Step-By-Step: Booking An Award Flight to Peru / Machu Picchu for $70 (Round-Trip)

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Recently, a blog follower from Atlanta reached out to me because she was interested in celebrating her birthday in Peru. She is planning to go in November so I thought it would be a perfect time to show the benefits of having points vs. paying in cash.

STEP 1: Determine The Destination Airport

I always start at the end and work backwards. For example, let’s say that we want to fly into Lima, Peru. If we’re going to use points/miles, we need to determine which airlines fly into Lima (LIM). It would be a waste of time accruing miles on an airline if that airline (or their partners) don’t fly there.

My starting point is Wikipedia. I find Wikipedia is fairly up-to-date and displays the information in a simple way.

After I search for the Airport, I select the ‘airlines and destinations’ link.

There are many airlines that fly there but given the follower’s origin (ATL), there is one airline that stands out and that is Delta. They have a direct flight.

STEP 2: Use Google Flights to Determine Dates

I love google flights! It’s my “one-stop-shop” for airline comparison. Google flights allows you to, efficiently, search by airline, dates, price, etc. I always use the calendar view to obtain a sense of the prices. As you can see, the cheapest prices from ATL-LIM, are generally around $500 (with caveats) .

Once I select a travel dates, I am able to see various options. For example, Spirit Airlines is the cheapest but this fare will also require you to pay for bags. For a few dollars more, I can fly on JetBlue which may be a bit more appealing. You will also notice that the direct flight that we were interested in from Atlanta is a whopping $1300+. Ouch!!

For the sake of this example, let’s say that vacation time is limited, she wants to go Nov 17 – 22, and she wants to be on the non-stop Delta flight. Generally, the more flexible you are, the better. However, let’s see what happens. I select her prerequisites and, as expected, Delta is charging a premium.

I go to Delta.com to confirm and… yes, they are serious!

$1300 is A LOT of money for a flight! But if you’ve been reading my blog for more than a week, you may be aware of a “secret” that I use to fly on Delta flights. For simplicity, I won’t go into details on this post.

Immediately, I go to Virgin Atlantic and begin searching. You don’t need an account to search the Virgin website, however, they are a great program so I recommend signing up for their frequent flyer program today.

Note: Virgin, by default, allows you to search one week at a time. However, in the upper right-hand corner, there is a box that says “refine search.” If you select it, it will allow you to search 5 weeks at a time.

Selecting “5 weeks” will allow you to see a calendar view that can save time when searching for award flights.

Everyday is not available to book an award flight but the November 17th outbound date is available (below).

And the November 22nd return flight is also available (below). When performing an award search on Virgin, I prefer to see the entire calendar view and search one-way tickets. When you searching for a round-trip ticket, the “available dates” become a bit more convoluted.

As you can see below, the round-trip flight will cost 45,000 miles and $67.76. It is worth mentioning a few small details. First, although you booked through Virgin, you will be flying on Delta planes. In the photo below, it says “operated by Delta Airlines.” Also take note of the flight times…they are the same flights as we saw on the Delta website.

For comparison, let’s go see what Delta requires for the EXACT SAME FLIGHT on the EXACT SAME PLANE…

136,000 miles!? YIKES!!

Just in case you’re curious…Virgin requires only 90,000 miles round-trip (45k one-way) to sit in business class on that SAME EXACT DELTA FLIGHT.

HOW DO I GET VIRGIN MILES?

You may be saying “…but I’ve never flown on Virgin Atlantic, let alone, have any Virgin miles.” No worries at all… this is where transferrable points (also known as having the right credit card) become a game-changer. You can instantly create Virgin miles with the following credit cards…

It’s also worth noting that American Express often has transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic throughout the year. With a transfer bonus of 30%, a round-trip economy ticket would cost 35,000 Amex points instead of 45,000.

Meanwhile, the person beside you just paid 136,000 miles + $67 or even worse…$1300.

FINAL STAMP

Similar to most things in life, it’s about knowing WHERE to look to find the greatest value. There are many tricks like this that will assist you in getting to your desired destinations.

I hope this helps in planning her awesome trip to Peru!

Where do you want to go? Have you started planning yet?

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