How I used airline miles to fly to Peru


If you are into history, adventure, and gastronomy, there’s a great chance Peru, the land of the Incas, is on the list. It’s also safe to say that Machu Picchu is most likely high on your must-see list – and for good reason. The most famous site of the Inca civilization is impressive (to say the least).

As with any such famous place, visiting Machu Picchu is a blessing and a curse. It will be an unforgettable experience for sure, but it will also be an expensive one.

Photo courtesy of Anya Kartashova.

To avoid having to part with an arm, leg, kidney, and your firstborn to pay for the trip, let’s talk about how you can use airline miles to book an award flight and then use the money, that you saved for the flight to book the rest of the trip components.

Here’s how I used airline miles earned on a travel credit card to book an unforgettable adventure in a pre-COVID world, and how these tips can help you on your own journey once you feel safe out there again be.

How I booked a flight from the United States to Peru with 40,000 United MileagePlus miles

I signed up for the before the trip United℠ business card and deserves a nice welcome bonus. The current welcome bonus is: 75,000 bonus miles after spending $ 5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, your account is open. The annual fee is $ 0 intro for the first year, then $ 99.

Although I didn’t immediately have a plan for the miles, Peru was a place I’d wanted to visit for a long time and in late spring I started looking for award flights to travel in November.

A one-way economy award from mainland, USA, Alaska and Canada to North South America should cost 20,000 United Miles at the lowest redemption level.

Now that United award prices are based on demand, you’ll see prices everywhere, but 40,000 miles is the destination to consider if you’re looking to book a similar round-trip trip.

Another benefit of keeping the United℠ business cardIn addition to the bonus miles, I had access to expanded availability of awards on United and United Express-operated flights, which helped me find domestic Saver-level connections.

Extended availability flights say, “Available exclusively to you as a MileagePlus Chase card member.” That benefit alone can justify opening up one of the United’s co-branded credit cards and holding it for the long term.

How I added a segment within Peru for free

If you look at the numbers, a round-trip flight to Peru for 40,000 miles isn’t bad. However, you can do it even better by taking advantage of a lesser-known benefit of the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program – this Excursionist Perk.

The Excursionist Perk, formerly referred to as the Layover, is a free one-way street segment embedded in a multi-city reward route. This is especially useful when, for example, you are traveling to Europe and you have time to visit multiple cities or even countries on the same itinerary. You can book a flight to Vienna, stay there for a few days, then fly to Munich, stay a few more days and fly home without redeeming more airline miles for the middle segment.

To book this free flight you need to follow certain rules:

  • You must start and end your trip in the same region.

  • The free segment must be entirely within a single region.

  • The service cabin in the free segment must be the same as on the previous flight.

  • On an itinerary with more than one qualifying segment, only the first will qualify for the excursionist perk.

  • All segments must be booked on an itinerary.

In my case, I flew from Salt Lake City (mainland USA) to Lima (North South America). I traveled by land to Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, to visit Machu Picchu and eat a lot of ceviche. I then flew 0 miles from Cusco to Lima with the Excursionist Perk and stayed in Lima two more nights before flying back to Salt Lake City.

I was able to operate all of these flights for the same total cost in miles that I would have spent on a round-trip trip from Utah to Peru.

My entire multi-city flight schedule cost me 40,000 United Miles + $ 80. The original ticket offer for my dates was in the range of $ 1,400. Essentially, it was like having an extra $ 1,300 for other fun activities like overland travel, entry to the ancient site, more ceviche, accommodation, etc.

How to earn United Miles for your own trip

Note that credit card rewards are only valuable if you are not paying interest on your purchases. Otherwise, the fees will reduce the value of the points and miles you earn.

The final result

The reason why travel awards in general, and airline miles in particular, are so valuable is because they can help turn a financially inaccessible trip like my adventure to Peru into a reality.

If you have good credit and are able to pay a full credit card bill every month, finding award flights no matter what destination you have in mind can be a fun hobby.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our tips for that best travel credit cards of 2021including the best for:


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