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Airpass smackdown: LAN vs. Oneworld in South America

Let's say you want to take a vacation in South America with multiple destinations. Do you have to fly in and out of the same city? Any tips for finding cheap airfares for flights within countries?

Consider buying a voucher for several flights at the same time for a set price that's often cheaper than booking piecemeal. The international airline alliance with the best airpass for South America is Oneworld. The individual airline with the best route network and airpass is LAN. Buy an airpass and then create your itinerary from there. One catch: Unlike rail passes, airpasses generally require that routes and dates be reserved in advance of your travels.

Is there a difference between LAN's South America Airpass and Oneworld's Visit South America Airpass?

The question is perplexing travelers. The trouble is that you cannot book the South America Visitors Pass directly through the Oneworld website; you must contact the individual carriers, like LAN, instead. A representative at LAN assured me that their pass is exactly the same thing as the Oneworld pass. However, a little digging uncovers some issues.

For instance, Oneworld claims that flight prices are based on the miles covered between destinations (i.e., a flight between 561–750 miles will always cost $143.) Yet, two identical six-week itineraries with the identical mileage booked through LAN have a $200 difference in price depending on whether you book in May or August.

Also, the Oneworld website claims that an open ended ticket may be purchased as long as you declare which cities you will be traveling too. LAN will not permit open-ended travel. However, fellow Oneworld alliance member American Airlines will honor open-ended tickets and other Oneworld regulations. But there's no easy way to compare prices among the various options.

So what to do? If you are patient and budget-wise, book through LAN, which may offer a less expensive flight than booking individual tickets. If you value convenience and want to explore South America at your own pace without advance reservations, call an American Airlines agent at 800/433-7300, who will be able to arrange for you to get the open-ended South America Visitor Pass. (Expect to wait 24 hours for a price quote.)

What is Oneworld anyway? Among the major airlines, 11 (including American and LAN) have teamed up to create the Oneworld alliance, which offers various passes for making multi-stop trips.

For example, its South America Visitors Pass provides access to 34 cities in 10

countries and allows flexible open-ended travel. Travelers must declare the

cities to be visited but do not have to choose specific flight dates. As long as

the entire trip duration is between 10 days and 12 months travelers have the

ability to explore destinations at their leisure. Flights have flat rate prices based

on the mileage covered between destinations, which maintains maximum

flexibility at low cost.

Sample Itinerary (copied from Oneworld's site:

Lima – Cuzco $119

Cuzco – Arequipa $119

Arequipa – Lima $119

Lima – Santiago $203

Santiago – Buenos Aires $143

Buenos Aires – Monteviedo $119

Total: $822.00

—Sara Nicholson, for Budget Travel

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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