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Award travel in southern Africa -- not easy!

Award travel in southern Africa -- not easy!

Old May 11, 18, 9:49 pm
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Award travel in southern Africa -- not easy!

I'll be in South Africa for a few weeks in June and July. I'm thinking of doing some travel in the region. I know internal South African flights tend to be inexpensive on the discount airlines, but cross-border flights tend to be expensive. I have miles I can use on South African or Comair (BA) at affordable redemptions. But availability is pathetic: most routes have only one or two days a month with award seats, and that's very hard to work with. It does seem that availability, at least on South African, gets a little better as you get closer to departure day (and that's been my previous experience, too), but obviously that makes planning a trip significantly harder. Has anyone developed any effective strategies for affordable southern Africa air travel? Thanks.
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Old May 13, 18, 7:04 am
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
I'll be in South Africa for a few weeks in June and July. I'm thinking of doing some travel in the region. I know internal South African flights tend to be inexpensive on the discount airlines, but cross-border flights tend to be expensive. I have miles I can use on South African or Comair (BA) at affordable redemptions. But availability is pathetic: most routes have only one or two days a month with award seats, and that's very hard to work with. It does seem that availability, at least on South African, gets a little better as you get closer to departure day (and that's been my previous experience, too), but obviously that makes planning a trip significantly harder. Has anyone developed any effective strategies for affordable southern Africa air travel? Thanks.
I have found that award flights to what may be considered tourist destinations in or around South Africa on either BA/Comair or on SA (Express or Airlink) very hard to find. I have found that BA/Comair award availability between JNB, CPT, WDH, PLZ, DUR, and HRE to be readily available.

The only carrier I have seen with consistent availability to "tourist" destinations is ET. And that is a limited number of destinations (VFA, JRO, ZNZ, etc).
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Old May 13, 18, 10:20 pm
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Originally Posted by cheltzel View Post
I have found that award flights to what may be considered tourist destinations in or around South Africa on either BA/Comair or on SA (Express or Airlink) very hard to find. I have found that BA/Comair award availability between JNB, CPT, WDH, PLZ, DUR, and HRE to be readily available.

The only carrier I have seen with consistent availability to "tourist" destinations is ET. And that is a limited number of destinations (VFA, JRO, ZNZ, etc).
Right, I have not yet flown them (and, frankly, I have a little hesitation) but I constantly see award availability on the UA site for Ethiopian. It doesn't help too much in southern Africa, though. I did notice you could get to Zanzibar from JNB this way if you wanted to, however.

The BA/Comair award availability within South Africa seems pretty good, but also pretty worthless. On most of their routes, there's Kulula and Mango which often have published rates at around US$60 if you plan a little ahead. For some reason (BA fees?) the "tax" on the Avios intra-South African award tickets is something like $44. You can probably understand why I just fly the low fare airlines in that case (which offer non-objectionable service).

While UA charges much lower "taxes" for intra-South Africa flights, I've seen them charge significantly more tax for other destinations, like JNB-WDH. I can't make any sense of it. And UA seems to offer award seats to only some SA "airlink" destinations, seemingly randomly.

I've also noticed that SA will make tons of award seats available on specific flights, like one flight every week or so, and offer no award availability on all the other flights. And the flights they choose seem almost random (like no seats on a Wednesday, but lots of seats on a Sunday). They do seem to sometimes add more award availability closer to departure. That helps me as a UA 1K, as I can make schedule changes without penalty.

Overall, though, it's a confusing and not particularly easy part of the world to use your miles.
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Old May 14, 18, 3:35 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
Overall, though, it's a confusing and not particularly easy part of the world to use your miles.
On the contrary, as long as you are not trying to get to a major tourist destination you have exceptional award availability.

From my home airport of BLZ, I can find ET award availability in both Economy and Business Class virtually every single day of the year right up to day of departure. Yes, you need to go everywhere via Addis (BLZ-ADD-JNB takes a 2 hr flight and makes a 12 hr journey out of it), but that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make in exchange for the excellent availability. And there are several *A programs where some awards to/from Africa are excellent hidden sweet spots.
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Old May 18, 18, 7:30 am
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Originally Posted by B747-437B View Post
And there are several *A programs where some awards to/from Africa are excellent hidden sweet spots.
Could you please elaborate on this? I would be interested in increasing my Africa travels on cheap redemptions.
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Old May 18, 18, 7:40 am
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Originally Posted by SK AAR View Post
Could you please elaborate on this? I would be interested in increasing my Africa travels on cheap redemptions.
For example :

A3 has some excellent Business Class redemptions options from Africa to South America.
LifeMiles has Africa to Middle East available for very cheap in Economy.
Some routings in Africa can get you 12+ hrs in Business Class for a single zone award.

And so forth...
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Old May 21, 18, 11:02 am
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It may not be reward travel, but I would also check out FlySafair (budget airline) and TravelStart which aggregates search across the South African domestic airlines.
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Old May 21, 18, 11:31 am
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Originally Posted by dusanb View Post
It may not be reward travel, but I would also check out FlySafair (budget airline) and TravelStart which aggregates search across the South African domestic airlines.
Yeah, internal South African flights are so affordable that it's almost never worth seeking out award seats unless it's in connection with an int'l award ticket.

I have put family members on FlySafair and they're fine, although they have a lower free baggage allowance than Mango or Kulula.

It's the regional flights where award tickets are far more valuable. Something like Jo'burg to Vic Falls.
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Old Sep 4, 18, 3:07 pm
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While Comair used to have very good availability to HRE, all of a sudden I see 1 or 2 days a month withe Y seats on awards. Roundtrip JNB-HRE is about $400-600, so a pretty damn good redemption on RFS.

I guess Comair caught on and has now zeroed that availability, only C is available. A devalue of Avios in Southern Africa
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Old Sep 8, 18, 2:51 pm
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I realise it is now too late as you will have already been out to southern Africa.

June/July/August from a tourism perspective to South Africa is considered low season". This is particularly so for the Cape region. However, for the Kruger area it is definitely a more high season period. However, I gather the awards you are looking for are the ones to VFA/LVI/WDH/BBK etc, and this is where things change. For most of the neighbouring countries to South Africa July/August/September/October are the busiest tourism months of the year, and space is at a premium on the flights from South Africa. 20+ years selling that part of the world, and I can't even imagine the number of times we have had to play around, particularly on the VFA route, with programmes to fit the availability of flights (paid for let alone award).
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Old Sep 11, 18, 2:21 pm
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I just booked my flights for a safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe in February 2019, and after fiddling for quite a while I just gave up on using miles and booked with cash (as I had essentially no flexibility with dates). Even booking with cash, I had to go with two tickets (separated by a lengthy layover) each way, as I just couldn't get all the flights I needed on a single ticket that I could afford. Getting an affordable business-class ticket from my home town of OMA to and from Cape Town or Johannesburg was easy; it was booking the flights to Maun and back from Victoria Falls which were the hangup.

Fortunately I'll have a good use for my miles in 2020 (probable trip to Australia and New Zealand), so I don't feel too terrible about having to forego using them for this trip. But with my recent trips having little flexibility when it comes to travel dates, it's definitely getting harder to use my miles productively!
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