Africa is one of those continents which people long to explore. There’s so much diversity, so much to see, and so much beauty, yet it needs more access and physical distance from Australia, making it quite hard to get to. This difficulty also makes it a very expensive continent to visit. For many more budget-conscious travellers, it might seem impossible given the high airfares and the costs of activities once you are there. I will show you how you can use points to get you to countries in Africa like Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt and South Africa – all top-rated destinations and how to save money on cash fares.
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How to get to Africa with reward points
As I’ve detailed in many articles, getting reward seats from Australia is difficult for popular destinations with plenty of flights. Africa is not well connected to Australia, with the only direct route between Sydney and Johannesburg on Qantas (a flight that rarely has empty reward seats available due to its monopoly position). There are a few South-East Asian connections, but again, these are few and far between. The most well-connected hubs are in the Middle East – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar, with Istanbul also a viable option. Ethiopian Airlines is a growing airline from Africa, attempting to use the same hub and spoke model of Middle Eastern Airlines. Conveniently it is a Star Alliance member making it relatively easy to book flights through Krisflyer.
Which miles should you collect?
Velocity miles are an excellent tool here as this gives you access to both Qatar Airways and Etihad flights. Since their semi-recent price increase, Emirates flights are difficult to redeem with Qantas points cost-effectively. Since there are few opportunities to get Emirates Skyward miles other than directly flying with them, I will not discuss this option here. Another worthwhile option is Krisflyer miles (which you’ll note can be obtained from transferring Velocity points as well), as these allow you to redeem flights on Egyptair, Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines with taxes not breaking the bank. These will enable you to try for a one or two-stop itinerary, depending on the airline.
Where should you book flights to?
The main hub airports in Africa, with many reward flights available for you to choose from, are Nairobi, Johannesburg, Cairo and Addis Ababa. Looking for flights to these destinations should yield many reward seats in all classes, and from here, it will be cheaper to book flights to your destination (although this will likely need to be in cash). These hubs are well connected to South East Asia and the Middle East offering further points redemption avenues. Here are some examples of flights that I’ve found that are bookable. As you can see the options with Qatar Airways through Velocity are reasonably pricey in terms of points and taxes so for this I see Krisflyer a better path for redemptions. Note that in this case if you transferred the 150,000 Velocity points to Krisflyer you would get 96,000 Krisflyer points – enough for both of the other flights with enough left over to cover an Australia to Singapore flight. This will come with much lower taxes as well!
What if you don’t have points? Can you still get cheap tickets to Africa?
There are ways to look for cheaper tickets even when you don’t have points. Your first port of call is generally to look for flights using an aggregator like Skyscanner, Kayak or Google Flights. This gives you a good overview of what flights are available and a decent approximation of cash costs for a flight. As with reward flights, you don’t always get all the options available with these engines. This is further complicated by sponsored results, meaning the highest result isn’t always the cheapest. You also miss slightly atypical routes where two separate bookings are made, such as one flight from Australia to Singapore and a second flight to your destination. While this comes with the disadvantage of needing to change flights and a potential risk of missing the connecting flights, if done correctly and with adequate insurance, you will most likely be protected from these downsides.
The advantage of booking flights separately is that it allows you to take cheaper budget airlines for typically the most expensive part of the journey (leaving Australia) and will enable you to use a full-service carrier with better facilities for the longest portion of the trip (either in the economy or business class) and this offers an excellent avenue for savings. For example, on the day of writing, a ticket from Sydney to Nairobi was $2,200, while a flight from Sydney to Delhi and then Delhi to Nairobi was about $400 cheaper, saving almost 20%! This gap only increases with business class fares with a return business class trip from Sydney to Nairobi costing $9,500, while booking a flight from Bangkok to Nairobi in business with an economy flight from Sydney to Bangkok is only $5,500! Still a lot of money, but the significant discount is food for thought. Qatar Airways typically offers cheaper fares in Economy and Business class when they originate from Jakarta or Bangkok
Why you shouldn’t use booking engines for your bookings
Once you have found a cheap fare via the booking engine, you should book your flight directly through the airline. Why is this?
- Airlines offer price match guarantees. If you find a cheap flight through a third-party agent, you can ask the airline to match that price so you still get the cheapest flight. For instance, Emirates has a best price guarantee, as does Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways will price-match if you contact their booking center.
- Booking directly means less hassle if something goes wrong. Third-party agents seem fine on the surface if the flight goes off without a hitch, but the minute you hit a snag, you are often left on your own. Airlines are less helpful when you’ve booked through a third party and will refer you back to them if a flight is cancelled, you’ve missed a connection, or you need to change something in your flight. This means that getting these things done solely depends on the customer service of your travel agent (there’s a reason online travel agents are cheap)
- You get more options when you book directly. Once you’ve booked with the airline directly, you can access more features on the flight management panel. You get easy access to seat selection and meal selection as well as options to change and upgrade your flight if you choose to. Changing which frequent flyer program you credit your points to is also more straightforward. Although some airlines allow you to do this with travel agent bookings, it is not guaranteed and saves you a phone call.
Africa is often considered an expensive destination to travel to. It is far away, not as well connected as Europe and North America and is often unfamiliar to many unseasoned travellers. But for those who are curious and want a new experience, there are ways to find cheaper flights and use your reward points to help you along the way. If this is a destination you want to travel to, I recommend building up a collection of Velocity and Krisflyer miles, as this is the easiest path to redemptions.