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American has one of the best U.S.-carrier award charts at the moment because it has not been devalued the way that United and Delta have been, at least not yet. For now, if you are looking to get to South Africa, there are some things you should know.
For one, American does not fly nonstop there as Delta does. Nor does American have a substantial African partner like United’s Star Alliance relationship with Egyptair and Ethiopian. Delta’s partner Kenya Airways also flies nonstop from JFK to Nairobi making it another great option.
How can I get there?
What is an American Airlines loyalist to do? Well, let’s first discuss routing rules, which limit the way that you can travel between North America and Africa. American only permits connections via Europe en route to South Africa, with one exception being Qatar Airways.
This means most connections will either be via British Airways through London or via Qatar Airways through Doha. Iberia also offers a flight from Madrid to Johannesburg. You can search for award availability on these partners via American or British Airways’ websites, which will show availability for these partners.
How can I travel within the region?
One cool thing about British Airways is that it has a regional partnership with Comair in the southern part of Africa. This means you can fly to places like Mauritius, Namibia, and Zambia using American miles. These can even be tacked onto a long-haul reservation (including one with Qatar Airways flights) for no additional mileage.
Remember that stopovers on award tickets may have restrictions. You cannot always spend more than 24 hours in a connecting city. If you prefer to spend time in Johannesburg or Cape Town before exploring another place, you can redeem American or British Airways Avios miles and points for domestic and regional flights with British Airways in southern Africa (on separate tickets).
How much does it cost with American Miles?
American Airlines charges 75,000 miles in each direction for business class and 40,000 miles in each direction for economy class.
If you want to fly first class, your route choices are limited to cities where British Airways offers a first class. Cities with first-class options include New York JFK, Los Angeles, or Miami. Qatar Airways does not offer long-haul first class on most routes. The first-class redemption to South Africa goes for 120,000 miles in each direction. This is a hefty amount for British Airways first class (hardly a consumer favorite).
What should I know before making a redemption?
Remember that any time you redeem miles on a British Airways’ long-haul flight, there are some hefty taxes and fuel surcharges. That’s why booking a flight on Qatar Airways is a better bet (plus the service and products are light years better). You may end up paying more in taxes on an award ticket involving British Airways than the cost of a revenue ticket.
Friends don’t let friends book British Airways’ long-haul awards. Remember that!
If you are having trouble looking for award seats, why not try a service like Expert Flyer or Award Ex that can help do the heavy lifting for you. Both offer free trials if you don’t want to pay for the full service. AA.com shows more partners now than before. However, it does not always do a good job of reviewing every potential connecting city option.
If you’re short on American miles, there are some great signup bonuses for Citi credit cards. For instance, this Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® offers for 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 within the first three months of having the card can get you in the air soon.