3 ways to visit Johannesburg on points and miles

Nov 6, 2021

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In case you missed it, South Africa’s borders are open to all travelers.

With most tourism in South Africa revolving around Cape Town, Johannesburg (more commonly known as Jo’burg or Jozi), is an afterthought for many tourists. While it’s still important for visitors to be mindful of their surroundings, most of the neighborhoods you’d want to spend time in are typically safe and offer an experience as diverse as the city itself.

Home to emerging arts, music, culinary and fashion scenes, it’s hard to imagine ever getting bored in this vibrant destination.

(Photo by THEGIFT777 / Getty Images)

Although there aren’t necessarily as many options for getting there or staying there using points and miles as you might hope, doing so is not impossible.

Here are three ways points and miles could help you see the city depending on your budget and your interests.

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In This Post

Budget

It’s pretty easy to have a good time in Jo’burg without breaking the bank.

Between exploring Africa’s past at Museum Africa (MuseuMAfricA), immersing yourself in Chinese culture at the Nan Hua Buddhist temple and reflecting the legacy of Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, there are plenty of activities you can enjoy sans admission fees.

Photo by THEGIFT777 / Getty Images.
Photo by THEGIFT777 / Getty Images.

Getting there

With tickets from the U.S. to Johannesburg (JNB) regularly costing over $1,000 round-trip, even economy awards could get you serious value from your points. Regardless of your preferred transferable points currency or airline alliance, you should be able to book your flights for 80,000 miles or less round-trip.

Your best bet would usually be to fly United and book through its MileagePlus program, which you can transfer points to from Chase Ultimate Rewards with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. With South African Airways no longer flying to the U.S., United currently offers one of the only nonstop connections between the United States and South Africa.

Although the program technically doesn’t publish award charts, it usually charges just 80,000 miles round-trip for its nonstop flights out of Newark (EWR). If there’s no saver availability, economy class awards on Turkish, Lufthansa or Swiss are solid alternatives and typically cost a reasonable 88,000 miles round-trip.

Related: Nonstop to South Africa: Onboard United’s most exciting inaugural of the year

United economy
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

The second nonstop flight option is offered by Delta, out of Atlanta (ATL). Although Delta also uses more variable award pricing, you can often score economy awards for 70,000 to 80,000 SkyMiles round-trip — especially during the low season, from March to May and September to November. Delta SkyMiles is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards so you can transfer points earned with cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Delta A350 economy
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Where to stay

While Johannesburg isn’t home to as many points hotels from the major chains as let’s say London or Dubai, most of them can be booked for very low rates. One of the best neighborhoods in which you could stay is Melrose, and Marriott Bonvoy, a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, has three terrific low-cost properties you could choose from there.

If you’re looking to minimize the number of points you need to spend, then you’ll want to stay at the Category 1 Protea Hotel Johannesburg Wanderers, where award rooms are available for just 5,000 to 10,000 points per night.

Protea Hotel Johannesburg Wanderers
(Photo courtesy of Protea Hotel Johannesburg Wanderers)

If you’d like something a little nicer but still on a budget, you could stay at the Category 2 Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Johannesburg Melrose Arch or Johannesburg Marriott Hotel Melrose Arch; both of these properties are just 10,000 to 15,000 points per night. Don’t let their low price tags fool you — these hotels are much more glamorous than your run-of-the-mill low-category hotels in the U.S. And remember, you could score even lower rates by leveraging Marriott’s fifth night free benefit.

Related: How to earn lots of Marriott Bonvoy points

(Screenshot courtesy of marriott.com)

If it’s properties under the IHG Rewards Club umbrella that you seek, two solid picks would be the Holiday Inn
Johannesburg Sunnyside Park and the Holiday Inn Johannesburg Rosebank. Award nights at these properties are usually 13,000 to 16,000 points per night. That said, if you want something a little nicer, you might want to consider the soon-to-open voco Johannesburg Rosebank for 26,000 points per night.

There are some other Holiday Inns further afield, but the prices are comparable to the more central ones so you might want to skip those.

(Screenshot courtesy of ihg.com)

Moderate

While Johannesburg has some slightly nicer hotels at which you could stay, the biggest difference a few more points can get you is a higher class of service for your flights. Since you’re keeping some cash in your pocket by using points and miles, you may also want to put some of those savings toward a day safari. The Dinokeng and Plumari game reserves have rich wildlife and are both just an hour’s drive away from the city.

Photo by SL_Photography / Getty Images.
Photo by SL_Photography / Getty Images.

Getting there

As you might guess, there are some fantastic business and first-class products you could fly to Africa. But before we dive into them, let’s take a look at an economic alternative that’s frequently overlooked: premium economy. Although premium economy seats are far from lie-flat, the few extra inches of space, additional recline and improved service could help significantly on longer flights, like those to Africa.

Related: Airlines that offer premium economy awards

We typically stray away from using points and miles for British Airways flights due to the outrageous surcharges the airline tacks onto award tickets, but BA premium economy is likely Oneworld flyers’ best option when it comes to flying premium economy to Africa.

However, rather than book through BA itself, you’ll want to book through Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program, a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One. A round-trip premium economy ticket on BA costs 130,000 miles and, best of all, the surcharges can be roughly 50% less when using Asia Miles compared to booking with any other program.

British Airways premium economy
(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Another option is premium economy on Virgin Atlantic, which is best booked through the airline’s own Flying Club mileage program. The program is a 1:1 transfer partner of several major transferable currencies so it’s easy to stockpile a ton of miles.

It’s also not uncommon for Amex and Citi to offer lucrative transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic. Awards from the U.S. cost between 85,000-105,000 miles round-trip, but unfortunately, you’ll need to cough up around $1,000 in surcharges. You could pay lower fees by booking your award through Delta, but you’ll probably spend far more miles.

Related: How to avoid fuel surcharges on award travel

Where to stay

A popular but more business-oriented neighborhood in which you could stay is Sandton. Between the Sandton City Shopping Mall and Nelson Mandela Square (a European-style piazza), this area is considered the fashion capital of the continent. As you’d expect from a business district, Sandton is home to many of the city’s major chain hotels.

IHG Rewards Club members can redeem around 37,000 points per night to stay at the highly-rated InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers. Unlike some other hotels in the area which only cater to business travelers, leisure travelers will enjoy the hotel’s full spa, restaurant with nightly live jazz music and skybridge walkway to the Sandton City Shopping Mall.

Photo courtesy of the InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers.

Located just a few steps away is the Hilton Sandton. Rooms here go for 20,000 to 25,000 points per night, which is reasonable, but the rooms feel like they could be at any nice Hilton in the world — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for some people.

Related: TPG readers’ best tips for visiting Africa on points and miles

Hilton Sandton
(Screenshot courtesy of hilton.com)

If you have some Radisson Rewards points to burn, consider staying at the Radisson RED Johannesburg Rosebank, where awards set you back 30,000 points per night. The rooms are stylish and the hotel even has a rooftop pool and bar.

Alternatively, you can book the Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton or Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel which are each 45,000 points per night. Although the two hotels are just down the street from each other, they offer two very different experiences. The Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton is on the more traditional side and has a South African flair; meanwhile, the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel sports a more modern look.

(Screenshot courtesy of RadissonHotels.com)

Luxury

While Johannesburg isn’t known for being the most aspirational destination for your points and miles, you can still use them for a lavish experience in the city. The best part is that you don’t need to break the bank to stay in some of Jo’burg’s best hotels, so once again, the biggest difference a few more points will get you is a more comfortable ride there and back.

Getting there

While premium economy is a big step up from economy, unless you’re flying nonstop, you’ll likely be spending at least 20 hours traveling to get to Johannesburg from the U.S., so it’s an ideal time to splurge for business or first class if you can.

In the glory days, Emirates first class was hands-down the best way to get to Africa on points. However, Emirates started limiting first-class awards to partner airlines and charges exorbitant rates through its own program, so that isn’t really the case anymore. That said, Lufthansa first class certainly isn’t a bad alternative, and the carrier recently started releasing this award space to partners up to 30 days before departure.

Lufthansa first class doesn’t feature onboard showers or bars, but it’s consistently great and definitely ranks up there with some of the best in the world. Pro tip: During your layover in Frankfurt (FRA), you’ll want to check out the famous First Class Terminal as opposed to the First Class Lounge.

If you know the tricks, Lufthansa first class is surprisingly easy to book with miles — when space is available. Air Canada’s Aeroplan charges 180,000 to 260,000 miles for a round-trip award from North America, while Avianca’s LifeMiles program charges a flat 210,000 miles. These redemptions are fantastic considering that cash rates often top $10,000.

Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Capital One. Meanwhile, LifeMiles partners with American Express, Capital One and Citi ThankYou Rewards. In other words, racking up the miles you need with either program should be a breeze with cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Citi Premier® Card. Plus, you’ll regularly see lucrative bonuses for purchasing LifeMiles. Just remember that Lufthansa only releases first-class award space to partner programs 30 days before departure.

Related: Dreaming of South Africa: How I’m planning to return using points, miles and cash

If you recently opened a Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® or have simply been stocking up on American miles all these years, an alternative would be to book a Qatar Airways business class award through the AAdvantage program. Most long-haul aircraft feature the airline’s top-notch Qsuite business class, which is one of the world’s best. A round-trip award will set you back 150,000 miles, and these awards can be booked directly through American’s site.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Where to stay

If you’ve got Marriott Bonvoy points to burn, the Ten Bompas Hotel is a perfect choice. The secluded all-suite hotel has just ten rooms, each decorated by different Jozi designers. It’s also home to Winehouse, an intimate French restaurant with an extensive wine cellar. Rooms cost 30,000 to 40,000 Bonvoy points per night, which feels like a steal.

Related: Want great value for your Marriott points? Go to South Africa

Photo courtesy of the Ten Bompas Hotel.
(Photo courtesy of the Ten Bompas Hotel)

For Hyatt loyalists, there’s the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, though it’s temporarily closed until at least April 2022. As with many of Jo’burg’s higher-end hotels, the Hyatt Regency isn’t overly luxurious, but it’s comfortable, offers great amenities and is conveniently located in the upscale Rosebank suburb. At a mere 6,500 to 9,000 points per night, you should have no trouble squeezing value from your points at this hotel.

Other considerations

If you don’t want to stay at a major chain property and are willing to pay outright for part of your trip, you could save considerable cash by leveraging Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts collection or Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection program. By booking through these programs, cardholders of premium Amex credit cards (like the Amex Platinum and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express) and premium Chase cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and United Club Infinite Card) can score valuable on-property perks like room upgrades, free daily breakfast, late check-out, credits for spa and dining and more.

If you’re looking to stay at a hotel that participates in both programs, such as the Saxon Hotel, you’ll typically want to book through FHR because it guarantees 4:00 p.m. check-out (as opposed to being subject to availability).

Related: When to book through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts vs. Chase Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection

Photo courtesy of the Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa.
(Photo courtesy of the Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa)

Bottom line

South Africa is probably high on many award travelers’ bucket lists, and while Cape Town and the country’s numerous safaris get most of the attention, Johannesburg is still well worth a visit.

Whether you’re planning a bare-bones trip, splurging for a luxury vacation or wanting something in the middle, the city has something for all budgets using your hard-earned points and miles.

Featured photo by BFG Images/Getty Images.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
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  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
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Regular APR
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Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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