I book a lot of awards to South Africa through my Award Booking Service. Most people want to hop around the country, seeing Johannesburg and Cape Town at a minimum. The obvious option with miles is South African Airways with United or US Airways miles, but there is a better way with Avios.
Booking on South African
South African Airways is the biggest airline in South Africa with the most domestic destinations. It, along with South African Express, flies to double digit domestic destinations from Johannesburg and several from Cape Town.
Booking these flights is very easy. First search united.com for award space. If you want to use United miles, the cost is 12,500 miles per direction in economy or 25,000 miles per direction in business class.
And, yes, you can book the South African Express flights too, though it appears they operate single-cabin planes.
As with all United awards, you would be responsible for government taxes and nothing else out of pocket, as long as you book 22+ days in advance.
US Airways miles could be used for the same flights, but at a higher cost. US Airways charges 35k/50k miles roundtrip for economy/business class within Africa. As usual, US Airways would charge you government taxes plus $50. And US Airways doesn’t allow oneway awards.
Those miles prices are blown away by using Avios.
Booking on Comair
British Airways has a South African partner, Comair, that operates domestic flights among Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town. It has direct flights among all six of the possible city pairs. Also from Cape Town, it operates international flights.
British Airways’ currency, Avios, is distance based. That means some of these short hops are incredibly cheap with Avios.
The most common route, Johannesburg to Cape Town roundtrip, is 15,000 Avios and $66 roundtrip!
With United miles, that would be 25,000 miles and $34.40. That means the Avios award saves 10,000 miles (really more because Avios are worth less than United miles) and costs $32 more. That’s a great trade!
Of course, Avios can be used oneway for half price, so Avios are really the king of South Africa despite their modest two-digit surcharge.
There are some even shorter hops within South Africa like Johannesburg to Durban (1:05) that fall within the cheapest 4,500 Avios band. That flight is 4,500 Avios and $33 each way.
Minimize the number of intra-South Africa flights you need with an open jaw. If you want to see Johannesburg and Cape Town, don’t do a roundtrip to Johannesburg. Fly into Johannesburg and out of Cape Town. All awards will let you do this, and you cut the intra-SA flights from two to one.
Look into buying domestic flights with cash. If cash tickets are cheap enough, you shouldn’t part with miles. For more info on this topic, see Not Anatomy of an Award: Just Book With Cash.
Using American Airlines miles on Comair
You can use American miles on Comair for 10k/17.5k each direction in economy/business. While that’s cheaper than United’s price within South Africa, it generally won’t be cheaper than the Avios price. And I prefer to save my AA miles for longhaul premium awards. Within South Africa has “Avios Award” written all over it.
Your first thought may be to use Star Alliance miles on South African Airways flights, but using Avios on Comair flights will usually save you a bundle! Comair flies to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth.