US Airways’ Great Value Business Class Awards to South Africa

Early this morning I spent a good bit of time on the phone with US Airways.. four passengers in business class between the US and South Africa.

Part of the reason it was a long phone call is that the miles were separately coming out of four different accounts, miles for each passenger from their own accounts. That means separate reservations for each. And the taxes on the award wouldn’t price automatically, which with US Airways means getting the rate desk involved. And the agent has to hold for the rate desk.

I love US Airways for international awards. I love their award chart. I love their flexibility. And I don’t think I’ve spoken to an agent outside the US since January. On the whole they’re very helpful.

But the calls often take awhile. Calls to Continetnal seem to go the quickest and smoothest for me. United and American calls tend to be quick as well. But US Airways calls, you’re in for the long haul. (British Airways calls take a long time, too, but mostly that’s just sitting on hold waiting for an agent.)

South African Airways never seems to load more than two business class award seats per long-haul flight. Fortunately there are two Johannssburg – London flights, we split the passengers up 2+2 on these two flights which take off and land within half an hour of each other. The rest of the trip they traveled together, thank goodness for Lufthansa’s generous award availability — when they make awards available they make awards available. Four seats on Frankfurt – Houston – Frankfurt and also on the return Frankfurt – Johannesburg.

The US Airways award chart has some real sweet spots, and busienss class from North America to South Africa sure has to be one. Business class from the US to Europe is 100,000 miles. Business class frm the US to South Africa via Europe is only 10,000 more (110k per person).

Now that’s a great use of points!

This particular award included a stopover in London, and of course UK premium cabin departure taxes are an absolute killer. Often I’d just assume not go to the UK!

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. Gary,

    US-Europe awards are inordinately expensive on most carriers when you look at them as a function of the distance traveled. I think it has to do with the fact that a lot of Americans feel comfortable going to Europe but going to more exotic places is slightly outside their comfort zone, thus driving up the demand for Europe awards.

    Nevertheless, that is good value indeed. Next time I’m thinking of a trip to Europe I’ll be sure to tag on Morocco, Egypt or Kenya (want to experience real Africa first before going to SA, which seems really Westernized).

    How is SAA business, BTW?

  2. Another thing that you could possibly do is route India to S. America with a stop in N. America. Will save 10k in F and you’ll get to go to both continents! I bet US will charge you the S. America price.

  3. I don’t really understand this itinerary… was it:

    if so, it’s a great deal then.

  4. @Gary – I booked my South Africa itinerary – SFO-ORD-IST-CAI-IST-JNB-CPT-IST-ORD-SFO earlier this year and was charged 120K miles for each Biz ticket x 3. Did I paid too much?

  5. I agree it’s a good “value” but it’s so hard to snag for four. I tried doing this for a round-trip and couldn’t make it come together. You end up with lots of connections and/or doing as you say the 2×2 through London. In the end I find it better on AA where cost is more (130k for a Oneworld award) but I can do via LHR with great availability on BA and I only need to add in a LAN segment up to YYZ to get that second Oneworld carrier in. I have struggled no end for availability on *A for family of four and that is why I’ve held back from buying up 100k’s of US Air miles

  6. @Phil the folks I did this for wanted a stopover in London, and not extra connections (traveling with kids) which is why we went through London. There were more seats available through Frankfurt, and we took 4 of the 5 open seats on Frankfurt – Johanensburg on the return.

    Remember also that BA awards now entail fuel surcharges with American. 🙁 nd BA availability is great in F but much harder to come by in J.

  7. Agree the BA fuel surcharges suck, as does requirement to use two non AA carriers on OneWorld awards. But I have struggled to find TATL availability on *A. I guess via FRA on Luthansa is the way to go. I recall being able to get to/from South Africa from LHR but could not get back to RDU with anything sensible. Also I have found SAA open up 4 seats in biz every now and then on JFK-JNB but could not find anything close enough together… e.g. found outbound in April, but no inbound until July etc. BA biz on LHR-JNB is pretty open actually, as long as you go midweek regularly find 2 flights a day with at least four seats. Same TATL where BA availability is amazing.

    I am in same situation trying to get to SA with two adults two kids. Maybe when it’s time to take the plunge I will engage your services 🙂

  8. I was thrilled a couple weeks ago to get two seats in J during high season (Feb) I booked thru US and am traveling on LH & SAA.


    I am connecting on both inbound and outbound in JBG I got my internal flights also and the taxes were only approx $150. Of course, thee was the $50. pp ticketing fee but I am happy to be doing this itinerary for approx. $200.

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