Booking cheap flights to South America

Here, you’ll find information and advice on searching for and booking cheap flights to South America. Cheaper flights, more money to spend when you reach your destination!

Also, I’ve included a bit about the need for proof of onward travel, which is really important to know when planning your trip as it catches out a lot of travellers. So, it’s really well worth a read.

Los Valles Calchaquíes, Salta, Argentina
Los Valles Calchaquíes, Salta, Argentina

How to find cheap flights

Use a good search engine

I’ve always used Skyscanner to search for flights. If you’re flexible with your dates, it’s great because you can do a search to show you results for a whole month and for a whole country rather than the individual airport. So, it’s easy to adapt your searches to find the cheapest flights. The only thing you should be aware of is that some of the cheaper prices that appear in your search results are not always directly from the airlines, but from these travel agencies. These include Sky Tours and Best Day. This means that they often add ridiculous taxes on top of the cost. Also, if you do your research on these companies, you can find some awful reviews on them. I would recommend you use Skyscanner to look up the prices and then book directly on the airline website.

Break up your flight itinerary

Put your destinations in the search engine and then look at the results. Find out where the changeovers are. Then check if it works out cheaper if you break down the journey yourself and buy the individual flights separately.

For example, when we went to Ecuador, we searched for flights from London to Ecuador. Most changed in the US, in New York or Miami. It would cost us about £800 if we booked with one airline to get us from London to Ecuador. We then did a search for flights from London to New York and found one for £250. Then a flight from New York to Guayaquil in Ecuador was about £300. It saved us about £300 and it meant we had a day in New York!

From our experience, we’ve seen that flights from the London to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay or Paraguay often have changeovers in either:

Spain – Madrid,  U.S – Miami, New York, Germany – Munich, Frankfurt, Netherlands – Amsterdam, France – Paris, Dominican Republic – Santo Domingo, , Panama – Panama City.

If going to Brazil, check out flights from Portugal – Lisbon, Italy – Rome, Milan and Morocco – Casablanca.

One of the disadvantages of making your own flight itinerary and booking individual flights is in the case of delays. If you book the whole flight journey with one airline and there are delays or cancellations, then they will usually arrange to get you to your final destination one way or another. If you book each individual flights yourself and there are delays, the airline has no responsibility to get you on your next flight on time. So, for this reason, you should allow plenty of time to catch your next flight. When we flew to Ecuador, we allowed for an entire day in New York in case of delay.

Be flexible with your flight destinations

It’s also worth searching for flights to other big cities in the country, not just to the capital. For example, if you’re going from London to Ecuador, it’s often cheaper to fly to Guayaquil rather than the capital Quito.

Also, it might work out cheaper to fly to a neighbouring country and tweaking your plans a little. For example, try flying to Montevideo in Uruguay instead of Buenos Aires in Argentina. These cities are just a 4 hour ferry ride away from each other.

Be flexible with your dates

Try different dates. Often weekend prices are more expensive than a midweek flight. Also, try travelling outside of school holidays or public holidays. You might also want to find out when your destination country has their public holidays and try avoiding these. As I said above, Skyscanner is a great tool because it allows you to search for flights across a whole month or between two particular dates.


Yes, it is time consuming and it can be so frustrating and stressful endlessly searching for flights to try to get the best deal on the dates you want. However, if you are patient and willing to spend an afternoon searching online, it can be worth it and save you loads of money. The best advice I can give you is to be as flexible as possible. Good luck!

Travelling on the Aquidaba, Rio Paraguay
Travelling on the Aquidaba, Rio Paraguay

Need for proof of onward travel

So, when you are planning your backpacking trip or your move to another country, you must be aware of the need for proof of outgoing travel or a long-term visa. Yes, most of us book our outgoing flight with the intention of travelling to the next country by bus. However, many airlines will require you to have a plane ticket out of the country before the end of your three month tourist visa. (For more information on tourist visas and passports, click here). Many people have been denied boarding their outgoing flight because they haven’t got an outgoing ticket. That’s definitely not a nice way to start your trip!

I’ve been looking on the internet at other people’s experiences about the need to show proof of onward travel. Loads of people have been caught out, yet it seems that airlines do not inform you of this until you get to the airport. And, it’s not a consistent policy either. When we flew to Lima from London in 2012, we did not get asked to prove our onward travel. However, when we flew from New York to Ecuador, we were told that if we had not had our 6 month visa, we would have to present proof of a flight out of Ecuador.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is to try contacting your airline to see what their policy is. However, I know that this can sometimes be impossible.

You could buy a cheap flight out of your destination country, but not use it. You may be able to find a short flight to a neighbouring country that doesn’t cost much. Also, you could apply for a refund on your ticket later.

However, some travellers are aware of the policy but are willing to take the risk and hope that the airline does not ask them to show their proof of onward travel. If you choose to do this, I would recommend that you arrive at the airport in plenty of time, just in case you do have to race around to buy a ticket.

There is a good story and comments section about people’s experiences at the airport here.

Travelling on the bus in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Travelling on the bus in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

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