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We’ve seen some phenomenal airfare deals from the US to regions all over the world, including Africa. Back in December 2017, for example, South African Airways flights from New York (JFK) and Washington Dulles (IAD) to Johannesburg were just $666 round-trip in economy.
However, business-class fare deals can be hard to come by, and a trip to Africa offers some great opportunities to put your miles to use thanks to airline partnerships and alliances such as those between American Airlines and Etihad, Alaska and Emirates, and United and South African Airways, among others.
The selections included here were made by comparing not only factors like seat comfort and amenities, but also award availability and route networks. For instance, RwandAir’s new business class looks pretty nice, but unfortunately, the airline doesn’t fly to or from the US yet and isn’t part of a major alliance, so it doesn’t make the list. On the other hand, though South African Airways’ business class can be a mixed bag, thanks to two flights to the US and award availability that opens up from time to time, the airline earns a spot here.
Where you plan to fly in Africa will also significantly impact which carrier is best for your needs. For instance, if you’re going to Kenya, you’re going to want to look into options that might differ from those that will get you to Zambia.
Carriers From the US to Africa
With that in mind, here’s a list of major carriers that fly nonstop or with one stop from North America to Africa. Read on below for our top choices of carriers with great business-class seats you can book with miles, including some mix-and-match options.
Air France: With several gateways in the US and destinations in Africa including Johannesburg but also Lagos, Dakar, Abidjan, Bamako, Luanda and more, Air France is a compelling choice.
Air Namibia: Namibia’s national airline operates a daily flight to/from Frankfurt and doesn’t have any mileage partners, so you won’t find it on our short list. However, keep it in mind for connections throughout southern Africa to other destinations like Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
British Airways: The UK airline flies from its hub in London to destinations all over Africa. The two drawbacks are enormous taxes and fuel surcharges, and business-class seats that belong in the last century.
Cathay Pacific: Do you want to fly to Hong Kong in order to get to Africa? Probably not, so we won’t cover it here, but it is still something to consider since Cathay’s business class is among the best in the world; the airline will soon operate a new route to Cape Town; and award availability between the US and Asia and Asia and Africa tends to be pretty good. American Airlines might not let you book an award like this thanks to its third-region rules, but Alaska will.
Delta: The only US carrier to fly nonstop from the US to Africa, Delta operates routes to Accra in Ghana, Lagos in Nigeria, Dakar in Senegal and Johannesburg. However, its business-class seats are old, and it is impossible to find the lowest saver-level awards on its flights to any of these destinations in the current booking calendar (we looked!) so we’re leaving it off the list for now.
EgyptAir: Angled business-class seats and a tense political situation keep this carrier or destination off our list, but it might be worth considering as it is part of Star Alliance, award availability is wide open and the airline has a well developed route network in northern Africa especially.
Emirates: With an extensive route network to the US as well as in Africa, the largest of the Middle Eastern carriers presents some great opportunities…if you have some Alaska Airlines miles to spare.
Ethiopian Airlines: This African carrier has upped its game in recent years and flies from a few US cities to its hub in Addis Ababa, either nonstop or with a stopover in Europe, plus award availability using partner miles is pretty good.
Etihad: This member of the ME3 flies from four US airports via its hub in Abu Dhabi to Cairo, Casablanca, Dar es Salam, Entebbe, Johannesburg and Nairobi, giving travelers lots of options and some fantastic business-class seats to choose from.
Kenya Airways: This airline will begin flying directly to the US in October 2018, and connects with partners in hubs like Amsterdam, London and Paris to its base in Nairobi and points beyond.
Iberia: The Spanish flag carrier has a decent business class, but a limited route network to Africa.
KLM: The Dutch carrier has some of the best award availability to Africa and a wide-ranging route network there, as well as to the US, via its hub in Amsterdam.
Lufthansa: With nearly 20 US destinations and a significant number in Africa, Lufthansa presents some great choices for getting from North America to Africa using miles, especially now that its entire long-haul fleet has the latest business-class seats.
Qatar Airways: With several US gateways and flights to a handful of major African destinations, not to mention some great business-class seats on most of its international fleet, this Oneworld member is an excellent option for some flyers.
Royal Air Maroc: It might be a bargain to use 44,000 Etihad Guest miles flying this non-alliance carrier from either New York (JFK) or Washington (IAD) to its hub in Casablanca (CMN) aboard the airline’s 787, but even its newest business class leaves something to be desired.
Singapore Airlines: Sure, you have to transit through Asia to get to Africa, but it might be worth it to experience this carrier’s phenomenal business class. It doesn’t make our list, but if you’re coming from Asia, this is definitely one to consider.
South African Airways: The South African flag carrier flies to both New York and Washington from its hub in Johannesburg, and you can use United, Aeroplan or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to fly it.
Swiss: Switzerland’s carrier operates to several US and African destinations, but award availability can be tight.
Turkish Airlines: A few years ago, this would have been a list-topper thanks to its then-decent business-class seats and a rapidly growing route network. Political and security concerns in Istanbul, however, keep it off the list for now.
Virgin Atlantic: You can catch this cheeky carrier from its many destinations in the US to Lagos and Johannesburg via its hub in London, and using Delta miles, you save on taxes and fees. However, the limited routes it operates means it doesn’t make our list this time. But keep its Flying Club mileage program in mind for redemptions on South African Airways to Senegal and South Africa.
1. Air France
Aircraft and routes: Air France unveiled its new business-class seats back in 2014 and began installing them on its order of 777-300ERs in 2015. The airline’s 787s and most 777-200s also seem to have the new seats by now. The airline’s A330s and A380s still have the old seats angled seats.
Be sure to check your specific aircraft’s seat layout before booking. Air France flies to nine destinations in the US including Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), New York (JFK) and more. From its hub in Paris (CDG), it also flies to many African destinations including both Cape Town (CPT) and Johannesburg (JNB) as well as lesser-known destinations like Luanda (LAD), Marrakech (RAK), Lagos (LOS) and more.
The seats: The new seats on the 777-300ERs and 787s are arranged in a popular reverse-herringbone 1–2–1 configuration. They’re quite sharp, with white frames, blue seats and red accents. Each reclines to a fully flat length of 78 inches, with 61 inches of pitch, and 21.5 inches wide. If you get on an A330 or A380 with the old seats, you’ll have the older seats, which are 21 – 24 inches wide and have 55-61 inches of pitch, but are angled lie-flats with a recline length of up to 77 inches.
Amenities and cuisine: These seats have 16-inch touchscreen entertainment monitors, and guests enjoy menus created by a rotating roster of Michelin-starred chefs, plus Clarins amenity kits.
Using miles: Air France releases more award space to members of its own Flying Blue mileage program than to those of SkyTeam partners such as Delta, and awards are abundant. That’s even better news because you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest points to Flying Blue at a 1:1 ratio (1:1.25 with Starwood on transfers of 20,000 points). Business class will cost you 100,000-115,000 miles in each direction from North America to Africa, depending on where you’re flying, though beware taxes and fees that can range up to about $400 in each direction.
Flying Blue, meanwhile, sometimes discounts awards up to 50% from certain cities in the US and Africa to Europe. You would need to book them as two separate awards, but with a full 50% discount, the award would cost you 68,750 miles instead of 100,000, which is not a bad rebate.
Though it has stopped publishing award charts, Delta SkyMiles seems to be charging 95,000-105,000 miles each way for flights on partners to South Africa and other African destinations like Luanda in the example above.
Aircraft and routes: Emirates operates a mix of A380s and 777s on its routes to both the US and Africa. The airline currently flies to 12 US destinations including Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington (IAD) among others. It serves several major cities in Africa as well including Cape Town (CPT), Durban (DUR) and Johannesburg (JNB) as well as Addis Ababa (ADD), Luanda (LAD), Lusaka (LUN), Cairo (CAI), Accra (ACC), Mauritius (MRU), Lagos (LOS) and more.
The seats: Emirates’ A380s are its flagship aircraft with its best business-class seats. They are in a staggered 1-2–1 configuration with all-aisle access. The seats on the sides are alternately closer to the window or the aisle, while those in the center are either wedged together or separated by the footwells of the row behind. Each is 18.5 inches wide and reclines up to 79 inches. Except for some aircraft it’s retrofitting, the seats aboard the airline’s 777s are arranged in an old-school front-facing 2–3–2 configuration, and each is an angled lie-flat with 60 inches of pitch and 20.5 inches wide. Aircraft delivered in November 2015 and later will have 20-inch IFE screens in business class.
Amenities and cuisine: Passengers get Bulgari amenity kits and monthly changing menus (you can check what’s on your flight here) that feature Middle Eastern and international specialties. The airline is also known for its phenomenal wine selection.
Using miles: Because Emirates isn’t in an alliance, its major US partner is Alaska Airlines. Unfortunately, Alaska revised its Emirates award charts (way upwards!) with no notice about two years ago, so there aren’t really bargains to be had anymore. However, award availability is quite good. It’ll cost you 120,000 miles in each direction between the continental US and Africa.
Another option might be JAL Mileage Bank, which has a distance-based award chart and will only require 125,000 miles round-trip from New York to Johannesburg via Dubai, but now imposes massive fuel surcharges on such awards. JAL is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest. Emirates Skywards program is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, and though award rates are decent, taxes and fees can be quite high. New York to Cape Town would require 190,000 miles round-trip.
3. Ethiopian Airlines
Aircraft and routes: Ethiopian is an interesting addition to this list because of its route network. It flies via Dublin (DUB) to Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago O’Hare on 787s and to Washington (IAD) on a 777-200LR. It also flies to Newark (EWR) via Lomé (LFW) on a 787. It then operates an extensive route network throughout Africa on a mix of 737, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft. For now, let’s just concentrate on those 787s.
The seats: Aboard the 787, Ethiopian’s seats won’t win any awards since they’re in angled lie-flats in a front-facing 2–2–2 configuration, though some 787s have a newer version of the seat that look more like United’s business class, where each two-seater is slightly angled outward and the seats lie completely flat. Each is 20 inches wide with 65 inches of pitch. The IFE screens are 15.4 inches wide. The 777-200LR has front-facing lie-flat seats in 2–3–2 layout.
Amenities and cuisine: According to online reviews, the food on Ethiopian is a highlight thanks to dishes spanning the globe from curries and pastas to braised meats and simple salads. Amenity kits are colorful but simple with the usual inclusions, as well as fun additions like macadamia-nut lip balm.
Using miles: Ethiopian is a Star Alliance carrier, so United will probably be your mileage currency of choice, and you’ll need 80,000 miles in each direction from the US to Africa. Remember United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. You could also use 75,000-82,500 Aeroplan miles each way, and the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, as well as Starwood Preferred Guest, with the usual 5,000-mile bonus on 20,000-point transfers.
Aircraft and routes: You’ll find a mix of 777s, 787s and A380s to Etihad’s four US destinations: Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK) and Washington (IAD). The airline currently flies to eight destinations in Africa including Cairo (CAI), Khartoum (KRT), Nairobi (NBO), Casablanca (CMN), Rabat (RBA), Lagos (LOS), Johannesburg (JNB) and Dar es Salaam (DAR). While the longer flights, like those to Morocco and South Africa, are flown with larger aircraft like A330s and 787s with lie-flat seats, the shorter are serviced with A320s and A321s with recliner-style chairs.
The seats: Let’s focus on the 777, 787 and A380 since they have the airline’s newest seats. The A380 seats are 20 inches wide and 73 inches long, while those aboard the 787 are 22 inches wide and 73 inches long. Both have 18-inch IFE screens. The seats on the 777s are a bit older but still nice with the same dimensions. While the seats on the A380 and 787 feel semi-private thanks to high walls and are dubbed “Studios,” the 777s have a more open layout. In all cases, the rows are in a staggered 1–2–1 configuration where the seats on the sides are alternately closer to the aisle or window, and those in the middle are either right next to each other or separated by wide dividers.
Amenities and cuisine: Etihad’s amenity kits include Scaramouche + Fandango products, while passengers enjoy dine-on-demand service and menus with a mix of Western, Asian and Middle Eastern options.
Using miles: Though not in an alliance, Etihad is partners with several airlines, including American, which will charge you 75,000 miles to fly to Africa each way in business class. Etihad’s Guest mileage program is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Its awards are distance-based, so they vary by route. For example, it’ll cost you about 142,000 miles to fly from New York to Nairobi one-way, or 166,000 miles each way to fly New York-Johannesburg.
5. Kenya Airways
Aircraft and routes: Though it does not currently fly to the US, Kenya Airways will launch flights between New York JFK and Nairobi (NBO) in October 2018. The airline is in the SkyTeam alliance, with partners like Delta, Air France and KLM, with which you can also connect through hubs in Europe like Amsterdam (AMS), London (LHR) and Paris (CDG) to Kenya’s base in Nairobi. From there, Kenya Airways flies to dozens of African destinations where you won’t find another major airline. Kenya Airways is also using its latest 787 aircraft on its major international routes to Europe, so it’s a chance to fly the airline’s newest cabins.
The seats: Like Ethiopian’s, the seats aboard Kenya Airways’ 787s aren’t the best. They’re lie-flat, though, in a front-facing 2–2–2 configuration, and are 21 inches wide with 74 inches of pitch (SeatGuru says the seats are 31 inches, but seeing as this is the same aircraft and seat as Ethiopian, I suspect this is an error). Their entertainment screens are 15.4 inches.
Meals and amenities: Nothing too fancy here. Menus usually feature Western dishes including vegetarian pasta dishes and grilled beef and fish.
Using miles: Kenya Airways participates in the Flying Blue mileage program, so you can transfer all four transferable points currencies to top up your account and book an award with a mix of other SkyTeam carriers included. Prices are a bit steep, at 100,000 miles each way from North America to Nairobi plus several hundred dollars in taxes and fees. Delta will charge you 95,000-110,000 SkyMiles each way, but does not seem to have the same amount of award space access as using Flying Blue miles.
Aircraft and routes: KLM has refitted its long-haul fleet of 777s and 747s with its newest business-class seats at this point, though its A330s still appear to have the old angled lie-flat ones, so check your specific flight on a site like Routehappy to be sure you’re getting a plane with the latest products. The airline also installed another new business-class seat on its 787-9s, whose routes to the US are from Amsterdam (AMS) to Houston (IAH), New York (JFK), Salt Lake City (SLC), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington Dulles (IAD) at this time. The airline serves 10 US airports and 13 African destinations including Kilimanjaro (JRO) if climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is of interest.
The seats: The seats aboard the 747 and 777 are in a front-facing 2–2–2 configuration on the 777, and in 2–2 on the upper deck of the 747 and a sort of staggered 2–2–2 and 1–2–2 or 1–1–2 variation on the 747s. Each has 63 inches of pitch and reclines to 80 inches long and 20 inches wide. Aboard the 787-9, seats are in a reverse-herringbone layout and feature a colorful navy and robin’s egg color palette. Each is up to 25 inches wide and reclines to fully lie-flat bed of 80 inches. The 747 and 777 seats aren’t the most amazing you’ll find, but the availability of awards gets them on this list. As for the A330, KLM does use it on some Africa routes like the one to Kigali (KGL) and on to Entebbe (EBB), so beware, because these are old and angled.
Amenities and cuisine: KLM business-class passengers are served multi-course meals on flatware designed by Marcel Wanders. Amenity kits are by Dutch designer Jan Taminau.
Using miles: While the seats are not jaw-dropping, the airline makes the list because of good award availability, the ease of booking and seat standardization across the fleet. You will need 95,000-110,000 Delta miles each way to fly KLM from the US to Africa depending on your destination, or 100,000-115,000 Flying Blue miles with the same transfer partners and Promo Awards possibilities listed above on Air France.
Aircraft and routes: Lufthansa started installing its latest business-class seats aboard its order of 747-8s back in 2012, and finished installing them aboard all its long-haul aircraft toward the end of 2015. That means you’ll find them on the airline’s A330s, A340s, A350s A380s and 747s, which it operates from its hubs in Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) to nearly 20 US destinations and on to over a dozen African airports.
The seats: These aren’t industry-leading or cutting-edge, but they are comfortable and fully lie-flat. Each is 78 inches long and up to 26 inches wide and has a 15.4-inch entertainment screen.
Amenities and cuisine: Lufthansa regularly gets raves for solid cuisine, and revamped its food and beverage in 2012 to include seasonal, regional dishes. Lufthansa recently replaced its Samsonite amenity kits with those by German brand Bree, featuring Korres skincare products.
Using miles: Because Lufthansa is in Star Alliance, you can use United miles to fly it, but it’ll cost you 80,000 miles each way to Africa. That’s not such a great deal. However, United is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so It could be a good choice for some.
Air Canada is also in Star Alliance and its Aeroplan program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards. Though it will inexplicably charge you 82,500 miles to fly to North Africa each way in business class (probably because the region is lumped in with the Middle East on the award chart), it will only charge you 75,000 miles each way to East, West and South Africa.
8. Qatar Airways
Aircraft and routes: Qatar Airways has expanded rapidly in recent years and currently flies to 10 US cities. Most of these flights are aboard 777s with the airline’s oldest business class. However, the flights to Boston (BOS), New York (JFK) and Philadelphia (PHL) are operated by the airline’s A350s, and some of the JFK and Washington Dulles (IAD) flights are aboard 777-300ERs with the airline’s much-lauded QSuites. From Doha, the airline flies a mix of aircraft including 777s, 787s and A320s to various cities in Africa including Johannesburg (JNB), Cape Town (CPT), Nairobi (NBO), Dar es Salam (DAR) and Zanzibar (ZNZ).
The seats: For now, let’s concentrate on the seats aboard the 777, 787 and A350. We’ve reviewed the 787 and A350 before since these aircraft are the airline’s newest and feature its best business-class seats. They’re in a reverse-herringbone 1–2–1 configuration, and each is up to 30 inches wide with the armrest lowered, and reclines to a length of up to 80 inches. The IFE screens are 17 inches. By comparison, the 777s’ business-class cabins have front-facing seats in a 2–2–2 configuration, and each is 22 inches wide with a recline length of 78 inches. If you do get into the QSuites, they are 21.5 inches wide and recline to fully lie-flat beds 79 inches. Some of the middle foursomes can be combined into working/dining suites.
Amenities and cuisine: Qatar’s menus feature a mix of Middle Eastern and Western options and the airline recently launched new amenity kits by luggage designer BRICS and stocked with skincare products from Italian brand Castello Vibiano Vecchio plus new pajamas from The White Company. The seat’s IFE screens are 21.5 inches wide and have over 4,000 entertainment options.
Using miles: Qatar is in Oneworld, so you can use American AAdvantage miles to book awards, though it’ll cost you 75,000 miles each way from the US to Africa in business class. Use BritishAirways.com to search for award space then call the AAdvantage desk to book.
9. South African Airways
Aircraft and routes: South African operates A340s on its route from Johannesburg to New York (JFK) and an A330-200 from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Johannesburg via Dakar (DSS), but an A330-300 with the airline’s newest business class aboard its route from Washington Dulles (IAD) via Accra (ACC). So if you are flying from DC, be sure to double-check your route and aircraft type! The convenience of being able to fly directly to/from the US to South Africa plus some decent award availability earn this airline a spot on the list, as does the fact that it flies to other destinations all over the continent.
The seats: TPG has flown South African Airways business class aboard an A340-600 from New York to Johannesburg. The seats on that aircraft and the A330-200 are in a 2–2–2 configuration and are 23.7-24 inches wide with 73 inches of recline (not quite long enough for him!). The seats on the A330-300 are Thompson Vantage XL seats that recline to 79 inches and are also 24 inches wide.
Amenities and cuisine: The airline partners with South African celebrity chefs Reuben Riffel and Benny Masekwameng on seasonal menus, and offers a wine list of award-winning South African vintages. The amenity kits contain Crabtree & Evelyn jojoba-oil skincare products (but flights to Europe seem to have Temple Spa products at the moment).
Using miles: South African is another Star Alliance carrier, so two of your best bets are to use 80,000 United miles or 75,000 Aeroplan miles to fly each way from the US to Africa. Although award availability can be scarce on the US nonstops and directs, it is out there. You can also consider more circuitous routings via Sao Paulo (GRU) or Europe.
Your other option, and it’s an interesting one, is to use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles. The program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, which makes it an attractive possibility.
Per the program’s award chart for South African Airways, you need 75,000 miles each way between the US and South Africa. However, you can also redeem a mere 25,000 miles each way between the US and Senegal. It’s almost too good to be true. While the award availability did not quite match what I found on United when I called Virgin’s agents, it did exist on some of the same days, and even some days United didn’t show. Taxes and fees were about $195 round-trip.
Just note that if you do want to continue on to South Africa, you’ll want to try and take advantage of the fact that a ticket between Senegal and South Africa is also just 25,000 miles each way using Flying Club miles, saving you 50,000 miles on a single round-trip redemption between the US and South Africa. Note that Flying Club requires a 24-hour+ connection in Senegal to qualify for booking separate awards.
Featured photo of Table Mountain in Cape Town by 4FR / Getty Images.
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