You Can Still Redeem Just 25,000 Miles For Business Class To Africa, But…

This is an update to a previous post, as a couple of things have changed (Dakar has a new airport and new airport code, and more importantly, Virgin Atlantic has started imposing surcharges on these redemptions).


Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program is one that has incredible niche redemptions, even if the miles aren’t that valuable for redemptions on Virgin Atlantic due to the high surcharges.

Flying Club is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou, so it should be pretty easy to acquire these points.

We even sometimes see transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. For example, just recently we saw 30% transfer bonuses from Amex, and through October 13 there’s a 30% transfer bonus from Citi.

What makes Flying Club miles useful is the number of niche redemptions available. For example, redeeming Flying Club miles for travel in ANA first or business class between the US and Japan is an exceptional value. A roundtrip first class ticket will cost you just 110,000-120,000 miles.

Redeeming Flying Club miles for travel on Delta to Europe and Asia can also be an excellent value, as their redemption rates are often lower than what Delta would charge directly.

However, there’s one other niche redemption that’s worth posting a refresher on (Frequent Miler first wrote about this last year). Specifically, I’m talking about redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways.

Redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on South African Airways

It’s possible to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways. Here’s Virgin Atlantic’s award chart for travel on South African Airways:

Perhaps the most shockingly good value there is for travel between the US and Senegal. South African Airways’ flight between Washington and Johannesburg stops in Dakar in both directions, and a roundtrip ticket exclusively between Washington and Dakar will cost you just 50,000 miles in business class.

One-way awards are available for half the cost of a roundtrip, meaning you could fly one-way business class from Washington to Senegal for just 25,000 miles. That’s an incredible value, though Senegal is closer to Washington than to Johannesburg, so this isn’t going to get you especially close to South Africa, etc.

If you look at the rest of the chart, a flight from Senegal to South Africa will cost 25,000 miles one-way in business class. However, you may notice the two asterisks next to that award, which comes with the following footnote:

24-hour connection required if booked in conjunction with another reward.

That means you couldn’t book back-to-back awards from Washington to Senegal to Johannesburg on the same flight, for a total of 50,000 miles one-way, at least if you’re booking it as one award. Rather you’d have to do a stopover. However, if you book this on separate records, I question their ability to enforce this.

If you want to outright redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways between the US and South Africa, that will cost you 75,000 miles one-way in business class. That isn’t an amazing deal, or anything, but do keep in mind that if you transfer points during a 30% transfer bonus, that would be like paying 58,000 transferable points for such an award, which is quite a good deal.

South African Airways’ Washington Dulles route is operated by an A330. Some A330s feature their new staggered business class.

However, looking at the seatmap it seems that the planes used for this route right now are the ones featuring their old business class product, which is in a 2-2-2 configuration.

The major update here is that up until earlier this year you’d just have to pay the standard airport taxes and fees when booking this flight, though unfortunately nowadays Virgin Atlantic is imposing surcharges on South African Airways redemptions.

A one-way business class ticket between Washington and Dakar comes with $230 in carrier imposed surcharges, in addition to the usual taxes and fees. A one-way ticket will now cost you about $300 in fees. That could still be worthwhile, though it is a significant increase over what they used to charge.

You can only book these redemptions using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles by phone, though if you want to search award availability your best bet is to use United’s website, as they’ll display award availability for an entire month at a time.

If you want to search award availability just enter the origin, destination, and dates on united.com.

Then on the next page select the option to display the 30 day calendar, and also the “show only nonstop flight availability in the calendar” option.

Whatever South African Airways availability you see on United’s website should also be bookable using Virgin Atlantic miles.

Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club call center is generally lovely, and one of the best out there. However, they do sometimes have issues finding this space, so you may have to ask them to manually check availability.

Just ask them to put it in as a long-sell and they should see how to do it. The booking class for South African Airways business class is “I,” if you want to further help them along. They have to request the space, though it typically comes back confirmed quickly. Thanks to reader Andrew for the heads up on that.

Bottom line

Being able to redeem just 25,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for a one-way business class from the US to Africa is a heck of a deal, though this is a niche redemption, and most useful if traveling between Washington and West Africa. The addition of surcharges on these awards also isn’t ideal.

Even redeeming 75,000 Flying Club miles one-way for business class between the US and South Africa could be a good deal, especially when you consider that Flying Club is transfer partners with all major transferable points currencies, and we frequently see transfer bonuses.

An even better deal is to do a short stopover in Dakar and then continue to Johannesburg for just 50,000 miles one-way in business class.

Has anyone redeemed miles for this flight? What was your experience like?

Comments

  1. Even if you could book it you would not want to try to do IAD-DKR-JNB on two separate tickets. Continuing passengers stay on board the aircraft at DKR and it is a very short turn of only 30-45 minutes or so; it’s not like SQ’s stop at FRA between JFK and SIN for example. Possibly if SA let you check in for both flights at IAD or JNB and treat it as a through flight, you might be okay, but if you needed to re-check-in or do other formalities at DKR there’s no way you could get it done in time to get back on the same aircraft. (And if you had checked bags, forget it.)

  2. I tried to book a couple weeks ago and the taxes and charges were ~$600+ including a $500 carrier surcharge on award flights. Did the charge go down or are you assuming paid fees are the same as award ones?

  3. @ JB — I’d like to, but it seems they do a lot of last minute equipment swaps, which is why I haven’t done so yet.

  4. @ Andre — Was that for a one-way or roundtrip? If a roundtrip, then the $600 in taxes and fees would make sense based on the post.

  5. In Senegal lions and dangerous blood-diamond traders roam the streets and attack at will. I’ll save my miles.

  6. (I sent this comment ot the wrong address yesterday, – so am re-posting)
    Lucky — i took the IAD-DSS trip Washington Dulles to Dakar, Senegal) twice this year using Virgin points to get the incredible
    deal: 40k for RT in coach; 50k for RT in biz. In April, there was no carrier-imposed fee.
    In August, it appeared (see below) – a whopping $460 more than what I paid a few months
    earlier. Is Virgin imposing the fee or SAA? What can we do to have it removed? Why did Virgin retract its
    fee on Delta’s flights?

    Fare Breakdown

    Base Fare
    GBP 0.00
    Carrier-imposed International Surcharge (YR) USD 460.00
    United States – Passenger Civil Aviation Security Service Fee (AY) USD 5.60
    United States – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Fee (APHIS User Fee – Passengers (XA) USD 3.96
    United States – Immigration and Naturalization Fee(Immigration User Fee) (XY) USD 7.00
    United States – Custom User Fee (YC) USD 5.65
    Senegal – Security Charge (DF) USD 10.60
    Senegal – Infrastructure Development Charge (HP) USD 62.
    Senegal – Civil Aviation Charge (KQ) USD 3.50
    Senegal – Immigration User Fee (VH) USD 24.00
    Senegal – Passenger Service Charge (ZE) USD 17.70
    United States – Transportation Tax (US) USD 36.60
    Total Amount USD 637.41

  7. What does “long-sell” mean?

    Also, just to second @Bgriff above, I don’t recommend booking IAD-DSS and DSS-JNB back-to-back on separate tickets because of the quick turnover issue. And there’s no way you’re going to get through Senegal customs and re-check in quickly enough to board the second flight on time.

    Instead, use it as an excuse to spend a day or two in Dakar before continuing on. There are very nice hotels to stay at, and great food and music to be enjoyed. Don’t listen to the racist poster above—Dakar is a lovely place with some of the best hospitality in the world.

  8. @ AndrewC — Unfortunately there’s not really anything that can be done here. They’re within their right to impose surcharges that SAA is charging on revenue tickets, and I don’t see any indication that this was a mistake. Sorry.

  9. Lucky – many thanks for your reply. I thought that maybe you had had a role in getting Virgin to drop the Delta surcharge. However, even with $460, or a bit more, a RT to Dakar for 50k is still an amazing deal. And Senegal is definitely worth the visit – just as QC said. Especially now that the new airport is 20 minutes from beautiful seaside hotels in Saly and Mbour, great food, great weather, and above all , peace. I also second the idea of not trying to do 2 tickets to JNB without stopping in Senegal for 2 days – it won’t work from my experience. Even without luggage, it would be impossible to get off, go thru customs, go upstairs, check in one hour before departure (before counter closes) , then go back through passport control. Not happening. Even though the airport is quite easy and well-run. As for dealing with Virgin agents (required) to book this, they know what a “long sell” is – and that will help since their system can’t pull up DSS – it is still stuck on the old airport code DKR.

  10. I took this J roundtrip redemption in April with the lower fees and the old biz seats. The great mileage deal is only valid for this one flight between IAD-DSS (v/v) and it only flies 3x week. If you’re looking to book two seats together, award availability can be spotty but I made it work. Hopefully Virgin Atlantic fully has the new airport code fully in their systems; as it took great pains for them to book DSS in their system since it had just opened last December. The flight worked great for my West Africa adventures to Mali, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. But it’s terribly inconvenient for many African travel destinations. Dakar challenging for connecting flights as there are few flights options from here. Worth doing a lot of research on connection options before you book. The brand new DSS airport is tiny, but has 2 really nice identical lounges available to departing business class passengers (not avail via Priority Pass).

    On a similar note, Virgin Atlantic redemptions is great for short-haul flights on SAA. I save 50% over United’s chart for SAA awards this week booking Mozambique-JNB and JNB-Malawi.

  11. SAA switches stops between ACC and DSS from IAD. I just booked a reward flight from IAD to JNB with a stop in ACC. This flight from IAD has SAA’s new staggered business class while the flights through DSS use their old biz configuration.

  12. @ Tiffany — Thanks! Sorry for not doing my homework and looking it up myself. I feel like this is the equivalent of when the professor sends you a link to the syllabus when you ask her a question, ha.

  13. @ QR — Oh, hah, sorry!! Didn’t mean it that way at all! I just realize that with 70 posts a week over 10 years, there’s no way anyone has read all of them, or can even find them easily when they want to 🙂

  14. Lucky, you need to invite specific guests to do trip reports of specific places they have visited. I think their is lot more collective wisdom in the comment section than what the omaat bloggers can do by themselves.

  15. Flying the second leg to Johannesburg from The Dakkar stopover would assume a second surcharge, do it’s not just 50k one-way +$300, correct? If so, how much is the second surcharge? While 50k miles one-way iad-jnb sounds good, it seems like a very significant detail is missing…

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