UPDATE: Virgin Atlantic’s system is now able to see DSS airport and the award is bookable once again!
Fly South African Airways Business Class to Africa for 50,000 miles:
I can get you from the US to Africa in business class for 50,000 miles round-trip. Yep, it’s true. I don’t blame you for not believing me, as Africa is typically one of the most expensive continents to visit with miles. But today, I’m going to show you how to use an award sweet spot to get there for about 70% fewer miles than usual.
The Man, The Mystery, The Mustache:
Before we get into the nitty gritty of planning your trip to Africa, let me back up just a little and introduce myself. Hey everyone, I’m John. I first realized I had a problem with miles and points about 5 years ago. It started when I used my miles to fly in AA first class to Japan. After that I vowed never to get on a 15-hour flight in economy again. I quit my regular job about 3 years ago and have been traveling the world and helping people redeem their miles ever since.
[Editor’s note: you can find John’s website and award booking service here: theflyingmustache.com/awardbooking]
While Greg and Nick are clearly the gurus for how to earn obscene amounts of miles without ever setting foot on a plane, my area of expertise is making sure that those miles get you as far as possible, with as much free champagne as possible. Today’s sweet spot is a great example of just how powerful your miles and points can be if you use award sweet spots judiciously.
Virgin Atlantic Sweet Spot to Africa:
Today’s sweet spot comes courtesy of Virgin Atlantic, a non-alliance carrier that has ridiculous fuel surcharges on their own awards but seemingly little to none on awards with their partner airlines. If that leaves you scratching your head, just wait until you try to use their website; though to be fair, that’s more hair pulling than head scratching.
Unlike the more typical award redemption scheme where partner flights are priced out by region, with Virgin Atlantic each partner airline has a separate award chart and for several airlines they even break down the award costs for each individual route rather than by region. In fact, one of their partners, Air China, only allows mileage earning and redemption with Virgin Atlantic for one specific route (hint: it’s worth looking at for redemptions).
The Virgin Atlantic South African Airlines partner award chart is grouped into regions for the most part though there is one exception that merits more attention. “Senegal – USA” is 40,000 miles round-trip for economy or 50,000 miles round-trip for business class. Despite the award chart making it seem as though the award needs to start in Senegal, I called Virgin Atlantic and confirmed that it prices out the same if you start in the US and I was able to place a business class award on hold starting in Washington, D.C. The taxes and fees on the award were surprisingly low, coming out to just $130.66 per round-trip ticket.
While Senegal to the US may seem like it covers a lot of territory, you have to keep in mind that this award chart is only good for flights on South African, South African Express and SA Airlink, of which only South African flies to the US. Further, there is only one route that they fly between the US and Senegal and that is Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Dakar, Senegal (DSS). So while it may look like you could fly from Dakar to anywhere in the US at first glance, really this award only works with this particular city pair.
Getting Beyond Senegal:
On the off chance that you don’t want to spend your entire vacation in Senegal, let me give you a couple quick tips on getting beyond Senegal without coughing up too many miles.
Strangely enough, the flight you just got off of in Dakar actually continues on to Johannesburg, South Africa. Yep, flight SA208 continues all the way to South Africa. Now there are 2 ways to use Virgin Atlantic miles to take this flight to Johannesburg.
Stopover in Dakar for 50,000 mile discount. One important caveat for the US to Senegal award is this little piece of verbiage “24-hour connection required if booked in conjunction with another reward.” If you get off the flight in Dakar and then continue on to anywhere in Africa after waiting for 24-hours then you get charged the “South Africa – Central & Northern Africa” award price, which is 40,000 miles in economy or 50,000 miles in business class. If you want to stay on the flight and continue to South Africa then the price jumps to 150,000 miles for round-trip business class, which is the same price as if you simply booked the JFK-JNB direct flight (award space is rare on that flight though). Basically, Virgin Atlantic is trying to make sure that you can’t fly from IAD to JNB for 50,000 miles less by transiting Dakar instead of taking the direct flight from JFK. If you stopover in Dakar on your way to South Africa, then you save 50,000 miles.
My suggestion for traveling around Africa, beyond just continuing onto Johannesburg, is actually to book with ANA instead of Virgin Atlantic. The issue with Virgin Atlantic awards in South Africa is that you are limited to South African flights and their hub is in South Africa, which is really far from anywhere you might want to go in Northern and Central Africa. It would be like flying from Bangkok to Phuket via Doha on Qatar airways. I think I’d rather walk/swim than add 12 hours of flight time onto that journey.
So the solution to not being stuck with transiting Johannesburg is to choose an alliance rather than just one carrier and the alliance that is by far the strongest in Africa is Star Alliance. Using a Star Alliance award means you can fly with Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways. The reason we choose ANA for intra-Africa awards is because they charge only 55,000 miles for a round-trip business class award anywhere in Africa or the Middle East. Lumping together Africa and the Middle East creates a massive area with which to construct your award and you will have access to all the Star Alliance award space for the region.
If that wasn’t sweet enough, ANA also partners with Etihad, which has a strong network within the Middle East and throughout much of Africa. Even better, unlike with many Star Alliance partner awards, Etihad awards via ANA do not include any fuel surcharges! The one caveat is that you cannot combine Etihad and Star Alliance carriers on the same award. So if you are going to book Etihad flights with your ANA miles then the award can only have Etihad flights.
Getting The Miles:
One of my favorite things about booking partner awards with Virgin Atlantic is that Virgin Atlantic miles are really easy to get. All of the major transferable points currencies (Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and SPG) transfer to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio and the transfers from all of those programs, with the exception of SPG, are nearly instant. Bank of America also issues a Virgin Atlantic cobranded credit card that routinely offers a 90,000 mile 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.
The bonus on the credit card combined with the points earned meeting the spending requirement is enough to get two round-trip business class awards from the US to Africa, which I honestly can’t say about any other sign up bonus I’ve ever heard of. To give you an idea about the amount of miles it usually takes to get from the US to Senegal, to book the same exact flights with your United miles would cost 160,000 UA miles. If you were to book flights to Senegal with AA miles it’s 150,000 and with Delta, you get the pleasure of a 2-stop itinerary to Dakar starting at only 330,000 miles.
If you were to pay cash for this ticket it is currently pricing out at about $5,350 for the exact same flights that I put on hold, meaning you would be getting more than 10 cents per mile in value by using this sweet spot. This brings us to a very important part of the process; actually booking the award.
Booking The Award:
Virgin Atlantic’s website might work for their own awards but it is useless when it comes to partner awards. Thankfully, their phone agents have great British accents and are pretty competent when it comes to booking partner awards, though not overly helpful. By this I mean that you must have the exact route and the exact dates that you wish to travel and then they will tell you if the flights are available for those days.
The specific flights you will be looking for with this award are flight SA208 that goes from IAD to DSS and flight SA207 that returns from Dakar to Washington, D.C. Both the outbound and return flights only fly on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. A good way to speed this part of the process up is to use the United Airlines award search engine to check whether there is award space for your particular travel dates before calling in to Virgin Atlantic.
I find that the South African Airways award space that United sees is usually bookable by Virgin Atlantic agents and it saves quite a bit of time over checking every date blindly over the phone. When you’ve got your dates picked out and have confirmed with United’s award search engine that there is space available for those days you can get ahold of Virgin Atlantic at 1-800-365-9500. They can place the award on hold for you for 24 hours, giving you time to transfer in points from one of the transferable points currencies without having to worry about the seats disappearing in the meantime.
Drinking The Champagne:
In terms of comfort, South African Airways is decent but certainly not making any attempts to redefine the word “luxury.” The flights to and from Dakar are right around 8-hours in either direction and South African flies an Airbus A330-300 on this route, which features a seat that reclines to a lie-flat bed in business class. So while you won’t be rubbing elbows with famous travel bloggers at any in-flight bar, you will be able to have a nice, flat bed in which to catch some shut-eye on your way to Africa.
In A Nutshell:
By using a sweet spot on the Virgin Atlantic partner award chart you can get from the US to Africa and back in business class for only 50,000 miles and $131 in taxes and fees. This is about 70% cheaper than most other awards between the US and Africa and represents one of the best values for getting to Africa in a premium cabin. If you wish to continue your journey beyond Senegal or South Africa then you should look into ANA partner awards as a cheap and flexible option for intra-Africa travel. Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner with all of the major transferable points currencies and also has a co-branded credit card with a large sign up bonus, making it very easy to get enough miles into your account for this award. Once you have the miles in your account the booking process is relatively straightforward and your flights to and from Africa should be comfortable. Note: I didn’t know this when I first wrote this post, but The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook also covered this deal here.
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[…] Note: This post was guest-written by the same guy who showed you how to fly round trip to Africa (DC to Senegal) for 50,000 points. While I believe that this trick for staying at Hilton properties for free will technically work, […]
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[…] Awesome Sweet Spot to Africa: Traveling to Africa is expensive, whether you’re paying in cash or in miles. Lucky for us there is an awesome sweet spot to fly from the US to Africa for 50K miles round trip in BUSINESS CLASS! Yes you read that right! Also if you stay 24 hours in Senegal, you can venture on to South Africa for 25K more miles. […]
Old news. Was 39,000 Amex points in November. No hat tip to Andy?
There was a mention of his post and a link to it at the bottom of the post, even though I hadn’t seen his post when I wrote this one.
UPDATE: Due to a new airport opening in Senegal, the award described in this post is temporarily not bookable. John has updated the post with details about the current situation. We will post anew when this changes.
but there is also zero award availability when searching United on any direct flight from the USA to JNB (forget about Senegal for a moment)
There are screenshots in the post both showing award space from IAD to Dakar and onward to JNB. I’m not sure why you aren’t seeing them.
For the direct flight to Dakar I suggest using the ANA website. For United’s site you need to search between IAD and JNB. You should see SA208 then.
A moot point until the awards are bookable again with VS, but there is space available in business class every week in February and March of 2018 and likely most of the rest of the year as well.
OK, this looked interesting. At least until I went to check it out.
United usually displays South African award availability. So I ran a search on United for a business class seat nonstop IAD-DKR. I searched beginning of schedule to end of schedule late next year. NOT ONE SEAT. Nada. Zilch. Then I did the same thing in reverse, DKR-IAD. Again, NOT ONE SEAT! Which begs the obvious question: is there EVER any award availability on this route? If so, how do you find it? And, further, is there anyone who has ever successfully booked such an award? I really don’t like posts like this that lead me down a rabbit hole without discussion of these important search and availability issues.
Now you see – what looks pretty on a chart does NOT mean a thing when you are not able to find a single seat. lol.
I just love how bloggers dig up obscure stuff that only looks good on paper but has very limited usage due to the specific city pair, AND, most important among other things, The Availability of the Award Seat!
Dakar just opened a new airport (DSS). Could have something to do with that.
@Paul5795 I did the same thing and was totally confused. I hate to push you in a different direction from the blog the you actually found it on but Lucky (blog: one mile at a time) just published a blog and he goes into more detail about how to find the award availability. I’m glad you asked the question. ignore all the negative comments from people that don’t know what they’re talking about.
@JR Thanks for the heads up. I love the Frequent Miler blog, but in this case I wasted a half hour searching the United website for award space that I could have avoided if I had first read One Mile At a Time on this subject. Oh well, at least now I have some hope that I can actually put together this award trip at some time in the future.
No worries. I saw FM post this blog first and spent an hour researching it and was running into the same challenge then lucky posted it mentioning that he was not aware of this “sweet spot” until today so I believe he may have read this blog first so HT to FM; but sincere thank you for OMAAT for clarification.
It just came to my attention that between when I wrote this post and when it was published they opened a new airport in Dakar and that SA moved their flights to the new airport (DSS).
The way to find direct space is actually with ANA’s website. They allow you to search cities without populating the airport code. So you can search for “Dakar” and it won’t populate the search with “DKR” so you can actually find space to the new DSS airport. This is the only search that I know of that is seeing the new space.
United workaround works as well, as Lucky mentioned you just need to search to JNB and then see if SA208 is flying.
But it’s a moot point at the moment as VS is unable to book this award right now. Their systems don’t recognize DSS as a valid airport code and when you book the IAD-JNB SA208 flight it applies married segment logic and will not allow you to break them into individual segments. I think the thing to do now is just wait until they have their IT systems updated. I’ll keep an eye on this and let people know when it’s fixed.
Sorry for the confusion.
totally agree! not a single award seat in J when I search United a year out.
I wish this total LACK of award availability was mentioned, because otherwise – what’s the point of the post??
Besides – unlike JNB – DKR has limited attraction for either business or leisure travelers.
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Perhaps this is a “newbie” question…but why can’t I find this flight? Even if I use google flights IAD-DKR, these actual flights do not appear. Am I doing something wrong?
Interesting post. You mention low YQ for the Etihad flights booked through ANA.
How about YQ/YR for Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways flights booked using ANA miles?
It is fallen into the ‘click bait’ category to me with its original title that is extremely misleading.
In reality, if one needs to go to South Africa, it would be 100K round trip or 50K one way IF Virgin allows one way booking.
Also good luck in finding those South Africa flights which are not easy to come by even with UA miles.
Agree with the poster that mentioned about can fly AA with 75K one way to JNB or CPT via DOH with a much better airline and much more city pairs from / to US on QR. The extra 25K miles needed is well worth it when everything is considered, on a much more straight forward, much simpler booking that also allows free changes on many items.
If you’re willing to fly all the way to the Middle East, isn’t there a deal with the Alaska program to JNB with Emirates? I vaguely remember looking at that once.
South Africa is one of the few places where you’d think there’d be more direct flight options from the USA. I guess more people need to understand why this is an excellent vacation destination. Cape Town is particularly time consuming to get to because even if you get one of the direct flights to JNB, you have to doubleback.
It is not a deal on AS because it costs HUGE amount of miles.
Case in point, a one way J award on Emirate via DXB using AS miles is almost twice as an F award on CX via HKG.
So yes, it can be done with AS award but it certainly is NOT a deal.
Going to South Africa or Namibia, AA costs you 75K in J flying QR via DOH.
While you fly CX in F but to JNB only, via HKG with a stopover at HKG or at an AS connection point, at 70K.
Now you see where the “deal” is. Though my guess is AS will eventually devalue in 2018.
I know it’s not for everyone, just because Africa is not a popular destination, but I think it really works for me because I usually fly DET or CLE to Khartoum, Sudan or Dubai once or twice a year. My best bet has been Ethiopian or Turkish through Mileage Plus, in economy for 80K (or 85K to Dubai).
With this deal I think it’s another option but with the the caveat of extra miles to connect to the final destination in Africa or the Middle East and possibly cash to get to IAD.
I am estimating:
$300 (taxes and cash ticket to IAD), PLUS
50,000 to DKR
30,000 to anywhere in Africa / Middle East (Including Dubai!) in economy through ANA.
I think this beats 80K + $100 in economy all the way to KRT – at least part of the trip is in Business class.
Thanks for the tip.
Agree with iahphx- sensationalistic broad title for a very limited use case. Should have been “DC to Dakar round trip for 50k”. But then most people would rightfully skip it.
Mind you, I’m not saying it’s a bad tip – I can see some VERY adventurous folks taking advantage of that, but really, not really applicable to most…
Live in IAD, so I like this tip. A bit cautious of Senegal, any experience? You didn’t mention if VS flying club books one ways on partners at half price, or not. That would make this deal so much more amazing.
You should be able to book this as a one-way for half the price (when the booking is working again).
I haven’t been to Senegal yet but the price of this award has me thinking about adding it to my destinations list for next summer.
Combine this with the Alaska partner award with Cathay in 1st from JNB to the US (JNB-HKG only has J) for 70k and you’ve got yourself a pretty amazing around the world trip in 1st and business class for 130,000 miles.
I guess this is a sweet spot to Dakar, but it really will cost me 100K miles roundtrip to JNB. I really don’t call that a savings of 50K. I can fly in Bus. Class from IAD to JNB on AA for 75K. That is cheaper than doing the 50K VA and then one of their coach fares for 30K.
This is only a deal if you must go from IAD to Dakar, but nothing more than that.
You also need to add the number of miles it will take someone in the US to get to IAD. In my opinion this is a very, very, very limited opportunity for someone in the Washington area that needs to get to Dakar, and only Dakar.
Is travel on AA 75k RT?
Your talking one-way for 75k, or 150k RT. I’m talking 100k RT. That’s 50k fewer miles.
There are plenty of inexpensive flights to IAD, not sure why you couldn’t spend a few dollars on a coach ticket to position for this deal.
I personally use the VS ANA 1st deal all the time and pretty much always purchase a positioning ticket. And to that point there have been AA awards where I have booked positioning tickets as there wasn’t award space between my origin city and the international gateway city.
I don’t consider this deal any less impressive because they don’t specifically fly to every single city in the US.
Cool. Notably, the IAD-ACC service (alternate days from DSS/DKR) is 70k. That makes me wonder if this is a mistake in the table.
Also, ANA looks to have fairly high YQ on SAA. Like $200. Given that AUH is in the same zone, it might make sense to use EY without YQ. Myself, I prefer never to roundtrip. I’d probably use 30k UA miles in J on an 8-hr redeye to ADD (without YQ).
Thanks for the tidbit, but my constructive criticism is that you need to tighten your language. So if I’m understanding you correctly, you only get as far as Senegal for 50K in business? And you have to start at IAD for that? That’s interesting, but too oddball for almost anyone to find useful. With a 24-hour+ stopover, you could continue to JNB for 100K in business roundtrip? That’s probably more notable for most folks, since JNB is a far more popular destination than Senegal and efficient options to get there aren’t so plentiful. But it’s also not the deal of a lifetime, especially since I think travellers will find it extremely difficult to actually find these award seats.
Good point. I’ve updated John’s title to explicitly list DC to Senegal.
I’ve been searching out an African flight for months now and never once came across this!
I transferred MR, UR, and TYP to Virgin Atlantic last month for an award, and all three transfers were instant.