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South Africa is a popular tourist destination that offers a little bit of everything, from safaris to city life to heart-stopping adventures. It also happens to be one of TPG’s all time favorite vacation spots, and that says a lot. Oh, and did I mention they have penguins there? While Cape Town is currently experiencing a serious water shortage, the city is still very much open for business. So today, let’s talk about the best ways to fly to South Africa using points and miles.

Giraffes in Kruger park South Africa
Giraffes in Kruger Park in South Africa. (Photo by Getty Images)

Airlines That Fly to South Africa

South Africa is a large country, but today we’ll just be focusing on the two main airports, Johannesburg (JNB) and Cape Town (CPT). As you can see from this list, Johannesburg gets many more international flights than Cape Town, and many airlines that do fly to Cape Town only do so a few times a week. Here are the major airlines currently flying to South Africa:

  • Ethiopian Airlines flies from Addis Ababa (ADD) to both Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Lufthansa flies from Frankfurt (FRA) to Johannesburg and Cape Town, and from Munich (MUC) to Cape Town
  • Swiss flies from Zurich (ZRH) to Johannesburg and Cape Town via its subsidiary Edelweiss Air
  • Turkish flies from Istanbul (IST) to Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • British Airways flies from London (LHR) to Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Cathay Pacific flies from Hong Kong (HKG) to Johannesburg and will be launching flights to Cape Town in November
  • Iberia flies from Madrid (MAD) to Johannesburg
  • Qatar flies from Doha (DOH) to Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Air France flies from Paris (CDG) to Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Delta flies from Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg
  • KLM flies from Amsterdam (AMS) to Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Emirates flies from Dubai (DXB) to Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Johannesburg
  • Condor flies from Frankfurt (FRA) to Cape Town

Also, local flag carrier South African Airways flies from Johannesburg to New York (JFK), as well as to Washington DC (IAD), although the DC flight includes a refueling stop in Senegal (DSS).

Noticeably absent from this list is almost every Asian airline. While several of them do fly to South Africa, award routing rules prohibit US fliers from routing the wrong way around the world (i.e.: through Asia) on their way to Africa. There’s one exception which I’ll discuss more below, which is arguably the single best value redemption you can make.

Mileage Table

Now that we’ve identified the airlines flying to South Africa, let’s look at the various frequent flyer programs you can use to book them. Note that I haven’t included every option here, only those that are most relevant to US-based fliers.

Points Program Transfer Partners Airline Partners Round-Trip Award Cost
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Starwood Preferred Guest British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Condor, Emirates
  • Economy: 80,000-110,000
  • Business: 125,000-240,000
  • First: 140,000-160,000
American AAdvantage Starwood Preferred Guest British Airways, Iberia, Qatar, Etihad
  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business: 150,000
  • First: 240,000
United MileagePlus Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish
  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business: 160,000
  • First: 260,000
Air Canada (Aeroplan) Amex Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish
  • Economy: 100,000
  • Business: 150,000
  • First: 210,000
Korean Air SkyPass Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest Delta, Air France, KLM
  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business: 120,000
Delta SkyMiles Amex Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest Air France, KLM
  • Economy: 60,000-70,000
  • Business: 140,000-170,000
Chase Ultimate Rewards United MileagePlus, Korean Air SkyPass
Amex Membership Rewards Air Canada (Aeroplan), Delta SkyMiles
Starwood Preferred Guest Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, American Airlines AAdvantage, Air Canada Aeroplan, Delta SkyMiles, Korean Air SkyPass, United MileagePlus

That’s a lot of options to consider, but which are the best? While a great deal will depend on award availability and the type of miles you have access to, here are six top choices you should explore first.

1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Because Alaska Airlines isn’t part of a major alliance, the airline instead has individual partnerships with different airlines. This means that the cost of an award ticket will vary heavily depending on which partner you fly. Here are the one-way prices for flights to South Africa on Alaska partners:

(Note the two separate award charts for flights on Condor and make sure you pay attention to the one for South Africa.)

Let’s take these partners one at a time and discuss the pros and cons of each. While British Airways is cheap from a mileage perspective, you’ll still have to pay some pretty egregious carrier surcharges for flights through London. These can easily add up to $1,000 round-trip, and are worth avoiding if at all possible.

As always, one of the best possible uses of Alaska miles is to fly Cathay Pacific’s incredible first class. I’d happily fly the wrong way around the world to enjoy the spacious six seat first class cabin aboard its 777-300ERs. Unfortunately, the second leg of your flight might not be as comfortable. The 13-hour flight from Hong Kong (HKG) to Johannesburg is on a 777 without a first class cabin, but Cathay’s 1-2-1 reverse herringbone business class is comfortable enough for the long haul.

Seats down the center of the plane.
Cathay Pacific 777 business class. (Photo by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy)

Cathay Pacific will also be launching flights to Cape Town beginning in November 2018. The flight will be operated by an A350 that features the same business class seats as the 777, but with all the modern technologies the A350 offers such as lower cabin pressurization, better temperature control and mood lighting to help fight jet lag.

Condor is an interesting option, and one of Alaska’s most recent partners. Never heard of this German low-cost carrier before? You’re certainly not alone. Condor currently flies to 16 North American airports — 10 in the US — and offer a unique slew of international connections for smaller airports that might not have as many options. Expect tight seats and ancillary fees, but for 80,000 miles round-trip in economy, it very well might be worth it.

Emirates redemptions through Alaska can represent a decent value in economy, but not in premium cabins anymore. Multiple daily frequencies between Dubai (DXB) and both Johannesburg and Cape Town should give you plenty of options to choose from.

2. American AAdvantage

Oneworld member American Airlines offers reasonable award prices to South Africa, although you’ll want to pick your partner airline carefully. Below are the one-way award costs:

  • Economy: 40,000
  • Business: 75,000
  • First: 120,000

There are three Oneworld partners you can fly to South Africa: British Airways, Iberia and Qatar. British Airways is the only airline to offer a true first class on this route, but again, you’ll pay prohibitively expensive carrier surcharges. Iberia can be a great alternate option — while it doesn’t serve as many US destinations and only flies to Johannesburg (not Cape Town), it’s a reasonably priced way to avoid British Airways surcharges.

But your best bet is to fly with Qatar, especially if you’re traveling in business class. Qatar currently flies the world’s best business class — its signature Qsuite to four US airports: New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), Washington DC (IAD) and Houston (IAH). You’ll want to make sure to double check that your flight features Qsuites though, as there may be last minute equipment swaps while Qatar upgrades its fleet.

Although Etihad isn’t a member of Oneworld, you can also redeem your AA miles for travel with the Abu Dhabi-based carrier. A comfortable economy cabin is a huge plus, but the premium cabin experience can vary heavily depending on what plane you fly. Flights out of New York (JFK) will be served by the flagship A380, while Chicago gets a 777 that’s a decade or so past its prime.

3. United Airlines MileagePlus

United’s access to Star Alliance partner awards makes it an ideal choice for flights to South Africa. Here are the costs for one-way partner award tickets:

  • Economy: 40,000
  • Business: 80,000
  • First: 130,000

Longer flights like those to Africa are the ideal time to splurge for a premium cabin, and there aren’t many better premium cabins than Lufthansa first class. Lufthansa only releases first class award space to partners 15 days before departure, but within that time frame it’s relatively easy to find.

Not only will you have eight hours to kick back in the private Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, but you’ll enjoy nearly 20 hours of flying time on the Queen of the Skies, the 747-8. Saver economy space can be hard to come by on these routes, and it might be worth upgrading to business or first class to avoid a 2-stop routing.

You can also opt for a direct flight out of New York (JFK) on South African Airways. While convenience is a pretty serious advantage here, temper your expectations for the in-flight experience. The SAA fleet is old and outdated, and not nearly as private or luxurious as most airlines offer these days in international business class.

4. Air Canada (Aeroplan)

Air Canada’s independent loyalty program Aeroplan will offer you a similar selection of Star Alliance awards as United. While the mileage cost might be cheaper with Aeroplan, you have to be careful, as some airlines will pass on very expensive carrier surcharges. Here are the one-way award costs:

  • Economy: 50,000
  • Premium economy: 65,000
  • Business: 75,000
  • First: 105,000

While this Lufthansa first class voyage looks like a steal at 105,000 miles — especially compared to its $13,000 cash price — the $702 CAD (~$532 USD) in taxes, fees and surcharges are a lot to stomach.

You might be better off with a more creative routing, like this Avianca/South African Airways itinerary through Brazil. $7.40 CAD (~$5.66 USD) in taxes sounds much better to me.

Best of all, SAA doesn’t have carrier surcharges for Aeroplan award tickets, so if you can find availability on the nonstop flight out of JFK, it’ll only cost you 50,000 miles and ~$5 in taxes in economy.

5. Korean Air SkyPass

Korean Air SkyPass, which is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, is one of the most overlooked loyalty programs in my opinion. You do have to abide by some fairly restrictive family rules when it comes to award redemptions, but one-way award tickets to South Africa with SkyPass miles can be booked at the following rates:

  • Economy: 40,000 miles
  • Business: 60,000 miles

There are three main SkyTeam partners you can pick from for these flights: Delta, Air France and KLM. Finding saver award space on Delta is like finding a unicorn (more on that below), so I’d concentrate your efforts on Air France and KLM, which generally release a decent amount of saver-level space in both economy and business class. As a collector, my personal preference would be for KLM. The airline gives out one of the most unique business class amenities of all time: a gin-filled “house,” modeled off real buildings in Amsterdam.

KLM

6. Delta SkyMiles

Since Delta removed its award chart and switched to purely variable award pricing, it’s hard to talk about the airline generally. Instead, the best we can do is compare a few different dates to try and get the big picture. Spoiler alert: it’s not pretty. The lowest fare I’ve found for one way economy is…. 140,000 miles, with a stop in Amsterdam on KLM. Most days seem to be 185,000, which is insulting to ask for a one-way economy flight.

Business class gets even more insulting, with the lowest fare I’m seeing for flights from Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg clocking in at 465,000 miles one way. 

There’s not much more to be said here. You’re best off avoiding Delta unless you literally have no other option.

The Missing Option: ANA Mileage Club

ANA Mileage Club is perhaps the most overlooked Star Alliance loyalty program. Mileage Club miles are easy to earn, thanks to being a 1:1 transfer partner of both SPG and Amex Membership Rewards, and flights to South Africa are incredibly cheap. Here are the round trip award costs, which in some cases are cheaper than what other airlines charge for a one-way ticket.

  • Economy: 65,000
  • Business: 104,000
  • First: 195,000

So why doesn’t ANA earn a full spot on this list? For starters, the program shows a much more limited selection of Star Alliance award space than United and Aeroplan do. Second, and more importantly, ANA passes on hefty carrier surcharges for flights on South African Airways.

For instance, while this nonstop business class ticket from New York (JFK) to Johannesburg only costs 104,000 miles round-trip, the $600+ in taxes and surcharges can ruin the value for many people. Still, this option is definitely worth considering if you’re looking to spend a little extra cash to save some miles.

Bottom Line

There are certainly good options for getting to South Africa on points and miles, though not necessarily as many as you might expect. While flights to Cape Town aren’t impossible to find, Johannesburg is the easier city to fly into by far. A clear cut strategy for earning and redeeming your points will go a long way toward helping your trip go smoothly.

Know before you go.

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