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There are few places on earth that evoke a sense of adventure and exploration like South Africa. In addition to the amazing national parks and the wealth of history in South Africa itself, flying into Johannesburg opens up travel opportunities to neighboring Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and the best safari and wildlife tours on the planet. Unfortunately, it's also thousands of miles from the US, options to get there are limited, and it's an expensive destination to reach. Even more so up the pointy end of the plane.
It's these very reasons that make South Africa such a prime option for award travel. While revenue tickets in business can set you back thousands of dollars. If you choose the right frequent flyer program, you can fly to South Africa in some of the best business class products in the world at a fraction of the cost. Below, we’ve detailed some of our favorite round-trip redemptions to South Africa, including how to get the required miles if you don’t already hold them.
Best Points & Miles to Fly to South Africa
|ANA Mileage Club in Business on Etihad for 104K Miles - Hefty fees, but a relatively tiny amount of miles|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Partner Award - Not exactly cheap, but KrisFlyer miles are easy to accumulate|
|Alaska Mileage Plan in First on Cathay Pacific for 140K - You'll go the long way, but will enjoy a lot of time in some of the best seats in the air|
|Korean SKYPASS Partner Award in Business for 120K - Expect to pay some taxes/fees, but at 120K miles with SkyTeam, we can't complain|
|American AAdvantage in Business on Qatar for 150K - Solid price in miles, minimal fees and great service -- one of our favorites|
|United MileagePlus in Business with Star Alliance Partners for 160K - Get creative with your routing if you need to as well|
- Economy – 65,000
- Business – 104,000
A member of Star Alliance, ANA considers Africa to be all one region, so you could use this award to fly anywhere on the continent with the right routing and carrier combination. ANA only allows round-trip fares on partner awards, and also adds carrier-imposed surcharges on most partners. Exceptions to this rule include SA partners United, Air Canada, and Avianca, and non-alliance partner Etihad.
Star Alliance options include South African Airways (the only non-stop flight), Turkish, SWISS, etc. Or you could employ a combination of Star Alliance carriers. Bear in mind, the fuel surcharges will be stiff, in the range of $500/600 per ticket. Still top value, but it can take the shine off a redemption when you pay fuel surcharges. You can’t book Etihad via ANA’s website, you’ll need to call the reservations line on 1-800-235-9262 and book with an agent.
ANA is a transfer partner of both Amex Membership Rewards and Marriott Rewards, so you can transfer points earned via cards like The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. For more information on redeeming ANA miles check out our post on how to book ANA award flights.
If you’re looking for an alternative to fly Star Alliance, Singapore KrisFlyer partner awards offer average value at 104K for economy and 174K in business (see the full award chart here). The advantage to KrisFlyer is the ability to transfer miles from all four of the major flexible rewards currencies, Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and ThankYou Points. Again, the fees take their toll on this route, but if your points are spread between different rewards programs KrisFlyer is an ok option.
- Economy – 100,000
- Business – 125,000
- First – 140,000
Alaska uses different award charts for each partner airline, with the option to fly to SA on British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Condor, and Emirates between the Continental U.S. and Africa. The best value, on arguably one of the best hard products in the world, is Cathay Pacific flying via Hong Kong.
While you can find better deals for economy class, the 125K in Business and 140K in First represent some of the best value awards to South Africa. The value is even better when you factor in that Alaska allows a stopover each way on roundtrip awards, and they don’t collect fuel surcharges on Cathay awards. You can also book one-way, allowing you to mix and match programs on the outbound and return legs.
Keep in mind that Cathay Pacific does not operate a First Class cabin between Hong Kong and South Africa, but between the US and Hong Kong you'll enjoy one of our favorite seats in the sky.
You’ll need to search for Cathay award availability on BA.com and call the flights into the Alaska Airlines Reservations on 1-800-252-7522, you cannot book them online.
- Economy – 80,000
- Business – 120,000
- First – 160,000
Korean offers round-trip business awards to South Africa for 120,000 miles on any SkyTeam partner. The caveat is you’ll need to front up a hefty portion of cash to cover carrier-imposed surcharges. In the example below flying a combination of Delta and Air France via Paris, the combined fees and taxes top $800. You can theoretically book Delta's non-stop ATL-JNB flight on this award, however, if you find award availability we'll question if you're human or a wizard.
Still, the alternative if you want to fly SkyTeam is Alitalia for 120K (with similar taxes & fees plus the potential they go under similar to Air Berlin), Flying Blue at 200K, or SkyMiles which will set you back 210,000 at the bottom end of the spectrum, and cost an astonishing 700,000 miles at the top end!
- Economy – 75,000
- Business – 150,000
American’s strict routing rules prevent you from connecting in a third region when flying between the U.S. and Africa, with the only exceptions being Europe and now Doha. You can opt to fly British Airways from Europe down to Johannesburg but you’ll wear BA’s high fuel surcharges and the availability can be spotty. The alternative is to fly Qatar via Doha. 150K may be higher than most of the options above, but redeeming AA miles on Qatar will only attract minimal fees, typically in the range of $100.
Besides AA’s co-brand cards like the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®, you can earn AAdvantage miles by transferring Marriott points from your SPG Amex.
- Economy – 80,000
- Business – 160,000
MileagePlus is another option to redeem miles on Star Alliance carriers. As opposed to ANA and KrisFlyer where you’ll pay hefty fees, United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges, making it a great option if you prefer using miles without the significant cash outlay of additional fuel surcharges. You’ll pay 80K each way plus minimal fees to fly Star Alliance carriers like Turkish, Swiss, and South African; 160K in total for a round-trip in business. Deciding between MileagePlus and ANA or Singapore for Star Alliance carriers typically comes down to where you park your points.
While you can earn miles on the United℠ Explorer Card, we think you’re better off with the Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Why? Both cards earn Ultimate Rewards which transfer to United at 1:1. Given that the Sapphire cards have better bonus categories outside of travel and earn the same or better on flights, the UR earning cards come out better than United’s co-brand offerings.
So, which option is best? That really comes down to which points you collect. Transferring Membership Rewards to ANA and redeeming on Etihad is the best value on paper, but if you don’t have a stash of Membership Rewards to burn then you need to turn to other options. Alaska comes in a close second to ANA, for all the reasons that make it our favorite frequent flyer program; great redemption value, amazing partner airlines with top products, and a distinct lack of fuel surcharges to leave cash on hand for your vacation.
Booking an award to South Africa isn’t the easiest redemption, but much like other hard to reach destinations (here’s looking at you New Zealand) the payoff is a once in a lifetime vacation experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
If you have any questions or you think we’ve missed a top redemption option, please sing out in the comments.
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