The Best Ways to Use Miles and Points to Get to South Africa

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South Africa is a bucket list destination for many. The only problem is that it’s not very easy to get there because there aren’t as many options as you find for getting to places like Europe or Asia. However, contrary to what you might think, there are some ways to get to South Africa that offer decent availability, superb products, and minimal taxes and fees. Here’s a breakdown of the best way to get to South Africa with miles and points


ANA 

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 65,000
  • Business class: 104,000 miles

Although you have to book roundtrip fares with ANA, they offer ridiculously low redemption rates for getting to South Africa with miles and points at only 104,000 miles roundtrip! Heading from North America, you’ll likely be utilizing a combination of United and Star Alliance partners like Turkish Airways and South African Airways to get to South Africa. Since United does not fly to South Africa, you’ll have to pay fuel surcharges if you want to get there with ANA miles.

South African Airways

There are two ways to use South African Airways: finding availability on the one non-stop from JFK to JNB or by piecing together flights from connecting flights from other regions.

When I searched for flights, I found most South African Airways routing connecting through Sao Paulo (GRU) or somewhere in Europe like London. However, they also fly to Asia and Australia, so you could potentially route through just about anywhere (subject to higher redemption requirements, of course).

As usual, hefty surcharges will be likely when you book with ANA. My searches showed total fees of approximately $580 when booking South African Airlines with ANA from North America to Johannesburg, South Africa, which seems to be pretty standard with all partners not named or associated with United. 

I’ve never flown business on South African Airways but based on reviews, it looks like a decent product and has fully lie-flat seats, which is a plus. You can find a review on one of their business class cabins here.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines has some decent availability as well. They fly out of many different U.S. cities including, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, NYC, San Francisco, and Washington. If you go through ANA, you’ll often find Turkish Airlines itineraries lumped together with United and South African Airways but the fees generally end up being the same, somewhere close to $580.

Other partners

United, Air India, Egypt Air, Swiss, Ethiopian, Lufthansa, and perhaps a few other Star Alliance partners may help complete your journey to South Africa with ANA, so be on the lookout for such flights. 

Total miles and fees for using ANA to book South African Airways + Swiss roundtrip.

The important thing to remember with booking partners with ANA is that you’ll need to book a roundtrip ticket and that you’ll have to pay some fuel surcharges. If you can live those things, ANA is a hard option to not go with. 

The view from Table Mountain, South Africa.

Asiana Airlines

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG and co-branded credit card
  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 120,000

Asiana Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance and the second largest carrier out of South Korea, behind Korean Air of the SkyTeam Alliance. Asiana has an award chart for its own metal and a separate chart for partners. One great thing about this program is that they allow you to book one way awards on partners.

Fuel surcharges will be imposed on many partners but you can get around them with certain airlines like United and I believe Air Canada. You can also avoid surcharges on Etihad — here’s the  award chart for Etihad. (Qatar is a partner too but they’re not listed on the partner award chart link like Etihad is.)

Asiana does not allow you to book partner awards online. You’ll need to call in to their call center which is open during normal business hours (Pacific time) and can be reached at 1-800-227-4262. There should be no fee for making a booking over the phone.


Singapore Airlines

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thankyou points, SPG

Partner airlines

  • Economy: 104,000
  • Business class: 174,000

As already shown, South African Airways and Turkish airlines offer a number of ways to get to South Africa. You can book these partners by calling in to Singapore Airlines and take advantage of their very reasonable redemption rates but you will have to pay fuel surcharges, since Singapore Airlines charges them on every partner airlines except for United.  Fuel surcharges may be close to $300, although they could vary depending on market conditions.

Update: Singapore is rolling out booking partners online!

These awards used to be more competitive but Singapore Airlines recently devalued many of their awards and this route took a hit and left us with the prices we have now.

Singapore Airlines

  • 161,500 (online discount factored in) Online discount no longer offered
  • Economy: 104,000
  • Business class: 204,000

Singapore Airlines is a decent way to fly to South Africa if you don’t mind shelling out a lot of miles and you’re departing from the west coast (LAX or SFO). They have one of the best business class products out of any airline, so you’ll be flying in style and very comfortable.

While the recent devaluation increased the prices of some redemptions, it also came with a decrease in total fees. So now you only have to pay roughly $100 in fees for both economy and business class flights to South Africa!

Miles and points to South Africa
Total miles and fees for a roundtrip economy flight.
miles and points to south africa
Total miles and fees for a roundtrip business class flight.

The biggest knock against flying business class on Singapore Airlines is availability. In order to find openings, you may have to do a lot of searching and continuously check up on what’s available. This is especially true if you’re traveling with multiple people. It’s not quite as difficult as finding first class Singapore Suites availability but don’t be surprised if you’re forced to waitlist for a business class fare you really want. 


United Airlines 

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles:  Chase Ultimate Rewards, Chase cards, SPG (2:1)

Miles needed for Star Alliance partners:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 160,000

Booking through United to get to South Africa can be a solid option. The same Star Alliance partners for ANA will likely be used: South African Airways, Turkish, etc., but the difference will be that you won’t pay nearly as much in fees.

A lot of the business class roundtrip bookings I tested had about $100 or less in total fees. While it’s nice to save a few hundred bucks on fees, I’d personally take the nearly 60,000 savings in points by booking business class with ANA and just shell out around $500 for my award ticket on most occasions. 

Hangin’ out with penguins as Boulders Beach outside of Cape Town, South Africa.

American Airlines 

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, Citi credit cards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 150,000

After planning my own trip to South Africa and trying (for months) to find opportune routing options in all sorts of different ways, I think that using American Airline miles is one of the easiest ways to use miles and points to get to South Africa (and to arrive there in style). As long as you plan well in advance, you shouldn’t encounter many issues finding availability on airlines like Qatar and Etihad, two quality airlines that require you to pay only modest fees. 

Qatar

Qatar flies to several U.S. cities including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St Louis, and Washington. Searching for award availability with Qatar can be an issue with the American Airlines website, so I usually use British Airways to find open award availability.

Once you’re able to search for seats, you’ll probably find availability for business class seats to JNB to be pretty good, especially if you’re looking to book several months in advance. I think for many routes Qatar opens up four business class seats for awards but even with this limitation, I found plenty of flights with open seats between American cities and DOH and between DOH and JNB.

Qatar business class is a great product and to go along with that great product, you also get low fees. Expect to only pay around $80 in fees, which is a much better bargain compared to what you’ll pay with British Airways.

Etihad (Increased mileage requirement)

Etihad has several routes to the United States, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington. The business class product on Etihad is highly touted and if you’re flying from JFK, you can always look into booking a first class redemption on the A380 to experience the Etihad Apartment — perhaps the most luxurious cabin in the world at the moment.

I suggest searching on the Etihad website for availability. You’ll search for “Guest” seats and then call in to American Airlines to book them. (I’ve had to call the American Airlines center in Australia the past few times I’ve booked Etihad, because for some reason the agents in the U.S. were having trouble finding the seats.)

In my experience, availability for business class is decent with Etihad but can sometimes be difficult to find when searching for JFK to AUH routes. For other routes, it’s usually not as much of an issue when you book far in advance. I recommend searching for the flights segment by segment on Etihad’s website to maximize the results that will be shown. Expect fees to be very reasonable and similar to those imposed by Qatar.

British Airways

It’s easy to find availability on British Airways to JNB but you’re going to be absolutely b—- slapped by BA fuel surcharges. Take a look below at the required fees for one roundtrip business class…. $1,700 just for one passenger! That’s a lot and with options like Etihad and Qatar available with AA miles, I’d only consider BA if that was my only option. And even then…. 


Flying Blue 

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thankyou points, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 200,000

I think that the potential for quick accumulation of miles is an important factor to consider and that’s why I like to include Flying Blue in many of my lists since it’s so easy to rack up miles with them from the different programs.

With that said, getting to South Africa can be very pricey with Flying Blue, since it requires you to drop 200,000 for roundtrip business class tickets. And if you’re not able to find availability on a Delta flight to South Africa (which seemed impossible when I searched)  you’ll also be paying over €800 in fees and taxes!

Thus, unless you’re booking an economy flight to South Africa with Delta, I don’t really recommend Flying Blue since there are much cheaper options. Remember, Singapore Airlines is also a transfer partner of the same programs that Flying Blue is partner to (all of the major ones) and they’ll require 30,000 fewer miles to redeem for this route!

Helicopter ride over Cape Town, South Africa.

Delta Airlines

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, American Express Delta cards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Milage requirements vary but you might be able to find: 
  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 190,000

Delta is the only U.S. carrier that offers a direct flight to South Africa (ATL to JNB). For that reason, it might be tempting to think about going with them. However, their rates for getting to South Africa can be very ridiculous. If you search far enough in the future, however, you might catch some cheap award flights that start at 40,000 one-way. 

My issue with these cheap rewards is that they often have multiple stops which can be a PIA, though it’s possible to find these cheap routes with one-stop flights as seen below.

The good new is that the total fees paid can be as low as $139 for the entire roundtrip. Below are the total fees and mileage requirements for two people flying roundtrip. (One segment was priced at 50,000). Still,  90,000 + $139 in fees for a roundtrip ticket to South Africa isn’t bad.

Even though the pricing can be extremely ridiculous with Delta you can sometimes get a little lucky and run into some decent deals.

Cage diving with great whites in South Africa.

Alitalia 

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Earn points: Membership Rewards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 120,000

If you’re determined to go the SkyTeam route to get to South Africa then consider using Alitalia. They offer some of the best redemption rates for getting to South Africa. They can be a bit of a pain to deal with due to the fact that you’ll have to call in to book awards and customer service can be a bit shoddy. Also, you’ll have to pay some hefty fees to book with partner airlines. However, if you’re able to pull it off, the mileage requirements are among the lowest available.


Korean Air 

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: Chase Ultimate Rewards,  SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 120,000 miles

Korean Air offers the same redemptions as Alitalia. It also requires high fees and surcharges unless you book with certain airlines, such as Delta, making this a great option. It’s got many of the same negatives as Alitalia, however, in that you must call in to book and you have to deal with some odd and cumbersome logistical hurdles to get your booking done (update: you can book online now). However, if you really want a cheap redemption, I think it can be worth it. Korean Air is a great alternative to Alitalia if you want to book with SkyTeam partners but have Ultimate Rewards instead of Membership Rewards to spare.

Note that Korean Air only allows for roundtrip redemptions on partners. 

Cape Town market.

Alaska Airlines 

  • Alliance: Partners include American Airlines, Iceland Air, Air France
  • Ways to earn miles: Alaskan Airlines credit cards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Milage requirements vary depending on partner

You can use Alaska Airlines miles to get to South Africa with partner airlines: Flying Blue, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta and Emirates. After looking at the different award charts for the partners, I saw two redemptions that stuck out to me and both of them are on Cathay Pacific. 

Cathay Pacific

  • 125,000 in business
  • 140,000 in first class

125,000 in business on Cathay Pacific is very good considering the product level of Cathay Pacific and how low that redemption is to some of the other premier airlines.

You’ll need to search for award availability with British Airways or Japan Airlines since Alaska often doesn’t show Cathay Pacific award availability. A quick search for availability about 7 months out showed many open business class seats and even some first class seats between U.S. destinations like LAX and HKG (Hong Kong) and JBN. Thus, I think that if you’re able to book well in advance, this is a very legitimate way to get to South Africa (and don’t forget Alaska allows for stopovers on your routing, too).


Final Word

Getting to South Africa doesn’t have to be as daunting of a task as it might seem. There are some very cheap redemptions available for business class on some solid airlines and there’s decent availability with award flights. The key to is to try to plan these bookings months in advance and try to be versatile with your miles and capable of making a booking with one or more alliances. It can really be advantageous if you’re able to split up your outbound and inbound routes with different alliances, as you’re offered maximum flexibility. 

Cover photo byAlan Wilson via Flickr



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