Redeem AAdvantage Miles On Etihad To South Africa?

Filed Under: American, Awards

I frequently get asked about how to redeem American AAdvantage miles for travel on Etihad Airways. Back in June I wrote about how to search Etihad award space. In general, there are three general routing rules for redeeming American AAdvantage miles for longhaul travel:

  1. American will let you exceed the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for a city pair by up to 25%, but simultaneously says that you have to take the most direct routing. In practice that means you can usually route creatively, and when you get an agent that insists on taking the most direct routing you just hang up and call again.
  2. The transoceanic airline you’re flying has to publish a fare between your origin and destination. In other words, if you want to fly from Los Angeles to New York on American and then New York to London to Rome on British Airways, British Airways would have to publish a fare between the origin and destination.
  3. With few exceptions, you can’t transit a third region on an award ticket. The Maldives is considered part of “the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent” on American’s award chart, so per the AAdvantage exception chart, the only region you can transit enroute to the Middle East is Europe.

This third point is important, especially as it pertains to awards between the US and Africa. Per the exception chart, the only region you can transit between the US and Africa is Europe.

Ethiad tails in Abu Dhabi

Can you use AAdvantage miles for travel on Etihad to South Africa?

Yes, you’ll just pay the combined price of multiple awards booked into the same reservation. This applies to anywhere Etihad flies outside of American’s “Middle East/Indian Subcontinent” zone, not just their Johannesburg route. In fact, this works for every AAdvantage award type that isn’t permitted, like routing from North America to Australia via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific.

While I can’t think of anybody who books AAdvantage awards like North America to Asia via Europe because it’s such a bad value, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

While I wouldn’t book an award like this, I’m only suggesting this because South Africa is such an exceptionally hard destination to get to on miles. You might book an AAdvantage award like this because:

  • There’s no space on a permitted routing. From North America, there are only two permitted AAdvantage routings, which include flying British Airways from London, or Qatar Airways from Doha. Neither of these routes are plentiful with award space. Technically Iberia does also serve some places in Africa, though they won’t get you as far as South Africa.
  • There’s award space on British Airways, but the fuel surcharges are horrible (see below).
  • There’s no award space at all.

Randomly pricing an AAdvantage award for next August on British Airways in business class from Dallas to Johannesburg, the surcharges and taxes total $1,744.90 roundtrip, which is just insane.

British Airways fuel surcharges on an AAdvantage award

Etihad service to Johannesburg isn’t daily, which is something to keep in mind. And while business class is the highest cabin, it’s still fully flat and quite nice.


One of the flights is timed for US connections, so even if Etihad publishes fares from the US to South Africa via Abu Dhabi, AAdvantage’s routing rules prohibit this on one award.

Ethiad published fares to JNB via ExpertFlyer

And while I’ll just link you back to my prior post about searching for Etihad award space, here are screenshots of availability for Dallas to Johannesburg and back:


So it’s something that’s reasonably easy to book, it’s just not very cheap.

Pricing multiple AAdvantage awards

Per the AAdvantage partner award chart:

  • North America to Middle East/Indian Subcontinent is 67,500 AAdvantage miles one-way for business class
  • North America to Middle East/Indian Subcontinent is 90,000 AAdvantage miles one-way for first class
  • Middle East/Indian Subcontinent to Africa is 45,000 AAdvantage miles one-way for business class

In total, you’re looking at 112,500-135,000 AAdvantage miles for a one-way ticket. Roundtrip is anywhere from 225,000 to 270,000 AAdvantage miles. American will combine the price of the multiple awards with no issue, but don’t be surprised if the reservations agent is shocked at the price. After all, this isn’t United.

Just to be thorough, the cost for travel between North America and Africa is as follows, assuming you can book a valid routing:

  • North America to Africa is 75,000 AAdvantage miles one-way for business class
  • North America to Africa is 100,000 AAdvantage miles one-way for first class

Wait, but you can fly Qatar on one award?

I realize one thing above may be confusing. I said:

  • You can only legally route from the US to Africa via Europe
  • You can also route from the US to Africa via Doha on Qatar Airways

Doha is also in the Middle East, so why is travel on Qatar Airways permitted, but not travel on Etihad Airways? That’s because there’s a specific region exception list for routing rules on Qatar Airways. This applies exclusively when connecting to and from Qatar Airways at Doha Airport. So on a single award you can fly from Philadelphia to Doha to Johannesburg, for example.

Qatar Airways 787 business class

Bottom line

I’m not preaching that redeeming miles to Africa on Etihad Airways is a good value, and I’m even saying it’s something I wouldn’t do personally. However, there are a lot of people who are miles-rich and struggle to use them. Also, some people plan trips to South Africa without first looking at award options, so this is always a good backup option. In almost all cases it’s better than outright paying for business class.

Award price notwithstanding, I’d much rather fly Etihad than British Airways to South Africa.

After American’s AAnytime standard award rates increased earlier this year, I can’t help but think the perceived value of AAdvantage miles went down in a lot of our minds. Oneworld has been pretty terrible about releasing premium cabin award space to Europe, and as that’s one of the two approved award routings to Africa, you’re not only counting on award space to London, but also counting on award space from London to South Africa.

South Africa is consistently one of the hardest award requests that PointsPros receives.

Have you ever used AAdvantage miles like this? If so, what was your reason?

  1. @ beachfan — Etihad is definitely better based on hard product alone. Qatar Airways has six seats per row so you always have a seatmate, while Etihad has staggered seating. So there’s a lot more privacy. Plus, they have a better entertainment selection and wifi.

  2. @ Christian — Yep, that’s another great option for getting to South Africa, and in many cases a better value.

  3. Lucky

    It is 150k r/t on BA + 1744$
    225k miles on EY + about 250$ I think
    looked at it another way 75k miles saved costs 1500$ = 2 cpm (better than buying from AA)

    I just looked at EU-SYD pricing
    On EY it was 40k yo AUH and 60k from AUH to SYD = about 100k for F and 75k for bz
    On BA it is 80k in F class and 60k bz each way
    The fees are high on BA at 1000$ but came to 400$ on EY due to the LHR fee
    I would argue that once you factor in the fees, it is almost a wash
    … One ends up paying
    200k for EY F vs 160k on BA F + 600$ extra on BA fees
    150k on EY Bz vs 120k on BA C + 600$ extra fees
    Still comes to 1.5-2 cpm cost of saved miles (better than buying from AA at 2.3c)
    EY F and C availability is only going to grow
    EY bought 5-8 Boeing 777-200s from AI for 20% of the actual cost to EY
    Good news for us freebie folk as EY is good about releasing space

  4. I recently booked 2 one way award from JNB to SEA via DOH and ORD in J
    JNB->DOH is on a 787 so hopefully better J seats.

    total cost is 74.70 USD per person and 75000 miles. I’d take this any day over scam charges on BA.

    I also tried EY via AUH over the phone, but they could not ticket this under one award booking as expected.

  5. I successfully booked SFO-JNB r/t for 110K miles using US airways miles in J via CX, w free 3-day stop over in HK!

  6. Ben,
    Do you know which route Etihad A380 serves? Is there any chance to redeem for First class apartment on A380?

  7. @ Tiara — London and Sydney will be the first routes, and no way to redeem partner miles for first class on them yet.

  8. Lucky, just so I’m clear…

    If I’m departing from LAX is it still better to redeem AA miles for Qatar via ORD/DOH for example to get to JNB? Rather than Etihad via AUH?

    Also in general, would you say it’s easier to redeem United miles for an award to S.A?

    @Kris – great redemption! Any drama booking that with the USAir agents?

  9. @ stacey — Yes, out of LAX it would be one award through Qatar, two through Etihad.

    I’m not sure it’s *easier* to redeem United miles to South Africa, though you do potentially have the option of flying the South African direct flight from JFK or IAD. So if you’re flexible that’s a great option, but space can be tough to come by on it.

  10. Thanks Lucky! Where’s the best place to check avail for Qatar? On BA site and segment by segment? Then call AA to book?

  11. I booked 4 tickets SFO-HKG-JNB-CPT for next summer in Cathay/Comair(JNB-CPT). 2 were booked using US Airways miles and 2 using AA(had to spend more miles) but to get 4 seats in Summer is a challenge.

    Waiting eagerly for July 2015.

  12. i need to book a 1 way from jnb to iad in business/first. I dont want to spend more than 100k or fuel surcharges. I think my options are Ethiopian or United to GRU. Am I missing something?

  13. no availability on SAA. Besides GRU and Ethiopian do is there anything else. I have 100K in USair, AA, Amex and Chase

  14. @ jiji — Those are definitely the options with the most award availability. Otherwise I’d look at Qatar Airways through Doha.

  15. Need some guidance for honeymoon planning using AA miles!

    We are trying to leave NYC to South Africa on a safari during the holidays of 2016. As flights stand now we would not be able to arrive in JNB until Wens. 12/28 on a Qatar JFK-DOH-JNB routing in biz.

    I found 2 biz class flights on Qatar from CDG to DOH on 12/25/16 and DOH to JNB on 12/26/16, but not sure if I can add in a JFK to CDG route as we will origin from New York. We could pay cash to get to Paris possibly but would prefer to use the award miles and not sure this routing would even be permissible (JFK-CDG-DOH-JNB).

    Any help would be so greatly appreciated!!

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