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Ideas on which South American FF programs to use?

Given my last post on the South American airline alliance possible switcheroos, I and many others who fly from, to, or in Latin America need a current play. Any ideas?

Most of my trips this year are burn-not-earn. Burning off the last of earned or purchased AAdvantage Miles from American’s program for my August Miami-to-Montevideo trip. That’s all LAN, so my Big Dog (too big for a baggage dog) can hopefully go LANCargo for under $1000 (way better than the $5K American demands). I’ve got a Copa flight to Uruguay in 3 weeks, with a United leg from Denver to Copa’s gateway (in this case, Washington Dulles IAD). That’s also burn-miles; 30,000 United Mileage Plus (ex-Con OnePass) miles mostly earned the year before on TAM, Continental, old United, and Air Canada.

Those two trips pretty much wipe out my UA and AA balances, making me a free agent. I just bought a Taca flight to get back from Uruguay to the States in mid-June, after a couple of weeks there and delivering our cat to my wife Lisa Marie Mercer. Right now, I’m planning to credit it to AviancaTaca’s own LifeMiles program. The only other choice would be crediting to United, unless Taca finally does join Star Alliance and does it by then. UA is already a Taca partner. But I kind of hate to start up United again.

I can’t be sure where LAN and TAM will land, even if my speculation is dead-wrong 🙂 So I have a similar dilemma for any flights I may buy on Alaska Airlines, LAN, or American Airlines while waiting for all this to play out. Any one of the three programs can be used on all three airlines (and more), and I expect I may have to buy/fly on at least 2 of them, maybe all, before the end of 2012. I’m near-zero in both Alaska and American, and at a reasonable award level (Montevideo, Uruguay-to-Lima, Peru, my regular “visa hop” and stopover if building a trip back to the States) on LAN. So I could give up on any of them, or conversely double-down on one.

I do still like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan a boatload, because of their wonderful promiscuity, partnering with darn near anybody no matter who else they are already with. One Program To Rule Them: oneworld players like American, Qantas, British Airways, LAN; SkyTeam bigs like Delta, AirFrance/KLM, Korean Air. But I won’t be flying Alaska much itself anymore, and using a partner doesn’t always get you the full availability as the “home program” does. Por ejemplo, LANPass has a variable-level award structure – I can only get the LAN flights that are up a few thousand points by using LAN’s own kilometers, not AA nor Alaska miles. Yet LAN doesn’t do one-way awards; AA does on any partner at all, and Alaska does too, but only on its own flights.

So a tough call, at least until I know who finally ends up in which alliance. If my idea is valid, admittedly out there, that LAN is trying to make it into Star by helping AviancaTaca out of Star, then Alaska is a really bad idea – because Alaska does not (is not allowed to?) work with any Star Alliance airlines at all. Suddenly my AS (Alaska’s code) miles would be worthless for South America travel. Delta doesn’t count; Delta never has standard (low) level awards even for its own SkyPesos members, so no way I’m ever getting a Delta 60,000 r/t to South America with AS Miles. If AA is bought by US Airways as is likely, consider the partnership with AS gone in 60 seconds, even if AA stays in ow under US management. US doesn’t need or want Alaska as a partner.

What are your suggestions, Dear Readers? Especially for this Year Of Incomplete Mergers.

About Mark Mercer

Expat aging sometime-ski-bum former corporate tool. Currently living in the beachside aging resort town of Atlántida in Uruguay. Sometimes skiing and teaching in Breckenridge, Colorado, USA. Location and velocity cannot be simultaneously observed.

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