We’ve been watching announcements about new air routes opening up to the countries we cover with joy, but that’s been tempered by a general devaluation among the frequent flyer programs. So those U.S. airlines adding more routes are generally the ones treating you the worst in terms of perks.
For the good news, we’re seeing more air connectivity between the USA and Latin America, which makes us happy. Here are a few examples:
Southwest will bring its generous luggage allowance and joined families seating to Belize and Costa Rica from Houston Hobby Airport. The carrier is also trying to fly to the following in Mexico beginning in October if it can get competition-restricting rules lifted: Cancún, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta Cabo San Lucas. They’re also flying from BWI to Costa Rica.
American is adding flights to Nicaragua, Belize, and Barranquilla, Colombia. All will start in June and will go from Dallas, Los Angeles, and Miami respectively. They’re also adding a few more flights to Mexico.
Alaska Air is in the process of getting approval to fly from Orange County, CA, to Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. United started seasonal service to Los Cabos from Washington, D.C.
Delta is adding L.A – Managua. You can already get to Nicaragua on Delta from Atlanta, but they’re adding a Los Angeles flight as well. They also added San Diego to Los Cabos and New Orleans to Cancun.
Copa Airlines announced a New Orleans route, on top of recent additions to Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Boston, & Las Vegas.
Miami residents (and those connecting) will soon have a new route: Aerolineas Argentina will fly direct twice a week between there and Cordoba, Argentina.
Now for the Bad News
Unfortunately things aren’t getting better in terms of frequent flyer awards. Delta and United are now on a revenue based points system instead of a miles flown system, which Southwest was already using. One study estimates that high-spending business travelers who don’t plan ahead may be better off, but us leisure travelers will likely earn far fewer miles when paying more down-to-earth fares.
I see two key solutions to this problem. The first is to set up a loyalty program with the carriers where you will earn more miles (and probably be treated better too), like Copa Air, Avianca, LAN, and Aeromexico. All of them belong to international alliances.
The other solution is to be very strategic about which credit cards you have and how you use them. It’s clear that you will earn far more points/miles through spending than you will by flying for the foreseeable future. Here’s a good article on which cards are best for international travelers. Most of them carry no foreign transaction fee and reward you well for your spending. Many times I’ve earned miles through my credit cards affiliated with American or United, then used them on LAN or Avianca for South America travel.
It’s a game, and one where the rules can get complicated, but the payoff for your patience can be significant. If you’d like some guidance along the way, consider joining something like the Travel Hacking Cartel so you can get to business class tickets in a hurry with some hand-holding. Then cough up a bit of money for Priority Pass to get regular lounge access. You can use that card for almost any gateway airport in Latin America.