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3 best ways to fly to Africa with miles from the U.S.

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Africa can be a challenging destination to get from the U.S. with miles. There is very little nonstop service, and awards on those flights are hard to come by. Yet fares in general are expensive, so miles can be an outstanding value if you can use them.

Here are 3 of the most reasonable and accessible ways to get to Africa with miles…

1. Easiest, not always the cheapest: United MileagePlus®

What it will cost you:

  • 40,000 United MileagePlus miles one-way in Economy Class
  • 80,000 United MileagePlus miles one-way in Business Class

The most transparent and easy way to get award seats to Africa is with Star Alliance and United MileagePlus, which is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

There are no fuel surcharges to worry about. And thanks to partners like Lufthansa, South African Airways, and Ethiopian Airways, which each have lots of flights to Africa you can find lots of availability.

United itself even flies to Lagos.

And United.com will even automatically look for flights that go via Brazil on South African Airways, which opens up even more opportunities.

unitedafrica

You can even include a free stopover, so you can spend time in two cities, for example this trip to both Nairobi and Johannesburg was easy to book on United.com:

unitedstopover

2. The cheapest: ANA Mileage Club

For the absolute cheapest mileage price, if you have American Express Membership Rewards® points you can transfer them to ANA Japan Mileage Club miles.

As of April 12th you’ll be able to book any Star Alliance carrier (including the stopover example above) for:

  • 60,000 miles roundtrip in Economy Class
  • 90,000 miles roundtrip in Business Class
  • 140,000 miles roundtrip in First Class

The downside is transfers to ANA aren’t instant and can take a few days, so award space could dry up before you transfer. And ANA imposes fuel surcharges on most awards, so you’ll pay a up to $500 or so for the award, versus about $100 if you use United MileagePlus.

But for a Business Class award the extra fees can be worth saving 70,000 miles roundtrip.

3. A hidden option: Qatar Airways via American AAdvantage®

What it will cost you:

  • 37,500 AAdvantage miles one-way in Economy Class
  • 75,000 AAdvantage miles one-way in Business Class

American AAdvantage has some tricky routing rules for awards that can leave you frustrated.

For example, to get to Africa, you can only fly there via Europe, which almost always means flying British Airways with huge fuel surcharges.

But there is an important exception.

American allows you to get to Africa via Doha on Qatar Airways if…

  • You fly Qatar Airways to Doha on the trans Atlantic portion of your flight
  • You fly onward to Africa on Qatar Airways
  • Qatar Airways publishes a fare from your starting city to your destination in Africa. It’s easy to check this by searching for Qatar Airways flights on Google Flights. It’s also okay to fly American Airlines flights to a Qatar Airways gateway city in the U.S.

The benefit is Qatar has good award availability to lots of African destinations, even to Johannesburg. And AAdvantage doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges for awards on Qatar Airways.

This map shows all of the African destinations Qatar serves:

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 4.28.16 PM

From North America, Qatar Airways departs New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Houston, and Montreal.
You can find Qatar space by creating an account at BA.com (British Airways’ website) and using its Book a Reward flight tool.

To get the most reliable results, look for each segment of your trip separately. For example, search for Philadelphia to Doha (DOH) on its own. Then Doha to Johannesburg (JNB) on its own.

qatarphlspace

qatarspace

And to see if the route you want to book is legal with AAdvantage miles, you can go to Google flights and select ‘Airline’ to narrow your search to flights Qatar Airways is selling.

As you’ll see they sell many options that include American Airlines flights to Qatar Airways gateway cities, so you don’t have to live in a city that Qatar Airways serves to take advantage of the Qatar loophole in the AAdvantage program.

You should also know that AAdvantage isn’t a stickler for the way you get to a Qatar Airways gateway. In the example below Dallas is the gateway city. But you could fly through Philadelphia, Miami, Washington D.C., or any other Qatar Airways gateway that has award space. The key is that Qatar sells flights from your starting city in the U.S. to your ending city in Africa.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 5.08.33 PM

And while Delta SkyMiles has partner Kenya Airways serving much of Africa via its Nairobi hub, finding an agent able to book those flights is a maddening crapshoot, with space shown via other SkyTeam partners like Air France Flying Blue rarely bookable with Delta SkyMiles.

Which is a shame given Kenya Airways’ reasonable award availability to hard to get destinations like Seychelles.

Plus: A good deal for short flights

If you’re in South Africa and looking to get around, British Airways Avios, transferable from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards®, are a great deal.

You can fly ComAir’s routes, which are affiliated with British Airways, with Avios. Most of their routes are short, which means you can book them for just 4,500 points each way. Cape Town is 7,500 points each way and Mauritius is 10,000 points each way.

comair


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April 7, 2015