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

by on Thu March 19, 2015 • 54 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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54 thoughts on 3 best ways to fly to Africa with miles from the U.S.

  1. Keip


    I am trying to book a flight from LAX to Kili Airport. We will be climing Mt. Kilimanjaro Jan 2019. Follow with 5 day Serengeti and finish with 4-5 days Zanzibar.

    I need to fly to Kilimanjaro airport but I don’t know yet which airport is best to leave from Zanzibar back to Los Angeles.

    I have 165,000 miles with American airlines.

    But everytime I search, even closer dates, same airport (LAX to Kilimanjaro Airport leaving and returning) I receive error message. I even check option without using miles. I have read about the very high fees and want to avoid paying them if possible.

    How can I use my AA mileage for trip? Is it possible?

    Since I have a year planning is it best I give up on American Airlines miles and apply for a different airline credit card and hope I have enough miles for at least half way?

    Can you please help?

    Thank you greatly in advance. I really appreciate it.

  2. Cherie Desai

    Hi @milecards – I’m trying to book NYC –> Lusaka for June 2018. I’m going to apply for the Amex Platinum card with the $75K bonus and I have 14K Chase points. What’s the best way to maximize these points for the 1-stop flight through JNB? Can I transfer them both to South African Airways?


  3. Troy

    Hi, I’m hoping to travel to South African (JNB) in July 2018 from Atlanta (which of course is a Delta hub). I’d prefer to fly Delta because it is the only nonstop route from Atlanta.

    I have Delta Miles as well as Chase Reserve miles, but at this point both would use up quite a few miles even for an economy flight (Delta is at around 125,000 miles for dates and Chase at around 138,000).

    Any recommendations on alternate routes or means of booking?

    Thank you

  4. James Lee

    Is it possible to do a stopover on Turkish Airlines flights from South Africa to the US in Istanbul and if so how?


    Is it possible to do a stopover on South Africa Airways flights from South Africa to the US in Dakar, Senegal and if so how?


      @James – What kind of miles are you trying to use? If United, unfortunately no for the Turkish example – the stopover needs to be in your destination region, which would be Central and Southern Africa. But the Senegal example could be valid, since both South Africa and Senegal are in the same MileagePlus region.

  5. James Lee

    Is it possible to do a stopover on Turkish Airlines flights from South Africa to the US in Istanbul and if so how?


    Is it possible to do a stopover on South Africa Airways flights from South Africa to the US in Dakar, Senegal and if so how?

  6. DallasCowboy

    I’m trying to get from DFW to CPT. Any advice for the best way to do that? I tried the BA search that you mention, but I wonder if it has changed since the article? I could only find availability for the return trip–and then it was on BA, and not on Qatar…


      @DallasCowboy – Qatar space is still on the BA site – but they don’t seem to be releasing as many seats these days. Change dates or check other routes like DOH-ATL or DOH-PHL.

  7. Erin

    Hi there, is there any way to use chase UR points (through transfer partners) to book a nonstop from NYC to JNB in business class? I checked flights on united mileage plus, but I’m only seeing flights with a stopover… thanks so much! 🙂


      @Erin – Pretty tough to find award space on that nonstop. You could book via the Chase site to use your points like cash for part of the ticket, but you’d end up spending thousands of dollars to cover the rest of the ticket. For example, $5,000 worth would take 400,000 in points. So if you only have 100,000 points you’d need to spend $3,750 in cash to cover the rest.

  8. Wes

    Thanks MilesCards for an outstanding post on efficient award options to consider to get to/from South Africa. After carefully looking at and @ 331 days out (today)–we snagged the Qatar option (75K AA miles from CPT to Doha, Doha to Atl), $61pp taxes & fees). Our two options using British Airways was 450K Avios plus about $400 in fees/taxes pp for the same flights but using Avios. And using about $400K Avios and near $550 pp fees/taxes flying comair to JNB, then BA from Jnb to lhr, lhr to ATL. (34 hours 3 flights) vs 34 hours (huge miles savings and fee savings, but 8+hr layover in Doha (we’re using Hamad Intl airport hotel for intransit guests).

  9. Shari

    So much amazing info and help here! There are 3 of us going bus class from PHX to NBO in Oct. 2017. Have AA, BA and Chase Reserve points. Sounds like it’s best to go straight to AA website first.
    *If I want to try Qatar through Doha, do I do that through the AA site?
    *Do you have any insight in terms of how airlines release mileage seats?
    *Do you recommend grabbing economy and expecting bus seats to open? Bus class is important on this flight.
    I’m new at this and determined to use points! Any info is so appreciated. Thank you!


      @Shari – To check Qatar – go to the BA site and look one flight at a time – like PHX – ORD, then separately ORD – DOH and separately DOH – NBO. And remember to adjust the date for the time change for the DOH – NBO.

      That’s probably going to be your best bet with AA points.

      But how many points do you have overall for the 3 of you in each program?

      Unfortunately grabbing economy then switching to business will involve fees to change, so beware of that.

  10. Kenya

    I’m looking to get two BC tickets from LAX to NBO for March 2018. I have about 150k miles with Chase Ultimate Rewards and another 50k in Amex points. What’s the best way to upgrade to BC?


      @Kenya – You’re short on miles to book two business class awards outright. Those are almost 200k per person.

      But if you buy an Air France Premium Economy ticket, you could upgrade for 100k per person roundtrip. Both Amex and Chase transfer to Air France miles so you’d have enough miles for it. Challenge will be finding flights that have upgrade space available, but if you’re flexible with dates it’s possible.

      Looks like there’s space on SFO-CDG March 6 and March 12 for example. Flights that show up as ‘Classic Awards’ in Business Class when you search on the Air France site are available for upgrades.

      Alternatively, just book a Business Class award from SFO – CDG for 125k miles per person via Air France, and buy a separate coach ticket to Nairobi.

  11. Nick

    How do you book a comair flight with miles? I would love to get that one way from cape town to Mauritius in July but I am having trouble figuring out how.

    Bigger question. I am planning a trip NYC–> CapeTown–> Nairobi–> Seychelles or Mauritius–>NYC

    I would like to finish the trip in Seychelles or Mauritius but can flip capetown and Nairobi. I found decent flights with united miles
    NYC–> Capetown–> Nairobi , seychelles or mauritius –> NYC All for 80k miles RT.

    I am trying to figure out the best way to one of the islands. Right now all i can find is taking air kenya for $350 one way so if i can some how find a cheap mileage flight I would love to. Thanks for any help.

  12. Jose

    Hello, I’m planning my honeymoon in Africa, in november 2017. Whats your suggestion for the most efficient (Cheapest most convenient) way to get Business Class seats.

    We have AA points
    We live in NYC

    Thanks a lot for your advice.

  13. Steve

    My wife and I are cruising to Cape Town in 14 Months. We want to fly back to Miami in either Business or First, using Membership Rewards. We would like to avoid using BA as the tax/fuel surcharges are ridiculous. Any advice?

      1. Steve

        Thanks for the information. I already have the 331 date circled. The only question I will have to check is whether going through Istanbul is necessary, as there are obvious safety concerns in Turkey.

  14. Napoleon

    Im looking to go from, ideally, CHSto CPT in february or march for a week. I see a lot of availability from new york/atl/DC. Im going with my wife and would like to one way business. The ANA method you shared, it doesnt go one way on roundtrip? I have around 100k BA 100k AA 70k MR and soon to come 100k UR from reserve.

    I see BA is an option but high fuel surcharges. I was thinking Doha but couldnt figure it out. I would love some insight. Thaks

  15. LaurenceP

    Hello! Great article. I have a lot of AmEx miles that I’d like to use business class LAX-NBO next September. I’m having a hard time locating seats on airlines that I can transfer the miles to. Any suggestions?

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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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