Whether you’re trekking to Machu Picchu or dancing til dawn in Rio, here’s the scoop on scoring those cheap flights to South America.
1) Fly Into the North
If you plan a longer trip, you can take advantage of cheap fares to Colombia, Ecuador and Lima and then make your way south by bus. Buses in South America can be downright luxurious, with onboard wifi, television, and more leg room than a plane. Use Rome2Rio to find bus routes and prices. Don’t have enough time for buses? There are excellent local airlines in South American countries that can shuttle you around from place to place. They won’t turn up in your US searches much, but if you google the name of a country + airline you’ll find them. Do another search using name of the airline + safety records to be sure you’re not buying a ticket on a lawn dart.
Added bonus: Every stop along the way will rock your world, from the colonial walled city of Cartagena to the Cotopaxi volcano to the misty mountain enclave of the Incas at Machu Picchu.
2) Watch These Airlines
Latam airlines offers discount fares several times a year. Prices regularly go as low as $299 for round-trip tickets to Cartagana, Bogota, and other northern destinations from several US cities. Sign up for their newsletter and be prepared to jump when a great price comes up.
Spirit Airlines also offers some great prices into the northern edges of South America. They charge extra for everything — even your carryon bag — so be sure to tally up the total fare before you compare it to others.
3) Get to a Hub… Somehow
If you live in the Midwest or nothern states, you might spend as much getting yourself to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, or Houston as you will getting from that hub to Bogota or Lima. Think outside the box — is there any way you can make it that departure airport without breaking the bank? Here are some ideas:
- Use your frequent flyer miles with a US carrier
- Take the train
- Take a Megabus
- Use Craigslist or Ridester to find someone to carpool with (be careful, of course)
- Search for cheap flights a few days before your main flight takes off and try to stay with a friend in the city for a few days
- Buy the international part of the airfare early, and save for another month or so to buy the US leg of the flight.
4) Choose the Best Day To Fly
The Kiwi search engine is an amazing tool that lets you instantly see how expensive or cheap it is to fly on specific dates. It will also let you see which airports are cheapest to fly into. In this screenshot, I’m looking at one-way flight prices from Dallas to Bogota that range from $123 to $536 within a single week! The map also shows me that Bogota is the right choice; I don’t see anything cheaper in the region at that time (although Barranquila on the coast isn’t much more expensive, I might want to look into that!)
Google Flights offers a similar set of tools.
5) Buy a Bundle
Always run your flight dates through Expedia before you buy the ticket anywhere else. Expedia gets special rates from the airlines and the hotel that aren’t accessible to you through other searches. Try creating a “bundle” by adding a single hotel night and see if that brings the price down or at least gets you the same price plus a couple of hotel nights for free. If you prefer a different lodging option, you can mark “I only need a hotel for part of my stay” and just choose the first night.