The Back and Forth

We are in the U.S. right now. Yay, the U.S.! This time we came so we could attend my brother’s wedding in Michigan this upcoming weekend. This is my 6th trip to my homeland this year and Seba’s 4th. And we still have one more round to go.

Every. Single. Time. I get on a plane to come see my family I think of how incredibly lucky we are. I mean, really, it’s ridiculous. I see my mom and dad more than I would see them if I lived in the same city as they do. If we had a house around the corner, we’d come over and see them once a week for an hour at a time maybe? Not to mention that having a house around the corner is physically impossible since my mom lives in Michigan and my dad lives in Florida — no matter where we live, even if we were in the U.S., we’d still be a plane ride away from one of them.

I sometimes get a stray email here and there asking about which airlines they should take to Chile, or which frequent flier program is best if you live in Santiago. Honestly, I’m not an expert on that. There are so many other blogs out there about maximizing your miles that you should read if you’re into that thing — The Points Guy and the Frequent Flier Blog are two good ones, or you can join Travel Hacking where Chris does all the work for you.

For three of our trips to the U.S. this year we used miles. We originally had frequent flier status on Lan. I still prefer flying them. They’re far better than American Airlines, which uses old planes, has the most surly flight attendants, no personal console screens on international flights, and Lan almost always has on time flights where my experiences with American has been on delay after another and I even got stuck in Miami once because of them. I’ve had canceled flights with Lan too, where they didn’t even inform us until we got to the airport.┬áSo my honest to god opinion is that neither airline is great — do good airlines still exist these days?

However, for miles programs, we’ve now switched to American and have frequent flier status with them. Why would we do this when flying with them is simply not as nice compared to Lan’s shiny new planes, you ask? Because their frequent flier program is way better. Read an explanation on The Points Guy’s blog. He feels the same way I do — they’re not great in the air, but you can do a lot more with your miles through them than you can with a lot of other airlines.

Lan does not allow you to use your miles for one way trips and they have to be back and forth to the same city. This obviously doesn’t work well for us seeing as how we usually have to go to multiple cities in one trip, ie: Santiago to Paris to Washington D.C. to Miami to Santiago. You can’t use miles for that with Lan, you could only use miles to cash in for, Santiago to Paris, Paris to Santiago. Also, to use miles on Lan, the first leg of the flight must be a LanChile flight. Therefor, your miles are only good for routes going to or from South America, pretty much. It’s incredibly limiting. American is WAY more flexible with the ways you can use your miles and I also like that they have more availability for miles tickets too. On Lan, unless they’re running special deals it is SO hard to find availability┬áto be able to use your miles. Finally, there are also more ways to accrue miles on America so it makes having a lot at your disposal, much easier.

So my answer to this question is that I think if you are based in Santiago, you should have buy through American in order to have the benefits of their frequent flier program, and try to get on their American (operated by Lan) flights, whenever possible.

Anyways, I hope that post answers the questions of those who have emailed me and is useful to the rest of you too!

I’m curious — are you loyal to your airline of choice or do you just go with whoever is most convenient/cheapest?

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  1. Abby says:

    I totally agree. It’s much more pleasant flying LAN, but the AA miles program is far superior. Also, LAN has the option that if you buy through them, you can use your AAdvantage number to accrue miles on American instead of LAN, which is great. A good friend of mine has had horrible experience with Continental/COPA/United, so I would say stay away from them if you can. But you are right, there is no perfect airline out there.

  2. Katie says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t travel as often as you do, Kyle, so price always wins the day as far as I’m concerned. If I traveled frequently, I would definitely be a loyal customer in order to accrue points with a particular program, but my yearly trips back home don’t justify it. I want the cheapest fares (which still aren’t that cheap–why is it so expensive to travel from South America?!).

    • Kyle says:

      Unfortunately…or fortunately? :) But yeah, I can see how if you’re only going back once a year it doesn’t make too much of a difference where you gather a few miles here and there on different programs…

  3. I usually go for the cheapest, but have been a longtime AA mile collector. I LOVE AA’s program because you can really go far with their miles! That’s how and why I ended up coming to Chile and meeting you and Emily!!! Best decision ever!!

    • Kyle says:

      I totally agree Oneika, AA’s mileage program is pretty kick ass! Anything that gets you down to Chile to see us makes me an insta-fan :)

  4. Kristen says:

    I’ve been flying a lot more with US Airways because that’s the best option for flying out of our tiny Gainesville airport. I’ve faced quite a few major delays, but I’ve been mostly impressed with the customer service. Otherwise, I’ve flown a lot of JetBlue — nicer planes, more legroom, and I can fly them out of Orlando or Jax to NYC, which is one of my more frequent flights these days.

    I used to only go for the cheapest when I flew just once or twice a year, but when you fly a few times a year, it’s totally worth it to be as loyal as possible to one airline.

    • Kyle says:

      I have only flown JetBlue once or twice but I loved them! I was totally amazed at how nice the planes were…they’re the nicest we’ve ever flown on outside of Lan!

  5. Lindsey says:

    Ahhhhh, your brother is getting married? Crazy! Are you photographing the wedding? Or do you have other sisterly duties? I’m sure your niece will look just adorable.

    • Kyle says:

      Nope, not photographing the wedding, no sisterly duties…just going as a guest and hanging out and drinking champagne :) I am pretty sister. And my niece has gotten a trillion times cuter since I last posted pictures of her! I can’t wait until you see her when I post more recent pictures (which I haven’t had a chance to take yet, damn it!).

  6. Vivian says:

    YES you are LUCKY indeed! I could live my life like you..you know..traveling..but I think I’ve told you that before :) We fly a lot on buddy passes. Most my family and friends work for Jetblue and I have never had any problems with them and have ALWAYS made my flights..it helps that we plan our travel dates on odd dates and times. But I would have to say my favorite airlines are Lufthansa and Air France.

    • Kyle says:

      You are so lucky Vivian, to have the hook up with JetBlue! They are a great airlines and it’s an awesome benefit that you are able to get cheap or free flights with them! I’ve never flown Lufthansa or Air France but next time I’m in Europe I’ll have to try them out based on your recommendation…

  7. I used to use AA loyalty, too, until they stranded us for 36 hours over Christmas last year (when it was 70 degrees and sunny, not snowing!) after canceling our flight because it wasn’t full and tried to keep us in Dallas for five days and weren’t going to even give us a hotel in the room, and in the end didn’t even bother upgrading us even though we’re Gold members. Hence why we’re switching back to Delta =)

    • kyle says:

      I’ve never heard too much bad to be said about Delta….but their flights are WAY more expensive to Chile in general! I don’t think I can afford to be a frequent flier with them!

  8. I’m an AA girl through and through as you know. Despite bad experiences, I think they’d have to do something truly awful to lose me at this point – too many miles invested and not any better options out there. I was recently re-impressed with their mileage program when I had what I thought was a brilliant idea to use some British Airways miles to book a hotel in London. I don’t have enough BA miles for a long flight, but I have enough for a hotel based on the miles AA charges you for hotels. Except BA doesn’t say anything on their website about letting you book hotels, so nevermind. American for the win again.

    • kyle says:

      Yeah, especially once you start getting crazy miles with one airlines that makes it really hard to switch. And yes, that is genius to use them for a hotel…I always forget that you can do that!

  9. Patricia GW says:

    Where in Michigan are you headed? I live in Metro Detroit – maybe we could meet for coffee while you’re here?

    As far as airlines go, I stick to a few American that I have frequent flyer miles in, but when I go to book an award ticket I’d choose a foreign airline (as they generally have much better service than American ones).

  10. Michelle says:

    I’ve always been treated with respect my Continental. They have given me blankets, meal vouchers and snacks and a cot when I had to spend the night in the Dallas airport. I even packed my car keys in my luggage and they went in the plane and gave it to me. Some rules and regulations are out of the employees control. I’ve been upgraded and put first on standby lists with ease. If I get stuck somewhere or have a problem, I found that being nice to the employee usually gets me extra perks.

  11. Deidre says:

    I’m a qantas girl through and through – They’ve always been super nice to me and fly nicer planes. PLus when flyng qantas you can fly straight from Melbourne to LAX which when on a 16 hour flight I prefer NOT having to do a transfer. It just makes the day that much longer.

    Don’t know about they Frequent Flyer program. I definitely wanted to join, but I am not allowed to get a credit card in Australia (unless I make more than $200,000 a year AND have $200,000 in savings. HAHAHAHA hilarious Westpac. Hilarious).

    • kyle says:

      I’ve never flown Qantas! You can bet your ass if I were flying a 16 hour flight I’d want to be on the nicest plane possible!

      And can’t you be in the FF program without a credit card?

      Also, CRAZY requirements. That’s so weird!

  12. Cata says:

    I love getting miles on AA because they have the cheapest rewards for south America. AA has the oldest planes. Avianca is so much better. They used to be partners w delta but now they are just avianca/taca. Their rewards for Colombia are the Same as AA but u pay $200 in taxes instead of the $50-60 from AA. Avianca has better airplanes but I’ve had bad experiences w them too and they have a BAD customer service line. I heard they are the same as LAN airplanes. I’m flying LAN to Quito next week for the 1st time. I hope that they don’t cancel the flight bc we have to drive to Miami at 5:00 am!!!!! I was able to put my AA number booking the LAN flight so that was great. I don’t need a new reward program. The honeymoon flights to Hawaii were w AA miles (40,000) and that is very low. In low season they are only 35,000 miles. But u know how that went w their mechanical difficulties…

    I have delta miles bc my debit card gets me miles but everytime I try to book something I need way too many miles to travel. I will save those until I reach at least 70,000 miles. US flights are supposed to be 25k miles but I haven’t seen anything for less than 40k. Copa is terrible. They lost my luggage for 2 wks and I only got $50 from them. The stop in panama is terrible. They don’t give u a boarding pass in MIA or MCO and when u get to panama it is a fight to get on the plane. I only like them bc they fly out of Orlando and I don’t need to drive to Miami. Spirit is terrible!! Southwest is great for US flights. They used to be cheaper and their reward program was great -points instead of miles. Now they have levels and other complicated restrictions. Jetblue was good from Orlando to bogota and I also went to cancun from Tampa. That flight was canceled so Tampa “international” airport only has one daily flight to london (gatwick) and that’s it.

    • kyle says:

      Oh my gosh Cata, you have flown like EVERY airline possible! Holy cow! I think I flew Copa a few times and hated the stop over in Panama too. And then Taca someone told that in the airline industry they call them Take A Chance Airlines because their pilots fly more dangerous routes, and I had a really scary experience landing with them one time. Avianca I’ve never tried though….or Southwest or Spirit. You have my beat by a long shot :)

      • Cata says:

        Hahaha for work we use southwest a lot. And I used to go a lot to miami for the weekend…Spirit is very cheap for Tampa-ft lauderdale but I wouldn’t do international flights w them. It’s like a bus and they charge u for everything. I’ve tried them all. Usairways to DC, airtran to boston… Sometimes AA doesnt have a direct flight and i sacrifice the miles for a direct flight. I havent used TACA w take ur chance! I heard frontier was bad but I’ve never used it. Hawaiian airlines is great but they don’t give u the AA credit of 10,000 miles roundtrip to HI if u use them. They are partners but only for inter-island flights. If I lived in CA I would probably have a Hawaiian airlines account. Have u tried the ones in Europe? Easyjet was good and we used Iberia instead of Ryanair. Saving a few euros flying to a remote airport ended up the same as paying a little more to the main airport. plus the baggage fees! Can I use AA miles to book flights in LAN? I’m almost close to 30,000 again.

  13. Andrea says:

    We’re a little fussy – John would fly Singapore Air everywhere in the world if they flew there. I’m ok with any of the Star Alliance members. The last few years we’ve been avoiding Qantas because, while they’ve never had any fatal accidents, there’s always drama with them (and they’re usually more expensive for domestic than the other two majors in Australia).

  14. Mary says:

    This is interesting, I should be more informed!… but cheap prices always win out….I have a Star Alliance membership though which is cool as you get points on several airlines- so Air NZ and Singapore Air. They are both my favourites :)

  15. Emily says:

    I have frequent flyer miles with United & Alaskan Airlines. We fly United/Lufthansa a lot to Germany (where H’s family lives) and I’m more than thrilled that they now have a direct (!!!) flight from Seattle to Frankfurt. Life doesn’t get much better than that. I chose Alaska because they are partners with American and Delta, which I end up flying often enough, when I fly, but Seattle is a hub for Alaska and their people are pretty awesome (which, is a bit of a “duh” statement. I mean, people from Alaska are usually nice. Except for when they’re not.) Anyways. I haven’t tried to redeem miles yet, since I don’t have enough (although, since signing up with Alaska in May, I am 3,000 miles short of MVP status.) but I’ll let you know if/when I do.

  16. Laura says:

    We’re all pretty lucky to get to travel as much as we do. I’ve got a friend who lives in Brazil and hasn’t been home since she moved there to be with her husband 2.5 years ago.

    I have loyalty with US Airways just because they are the cheapest option to fly out of Pittsburgh, but it really is nice to be able to redeem miles on Star Alliance. They have 4 airlines that fly to Brazil now too so it works out pretty well.

  17. loquenoves says:

    Jajajaja… me encanta LAN, me gusta como son, pero sinceramente a veces se van al chancho con los precios Santiago – Buenos Aires, y termino comprando en Aerolineas Argentinas rogando no quedarme barrada en la ciudad donde estoy. Terrible.

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