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Video Sunday Reader Question: Using Miles to Get to South Africa For a Honeymoon

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TPG reader Jon has been reading about my adventures in South Africa and is thinking about going there for his honeymoon (congratulations, by the way!) later this year. Here’s what he wants to know about getting there:

“Your recent trip to South Africa inspired me to reach out and see if you had any tips regarding flights from NYC to Johannesburg, as I will be getting married on April 20th and we would love to honeymoon in SA. We would ideally like to leave New York soon after the 20th, return approximately two weeks later and fly business class. 

I currently have 150,000 Avios, 200,000 Amex Membership Rewards points, 90,000 Delta miles and a Travel Together Ticket for British Airways. I have a personal Amex Platinum card, a Business Platinum card and a British Airways Chase Visa card.  Any thoughts, advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.”

South Africa is a great honeymoon destination! I have been here for a week and some of the things we’ve done so far have included shark cage diving, hanging out with cheetahs and going wine tasting in the wine country.  Once you have arrived there are a ton of great things to do whether you want adventure or relaxation, but the hardest part of the trip can getting here.

The South African Airways A340-600 I flew from JFK.
The South African Airways A340-600 I flew from JFK.

My recommendation would be to fly non-stop from the US which you can do on either South African Airways from New York or Washington, or Delta from Atlanta. I flew on South African from New York JFK to Johannesburg in business class on their A340-600 using 110,000 US Airways miles and paying $126 in taxes. You could also use 120,000 United miles to do so since that’s what their award chart requires. I thought it was a pretty good experience overall, though not top notch.

Delta has non-stop flights from Atlanta on their 777-200LR, which I enjoyed flying to Tokyo back in 2011. A roundtrip business class ticket from North America to Africa requires at least 140,000 SkyMiles, but finding low-level availability can be extremely difficult. Most trips I priced out were at least 250,000 SkyMiles!

Aeroplan award chart for Canada and Continental US to East, West and South Africa.
Aeroplan award chart for Canada and Continental US to East, West and South Africa.

Another option is to use your American Express Membership Rewards points that can be transferred to 3 different Star Alliance partners –  Aeroplan, ANA and Singapore Airlines. I would recommend using Aeroplan because the transfer is instantaneous and it’s 150,000 miles roundtrip though you might get hit with high fees and surcharges if you fly South African – though still nothing compared to buying a $9,000 ticket.

Using Singapore KrisFlyer miles requires only 145,000 miles, but what’s great about Aeroplan is that they allow you to book 2 different stopovers so you could fly to Cape Town, then to Johannesburg and build in flights to Nelspruit (MQP) if you wanted go on safari. It may make more sense to have those flights built in and pay the fuel surcharges vs saving 5,000 Amex points.

When searching for award availability, keep in mind that South African Airways usually doesn’t release more than one award seat on the same flight on the same day. Luckily you’re going at the start of low season in South Africa. Right now there is one business award ticket available for April 23rd though that could change by the time this post goes live.

As of writing this post, there was at least one business class award seat on SAA's JFK-JNB flight.
As of writing this post, there was at least one business class award seat on SAA’s JFK-JNB flight.

TPG Managing Editor Eric and I got lucky because once I put my business class award ticket from JFK to Johannesburg on hold through US Airways, another one opened up for him the next day. Unlike US Airways, Aeroplan won’t let you place tickets on hold, however you can book an award and hope that another award is released in the following few days. The key is to be diligent about checking for updated availability.

In a worst case scenario, you can always fly through a Star Alliance hub like Cairo aboard Egyptair if you are comfortable doing so. Keep in mind when you connect on Star Alliance partners you’ll add on a ton of travel time (I saw one itinerary aboard United that transited via Bombay!), but you could build in a stopover for a day or so in Frankfurt if you end up flying Lufthansa back to the US.

Flying into Cape Town aboard SAA.
Flying into Cape Town aboard SAA.

If you do choose to use Aeroplan, it will cost you 300,000 miles total for yourself and your soon-to-be wife while you currently only have 200,000 American Express points. There are a couple of ways to build up your balance in a hurry, though. Since you have a Platinum card, American Express allows you to advance yourself up to 60,000 points. To get an extra 70,000 points you can buy Amex points at 2.5 cents per piece which, though not cheap at $1,750, might not be a bad option since you’ll be getting two $9,000 tickets out of it – and you’ll be getting to spend your honeymoon in South Africa.

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