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3 best ways to fly to Africa with miles from the U.S.

by on Thu March 19, 2015 • 29 Comments


Africa can be a challenging destination to get from the U.S. with miles. There is very little nonstop service, and awards on those flights are hard to come by. Yet fares in general are expensive, so miles can be an outstanding value if you can use them.

Here are 3 of the most reasonable and accessible ways to get to Africa with miles…

1. Easiest, not always the cheapest: United MileagePlus

What it will cost you:

  • 40,000 United MileagePlus miles one-way in Economy Class
  • 80,000 United MileagePlus miles one-way in Business Class

The most transparent and easy way to get award seats to Africa is with Star Alliance and United MileagePlus, which is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.

There are no fuel surcharges to worry about. And thanks to partners like Lufthansa, South African Airways, and Ethiopian Airways, which each have lots of flights to Africa you can find lots of availability.

United itself even flies to Lagos.

And will even automatically look for flights that go via Brazil on South African Airways, which opens up even more opportunities.


You can even include a free stopover, so you can spend time in two cities, for example this trip to both Nairobi and Johannesburg was easy to book on


2. The cheapest: ANA Mileage Club

For the absolute cheapest mileage price, if you have American Express Membership Rewards points you can transfer them to ANA Japan Mileage Club miles.

As of April 12th you’ll be able to book any Star Alliance carrier (including the stopover example above) for:

  • 60,000 miles roundtrip in Economy Class
  • 90,000 miles roundtrip in Business Class
  • 140,000 miles roundtrip in First Class

The downside is transfers to ANA aren’t instant and can take a few days, so award space could dry up before you transfer. And ANA imposes fuel surcharges on most awards, so you’ll pay a up to $500 or so for the award, versus about $100 if you use United MileagePlus.

But for a Business Class award the extra fees can be worth saving 70,000 miles roundtrip.

3. A hidden option: Qatar Airways via American AAdvantage

What it will cost you:

  • 37,500 AAdvantage miles one-way in Economy Class
  • 75,000 AAdvantage miles one-way in Business Class

American AAdvantage has some tricky routing rules for awards that can leave you frustrated.

For example, to get to Africa, you can only fly there via Europe, which almost always means flying British Airways with huge fuel surcharges.

But there is an important exception.

American allows you to get to Africa via Doha on Qatar Airways if…

  • You fly Qatar Airways to Doha on the trans Atlantic portion of your flight
  • You fly onward to Africa on Qatar Airways
  • Qatar Airways publishes a fare from your starting city to your destination in Africa. It’s easy to check this by searching for Qatar Airways flights on Google Flights. It’s also okay to fly American Airlines flights to a Qatar Airways gateway city in the U.S.

The benefit is Qatar has good award availability to lots of African destinations, even to Johannesburg. And AAdvantage doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges for awards on Qatar Airways.

This map shows all of the African destinations Qatar serves:

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 4.28.16 PM

From North America, Qatar Airways departs New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Houston, and Montreal.
You can find Qatar space by creating an account at (British Airways’ website) and using its Book a Reward flight tool.

To get the most reliable results, look for each segment of your trip separately. For example, search for Philadelphia to Doha (DOH) on its own. Then Doha to Johannesburg (JNB) on its own.



And to see if the route you want to book is legal with AAdvantage miles, you can go to Google flights and select ‘Airline’ to narrow your search to flights Qatar Airways is selling.

As you’ll see they sell many options that include American Airlines flights to Qatar Airways gateway cities, so you don’t have to live in a city that Qatar Airways serves to take advantage of the Qatar loophole in the AAdvantage program.

You should also know that AAdvantage isn’t a stickler for the way you get to a Qatar Airways gateway. In the example below Dallas is the gateway city. But you could fly through Philadelphia, Miami, Washington D.C., or any other Qatar Airways gateway that has award space. The key is that Qatar sells flights from your starting city in the U.S. to your ending city in Africa.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 5.08.33 PM

And while Delta SkyMiles has partner Kenya Airways serving much of Africa via its Nairobi hub, finding an agent able to book those flights is a maddening crapshoot, with space shown via other SkyTeam partners like Air France Flying Blue rarely bookable with Delta SkyMiles.

Which is a shame given Kenya Airways’ reasonable award availability to hard to get destinations like Seychelles.

Plus: A good deal for short flights

If you’re in South Africa and looking to get around, British Airways Avios, transferable from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, are a great deal.

You can fly ComAir’s routes, which are affiliated with British Airways, with Avios. Most of their routes are short, which means you can book them for just 4,500 points each way. Cape Town is 7,500 points each way and Mauritius is 10,000 points each way.





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29 thoughts on 3 best ways to fly to Africa with miles from the U.S.

  1. Chase

    Thanks for the article. I am still pretty new to the miles scene and have some UR’s saved up. I am planning a trip to climb Kilimanjaro and would be flying LAX-JRO. I want business class with lie-flat, but am interested in finding overall cheapest biz fare. I have heard Qatar might be the nicest plane. Would appreciate your suggestions.


      @Chase – With UR points flying Qatar is a challenge unless you’re willing to pay cash for the ticket and use points to get a discount on the cash price.

      United MileagePlus has lots of dates for 80k miles one way, usually involving Turkish or Air Canada. The last leg from Istanbul to JRO is usually on a 737 without lie flats, but it’s around a 6 hour leg so not too terrible.

  2. SafariBound

    Hi, I am trying to get from the US (any city) to Kilimanjaro using Delta SkyMiles. Any suggestions for finding availability? I’m trying to fly first class. I have plenty of miles . I understand it’s very difficult to find inventory. I also have American miles I could use as well. But wanting to try to keep it to just two flights. Thanks in advance for any assistance you might provide.


      @Safari – Looks like plenty of dates in March for example for 80k miles one way from New York – Kilamanjaro in Business. Two flights might be a challenge, but usually it’s just a stop in LHR and AMS which isn’t a tough deal.

  3. Jessica


    I am trying to book flights to South Africa with my fiancé for our honeymoon! We have dates already, which is making it a bit difficult. We are in NYC – but would really travel from any airport if it means we can fly biz class using our Chase Ultimate Reward points. We will be in Africa from Sept 2-17



      @Jessica – You’re a bit early to check the whole thing. With United MileagePlus you can book flights around the 2nd, but not yet all the way up to the 17th. Wait until the week of October 17th to do that.

      If you don’t want to fly Egyptair the whole way, Toronto is a good city to check for alternatives.

      And if you don’t have luck there, Air France Flying Blue doesn’t open seats until November, so check the week of November 2nd and November 17th.

  4. Passports&polaroids

    I’m trying to get business from LAX-NBO and most of our points are with Chase UR. FlyingBlue is only giving me flights with Saudi Airlines and United is mostly just Turkish Airlines – neither of which are ideal. Any tips on how to find a good business fare?


      @Passports – There are some from Chicago – Nairobi on Swiss – but it’s an overnight layover in Zurich. For example, December 7. Then you could have them add the LAX – Chicago on the phone if the website won’t put all of that together.

  5. yus

    We are looking to fly to south africa next March / April from DFW, I have a lot of SPG and Amex points and some Ultimate rewards points. I wanted to see what options I have in terms of flights and their availability using rewards points as well as how many points I will need. There will be 2 of us.

    Any good ideas? I tried searching the Qatar Route but not seeing any options?


      @yus – On March 1 there are biz seats on Qatar DFW-DOH, arriving DOH late evening March 2 then connecting to DOH-JNB after midnight March 3. It’s not an overnight layover – more like 6 hours. You can call AA to check the space on that.

  6. PointstoSAfrica

    We are looking to fly to south africa next June from NYC, I have a lot of SPG and Amex points and some Ultimate rewards points. I wanted to see what options I have in terms of flights and their availability using rewards points as well as how many points I will need. There will be 4 of us.

    Can I transfer my amex and spg points to singapore airways and then buy a 4 tickets on South African Airways.

    What is my best option.



      @PointstoSAfrica – If you want to avoid fuel surcharges, see if AAdvantage has availability on Qatar Airways. It’s one of the few no surcharge options you’ll have via SPG or Amex points, and is an SPG transfer partner.

      40k each way Economy, 75k Business.

      Otherwise, if you’re willing to pay a surcharge, one of your best values for mileage price / general availability is using ANA miles via Amex or SPG to book any Star Alliance option (like Lufthansa via Germany, or South African in the rare case you can find award space).

      65k roundtrip Economy, 104k Business.

  7. Elaine

    Intetested in flying from NYC to Capetown SA using American Miles-how difficult is it to book-how many miles are needed Zane what are the additional fees?


      @Elaine- If you’re flying in Economy – it’s not tough at all using American’s partner Qatar Airways via Doha. You just have to call American to request those flights as they’re not available online. If you ‘re trying to fly Business it’s much harder and you have to be very, very flexible.

  8. Bernard

    So what would be my best option flying business from NYC to JNB non stop? I tried working with the chart from United but nothing non stop


      @Bernard – There’s really only one option NYC-JNB nonstop and that’s on South African Airways. The challenge is they rarely if ever release business class award seats on that coveted route.


            @Bernard – Unfortunately no nonstop service at all! Generally the fastest connection is via Johannesburg with SAA, but other options include Middle East carriers like Qatar if you are willing to spend a few extra hours in transit.

  9. Lagos Flyer

    Thanks for this most helpful entry. Is it still possible to use this routing from Chicago to Lagos using American Airline miles? THANK YOU!


      @Lagos Flyer – Yes, if you use Qatar Airways flights for the US to Doha to Lagos journey. You have to call AA to book these – they’re not available online.

  10. bagnard

    Hi, thanks for your article. I live in Michigan and would like to know how to get to Abidjan (ivory coast ) in the west Africa with miles. I have united miles and American miles. I am new to miles . Thanks for your help.


      @bagnard – Your best bet is with United miles. Lots of options for 40,000 miles one way. You can see flight options at that price by going to and choosing ‘Award Travel’ when you search.

  11. FlyerDad

    Thanks so much! Would you also recommend searching Virgin Atlantic as well (SFO-JNB) using ANA miles? I suspect high YQ will offset the mileage savings though.


      @FlyerDad – Worth checking but yes surcharges would be around $1400. Though some of the Lufthansa routings are similar. Turkish has the cheapest surcharges – around $500 or so.

  12. FlyerDad

    Great article. For ANA, however, what airline would you book through to get from SFO to South Africa? And is space (for next summer) in business class likely? Seems like Qatar is the easiest option from SFO–but ANA is so much less that I’m willing to jump through a few hoops. Thank you!


      @FlyerDad – Getting to Europe and connecting is your best bet. From Munich on South African and Istanbul on Turkish seem to be the most reliable for Business Class.

      Getting to either of those cities you could use United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, or others. Definitely will need to be creative and flexible – not many seats for SFO to Munich, though SFO to Istanbul has some connection options.

      Or if you’re really luck you might find one of the few days the South African Airways flight from Washington DC has a seat.

      Best to dig around on searching separately for SFO-MUC/IST and then separately from MUC/IST to JNB. And for good luck try the simple SFO-JNB in case an miracles appear.


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