Lan offers what is known as a “Lan South America Airpass”. The airline Lan is based in the countries of Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador. From those hubs, almost every country is covered by their network of flights. A Lan South America Airpass is, without doubt, one of the cheapest ways to fly within South America. Here I’ll explain how it works, and how to book it.
Lan has a huge range of domestic flights within Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador. They really are very comprehensive [and a remarkably good airline], as you can see from these route maps below (click to enlarge).
From these four “hub countries”, there are also various flights to neighbouring countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Colombia and Panama. You can include international flights on the airpass. See the international route map below.
So how does this LAN South America Airpass work?
To be entitled to the airpass, you need an international flight ticket to somewhere in South America (inclusive of this would be an “openjaw flight ticket” into somewhere in Central America, and a flight back to your home from somewhere in South America, or vice versa). According to Lan, you have to book the airpass 14 days prior to your international flights, however this is ignored / overlooked if you were to book the airpass with a flights specialist tour operator (I booked my recent LAN South America Airpass when I was already on the continent in this way).
The airpass costs differing amounts depending upon where you want to fly between. Different flight routes cost different amounts. Please take note that fuel surcharges are in addition to these prices as “advertised” (actually they’re hidden away) on the LAN website - click here for the route prices. Please forgive me (or advise me) if that link is broken - LAN keeps moving it to different addresses on their website!
Note that there are two different prices on LAN’s website - if you have caught your international flight with LAN, it works out a little bit cheaper overall.
You also need to note that the minimum number of flights you must take on the continent is three. There is no maximum number of flights, and the “maximum stay period” is one year - so you can spread your flights out over a period of up to 12 months if you wanted to. Child fares cost 67% of the adult fares noted on Lan’s website, and infant fares cost 10%. Date changes cost $20 per domestic flight, and $50 per international flight [and availability is rarely a problem.]
So you have to take three flights or more on the continent. Note that even if you are only going to take two flights, it often works out cheaper if you book three flights using the LAN South America Airpass, but don’t catch your final flight (ie. you deliberately miss it).
I’ll give you an example for clarification (these are the flights I took in June/ July this year:
Buenos Aires to Salta: $115
Cuzco to Lima: $138
Lima to Guayaquil: $150
Quito to Medellin: $140 (though this price is not noted on the LAN website - maybe they’ve since stopped this route).
So the total for these four flights is $543 + taxes [that’s filthy cheap when you compare the cost to standard prices]. You have to set fixed dates in advance when you book the airpass, though you can (normally) change these dates very easily at a later stage. If you book directly with LAN this ($543+tax) would be the price, though if you book through a tour operator or travel agents they’ll probably add a 10% service fee.
[26 Jan 2009 edit - there is a new airpass called the “Oneworld South America Airpass” that has been launched. It is very similar to the above described LAN South America airpass, and the routes possible are almost exactly the same. However, the calculation of the price is different (it’s based on mileage), so in certain cases it might be a little cheaper to book the OneWorld South America airpass rather than the LAN equivalent. To be entitled to the Oneworld airpass, you must have flown to the continent with a One World carrier. To get the best deal, my advice would be to first get a quote for the LAN airpass, then (and only afterwards) call up British Airways, American Airways, Iberia or whoever your OneWorld caiier is and get a quote for the Oneworld airpass. More info on the OneWorld Airpass and how it works can be found here. Don’t get confused - these two airpasses are essentially the same, only the price is calculated slightly differently!]
There you go - I hope that helps people. Catching flights around South America can be very cheap if you know how best to book them. As an alternative to the LAN airpass, you might want to consider the Gol Mercosur airpass - this would be suitable if you just want to visit Lima, Santiago or Buenos Aires plus catch various flights around Brazil. See also the previous articles on the TAM airpasses (Tam are based in Brazil, and also have a continent wide airpass, though it has an emphasis in Brazil), and the post on other airpasses in South America. See also the flights section of the main website for lots more route maps for airlines in South America.
To book such an airpass you could try contacting Journey Latin America (UK) or a similar Latin America travel specialist in USA.