As I mentioned in the Introduction Post, American Express Membership Rewards points (much like all of the transferable currencies) are great points to stockpile because they are so versatile. Amex MRs are also fairly easy to earn, which makes them just that much better to use for your award travel to Africa!
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Introduction – Getting To Africa Using Your MRs, URs, TYPs or Starpoints
Part I – Getting To Africa Using Your MRs
Part II – Getting To Africa Using Your URs
Part III – Getting To Africa Using Your TYPs
Part IV – Getting To Africa Using Your SPG Starpoints
American Express offers many cards that earn Membership Rewards points, including their EveryDay card (which earns 20% more MRs every month you make 20 or more purchases with the card). Please note that the EveryDay card offers a 25k offer using the Incognito trick. While I appreciate your support, that’s a substantial number of points so make sure you’re looking for the higher offers! American Express offers several other card options that earn MRs, so I highly encourage you to head over to the American Express site and check out the other options as well.
Now that you know how to earn the MRs, the more complicated process is how to use those hard earned MRs to get you to Africa! Your MRs will transfer to 17 different airlines across all 3 major airline alliances. Those airlines include:
|Airline||Alliance||Transfer Ratio||Transfer Time|
|Air France/KLM||SkyTeam||1:1||Same day|
|Aeromexico||SkyTeam||1:1||Up to 7 days|
|British Airways||OneWorld||1:0.8||Same day|
|Iberia||OneWorld||1:0.8||Up to 7 days|
|Cathay Pacific||OneWorld||1:1||Up to 7 days|
|Air Canada||Star Alliance||1:1||Same day|
|ANA||Star Alliance||1:1||2-4 days|
|Singapore Airlines||Star Alliance||1:1||Up to 3 days|
|Virgin America||N/A||1:0.5||Same day|
|Virgin Atlantic||N/A||1:1||Same day|
|Jet Blue||N/A||1:0.8||Same day|
|Hawaiian Airlines||N/A||1:1||Same day|
|El Al||N/A||50:1||Same day|
As I said before, the transfer times are just an approximation based upon data points I could find (as well as personal experiences), but it is important to be cognizant of these transfer times when you are planning your award booking(s).
Another caveat is that although I will be including general advice for getting to Africa on your MRs, your home airport will play an important role in finding availability or determining cost. For example, since British Airways operates under a distance based award chart, the cost for someone traveling from the West Coast may be higher than the cost for someone traveling from the East Coast. I will also assume for purposes of this post that you would be flying into Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) as that seems to be one of the more popular destinations in Africa.
Unfortunately, approximately two years ago, Delta decided to take down its award chart. Without a published award chart, that means that it is difficult to give a number of miles that it will take to get to Africa.
As a general ballpark, from a Delta hub airport like Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg (JNB), you can expect to see roundtrip award tickets cost approximately 110k in economy and 650k (!!) in DeltaOne (business class). Oddly, I could not get Delta Comfort+ award seating to price out on this route, even though I know for a fact that it is offered. One-way flights are available for half the quoted cost.
While Delta’s economy class rate is somewhat competitive, their business class redemption rates offer horrible value unless you already have a large stash of SkyMiles you are looking to burn. If you are looking solely at transferring miles to Delta for a premium cabin redemption to Africa, I would absolutely look elsewhere.
Alitalia is a SkyTeam alliance member that is based out of Rome (FCO). That means that their route network is not especially well suited for redemptions to Africa (especially since they only fly to North Africa destinations). Thankfully, you can redeem your MilleMiglia miles for travel on Delta, Air France, KLM and Kenya Airways flights to Africa. Alitalia will levy fuel surcharges on partner award tickets, though they are not going to be as bad as the likes of British Airways. The trick to booking Alitalia awards is to have some miles in your account so they consider it active. From there you can call and place your award ticket on hold for about two (2) weeks. You can then transfer the needed miles and then call back to get the ticket booked.
Alitalia has a separate award chart for SkyTeam partner redemptions and breaks Africa down into four separate zones:
- North Africa 1 – Algeria, Libya & Tunisia
- North Africa 2 – Morocco
- Near East – Egypt
- Central & South Africa – Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia & Zimbabwe
For award flights between the CONUS and North Africa 1/North Africa 2/Near East, you can expect a roundtrip award ticket cost of 100k miles for economy and 200k miles for business class.
For award flights between the CONUS and Central & South Africa, you can expect a roundtrip award ticket cost of 120k miles for economy and 240k miles for business class.
While all of Alitalia’s rates to Africa are slightly above the average, the fuel surcharges are likely going to make FlyingBlue the better choice if you want to stick with a SkyTeam carrier.
Alitalia does allow one-way award tickets on partner airlines at half of the above quoted rates. Lastly, while you must book the most direct itinerary, you are allowed one voluntary stopover. That means that if you are looking to utilize the stopover enroute, it is better to transfer your MRs to Alitalia rather than Delta or FlyingBlue – even factoring in the fuel surcharges.
The US phone number for Alitalia is 800.223.5730.
Air France/KLM (FlyingBlue)
Air France and KLM share a frequent flyer program called FlyingBlue. Since FlyingBlue is a SkyTeam alliance member, you can redeem FlyingBlue miles for travel on Delta, Air France, KLM and Kenya Airways flights to Africa. FlyingBlue can be finicky to work with, but they offer some decent value for flights to Africa. FlyingBlue divides Africa into two separate award zones, though the cost is the same for both zones.
For roundtrip award tickets between the CONUS and Africa, you can expect a cost of 80k miles for economy, 100k miles for premium economy (where available), and 200k miles for business class.
One-way award tickets are allowed at half of the above quoted rates. While the economy class rate is one of the absolute best among the MR transfer partners, the business class rate is not very competitive. Accordingly, I would be looking to Alitalia (if you want a stopover) for business class tickets. I personally find FlyingBlue slightly easier to use for award tickets than Alitalia, but considering the cost difference and the free stopover Alitalia offers, I would look at the cost of a separate award ticket between your stopover city and destination city to decide which you shoud go with. With that said, searching for space via FlyingBlue will give you a good idea of what inventory should be bookable by Alitalia.
Aeromexico is another SkyTeam alliance member, which means you can again redeem Club Premier miles for travel on Delta, Air France, KLM and Kenya Airways flights to Africa. Aeromexico is a unique program in several regards. First and foremost, your MRs will transfer to Club Premier at a 1:1 ratio for miles. This is important because Club Premier uses kilometers instead of miles. Your Club Premier miles will be transferred to kilometers at a 1:1.6 ratio, which means for every 1,000 MRs you transfer, you would actually receive 1,600 Club Premier kilometers. I will do the conversion math for you so you can easily reference how many MRs it will cost you if you transferred to Aeromexico.
Aeromexico breaks Africa into 2 separate zones – North Africa and Africa, though they fail to state which countries fall into which zone.
For roundtrip flights between the CONUS and North Africa, Aeromexico charges 112k kilometers (70k MRs) for economy and 224k kilometers (140k MRs) for business class.
For roundtrip flights between the CONUS and Africa, Aeromexico charges 176k kilometers (110 MRs) for economy and 352k kilometers (220k MRs) for business class.
One-way award tickets are allowed and cost half the amount of the roundtrip price.
As you can see, flights in economy to North Africa are the best value around, though there are better deals to be had out there for award tickets to the rest of Africa – especially in business class. The only way I would consider this redemption would be if you have a large stash of Club Premier kilometers you need to burn off. Otherwise, look elsewhere for transfer options.
British Airways and Iberia somewhat share an award program where both have a distance based award chart, so your home airport and destination airport are really going to make the biggest difference here in how much an award ticket to Africa will cost you. Unfortunately, last year American Express and British Airways/Iberia devalued their transfer rate slightly to 1:0.8. As both British Airways and Iberia are members of the OneWorld alliance, you can use your Avios to book Qatar and British Airways flights to Africa.
The upshot of using Avios is that you can build in an itinerary that flies from the U.S. with stopovers in hub cities throughout the world if you wanted. The downside of this is that due to the distance based award chart, your particular routing may cost you substantially more Avios (and ridiculously high surcharges if flying British Airways).
There are several direct flights between the CONUS and London (for British Airways flights) and Doha (for Qatar flights), so if you happen to live at one of these hub cities, your redemption cost is going to be substantially lower than someone that needs to connect. Here are the one-way award ticket costs you can expect for the various most direct routings:
- British Airways – JFK-LHR-JNB – 29.25k Avios + ~$272 in economy, 58.5k Avios + ~$412 in premium economy, 135k Avios + ~$782 in business class and 153k Avios + ~$782 in first class.
- British Airways – LAX-LHR-JNB – 32.5k Avios + ~$272 in economy, 65k Avios + ~$570 in premium economy, 125k Avios + ~$820 in business class and 170k Avios + ~$820 in first class.
- Qatar – JFK-DOH-JNB -55k Avios + ~$308 in economy and 165k Avios + ~$456 in business class.
- Qatar – LAX-DOH-JNB – 70k Avios + ~$308 in economy and 210k Avios + ~$456 in business class.
Again, keep in mind that these are price ranges for flights between OneWorld hub airports and Johannesburg (JNB) with the most direct routing, so your award ticket cost may vary from these numbers depending on your home airport, number of connections needed and destination in Africa.
Award space tends to be pretty good on British Airways flights and hit or miss on Qatar flights.
Lastly, it is important to remember that the transfer ratio is 1:0.8, so your flight that costs 45k Avios will actually cost you 56,250 MRs. In light of the cost, unless you have a glut of Avios you want to burn, you are better off transferring your MRs elsewhere for a redemption to Africa – especially if you are looking to travel in a premium cabin.
Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program uses a distance based award chart, so this is another airline that will depend on your home airport for redemption costs. Cathay Pacific is a member of the OneWorld alliance, so you can use your Asia Miles to book British Airways and Qatar flights to Africa.
Cathay Pacific utilizes a somewhat unique award chart in that if you are flying solely on one partner airline, you redeem according to the Asia Miles Award Chart, but if you are flying on more than one OneWorld partner that does not include Cathay Pacific or Dragon Air, you redeem according to the OneWorld Multi-Carrier Award Chart.
For a roundtrip award ticket operated by a single partner from the CONUS to London (LHR) or Doha (DOH) and then on to Johannesburg (JNB) you can expect a cost of 110k miles in economy, 132k miles in premium economy, 175k miles in business class and 270k miles in first class. One-way award tickets are allowed at one half of the above quoted rates plus 5k miles (i.e., economy class is 25k miles for a one-way award ticket).
For flights operated by more than one OneWorld partner, here are the roundtrip award ticket costs you can expect for the various most direct routings:
- British Airways/American – JFK-LHR-JNB – 95k miles in economy, 140k miles in business class and 205k miles in first class.
- British Airways/American – LAX-LHR-JNB – 110k miles in economy, 160k miles in business class and 235k miles in first class.
It is important to keep in mind that since the Cathay Pacific award chart is distance based, your home airport, destination and routing are going to play a huge part in your redemption cost. What is wild though is the Asia Miles program allows you to make up to 5 stopovers, 2 transfers and 2 open-jaws at either the origin, en-route or at the turnaround point (destination)! That means you could put together an itinerary where you hop all over Europe and Africa or the Middle East and Africa all on one award ticket. Depending on how you routed yourself, that could offer some truly exceptional value.
If you can get the stopovers and open-jaws to work for your itinerary, Asia Miles should be a top contender for you to transfer your MRs to for your next trip to Africa. If you will not be utilizing the stopovers, then I would say there are better options out there for your MRs.
Air Canada (Aeroplan)
Air Canada is a Star Alliance member, so you can use your Aeroplan miles for redemptions on Ethiopian, South African Airways and Turkish Airlines flights to Africa.
Aeroplan maintains a single award chart for both Air Canada and partner redemptions which breaks Africa into two award zones:
- North Africa – Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco & Tunisia
- East, West & South Africa – Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Congo, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bassau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia & Zimbabwe
For roundtrip flights between the CONUS and North Africa, you can expect a redemption cost of 80k miles for economy, 135k miles for premium economy, 165k miles for business class and 230k miles for first class.
For roundtrip flights between the CONUS and East, West & South Africa, you can expect a redemption cost of 100k miles for economy, 130k miles for premium economy, 150k miles for business class and 210k miles for first class.
Aeroplan does allow one-way award tickets at half of the roundtrip award ticket cost. While I do love Aeroplan miles in general, the redemption rates to Africa are pretty competitive with the rest of the MR transfer partners and are among the best options for business class award tickets. Depending on where you are looking to fly and which class of service, Aeroplan can offer some of the best value around, or some average value, so make sure you are doing your comparisons before transferring your hard earned MRs to Aeroplan.
ANA is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use your Mileage Club miles for Ethiopian, South African Airways and Turkish Airlines flights to Africa.
ANA is one of several airlines that utilizes a separate award chart for partner awards. As ANA does not fly to Africa, you would redeem according to the ANA partner award chart. Under the partner award chart, all of Africa is contained within one zone.
For roundtrip partner flights between the CONUS and Africa, you can expect a cost of 65k miles for economy, 104k miles for business class and 195k miles for first class.
ANA does not allow for one-way award tickets (there is a way around this which I have previously outlined here, though I do not think it is necessarily worthwhile unless you have Mileage Club points to burn). ANA can present the best options among the MR transfer partners for coach or business class redemptions to Africa. If you are looking for a first class redemption to Northern Africa, I would definitely take a look at Singapore Airlines instead as they offer a less expensive first class option. Either way though, I would give ANA some serious consideration for your next trip to Africa!
Singapore Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use your KrisFlyer miles for Ethiopian, South African Airways and Turkish Airlines flights to Africa.
Singapore Airlines is one of several airlines that utilizes a separate award chart for partner awards. While you could in theory fly from the CONUS to Africa on all Singapore Airlines metal, the reality is that most will probably not want to fly through Singapore to get to Africa. As such, I will only be focusing on the Star Alliance partner award chart. Under the partner award chart, Africa is broken into two separate zones:
- North Africa – Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia
- Central, South Africa – Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Congo, Cote d’Ivorie, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
For roundtrip partner redemptions between the CONUS and North Africa, you can expect a cost of 75k miles for economy, 115k miles for business class and 150k miles for first class.
For roundtrip partner redemptions between the CONUS and Central, South Africa, you can expect a cost of 90k miles for economy, 145k miles for business class and 220k miles for first class.
One-way award tickets are allowed at half of the above quoted rates.
Overall, Singapore Airlines is surprisingly decently competitive for redemptions to Africa. There are definitely better redemptions to be had elsewhere with your MRs, but the Star Alliance footprint is greater in Africa, so the KrisFlyer program does present a strong option to consider if award space is hard to find elsewhere.
From what I can tell, Virgin America does not offer any partner redemptions between the U.S. and Africa. While you could potentially piece together multiple partner award tickets, it simply is not worth the hassle and frustration given the high taxes and carrier imposed fees that Virgin America passes on. You are better off looking elsewhere for MR transfer partners that can get you to Africa.
Virgin Atlantic has been going through some changes to their structure and award program lately, so I would double check the rates before deciding on this option. For a redemption between the CONUS and Africa, you would need to book two award tickets – one between the CONUS and the United Kingdom and one between the United Kingdom and Africa. Virgin Atlantic also breaks up the CONUS into three separate segments, each with a different award ticket rate:
- US – Northeast: Boston (BOS), Newark (EWR), New York (JFK) and Washington-Dulles (IAD)
- US – Midwest & South: Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Detroit (DTW), Miami (MIA) and Orlando (MCO)
- US – West: Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Seattle (SEA)
For flights between the US (Northeast) and Africa, you can expect a redemption cost of 45k miles in economy, 80k miles in premium economy and 210k miles in business class.
For flights between the US (Midwest & South) and Africa, you can expect a redemption cost of 50k miles in economy, 90k miles in premium economy and 210k miles in business class.
For flights between the US (West) and Africa, you can expect a redemption cost of 55k miles in economy, 100k miles in premium economy and 250k miles in business class.
One-way award tickets are permitted at half of the above quoted rates.
While these rates may look attractive at first glance, keep in mind that Virgin Atlantic charges absolutely obscene surcharges on their flights and that you would also get hit with the UK Passenger Duty Tax as you would need to route through London. For most roundtrip economy redemptions, you should expect ~$1,000 in taxes, fees and surcharges per person and that number will only increase with higher cabin classes. As such, I would avoid Virgin Atlantic flights at all costs if possible.
JetBlue does not offer flights to Africa, nor do they have any partners that you can redeem your TrueBlue points with to get to Africa. Accordingly, you would need to look elsewhere for award flights to Africa using your MRs.
Hawaiian Airlines does not fly to Africa, however their partner Virgin Atlantic does. However, Virgin Atlantic only flies to Lagos, Nigeria (LOS) and Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) via the United Kingdom. For this redemption, you would actually need to book two award tickets – one from the US to the UK and one from the UK to either Lagos or Johannesburg.
For Virgin Atlantic operated flights between the East Coast of the US and the UK, you can expect a roundtrip cost of 60k miles in economy, 100k miles in premium economy and 125k miles in business class (Upper Class).
For Virgin Atlantic operated flights between the West Coast of the US and the UK, you can expect a roundtrip cost of 80k miles in economy, 130k miles in premium economy and 160k miles in business class (Upper Class).
For Virgin Atlantic operated flights between the UK and Lagos or Johannesburg, you can expect a roundtrip cost of 60k miles in economy, 100k miles in premium economy and 125k miles in business class (Upper Class).
That means that roundtrip economy tickets will cost you 120-140k miles, premium economy tickets will cost you 200-230k miles and business class (Upper Class) tickets will cost you 250-285k miles.
In addition, you would be required to pay the taxes, fees and surcharges on the award ticket, which for business class is going to run into the thousands of dollars. Overall, the redemption costs are pretty bad since you would need to redeem two award tickets. And that does not even factor in the obscene surcharges that Virgin Atlantic charges. In other words, you would be better off transferring elsewhere.
El Al does not fly to Africa, so you can go ahead and write this one off your list right away.
Emirates uses a zone based award chart, so your redemption cost will largely depend on your departure airport and your arrival airport. If you are looking to redeem for flights operated by Emirates, I would recommend you use their Miles Calculator to determine the cost. For reference, for flights between New York (JFK) and Johannesburg (JNB), you can expect a roundtrip cost of ~95k miles for economy, ~190k miles for business class and ~285k miles for first class. One-way award tickets are allowed, though they are significantly more expensive. On the above route, you can expect a cost of ~82.5k miles for economy, ~131,250 miles for business class and ~178,750 miles for first class.
Emirates also partners with South African Airways, so you can redeem your miles for flights on South African Airways. However, South African Airways only flies from two CONUS cities – New York (JFK) and Washington-Dulles (IAD). I was unable to find an award chart or rates for flights operated by South African Airways though as it appears you need to submit a request to Emirates before they will price out an award ticket for you on this particular partner.
Roundtrip flights on Emirates in economy between New York (JFK) and Johannesburg (JNB) are actually pretty competitive, though I do think there is better value to be had from other MR transfer partners – especially if you are looking for a premium cabin redemption.
Etihad is a Middle Eastern carrier that is often lauded for their fantastic hard and soft product. They hub location in the Middle East actually makes them a pretty solid option routing and timing wise to get from the CONUS to Africa. Etihad’s award chart is somewhat dynamic in that it changes based upon your origin and destination, though it is not specifically tied to the distance flown.
For flights between New York (JFK) and Johannesburg (JNB), you can expect a roundtrip cost of 164,656 miles in economy, 328,022 miles in business class and 436,269 miles in first class. One-way award tickets are allowed and will cost you 82,328 miles in economy, 164,011 miles in business class and 218,134 miles in first class.
Although Etihad is not a part of any major airline alliance, they do have several strategic partnerships with airlines such as South African Airways. For redemptions on South African Airways flights, the award chart is distance based and stopovers are permitted. From the CONUS, those flight options are going to be from New York (JFK) and Washington-Dulles (IAD) direct to Johannesburg (JNB).
For flights between New York (JFK) and Johannesburg (JNB), you can expect a roundtrip cost of 124,444 miles in economy and 213,333 miles in business class.
For flights between Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Johannesburg (JNB), you can expect a roundtrip cost of 140k miles in economy and 240k miles in business class.
One-way award tickets are allowed at half of the above quoted rates.
Overall, Etihad offers a decent redemption option for a partner booking in economy, though all of the other rates are not really competitive with some of the other MR transfer partners..
To redeem for any partner awards you have to contact the Etihad service center at 888-8ETIHAD at least 14 days prior to the intended date of travel.
As you can see, the MR transfer partners offer a lot of options for finding award availability to Africa. Hopefully this guide has helped to shine a little light on how to utilize and maximize your MRs for a trip to Africa!
Stay tuned for the next installments on your best redemption options for TYPs, URs and SPG Starpoints!
What is your favorite way to redeem MRs to get to Africa?
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