United left one of the best values on their award chart when they devalued their chart in February.

You can fly between Southern South America–Brazil, Argentina, Chile–and Africa for 30k miles each way in economy and 45k miles each way in business class as long as your itinerary features South African Airways’ flights between Sao Paulo and Johannesburg.

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This is such a high value award that when reader Ryan pointed it out to me, we both thought it was a mistake. Ryan had searched for a September departure between Johannesburg and Santiago, Chile and the Saver economy award was 60k miles while the Saver business award was only 45k miles.

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At first I thought the price of the business class award was a mistake. After all, United’s chart lists the business class price between South America and Africa as 97,500 miles one way.

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But after about an hour of playing around on united.com, I figured out that the 45k mile price in business class between South America and Africa is not a mistake. It is the price United means to charge, and it’s a holdover from United’s last award chart.

  • Why did Ryan find economy on his route for 60k miles and business for 45k miles?
  • What is the key route that features the discounted price?
  • How is award space on that route?

If you look at the PDF of United’s current chart, you’ll see that there are two prices listed between Southern South America and Africa in economy, two in business, and two in first.

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The cheaper price has an asterisk, which is defined in the footnotes: “The lower amounts apply to direct flights between the regions.”

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So if you fly directly between Southern South America and Africa, you can book the award for only:

  • 30k United miles each way in economy
  • 45k United miles each way in business
  • (there is no first class on any direct flights between the regions)

But if you connect via another region like North America or Europe, you pay a lot more:

  • 60k United miles each way in economy
  • 97.5k United miles each way in business
  • 135k United miles each way in first

It is much cheaper to fly between South America and Africa with United miles if you avoid transiting other regions. How many flights connect the regions? Three, soon to be two:

  • Johannesburg to Sao Paulo (South African Airways)
  • Addis Ababa to Rio de Janeiro (Ethiopian, ends 5/25/14)
  • Addis Ababa to Sao Paulo (Ethiopian)

South African also used to fly Johannesburg to Buenos Aires. I flew the flight in business class in August 2013 and reviewed it here.

Ethiopian Flight to Sao Paulo

The Ethiopian flight is operated by a 787 Dreamliner and stops en route in Togo each direction.

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I didn’t see business class award space on any days on the flight, though I couldn’t isolate the flight on united.com search results, and I certainly didn’t check every day.

Unfortunately United is mis-pricing this flight at 60k miles each way in economy.

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Presumably the fuel stop in Togo is causing united.com to mis-price the award. If you actually want to book a United award from South America to Africa with this flight, call in and demand the correct price of 30k miles each way in economy, since your award would directly connect the two regions without transiting a third.

South African Flight to Sao Paulo

South African flies 11 weekly flights between Johannesburg and Sao Paulo. This route is the backbone of awards between Southern South America and Africa at the 30k/45k miles each way price.

Award space is absolutely fantastic on the route in economy and business class. (I’ve included screenshots at the end of this post.) For only 15k United miles more, business class is a no-brainer. The product is slightly angled and not very private, but I slept for most of both my flights in South African Business Class.

Relaxing before landing. (This is not the bed position.)

This Sao Paulo-to-Johannesburg route is easy to connect to on both ends if you have no interest in those cities. United has an incredible new partner–Azul–for intra-Brazil flights and Turkish has a flight from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires. From Johannesburg, South African has a great route network throughout South Africa and Southern Africa.

Most of us live in the United States, but there are still great uses for these cheap awards between far away regions, especially since the death of the American Airlines Explorer Awards means there are no great-value round-the-world awards left.

An award between South America and Africa can be one leg on your makeshift round-the-world trip built from many awards.

Award Space Sao Paulo to Jo’burg

  • Yellow: Saver Economy Available
  • Blue: Saver Business Available
  • Green: Saver Economy and Business Both Available
  • White: No Saver Seats Available

Pay close attention to December to March, which are the summer months in both Southern South America and Southern Africa.

Sao Paulo to Jo’burg

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Jo’burg to Sao Paulo

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Can you take advantage of this amazing deal on the United award chart?



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