British Airways First Class Awards to South Africa and Kenya Wide Open

Using American Airlines miles to Africa can be tough. That’s true for any miles where you’re going to have to fly on oneworld airlines, because there simply isn’t very much oneworld service to Africa.

Using British Airways miles to Africa can be tough as well. BA used to offer outstanding award availability on their flights to various destinations on the continent, but for the past couple of years that hasn’t been the case. Until now.

And that’s of special interest not just to American Airlines mileage-holders (and Alaska Airlines frequent flyers), but to British Airways Visa cardholders as well. Because if you spend $30,000 in a year on the British Airways co-brand card from Chase, you earn a ‘travel together’ ticket where two passengers fly for the number of points of a single award.

Flying British Airways means paying fuel surcharges. I think of it as buying a discounted coach ticket that doesn’t earn miles, and getting a double upgrade with miles to business class or triple upgrade to first. But it’s real money.

(See Unlocking the Value of British Airways Points, Details of the British Airways Travel Together Ticket, and Minimizing Fuel Surcharges When Redeeming British Airways Avios.)

Award availability on British Airways to South Africa and Kenya has gotten really, really good. Take a look at May and June, London – Johannesburg and Johannesburg – London. (Calendars show 1st through 29th of each month only.)

Here are calendars showing the days where there are four first class award seats available.

And note that there are a few days where London – Capetown has four first class award seats available, too.

Interestingly the phenomenon doesn’t extend into July.

Here, by the way, is a calendar of availability for London – Nairobi, again 4 first class award seats, between May 1 and May 29:

British Airways first class isn’t a world-leading product but it’s among the best for Europe-Africa and certainly among the best given that there’s availability. You can find reports here and here.

Just don’t get too excited about the Concorde Room first class lounge at Heathrow.

Of course if you’re starting in North America, you need to find award availability to Europe. Using a Travel Together ticket you have to fly on British Airways flights only. And BA availability across the Pond isn’t what it once was — but it’s still pretty good from many East Coast cities and secondary markets.

(HT: Howie M.)

(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You do realize that South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere? Who wants to travel there end of May / June?!

  2. Summer holidays start in July in both Kenya and England. That’s probably why availability goes down in July.

  3. Gary, I am a long time reader and am a fan of your blog for the most part. However I checked availability after these months of winter and there was nothing. I hope people don’t jump on your recommendations without researching winter there can be very chilly and rainy with highs not above 60F and lows in the 40s and thats Capetown which is sea level not 5000′ as JNB is. Hardly the best time to go to such a great destination and one that is a loooong slog even from London. Just saying.

  4. Gary

    I have TONS of BA Miles because of you!

    Question: Will BA open up First Seats closer to Travel? I have two friends that need to go to London for a Wedding July 2 to July 9th.

    I’d love to burn those miles for them but I can’t find award availability.

    Any tips?



  5. @Andy – my advice was that the availability is awesome in May/June but “the phenomenon doesn’t extend into July.”

  6. @Kevin I can’t really say what BA’s strategy is going to be come July, they may open seats if bookings are light for given flights but I’ve certainly seen space not open for July dates.

  7. Sorry Gary, I wasn’t very clear. I was wondering if similar to UA and LH, Does BA open up First seats the week prior to travel?

    Seems like if you hold out on UA and LH, you can almost be guaranteed two first seats the week of travel. A HUGE gamble but mostly there is availability.

    Thanks so much!

  8. Ugh wish July was included. Currently have a Etihad JNB-AUH-ORD award using AA miles at 132.5k… Wish I could do JNB-LHR-ORD (or CPT originating) for 90k. Any other ideas?

  9. I can only imagine how many zillions of points this award would require, along with a ton of cash, but if that doesn’t dissuade you, the weather shouldn’t either. Yes, it’s no time to go to Cape Town, but June is a FANTASTIC time to go to Kruger, which is one of the best places to go on safari (I’d recommend the self-safari). Just a few hours drive from JNB, and you might even be able to avoid that drive by getting seats on BA’s South Africa affiliate Comair.

  10. I went to Capetown in late May and while it wasn’t ideal, I still loved the trip. Iahphx is right, Krueger is awesome that time of year.

    Be warned that from the US to CPT is DOUBLE fuel surcharge. They charge YQ from US to LHR and then the same YQ from LHR to CPT. And vice versa. Two free first class tickets cost over $3000 including the APD for a London layover. True only 150k miles using the two for one, but even though it was a great deal, I resented the double YQ (for a trip about as long as LHR-SYD).

  11. Kevin, it is not a long slog from London. It is a doddle, I have done it for a long weekend. Remember there is NO time difference from London (well, 1 hour) and flight is overnight. Board, go to sleep, wake up after a normal 8 hour sleep in South Africa!

  12. Way too expensive. I’m not looking for a ticket that is only somewhat discounted in cash outlay after the horrific “fuel surcharges” and that also burns well into six figures of miles. It may be a good opportunity for those with plenty of cash and Avios to burn. Avios, to me, are excellent for domestic and Western Hemisphere travel, with rare exceptions.

  13. Interesting find. 200,000 AA miles and about $1800 from Denver to JNB via LHR. Clearly one would want to build in a stopover in one or both directions.

    On the other hand, 150,000 UA miles and about $80 flying Business on South African (flat-bed seats) via IAD from Denver is not bad either…

  14. @rob

    yeah, but F is way better than biz… i personally liked BA F very much. solid product. they just need new planes.

  15. @Lantean:

    Absolutely! I think the F travel is still a great deal.

    But much as I like flying, if I’m going to plan a trip to Africa from North America cost is going to be a consideration. If flying business is $1700 cheaper I’ll probably go that route and spend that $1700 on things at the destination.

    Now, if I was planning a couple of months, one in Europe and one in Africa, I would already be planning for fairly high expenses and an additional $1700 for four long-ish flights in F might be part of the adventure….

  16. Did it last Aug to CPT, weather was great, warm days, cool nites. Earned rather than burned, coach … as someone above said, it’s an overniter; go to sleep, wake up on approach, easy. The quotes here on fees seem to me to make the additional burning of many many miles an absurdity.

  17. I’ll agree about the Europe-South Africa flight. I’ve done it a few times, and it reminds me of a US-SCL/EZE trip. Good long overnight service without a material time change. I also like stopping in Europe in one direction, especially if it’s summer in the No. Hemisphere. It’s kind of like getting 2 vacations in 1. But you need vacation time to do this — something that most Americans don’t have enough of.

  18. Thanks. I might be missing it on their site.. Maybe because I only have a free membership?

  19. I am a newbie to this great site. Have been a Virgin Atlantic LHR-CPT direct flyer, which is being discontinued on April 27, 2015. For various reasons, don’t want to do the JNB stopover. Looking at BA as an alternative, and considering the card as my wife needs to go First for health reasons. How has BA availability to Cape Town been in March/April of 2015, and is that a good indicator of same for 2016 when I will make the trip again? (before I make the jump to focusing $30K in spending on a BA card…). Any advice would be appreciated!

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