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I checked the price to travel around South American countries (Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, etc) but it is insanely expensive, often taking over $500 to fly to other countries.

For example, I searched for a one-way flight from Santiago to Rio de Janeiro, and for the next three months, the cheapest ticket still costs $340.

The distance between two cities is just 1,816 miles. The distance between Shanghai and Singapore is 2,365 miles and the cheapest ticket costs $111. Shanghai to Paris costs $345 yet takes 5,756 miles.

The other cities in South America follow this pattern as well; the ticket is extremely expensive compared to flights in Asia (East and Southeast) and Europe.

Example (the cheapest one-way ticket for the next 3 months as of 2018-03-20 on Google Flights):

  • Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro: $140
  • Sao Paulo to Santiago: $284
  • Sao Paulo to Montevideo: $232
  • Lima to Bogota: $303
  • (Buenos Aires to Mexico City: $794)

This makes the whole trip to these otherwise cheap countries no longer attractive cost-wise, and I feel it is even more expensive than traveling around Western Europe for 3+ months.

So why do countries in South America take so much money to travel around?

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    It's not the countries who take so much money but the airlines! – Neusser Mar 20 '18 at 10:17
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    Probably, because of lack of competition on the routes, which comes down to demand. – Weather Vane Mar 20 '18 at 10:52
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    You've accounted for the fact that, except on budget airlines, one-way flights are generally expensive throughout the world? – David Richerby Mar 20 '18 at 17:38
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    these prices are exactly the same as in Europe or North America. – Fattie Mar 20 '18 at 21:45
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    The OP considers $140 for Buenos Aires-Rio expensive? It's a three-hour flight. How much do you expect to pay for a three-hour flight? – Martin Argerami Mar 21 '18 at 2:01
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I would like to add to @Willeke's answer by questioning your initial premise:

This makes the whole trip to these otherwise cheap countries no longer attractive cost-wise, and I feel it is even more expensive than traveling around Western Europe for 3+ months.

You presume that being a cheap country means air tickets must also be cheaper. To analyse that, lets take a look at the costs of running a single flight in the United States:

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  • Fuel is cheaper in the US compared to South America, by about 50%
  • Crew labor isn't significantly cheaper, with Brazilian pilots making more than American pilots
  • Renting/owning aircraft is cheaper in the US
  • All other expenses are generally comparable as they aren't significantly dependent on the costs of local labor

Which means that it isn't significantly cheaper (and potentially even more expensive) to run a plane in South America compared to the rest of the world.

Then you may ask why you're able to get dirt cheap tickets in South East Asia and the answer is volume. Asian airlines are able to run dozens of flights per day between the most popular city pairs, while the number of passengers traveling internationally in South America is relatively low. The most popular route in South America (Rio to Sao Paulo) is dirt cheap, with flights available for as low as $75. If the number of passengers traveling between Rio and Santiago was the same I guarantee you could get excellent deals for that route as well.

  • I agree with Jonathan, and would like to add that even on SE Asia domestic flights are not always cheap. For example, in Myanmar - a very poor country indeed - three domestic flights I took were over $100 each. It was cheaper to fly to Bangkok on a 3hr flight than to fly a 40 minute flight to Mandalay. Same with Laos, where my flight KUL-VTE was cheaper than a domestic flight VTE-Luang Prabang. – George Y. Mar 22 '18 at 16:51
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    @GeorgeY. Myanmar is an abberation -- domestic demand for flights is low due to poverty (plus dirt-cheap but serviceable railways). In addition, there's likely heavy gov't interference, both direct (taxes) and indirect (airline costs). As for Laos, I flew VTE-LPQ for $80 or so -- that's not especially expensive. – dbkk Apr 8 '18 at 18:12
  • @dbkk Expensive is relative. KUL-VTE - a 3hr international flight - costs $49. You paid almost twice more for a 50m domestic flight. – George Y. Apr 9 '18 at 4:56
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As so often with 'why' questions about prices, it is what the people are preparing to pay and what the companies can offer their services for.

Part of the equation will be the taxes.
Part lack of competition.
And likely there will be no cheaper alternatives by other transport that are enough competition for the airlines to lower their prices.

In Europe, there are many ways to get from one country to an other, including (and not restricted to) bus/coach, train and privately owned car. The distances are such that people will often elect to fly to gain a few hours, but they have the alternatives and many people will use those.
In North America the distances are greater already but still giving other options.

In South America, the distances are often much larger and people are less inclined to travel in the first place, when they have to travel they have fewer options and have to go with what is available for the prices asked.
When you compare the prices to the incomes of the average worker in the countries involved you get an even higher price than in Europe and North America.
If the only option to visit a relative in an other country will cost you a months wages, you do not travel there unless you have to be there.
Rich people will be able to afford to travel, but they can also afford the current prices and often more.

As such the development of cheap travel is much slower, even when there are enough (foreign) visitors to fill the available flights.

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    Long story short: Supply and demand. There's just not enough demand to travel around South America as there is in other parts of the world. – thanby Mar 20 '18 at 15:41
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    @thanby in supply and demand, lower demand leads to lower prices. There's got to be some other name for what is happening here. What's the opposite of economies of scale? – stannius Mar 20 '18 at 16:21
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    @stannius: Niche markets. You'll get the occasional good deal, there though. Because the volumes are so small and not dividable (can't fly half a plane, let alone half a seat), matching supply and demand is harder. – MSalters Mar 20 '18 at 16:34
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    One reason there isn't other methods of travel is that ground travel often is across high mountain ranges or vast jungles. Even Montevideo and Buenos Aires that are about 200 km apart as the crows flies, you'll have to drive (in my estimate from looking at google maps) more than 1000 km if you want decent roads. Not sure there are bridges across Rio de la Plata/Uruguay River before as far up the river as Libertador San Martin. – Bent Mar 20 '18 at 19:24
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    @stannius In a perfectly free market with commodity goods, perhaps, but nothing involving international transportation ever approaches such conditions, and that is especially the case with air travel. – choster Mar 20 '18 at 21:18
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My guess is that you have a mix of two problems: the airline you choose and the prices policy. For me, as a Chilean, a round trip from Santiago (Chile) to Montevideo (Uruguay) cost around USD 130, tax included. Try to use a VPN service, the browser in guess/private mode, and get a quote from a low cost

  • The airlines don’t matter as I search for the cheapest ticket, irrespective of airlines. – Blaszard Mar 21 '18 at 16:28
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    The key part in this answer is VPN. Choose one that is located in South America. You'll see different prices, because the airline website will think you're a South American inhabitant. – Christiaan Westerbeek Mar 21 '18 at 18:44
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    @Blaszard Airlines and some other industries can and do discriminate based on whether they believe you can afford the higher tickets or not. – Thebluefish Mar 21 '18 at 19:55
  • @Thebluefish yes noticed this with car hire companies as well. Having a credit card from the local country (maybe a prepaid credit card?) often gets a different rate. – Shiv Mar 22 '18 at 0:59
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    +1 For VPN, In Colombia, I realized that Avianca and friends hide an entire fare class from you (the cheapest one) when you're not visiting their site from a Colombian IP address. On top of that their prices in USD/foreign currency are often use a horribly expensive exchange rate versus the real one. So I book using a Colombian IP and pay in COP with a "travel" (no forex fee) credit card, or a local debit card from a relative. – unknownprotocol Mar 22 '18 at 4:43
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Looking at it the other way around, these are excellent prices and the ones you mention for Asia are insanely cheap!

The main guess would be density of population. We have the same issue within Canada flying from one province to the other. It is extremely expensive and frustrating that domestic flights can cost a significant amount more than international ones elsewhere.

Comparatively Asia and Europe are much denser than South America. This actually compounds the problem because it means there is less business for airlines to compete for and so there ends up being a lot fewer airlines and competition.

As quite usual, flight costs tend to dominate travel costs, so the longer you stay at each destination, the more affordable it will be. Although I was surprised to find out how expensive Brazil is compared to other South American countries and there, the cost of flying was relatively minor compared to staying and eating.

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I´m from Argentina and currently living in Netherland. I do like to travel as much as i can. Sadly travel in South America is not cheap, there are a lot of factors..... The "parking" for the Planes is NOT cheap, so usually Airlines pay higher fees to land in different south american countries than they do in Europe or in the US. Nonetheless, what you may lose in tickets you are going to save in food, hotels, etc....

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    Thanks but do you have any evidence on “parking fee” being more expensive than in Europe or USA? – Blaszard Mar 21 '18 at 16:30
  • @Blaszard Wendover Productions on Youtube did a video about the cost of flying in South America. You may be interested in it. – hjf May 9 '18 at 19:22
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Have you looked at two-way flights? There may be cases where two-way flights are several times cheaper than one-way. Some agents know this, they will sell you a two-way flight even if you're just buying one leg.

Also, some European airlines can offer one-way flights for a fraction of price because they have routes with stopover, and everybody they pick up at stopover is free money for them. Flew this way from Buenos Aires to Santiago with KLM - was the most economical option at $150.

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