Like ’em or loathe ’em, budget airlines have made international travel more affordable than ever. In South America this is especially valuable, as the continent is terribly slow (albeit adventurous) to explore by bus.

One thing people often don’t know about South America is that despite its overall cheapness, flights are surprisingly expensive here. Low-cost carriers do exist, as do inter-country air passes, but don’t expect RyanAir or AirAsia prices when flying from one country to the next.

Still, reasonable flights can be found if you know where to look for them. Here’s how!

How to find cheap flights in South America:

1. Identify the low-cost airlines of your destination(s)

Hopefully our list below of budget airlines by country will prove useful, as knowing these and where to find them is important! In terms of flying into South America, the major global airlines include LANTAME, and Avianca. Some low-cost carriers that do international flights into South America include Spirit Airlines (to/from U.S.), Viva Colombia (to/from U.S.), Surinam Airways (flies to Europe), and Santa Barbara Airlines (to/from U.S.).

2. Look for flights on a broad search engine

Skyscanner is what we personally use and recommend for wide-scale searches on flights. Next, cross-compare against a list like this one, as budget airlines are sometimes not included in major search engine results. (That being said, we’ve actually discovered new budget airlines including Chile’s SkyAirline by using search engines first – it pays to check!). Our other flight-booking hacks can be found here.

3. Identify the cheapest dates to fly

Work your itinerary around the cheapest flight dates, as these can vary wildly even within a single month. In Skyscanner this can be done by selecting “Entire month” under the date box, revealing the prices for each day that month (this can also help you stumble on error fares).

4. Keep in the know-how of airline sales

You can do this by following budget airlines of your intended destination(s) on social media or e-newsletters, then plan accordingly as sales arise.

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5. Consider getting a South America air pass

Airline passes are another way to snag affordable flights within South America. The major downfall is that they are few and far between (we cover these below), and air passes here are fairly specific in terms of coverage. Take note also that South American air passes often require you to fly into the continent or country on particular airlines. Be sure to consider this when booking your inbound flight!

Basically, you should first consider if an air pass works out to be cheaper for your itinerary. Often air passes in South America do not equate to savings (but if you have several flights, it potentially can). Details on how to determine the cost-effectiveness of this are explored at the final part of this article.


 

Now, a final quick disclaimer before we get listing: airlines in South America have a reputation for delays and cancellations. This reputation that is sadly correct, and quite accurate, even for regular airlines. The solution? Sit back, relax, and chill – you’re in South America, amigo! And now, without further ado, here’s a list of budget airlines in South America!


Budget airlines in South America (by country)

Argentina

Perito Moreno, ArgentinaBudget airlines in Argentina are basically nil. If heading down to Patagonia, LADE has great prices, but a limited schedule. This small airline operated by the military, though English is limited with booking (you may wish to use a Spanish speaker such as your accommodation reception to help you out).

  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • LADE (this airline is operated by the military and does flights on limited days per week, including to the Patagonia region)

Bolivia

DSC04770Bolivia’s airlines aren’t advertised as low-cost carriers per se, but prices here tend to be some of the lowest on the continent. In fact, particular routes are only serviced by the lower-cost carriers. This is the case for the 45-minute flight between La Paz and Uyuni (where the salt flats are), which is only accessible via Amaszonas and BOA. Here are Bolivia’s low-cost airlines:

*A word of warning about Amaszonas from our own experience. Like many South American airlines, this one has its share of delays. We had a flight cancelled (which we rebooked with another airline), and waited nearly 5 months for a refund! That was after several phone calls, e-mails, and Tweets begging for our money back. So, a friendly warning – cancellations can happen (as they can with any airline), but Amaszonas has particularly slowwwwww customer service….

Brazil

The incredible Iguazu Falls

Budget airlines in Brazil are fairly unique in that several of them offer airline passes within the country. The catch is that you typically have to fly into South America on particular airlines. Prices start around $299 USD for roughly 4 flights, but check individual airlines for specific costs and requirements.

  • Azul Airlines (has 10 and 21-day airpass for $299 USD and $399 USD respectively for flights around Brazil – only valid if you’ve flown in on Azul, United, or TAP within Brazil)
  • Fly AllWays (domestic and international)
  • Gol (has 30-day airpass for $505 USD for four flights within Brazil. Only valid if you’ve flown into Brazil with GOL, Air France, KLM, or Delta Airlines)
  • TAM (has 30-day airpass for four flights within Brazil starting at $532 USD. Only valid if you fly to Brazil on TAM)

Chile

DSC06105.jpgBudget airlines in Chile are limited but its best one, Sky Airline, does a number of affordable routes in this stretched-out country. Discounted fares tend to book up quickly during sales, so it’s advised to monitor deals via stalking their site or social media like Facebook.

Colombia

Kogi children in front of their village.

Colombia has a couple of budget airlines, one of which also flies into the Caribbean given its proximity. By South American standards, flights within the country are quite reasonable.

Ecuador

Ecuador does not have any official budget airlines. If flying to Galapagos, it’s advised to book ahead for cheap flights. Guayaquil and Quito are the two mainland airports to fly from (we’ve got other cheap Galapagos tips here).


Guyana

Guyana BeachThis lesser-visited South American country has only national airlines and charter flights. You may have better luck getting inbound flights with an airline from a neighbouring country.

Peru

Machu PicchuPeru’s airlines are quite reasonably priced by South American standards, and neighbouring countries like Bolivia or Ecuador can be flown to quite affordably. Planning a trip to Machu Picchu? Check our comprehensive cheap guide here.

Suriname

SurinameAnother lesser-visited country on the list, this teeny sun-soaked country has a couple of reasonable airlines, including Surinam Airways, which does cross-continental flights to Europe.

Uruguay

UruguayNot much is on offer in terms of low-cost carries in Uruguay, but the following offer charter and national flights within the country:

 

Venezuela

VenezuelaThe greatest assortment of budget airlines is found in Venezuala. Given its location, several Venezuelan airlines also offer flights to the Carribbean and the United States, a major plus for those flying in from there.

 



These are all of the budget and low-cost airlines (that we know of!) for countries around South America. See one missing here? Let us know so we can keep the info current for other travellers. Now, onto airline passes in South America!

Airline passes in South America

South American airline passes provide a set number of flights within the continent or a single country for a flat rate. Here’s a quick overview of the airpasses available. For details on each including how to book, read on below!

Oneworld Alliance South America Pass

  • Regions included: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela
  • Price: Calculated based on zones (ranges from $150-$480 USD per flight depending on distance)
  • Restrictions: Minimum 3 flights including inbound flight to South America. Can only be used on Oneworld Alliance Airlines. Must fly into South America on Oneworld alliance airline (listed here under “How to book”). Can be used up to 12 months.
  • Where to book: Via phone – see detailed instructions below

GOL South America Pass

  • Regions included: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Uruguay or Venezuela
  • Price: Starting at $629 USD for 4 flights (max $1,249 USD for 9 flights)
  • Restrictions: Valid for Brazil residents and non-residents of South America. Can only be used on GOL airline flights. Must be booked outside of South America. Only valid for those who have flight originating from outside South America to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Uruguay or Venezuela. Must be used within 30 days.
  • How to bookOnline via the Airpass booking form (scroll down on page)

Oneworld Alliance South America Airpass Pricing & Booking

The Oneworld South America pass is a bit more ambiguous in its pricing structure and booking process than any other airline pass out there. Pricing depends on the distance of the flight, which is categorized into zones. Here is a list of the zoning and prices per zone as of 2016:

Zone 1 (up to 560 miles/901km) = $150 USD
Zone 2 (561-750 miles/902-1207km) = $168 USD
Zone 3 (751-1280 miles/1208-2060km) = $251 USD
Zone 4 (1281-1810 miles/2061-2912km) = $285 USD
Zone 5 (1811-2300 miles/2913-3701km) = $390 USD
Zone 6 (2301-3500 miles/3703-5632km) = $480 USD

To calculate the distance between your two destinations, use Oneworld’s route calculator (take note, it gives distances in km by default so be careful when comparing zone pricing if you’re looking at miles or kms!).

So, for a pricing example – if you were flying from Quito, Ecuador to Lima, Peru (which is 828 miles), that flight would be Zone 3, or a flat rate of $251 USD. As stated earlier above, all Oneworld Pass flights must be booked via phone. According to the terms and conditions, taxes are excluded from these prices and must be paid separately.

Booking

The Oneworld Alliance South America airpass can only be booked via phone. This is troublesome as very few staff are familiar with it, often causing major delays and confusion. To begin, you must call the Oneworld airline that you would fly into South America on (e.g. American Airlines from the USA, Qantas from Australia, etc. – see full list here of airlines under “How to book“). Next, when ready to purchase, you must choose your flight times and dates on the spot. You could look up flights (write down flight #s) ahead of time and relay this when booking, but this offers no guarantee of getting a certain flight.

Changes can be made to reservations, but this incurs a fee of $50 USD per flight change per person. The terms and conditions state that you only need to book your inbound flight to the continent to redeem the pass. That means you do not need to book all of your flights in advance, but airline staff advised us that we should do this if on a strict travel schedule in case of fully-booked flights.

Country-Specific Air Passes in South America

At the moment, Brazil is the only country that offers air passes. Fortunately, it has not just one air pass, but three! Azul, GOL, and TAM each offer their own passes that work within Brazil. Here’s a quick breakdown of each.

Azul Brazil Airpass

  • Regions included: Travel within Brazil only. Includes destinations like Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu, Salvador, Fortaleza, Curitiba, Natal, Fernando de Noronha, Manaus,, and more.
  • Price: Starting at $399 USD + fees for 4 flights if you fly into Brazil with Azul, United, or TAP. If you fly into Brazil on another airline, the price is $499+ USD plus fees.
  • Restrictions: Can only be used on Azul airlines when flying around Brazil. Must use within 21 days.
  • How to book: Online via the Airpass booking form (scroll down on page)

GOL Brazil Airpass

  • Regions included: Travel within Brazil only. Includes destinations like Porto Alegre, Florianópolis, Iguassu Falls, Rio de Janeiro, Fernando de Noronha, Natal, Fortaleza, and more.
  • Price: Starting at $505 USD for 4 flights (max $1,249 USD for 9 flights)
  • Restrictions: Can only be used on GOL, Air France, KLM or Delta Airlines. Must fly into Brazil on one of these airlines. Must be used within 30 days.
  • How to book: Online via the Airpass booking form (scroll down on page)

TAM Brazil Airpass

  • Regions included: Travel within Brazil only. Includes destinations Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu Falls, the Amazon, Salvador, Fortaleza, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, and more.
  • Price: Starting at $532 USD  + fees for 4 flights in Brazil if you fly into Brazil on TAM airlines. Additional flights can be added for an extra cost.
  • Restrictions: Can only be used on GOL, Air France, KLM or Delta Airlines. Must fly into Brazil on one of these airlines. Must be used within 30 days.
  • How to book: Online via the Airpass booking form (scroll down on page)

Should I buy a South America air pass?

The short answer here is, it depends. Some passes offer better value than others, but it really depends on your itinerary and the lump sum cost of all your flights based on your searches. Here’s a few important factors to consider when deciding if an air pass is cost-effective for your trip:

  • Will the pass cover all the flights you need for your trip?
  • Does the pass require you to fly in on a particular airline (which could be more expensive than say a low-cost carrier)?
  • What is the cost per flight with the pass, versus the cost per flight when checking on a search engine like Skyscanner?
  • Most passes are quoted in USD. If your national currency is not USD, this might make the ticket a lot pricier than paying in your own currency given the current strength of the USD!

Flying cheap in South America: The Thrifty Gist

  • Follow budget airlines in your destination on social media &/or newsletters to be aware of sales
  • Search broadly using tools like Skyscanner & cross-compare against lists of budget airlines in your destination
  • Use air passes if you determine it to be more cost-effective than the lump sum of all your flights

And that’s it! If you have a question or comment about budget airlines or how to use airpasses in South America, drop us a line below. Happy planning!