Reader Question: Using points and miles to get to South Africa

Our reader wanted to know if she could get to South Africa using Chase Ultimate Rewards or Delta SkyMiles. Photo by Delta.
Our reader wanted to get to South Africa using points and miles. Photo by Delta.

Every so often, the site will feature questions from readers about points and miles. I encourage you to ask your questions by submitting this form or by sending me an email at john@everydaypointsandmiles.com.

I recently got an email from someone who wanted advice on using points and miles to get to South Africa from the United States. They have built up Delta SkyMiles over the years and also just applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Right now, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is offering 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the three months.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that getting to South Africa is one of the most difficult and expensive trips I’ve researched, and it turns out there aren’t great options. But, since I provided them with this information, I also wanted to share it with Everyday Points & Miles readers.

Using Delta Miles

Delta Skymiles rates are outrageous to get between Atlanta and South Africa (albeit, the most convenient). While, Delta has some good domestic redemptions, flying overseas isn’t nearly as good of a deal.

With that said, using SkyMiles is going to be easy and straightforward.

I used random dates in March 2020 just to see what I could find:

  • Economy: Starting at 100k miles roundtrip
  • Delta Comfort+: Starting at 150k miles roundtrip
  • Premium Select: Starting at 164k miles roundtrip
  • Delta One: Starting at 900k miles (No, that’s not a typo!)

A couple of things to keep in mind here.

Delta is going to be the only non-stop option between Atlanta and Johannesburg. When you search on Delta.com, you will see flights with connections (some that are operated by other airlines), but the airlines will charge fuel surcharges.

For example, a connection that goes through London would cost all of the miles PLUS roughly $900 in taxes/fees. Direct flights will be minimal in taxes/fees. Places like London are known for absurd taxes/fees on award tickets. 

The other thing to keep in mind is that one-way award flights on Delta aren’t necessarily half the cost of a roundtrip award.

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards 

As we’ve written about many times, Chase Ultimate Rewards are great because they transfer to many different airlines. In this case, we’re going to look at the following airlines for using points and miles to get to South Africa: United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

While flying on a United plane or a Virgin Atlantic plane is an option, transferring your miles to their programs and redeeming with one of United or Virgin’s partners is also an option.

For example, you could transfer your Chase points to Virgin Atlantic and redeem them through Virgin Atlantic for a South African Airways flight.

When you do this, the hardest part is finding award availability. Airlines will limit premium cabin awards with their partner airlines. Having flexibility in your travel dates is really important here.

United Airlines

Chase points transfer 1:1 to United Airlines. United is getting rid of their award chart in November, but as of now here’s what it looks like:

Business Class – starts at 80k miles one way (typically on Ethiopian or Turkish Airlines). This would be leaving from Atlanta (sometimes the domestic flight on this one (ATL-IAD, for example) would not be in business-class).

It looks like finding award availability for traveling to South Africa is much more plentiful than finding it for the trip back. 

Virgin Atlantic 

This is the most confusing one, but it’s another interesting option. You can transfer Chase points 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic. And then use those Virgin Atlantic miles to book a flight on South African Airways (SSA).

SAA flights leave from IAD (Washington Dulles) or JFK (New York City), so you would have to book separate flights to get to these locations. You would need to allow for PLENTY of time for delays, etc., since the tickets are not on the same itinerary. 

Assuming there’s award availability, you can go roundtrip for 150k miles (or 75k each way) in business class.

In order to see if there’s availability, you have to look on United’s website and look for South African Airways flights. If there’s business saver availability (see picture below), you actually have to call up Virgin Atlantic to book the ticket as you can’t book these online. But there are daily flights to Johannesburg from both IAD and JFK. 

The flights are:

From IAD: SA 210 (M, T, W, Th, Sa) or SA 208 (Fr, Su). Both leave at 5:40pm and have a refueling stop in Senegal or Ghana.

From JFK: SA 204 (M, T, W, Th, Fr, Sa, Su). These are direct and leave at 10:40am.

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 1.07.28 PM.png

When searching on United.com, you will see a ton of other flights from Ethopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines etc., but you can’t book these flights on those airlines, so only want to pay attention to the South African Airways flights. Also, remember, using the United site is just so you can see if there’s award availability. The amount of miles listed on the United site isn’t what you will pay if you go the Virgin Atlantic/South African Airways route, as they have a separate award chart

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Final Thoughts

For our reader, I suggested booking through United as it’s the easiest way to find an option. It’s going to be the best option for using points and miles to get to South Africa.

It might be 5,000 more miles each way, but they won’t have to worry about getting to DC or NYC for the flight OR finding award availability. 

Our reader will have at least 64,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards after getting the sign-up bonus and will need just 16,000 more to book a one-way business class flight.

The additional miles can be acquired through spending, but also opening the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited Card, which are two great no-annual-fee cards. While Chase does have the 5/24 rule to keep customers from churning credit card sign-up bonuses, this shouldn’t be an issue for new points and milers!

The important thing to remember is don’t transfer miles to an airline until you’re ready to book the flight. Once the miles are transferred, they are stuck and must be used within that program.


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