50K Business Class round-trip to Africa (DC to Senegal) now available


Last month, John Klukas published a guest post on this blog: Fly business class to Africa for 50,000 miles round-trip (DC to Senegal).  In that post, John described how Virgin Atlantic miles could be used to fly business class between DC and Senegal for 50K miles round-trip, or 25K miles one-way.  Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the flight in question had just changed routing to a new airport in Senegal, and Virgin Atlantic’s computers weren’t able to see the flight and therefore the award was not bookable.  Now, Virgin Atlantic’s systems have caught up with the new airport and the award is bookable again.  Please see full details here: Fly business class to Africa for 50,000 miles round-trip (DC to Senegal).

The award price is amazing, but is it practical?

Obviously if you live in DC and want to fly to Senegal and if award space is available and if you have a way to get Virgin Atlantic points, then this award is a no-brainer.  That’s a lot of ifs.  Fortunately, for many who live in the eastern part of the US, it is fairly easy to get to DC (Washington Dulles airport, AKA IAD) to start your flight.  And, on the other end, John’s post describes how to use miles to go beyond Senegal if you’d rather visit other African, European, or Middle Eastern destinations.  So, for many, the award can be practical as long as the award space is available…

Award Space IAD to DSS

a screenshot of a computer

An easy way to find award space on this non-stop South African airways flight is via United.com.  On the United.com home screen, start by selecting “One-way” and entering IAD as the origin and DSS as the destination (or do the opposite when looking for flights from Africa).  Click “My dates are flexible” (important!).  Then select the month you’d like to travel, the number of people traveling, and select “Business” rather than Economy.  Finally, select the boxes to “Search for award travel” and “Nonstop“.  Press Search.

By following the above steps, you should then see a calendar like this:

a calendar with numbers and a date

The dates with solid lines have economy awards available and the dates with dotted lines should have business class awards available.  When you click on a date with business class awards available, you should see something like this below the calendar:

a screenshot of a screenshot of a website

This nonstop flight on South African Airways is what you’re looking for.  The 80k saver award shows that the business class award is available on the date you selected.  To be clear, it won’t cost you 80,000 miles unless you book the flight with United Airlines miles.  This exercise was just to see if the award was available.  To book this one-way flight for 25K miles you need to call Virgin Atlantic.

If you’d like to fly round-trip, then repeat the exercise above to find award space for your return trip.

As you can see above, award space for 2 in business class is hardly plentiful, but it does exist.

Getting Virgin Atlantic miles

All of the major transferable points currencies (Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and SPG) transfer to Virgin Atlantic. Bank of America also issues a Virgin Atlantic cobranded credit card that routinely offers a 90K-ish sign up bonus (with a pretty hefty spend to get the full bonus).  Check Frequent Miler’s Best Offers page to find up-to-date info about that offer.

See also:

My thoughts

Given the sparse award space and the limited number of flights out of Senegal (found here) this is not an ideal option for those of us who live away from DC and are unlikely to make Senegal our ultimate destination.  Instead, I think of this as a great option to keep in mind just in case my travel plans ever align.

How about you?  Will you book this award if award space is available?

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J Thompson

Wow! I finally got the ticket! Thanks again TrAAveller! Once I mentioned to the agent that he would need to do a manual booking it worked! Such a relief!


AWESOME! Congrats. They certainly make you earn that award the hard way. Perseverance and HUACA finally pays off.

J Thompson

Hello! I’ve spoken to 2 different representatives with Virgin Atlantic and have had no luck booking this flight yet. I’ve given the exact airport codes IAD-DSS and dates that are currently available through the United Airlines website but both times the rep can’t find anything with the DSS airport code. I asked one of the reps to call South African Airways to confirm the seat but she insisted it would not help since they use 2 different systems. I even asked them to pull up the flight through the South African Website just to verify it’s existence but they were still unable to put the award travel one hold. Any advice before I give up?


My advice: don’t give up. Just keep calling. It usually takes most people 4-5x. Try calling different times of the day and perhaps different call centers will eventually provide you with success. It took me 4 attempts and finally someone just knew how to do the manual processing. I politely argued unsuccessfully with the first 3 (and their managers) to no avail. They insisted it couldn’t be done. HUACA until it works. But for starters I’d avoid giving them the DSS code as it’s clearly not in their system. Just say you want SAA flight 108 from Washington Dulles to Dakar, Senegal and let them figure it out. You’ll know in the first 3 minutes if it’s gonna work or not. Still requires some time for the agent to manually request it, but it does work. (as a side note, they will see SAA 108 IAD-JNB (which connects via DSS; assuming there is award avail on both segments) but they’re not able to add that and subtract the segment DSS-JNB) for the same issue of not finding DSS entirely.

J Thompson

Thanks for your help TrAAveller. I haven’t given up yet but I’ve tried with about 5 agents and they keep saying that it will take a week for their system to update the airport code, blah blah blah. So frustrating knowing it has worked for so many other people. But I will keep trying using the tips that you gave me.


Those same agents gave me the same excuse weeks ago. It’s lame the system isn’t updated. Just a matter of finding an agent that knows how to do a manual request to SAA. It seems to come back within seconds of the request.


After my fourth call, I was also able to book this ticket quite easily. It seems to be a manual blind request to SAA and they respond back instantaneously with an approval. So it definitely helps to have the awards confirmed with ExpertFlyer or United to ensure it’s there. My first three calls to Virgin Atlantic were painful exercises in futility (even with manager escalation all insisting this was impossible since DSS doesn’t appear in their systems.) If you get these agents, just politely thank them for their time and try again (perhaps at a different time to get a different call center that is capable of doing a manual request. If the agent is trying to do it in their system, it just won’t process until their IT realizes this new airport exists (despite being opened over 5 weeks ago).

Another quirk it seems they were able to put my SAA award on hold for 48 hours for me to transfer miles (which were instant via AMEX transfers). The hold isn’t guaranteed the award will be there, but it’s holding the booking details at least. What’s strange is they cannot provide an email or online view of the held reservation (so you just have to trust their verbal description of the reservation is exactly what you’re intending (and the names are spelled correctly). A held booking with a reservation code is not viewable until the reservation is booked (paid). And it takes several more hours for a SAA corresponding booking code to be available to you (only after ticketing it seems). Anyhow….fantastic redemption rate for a part of the world I’ve been wanting to visit.

Nims Magoo

I was just able to book this ticket. When I called into the center the first time the agent was unable/unwilling to help after not initially seeing it in their system. I quickly hung up and called back however and the next agent was much more helpful. I mentioned tips from the above e.g. checking with SA Airways, etc and although it took about 20 minutes, he was finally able to book it. Being insistent but polite and knowing the availability on the specific dates helped along the process tremendously.

[…] 5th Freedom Award to West Africa […]

Jerry Mandel

Again. Iberia has no problem flying to DSS (Dakar’s new airport) from Madrid.


I tried calling to book this flight with Virgin Atlantic today and the agent said that they’re still not seeing the DSS airport in their system so I was unable to book. Has anyone had success booking this deal?


I’m planning to book it. There’s a surf camp near the airport, and I can think of nothing better than flying to Senegal, surfing for two days to get around the 24-hour rule, and then flying on to South Africa – only to surf some more on the way back 🙂


I live in LA and I certainly will consider this option when I’m able to set aside a chunk of time to travel there. From what I’ve read, Dakar is an interesting city in its own right and has good connections to other countries in W/NW Africa, from Morocco down to Nigeria as well as some of the coastal island territories, so it would make a good base to explore the region.

Jerry Mandel

Not only see Dakar (DSS) but take a 7-day Gambia River cruise on http://www.varietycruises.com/english/home/cruiseCalendar/Cruises+in+the+Rivers+of+West+Africa/44 All cabins are the same; so, it is silly to pay more for a different deck.


Greg, it’s not right for you to leave off crediting Andy for the original post. Without Andy’s post at http://www.lazytravelers.net you would have had zero articles on this subject.

Please don’t be yet another boardingarea twit who steal ideas from other websites without crediting the original writer.

I thought you were better than that.


If I transfer my AMEX points to virgin Airlines will the flights from DC to Senegal still be available.? Do I need to call Virgin or book online?

AJ Bullard

I called Virgin Atlantic, but the agent said they are still unable to book flights into DSS. Their system isn’t recognizing DSS . Anyone else encounter this issue?


Hey AJ,
I was able to place an award on hold as of January 3rd and the agent was seeing DSS and SA208 without issue. I’m not sure why they were having an issue when you called but I would try calling in again. When I called I fed the agent the specific city pair, IAD-DSS, and they placed me on hold while they called SAA to grab the seat. They came back with my VS confirmation number and a SA confirmation number as well.

You may have already done this, but make sure to confirm that there is space via United or ANA before calling in. VS agents don’t seem to have an efficient way to search partner award space and it’s possible that the agent wasn’t seeing any space and was confusing that with not being able to book to DSS.

Hopefully, another call to VS will clear this up. Good luck!


Will the same pricing apply to the SAA flight from Dulles to Accra Ghana? Pricing on United is the same.


Hm, 55k one way is still pretty solid for a 10 hour flight to Accra. I think Etihad charges 55k for this route as well, but I also think they charge almost $300 in taxes. Thanks Greg and John!