Introduction: South America Via MileagePlus

Filed Under: Travel, Trip Reports

Some of you may remember my friend Nick, who reviewed JetBlue’s A321 Mint Class last August. He’s back with another trip report, this time from his recent trip to South America. Nick is possibly the biggest Delta/SkyTeam apologist funniest person I know, and despite the fact that he toned it down a bit for the trip report, I hope you still find it interesting/amusing. 😉

Unfortunately due to a seat mishap his phone disappeared, so half of his pictures are gone. Or to quote Nick: “can you add an editors note that United ate my phone – to be discussed in UA post – so like half my photos were lost forever hence back off bitchy commenters?”

Copa Airlines Business Class Los Angeles To Panama City To Buenos Aires
Layover In Panama City
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
United BusinessFirst Buenos Aires To Houston

So you want to go to South America over the holidays like we did. Great! Lucky has plenty of reviews on getting down there… on American and LAN. But if you, dear reader, are like me and have a glut of United miles at your disposal, you don’t have a lot of options to get to Latin America. And god help you if you have SkyMiles!

Ultimately, there are three Star Alliance carriers that can get you to South America: United, Copa, and Avianca. If you’re aiming to go to the “Southern Cone” – that is, Argentina, Uruguay or Chile – as directly as possible, you’re really only left with United and Copa, which is what we flew on our trip to Argentina and Uruguay over Christmas and New Years’.

Being a reader of Ben’s blog, you may be used to trip reports about lavish turndown service on spacious first-class beds, about tins of the most exclusive Russian caviar served with free-flowing coupes of Krug or Dom.

This is not one of those trip reports.

Instead, I suspect that I, like many of you, sometimes don’t have the option of flying (or the desire to fly) to Buenos Aires via Dubai on Emirates. Copa and United may not be sexy, but they get there in a relatively direct fashion.

You also have read more than a handful of trip reports focusing on the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, where we stayed, and of course you have: it’s a lovely property easily attainable on points. On this trip, we were able to stay in both the new wing (which is heavily reviewed) and the historic palace wing (which has not, to my knowledge, been reviewed before), so I thought I would share some thoughts of our time at the Park Hyatt and our experiences in Buenos Aires and Uruguay in general.


In short, Argentina and Uruguay are popular and exciting destinations and they should rightly be on anyone’s “bucket list.”

But this trip for us was all about managing expectations. You’re not going to fly a luxurious airline down there, and your experience with customer service in South America will be… different, say, than how that experience would be in Hong Kong or in Paris. (Ben will add an editor’s note here, I’m sure, to the effect of Paris?! Customer service?! But my retort would be that if you’re at a fine dining restaurant or five-star hotel in Paris, the service is polished, professional and exquisite: the luxury hotel was invented there, after all.)

If you go in armed with that knowledge, there’s no reason you can’t have a fantastic vacation.

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!
  1. Dang! Even lucky’s guest contributors are solid, so many other blogs just publish a bunch of trash. I can’t wait for this report.

  2. “Ultimately, there are three Star Alliance carriers that can get you to South America: United, Copa, and Avianca.”

    Umm… I think you forgot that Air Canada is a Star Alliance partner and flies to South America. Destinations include BOG, CCS, EZE, GIG, GRU, LIM, and SCL.

  3. Just did a trip to Buenos Aires on UA with Lufthansa miles. The Barclays LH card has 50K promos. $79 and a little spend gets you a 60K rt in y to Buenos Aires, Rio or Sao Paulo on UA. Plenty availability on an otherwise expensive flight.

  4. “Ultimately, there are three Star Alliance carriers that can get you to South America: United, Copa, and Avianca. If you’re aiming to go to the “Southern Cone” – that is, Argentina, Uruguay or Chile – as directly as possible, you’re really only left with United and Copa . . .”

    Why did you leave Avianca out of the running? I don’t see how a stopover/change-of-plane in San Salvador or Bogota w/ Avianca is any different than passing thru PTY w/ Copa.

    And, what about Air Canada?

  5. Air canada is flying rouge to South America, I would pass on their business. Avianca has a great business class and you can take the a380 or upcoming 787 from jfk to bogota and continue onwards on an a380 to lima or São Paulo. I would love to take LANs 787 business from lax to Lima but award space is impossible to come by.

    Copa has a weak business product and they only fly 737 and embraers. I flew them pty to las, plane was newer but no entertainment and unedible food on this 7 hour flight. Avoid them for long hauls.

    From BA you can fly some Arab carriers out to São Paulo or rio then onward to the Middle East.

  6. @Paul, you’re right, but I don’t think it’s that feasible to fly north to YYZ just to fly south again to EZE, particularly if you aren’t originating travel from the Northeast US. I mean, in theory, Lufthansa and Turkish fly to Buenos Aires, also, but I don’t think anyone here is looking to redeem MileagePlus points an ex-US itinerary to South America via Frankfurt or Istanbul.

  7. @Nick

    Thanks for the thoughtful friendly debate.

    Air Canada has been doing a lot of work targeting American’s flying from the US, particularly from the US Northeast, to connect in their global hub at YYZ (and its other three other hubs) to get to Asia, Europe, and South America. If you think about it, say you are in a US Northeast city without a direct flight to South America (example: BOS). You have to make a connection somewhere. A connection in YYZ can make sense, especially if you want to avoid prone air traffic delay congested area airports like NYC. YYZ T1 makes it easy for US-International and International-US connections. Air Canada offers a competitive product on the North America to/from South America service and has an all aisle direct access with pods for Business Class customers and decent seats in economy class on most of their routes to South America (exception for YYZ-LIM since that route is going to the Air Canada rouge brand). I would fly Air Canada over Avianca, COPA, or United (does COPA even fly widebody aircraft which would be comfortable for long distance travel?).

    Obviously it depends where you are located if flying via YYZ is a realistic option or not but I thought it deserved mention as a possible option for traveling on Star Alliance partners across the hemispheres. And if you are flying from either MSP, PDX, or SEA via YYZ to get to South America you aren’t even flying north and then south… its all the way south (with a little east in there 😉 ).

    And yes, I am with you about not connecting in Europe as that would not be permissible if you are flying from North America to South America.

  8. Excited to read the rest of your review. The comments also have me dreaming up a “Luckified” version where one flies Alaska from SEA-YVR, CX from YVR-JFK, SQ from JFK-FRA, and then Lufthansa (with a stop in the FCT, obviously) from FRA- South America.

  9. “You’re not going to fly a luxurious airline down there,”

    well if you chose to fly 10+ hours on Copa on a 737 without seat recline, sure not. But United, Air Canada business/first are similar to AA or Lan.

    “and your experience with customer service in South America will be… different, say, than how that experience would be in Hong Kong or in Paris.”

    I think you have no idea what you are talking about, service will be probably … better and friendly in general. but specially in PHBA.

  10. @wpg, if you think United BusinessFirst and LAN Business Class are hallmarks of a “luxurious airline,” you haven’t been reading Lucky’s blog at all. I’m comparing those options to, say, getting to Asia or the Middle East in a flag carrier’s premium cabin.

    Also, re: service, to each his or her own, I suppose. Most all the service we received in South America was unhesitatingly friendly and heartfelt, but a lot of it was inefficient and lackadaisical/forgetful. Spending 45 minutes at the terrace cafe at the PHBA while we waited for our pre-dinner drinks to be brought out (after we told them we needed to leave by 9:45pm to catch a taxi to our restaurant) only to be told at that point that they were out of the wine I ordered, with no apologies or explanations given, was frustrating but unfortunately not a one-off experience of ours in Buenos Aires. We found the service better in Uruguay, but we were also staying in a chichi beach village, where a restaurant with bad service would flop.

    It’s a broad generalization, to be sure, but there’s no denying that the service culture in Latin America is a bit more “do it yourself” than in, say, Thailand or Japan or even Beverly Hills.

  11. I have flown Copa twice now – once in 2010 from IAD to EZE and then more recently in December from IAH to PTY. In 2010, the entire trip was operated by Copa while in December the IAH to MCO was operated by United and the MCO to PTY was operated by Copa. The main reason for choosing them was price as they are very economical but for a lower price you get a lower product. You get basic services and a decent flight — so I agree with the comment above that they are good for short-haul but definitely not for long-haul – PTY to EZE was about 8 hours with no IFE and very uncomfortable seats
    The main difference that I saw between 2010 and now was an upgrade – of both the aircraft, the service, and the airport. Copa seems to have invested a lot of money into their products so they are getting newer aircraft, updated PTY, and their service seems to be improving (its decent now, before it was just ok).
    It was interesting that it was an Boeing 737 from IAH to MCO on United that wasn’t new but wasn’t old, and from MCO to PTY it was a brand new Boeing 737 that had personal IFE — a nice free touch to pass the time. On the return, from PTY to MCO it was an older plane with no IFE at all while MCO to IAH was on an upgraded United Boeing plane with personal IFE (that you had to pay for).
    I initially took Copa because they offered a competitive rate and wanted to try the airline. It was a decent service on the short-haul so when they offered a competitive rate I decided to try them again. Would I take them again- only if the price is right and definitely only for short-haul

  12. “Argentina and Uruguay are popular and exciting destinations….”

    I don’t really understand why somebody would fly to South America, take in two European-style destinations and then just zip out again. I spent two years travelling around that amazing continent, albeit by hitchhiking, boat, train, and chicken buses — just two flights from Central America to/from Colombia because the Darien Gap was virtually impassable(and now, dangerous, so I hear). The highlands, the deserts, the desolation of Patagonia are life-changers.
    Using flights to get you to hubs is a plan if you’re in a hurry, but that rush means that you are missing so much, and so much that is different from what we in the ‘developed’ world can experience day after day. Stop and smell the roses!

  13. You’re right Mick, how dare someone travel in a manner different than you! I always say, if you aren’t willing to take 2 years discovering a continent on pennies a day, you don’t deserve to travel at all!

  14. @Mick – some of have these things called “jobs” and “families” that don’t allow us to take two years off to travel. I’m happy for you that you had the opportunity, but it’s a little presumptuous of you to criticize others who don’t have that option, or just choose another option.

  15. Not that Brazil was discussed, but New Years Y2K I flew Korean Air Business LAX to Rio via São Paulo. 1st time in Business Class very impressed! I loved the take-home swag including a very nice Silk tie and slippers. In general I have found any other airline that is not a budget airline offers better service then our legacy Airlines. Air Canada business class is acut above than United; and other than flying to London, going from LAX to Europe involves a stop on the East Coast. I’d rather just take Air Canada as my go to and stop in Toronto. I believe you can also get a free stop over.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *