears that this has changed to a three-cabin aircraft operated by Air Canada.
Flights to this part of the world are subject to the pricing of the North America–South America chart on Aeroplan. At the lower end of the dynamic spectrum, you can expect to pay between 50,000–60,000 points one-way in business class.
Direct flights from Toronto to Bogotá or Lima fall under 4,500 miles, while all other destinations are over 4,501 miles. With the exception of Vancouver, you should be able to get from most Canadian cities to Bogotá via Toronto without crossing into the next distance band.
The above flights show some values on the more favourable side of the dynamic-pricing spectrum with Air Canada. In the event that dynamic pricing is high, then as long as you have Aeroplan Elite Status and eUpgrades, you can book a flight in economy and upgrade to business class to reduce the cost.
If that isn’t an option, it would be best to consider searching for a flight with a partner airline or booking with another loyalty program.
Back in 2018, I flew with Air Canada from Toronto to Buenos Aires on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is sadly no longer being offered as a direct flight. It was an entirely comfortable way to get to South America, as I find Air Canada’s catering and service to be generally reliable.
2. American Airlines
American Airlines has the largest presence in South America out of all the major North American airlines. Naturally, they’re going to be one of the most popular ways to fly down to the continent in business class.
From a Canadian perspective, redeeming miles for American Airlines flights can be a little tricky. That’s because I’ve found that the award space that gets displayed to American’s own AAdvantage program doesn’t always get displayed to other partners, such as British Airways Avios.
Even if the flights are offered on both programs, the pricing with one could be more favourable than the other. For example, for a booking in business class from Toronto to Sao Paulo via New York, the cost is 92,250 Avios.
The same flights booked with American AAdvantage would cost only 50,000 miles.
While it would be more cost-effective to redeem AAdvantage miles directly, they are tougher to come by in Canada.
Your only options to earn AAdvantage miles are by transferring RBC Avion points at a 1:0.7 ratio, transferring Marriott Bonvoy points at an optimal ratio of 60,000 points = 25,000 miles, or getting the US-issued AAdvantage credit cards.
What’s more, even after you’ve earned American miles, it’s difficult to say that flying on American flights down to South America is the best value. Partner redemptions like Qatar Airways Qsuites or Japan Airlines First Class would make for much nicer experiences.
If you do decide to book this way (keeping in mind that American business class doesn’t exactly get glowing reviews), you’ll have to look around for the lower-priced “MileSAAver” awards; “AAnytime” awards are easier to come by, but will be priced much higher. Be sure to look for flights out of all American Airlines hubs during your searches.
Avianca, Colombia’s national airline, is another Aeroplan option that involves a layover somewhere in the middle of the Americas.
Avianca has quite a few hubs across the Latin American world, with direct flights from San Salvador, San José, Bogotá, and Medellín to cities in the United States and Canada.
In terms of Canadian destinations, Avianca offers daily direct flights on its Toronto–San Salvador service (operated by Avianca El Salvador) and thrice-weekly service on its recently-established Toronto–Bogotá route (operated by Avianca Colombia).
Flights with partner airlines are subject to fixed pricing on Aeroplan flight rewards. If the pricing with Air Canada is high, it would be better to look for availability on any of Avianca’s routes, which would cost you either 50,000 points or 60,000 points, depending on your ultimate destination.
Business class availability is pretty generous throughout the schedule and route network, making Avianca a reliable option for accessing South America at a fixed price.
If possible, try to get on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which provides a reverse herringbone lie-flat seat and a much more comfortable experience than their other aircraft. At the time of writing, it is currently operating on the New York JFK–Bogotá route.
It’s pretty rare that we call United “ideal” for any type of trip, but in this case, flying to South America with United may be a solid option to consider.
United offers a comfortable product on their newer Polaris seats and convenient direct flights from many US gateway airports to Santiago, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Quito, and Bogotá.
Flying with United to South America will cost between 50,000–60,000 Aeroplan points, depending on your origin and destination. You may be able to add a connecting flight from a Canadian airport without increasing this cost.
The tricky part is that United’s business class availability patterns can be tough to predict, as they aren’t as reliable about releasing a certain number of seats at the start of the schedule.
To determine if your desired flight with United has its newer (and vastly superior) Polaris business class, have a look on Expert Flyer for a 1-2-1 or a 1-1-1 configuration.
Note that United’s new-generation Polaris business class seat hasn’t yet been fully rolled-out across its fleet. There’s still a chance that you’ll end up on United’s 2-4-2 business class, in which case… well, at least it’s still a lie-flat seat.
5. Copa Airlines
If you’d prefer a stopover in Panama, then consider redeeming your Aeroplan points on Copa Airlines, whose entire business model is basically built around acting as a link between Americas North and South.
The Panamanian flag carrier operates from Panama City to Toronto and Montreal, as well as a host of American hub cities. To Toronto, there are flights five days per week, and to Montreal, there are flights four days per week.
Their coverage in terms of South American destinations is very comprehensive, serving the major hubs like São Paulo or Santiago with multiple flights per day, as well as second-tier South American airports like Porto Alegre, Mendoza, and Santa Cruz.
Aeroplan redemptions with Copa will cost you 50,000–60,000 Aeroplan points, depending on your departure airport and your ultimate destination in South America.
In 2021, the airline began operating its “Dreams” business class product on new Boeing 737-9 aircraft, which is its first lie-flat business class product.
Although the current business class availability isn’t favourable, keep an eye out for this product on flights between Panama City and Los Angeles, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo.
I flew from Rio de Janeiro to Panama City with Copa Airlines back in 2018. Unfortunately, the older Boeing 737 recliner experience isn’t much to write home about, especially on an overnight red-eye flight.
If you’re going the Copa route, I’d definitely recommend sticking to daytime flights if possible, perhaps even breaking up the journey with a 24-hour layover in Panama City if necessary.
6. Azul Airlines
Another option for redeeming Aeroplan points is to fly with Brazil-based Azul Airlines, which became a new Aeroplan partner in 2020. The closest destinations to Canada are in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, so you’d need to make your way to Florida prior to catching a flight to Brazil.
Note that flights to São Paulo arrive at Viracopos Airport, the least convenient of the city’s three airports. This means that if São Paulo is your ultimate destination, you may want to consider flying with another airline that arrives at Guarulhos or Congonhas closer to the city.
Otherwise, Azul remains a good option for accessing some of Brazil’s more remote destinations, which are served well by the airline.
If you manage to find availability on one of these routes, you’ll be treated to lie-flat seats aboard its Airbus A330 aircraft.
These flights are under 4,500 miles in length, meaning that a one-way flight in business class would cost you 50,000 Aeroplan points on their own, or 60,000 Aeroplan points if you tack on a connection from Canada.
While LATAM operates a large number of routes between North America and South America, their recently established joint venture with Delta – whose loyalty program leaves much to be desired in terms of the value in making partner bookings – means that they barely deserve a spot on this list.
Currently, it’s possible to find LATAM business class award availability on certain routes using Alaska Mileage Plan. The caveat is that Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t show LATAM flights on its search engine, and you’ll need to call in to book.
While no news has been announced on LATAM’s ongoing partnership since Alaska Airlines joined Oneworld, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually get phased out as well, since Alaska and Delta have a bit of a heated rivalry going on.
In the long run, I suspect that it’s very likely we’ll only be able to redeem Delta SkyMiles on LATAM flights, and the opaqueness of the SkyMiles program doesn’t make this a very attractive option.
For now, you can still Alaska miles for LATAM business class on a few of their routes where they release some availability (which tends to be their shorter-range flights to Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, rather than the long-haul services deep into the continent) – but don’t expect this ability to last forever.
Lastly, it’s possible to redeem Alaska miles to fly between mainland Chile and Easter Island with LATAM for 22,500 miles in economy only.
Easter Island is a notoriously difficult location to access, so while this may not be the best use of Alaska miles, it’s still nice to have an option available.
South America’s aviation scene is rather nascent compared to its peers in Europe and Asia, which means that there’s a limited pool of options for you to redeem points for flights down there in business class. Amongst those options, none are overly appealing in terms of the luxury factor.
Instead, trans-Americas flights are often more about the convenience of an overnight journey on a lie-flat bed than anything else, and in that regard, United and Air Canada flights booked with Aeroplan points will probably be your top choice.
American Airlines flights can also be worthwhile if you happen to have access to AAdvantage miles, while a longer journey on Avianca or Copa are always reliable as backup options.