Hacking Argentine Air Travel: Fly For Cheap

Gringo in Buenos AiresHacking Buenos Aires67 Comments

Anyone living in Buenos Aires is going to want to take at least a couple of trips inside Argentina during their stay and will want them to be cheap. The two big destinations are of course Iguazú Falls in the north of the country, and Patagonia in the south – towns like El Calafate, Bariloche, Ushuaia and Puerto Madryn. These places are absolutely unmissable.

Argentina is a big country though, so how are you going to get there? Bus? That might work if you have: a) a penchant for suffering; b) a healthy supply of Valium, and c) an entire day (or more) to waste, but otherwise it’s a terrible option. Puerto Iguazú is a 17 hour journey from Buenos Aires by bus, Bariloche is 19 hours, and Ushuaia? You’ll need to block out a lazy 50 hours in your diary for that one.

Let’s face it, you’re flying. In Argentina you have two choices for internal flights: Aerolíneas Argentinas and LanChile.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting: you probably already know that residents of Argentina flying domestically get discounted fares due to government subsidies. The differences are quite substantial, as the following breakdown of prices on LanChile flights from Buenos Aires to popular Argentine destinations in shows:

* Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, return, cheapest available fare, with taxes.

As a non-resident: US$ 355.95.

As a resident: US$ 197

Difference: $158.95

* Buenos Aires to Iguazú, return, cheapest available fare, with taxes.

As a non-resident: US$329.40.

As a resident: US$159

Difference: $170.40.

* Buenos Aires to El Calafate, return, cheapest available fare, with taxes.

As a non-resident: US$336.

As a resident: US$164.

Difference: $172.

As you can see, there’s almost a 50% difference in the prices. Not insignificant when you’re a poor, struggling expat trying to see more of this beautiful country for cheap.

However, at this point you’re probably thinking “so what? I don’t have a Documento Nacional de Identidad (DNI) that proves I’m a resident, so I don’t qualify for the cheaper fares.”

…And you’re right! If you don’t have a DNI you don’t qualify for the cheaper fares. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get them. In fact, if you take the following steps, you’ll be able to fly for cheap, guaranteed:

1. Book flights through LanChile (www.lan.com), not Aerolíneas Argentinas. With Aerolíneas you have to enter your DNI number during the online booking process, so that’s no good.

2. At the opening screen at www.lan.com, select Argentina as your country of residence. If you’ve used www.lan.com before then you might not see the opening page when you browse to that address. In that case make sure that the site says “Argentina > Versión” in the top-right corner of the page. If it doesn’t, click the word “Version” and select Argentina.

3. Go through and book your tickets as normal. You’ll get the cheaper price.

4. Pack ONLY HAND LUGGAGE for your trip. This is very important and non-negotiable. Guys, you really don’t need those gigantic hiking boots. Ladies, ditch the hairdryers.

5. Two days before you’re due to fly you’ll receive an email from LanChile telling you that web check-in for the flight is now open. You want to do this, so don’t put it off! You have until 3 hours before your departure time to check-in online and print your boarding passes.

6. If you forget to check-in online, you might be able to use the check-in terminals at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery instead (pray they’re working!). As you may have guessed, the idea is to avoid the check-in desks at all costs, as that’s where they check for your DNI.

7. Go through security flashing your self-printed boarding pass, go to your departure lounge, board the plane, and voilà! You’re in the air for half the price.

8. Don’t forget to do a web check-in for your return flight as well. To be honest this isn’t as important, as at the smaller airports (such as the one at Puerto Iguazú) the check-in staff don’t seem to be all that bothered with checking for DNIs.

Does this really work? Yes! My girlfriend and I, and my girlfriend and her Mom have both tried this and it works without a hitch. After the check-in process there’s no-one else at the airport who cares what sort of fare you paid, so as long as you can avoid the check-in counters you’re golden.

Once, when we were working this out, we bought the resident tickets but then checked in at the check-in counter (we had hold luggage) and were asked for our DNIs. We did the “dumb tourist” routine (not that I think it actually mattered) and all that happened was that we were sent over to the LanChile ticket counter (immediately opposite the check-in desks) to pay the difference between the resident and non-resident fares. In other words, we ended up paying only what we would’ve had to anyway. No big deal.

For completeness, here is the text that appears on the LanChile website in regard to the resident fares:

IMPORTANT: These fares are only available to RESIDENTS of Argentina, in accordance with article four of Resolution 35/2002 by the Ministry of Production’s Secretary of Transportation. In the event that a passenger is not a resident, he or she can purchase tickets at some of our international sites. When boarding, the passenger will be asked to provide documentation confirming his or her residency. A passenger with a ticket for this class will not be boarded if he or she fails to provide said documentation.

What this says is all true, but “will not be boarded” really just means “will have to pay to upgrade their ticket to the non-resident rate,” so don’t think you’ll get deported or anything.

Happy flying! or… Happy flying for cheap!