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Argentina has been on my mind for many years and I’m excited to have finally booked a trip there. In addition to going to Argentina for the first time, this would be my first visit to South America. Hence, I was thrilled to have booked my flights to Patagonia, to explore another continent!
This review is part of a series covering my trip to Argentina:
Lay of the land
Argentina is a massive country (2,780,400 square kilometers according to World Atlas). It is the second largest country in South America after Brazil. It is made up of four major regions: the Andes, the North, the Pampas and Patagonia.
Preliminary trip plan
With my tickets booked to Argentina, I concentrated on the fun part – planning our trip itinerary for our 16 days there. I did my research about all the interesting places to visit in Argentina. I wanted to include many cities in addition to spending time in Patagonia. In my initial plan, I wanted to visit the following places:
- City of Buenos Aires
- Iguazu Falls
- Peninsula Valdés
- Lake District (Bariloche)
- Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (El Calafate)
Refining our trip plan
After reviewing the distances for all of these places, it quickly became apparent that our trip plan is too ambitious. We simply didn’t have enough time to pack all of them in during our limited time there.
We were headed to Argentina in January, which is the height of their summer season. The northern part of Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza and Salta) is usually blistering hot this time of the year. Hence, we decided to eliminate all these northern cities from our itinerary, with the exception of Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina was easy to fit it at the start and end of our trip, given that we were landing and departing from there.
Patagonia experiences really cold winters and can get very windy due to its geographic location. This makes summer the ideal time to visit this region. Therefore, our final itinerary consisted of splitting our time between Buenos Aires and various Patagonian cities.
Patagonia is located in the southern end of South America, spanning across Argentina and Chile. This region has breathtaking landscapes as well as interesting native wildlife. Patagonia has the southern portion of the Andes Mountains, numerous national parks, glaciers, lakes, deserts, fjords, volcanoes, rainforests and did I mention the penguins?
There are at least 12 major cities in Patagonia, not including the towns and villages. We only had plans to visit the Argentinian side of Patagonia. Even then, we didn’t have enough time to visit all the cities, towns and villages there. The eastern side of Patagonia, which falls under Argentina is much bigger than the Chilean side and there are more activities to do there.
Patagonia – short list
The cities/towns that made the final cut in our trip itinerary are Ushuaia, El Calafate and San Carlos de Bariloche. We left out El Chaltén because we’re not experienced hikers. Sadly, we also dropped out Peninsula Valdés, since January is not the best time to see the southern right whales. This gives us an excuse to come back to Argentina for another visit in the future!
How to get to Patagonia
If you are flying from abroad, there are no direct flights to the region of Patagonia. Your options are to fly into Buenos Aires, Argentina or to Santiago, Chile and then book a connecting flight to one of the Patagonian cities, such as Ushuaia (USH) or El Calafate (FTE) in Argentina or Punta Arenas (PUQ) in Chile. The alternative is to rent a car and drive to Patagonia from one of the capital cities or to take a bus. Although taking a bus from the capital to one of the Patagonian cities may not be the best idea!
I learned that if we wanted to travel between Buenos Aires and the region of Patagonia, we would be stuck on a bus for over 20 hours to get from one stop to the next because of how vast and spread-out Argentina is. For example, a drive from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, which is in the southern tip of Argentina is 3,000 kilometers in distance. While taking a long-distance bus or micro as it’s known in Argentina is a cost-effective option, it would mean a lot of our vacation time would be wasted just travelling from one point to the next.
Taking a train is also not a feasible option. Argentina generally lacks a good train network and there are no trains that connect you directly from the capital to one of the Patagonian cities. Hence, for our trip we opted to go with flights.
One of the options I looked into for our flights is LATAM, which is the largest airline in South America. LATAM is bookable using Alaska Mileage Plan at a reasonable award price if flying in economy at 12,500 miles one-way.
Reward redemptions on LATAM via Alaska Mileage Plan have to be booked by phone. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any award redemptions on LATAM to the Patagonian cities we planned to travel to in Argentina for our dates.
Note that after finalizing my trip plan, Alaska published new award charts in late December 2022. However, for awards to and from originating outside of Canada and the U.S., there is no published award chart. Hence, you have to do award searches to find out the point pricing.
Aérolineas Argentinas, jetSMART, Flybondi
I then hopped on to Google Flights to check our options and found that the only option was to fly on Aerolineas Argentinas. There was a couple of budget airlines: JetSmart Argentina and Flybondi. These airlines don’t have as many frequent flights as Aérolineas Argentinas. Alas, neither budget airline had availability for our dates. If you book your flights in advance and find availability on one of these budget airlines, it may prove to be more economical than taking a bus.
Air France KLM Flying Blue
Aérolineas Argentinas is part of the SkyTeam alliance and is a partner of Air France KLM Flying Blue program. Unfortunately, Flying Blue does not have a Flight Award Chart for partners and the flight award redemptions are dynamically priced. I did searches for award flights for the cities we are planning on visiting and I only found one for our dates from Bariloche to Buenos Aires.
The direct flight was priced 12,500 miles (excluding taxes), which is very reasonable. The indirect flight cost more at 18,000 miles on that same date. I found another flight award on another date and it was priced as 20,000 miles. If you have the flexibility, searching for different dates may work out to your advantage, first to actually find award availability and second to choose from the award redemptions that are more competitively priced.
As I was booking my flights last minute and during the peak high season, award availability on Flying Blue was very sparse, with only the last segment being available for an award redemption.
Earning Membership Rewards
I ended up booking the multi-city trip on cash using American Express Travel portal, to take advantage of the 5X earn rate for travel by using my American Express Business Platinum credit card. The flights I booked are EZE-USH-FTE-BRC-AEP for a total cost of just over $1K US per person. In comparison, had I found award redemptions for all segments at 12,500 miles each, it would have cost 50,000 miles and about $100-$150CDN in taxes; illustrating how award redemptions can provide really great value, while saving you money even when flying in economy.
Buenos Aires – Two airports
Finally, it’s worth noting that Buenos Aires has two airports: Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) and Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) airport. EZE primarily serves international flights, while AEP is mainly for domestic flights. As you book your flights between Buenos Aires and other cities, it’s worthwhile to compare pricing for both EZE and AEP to your domestic destination to see who has more competitive pricing, or more convenient flight times that best suits your schedule.
Planning my first South American trip to Buenos Aires and Argentine Patagonia took some time and effort. Yet, the more I researched and spent time planning our itinerary, the more excited I felt in anticipation of going on this trip! Stay tuned for future posts about the activities we partook in Patagonia, the hotels we stayed in and tips that may help you in planning your first trip to Argentina.