An Even Better AAdvantage Award to Africa

Last week, Seth at the Wandering Aramean posted “A better AAdvantage award to Africa,” where he discussed getting around American’s award routing rule restriction to Africa by using Qatar Airways. American Airlines usually only allows travelers to transit Europe on the way to Africa, which can be frustrating since the only option for many destinations is British Airways, and that invokes hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges.

While Qatar Airways is based in the Middle East/India region, Qatar also publishes fares from several cities in the US to several destinations in Africa.  You can use ExpertFlyer‘s “Fare Information” tab to search for published fares.  And while Qatar serves many destinations in the USA, they publish fares to Africa from U.S. cities they don’t serve, like Los Angeles.  I wanted to see just how far one could take an AAdvantage award to Africa, so I made a dummy booking (I could always cancel for free since I’m an Executive Platinum with AA).

One oft-forgotten affiliate of oneworld is Comair, which is an affiliate of British Airways based in Johannesburg.  You can use any oneworld currency, like American Airlines AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios, to book a flight on them. They serve a number of destinations around southern Africa, as shown below:

Comair Destinations

Comair Destinations

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – Copyright © Karl L. Swartz

I wanted to test flying between two non Qatar Airways destinations, so I decided to try out an award from Los Angeles (LAX) to Port Elizabeth (PLZ).  I originally thought of Cape Town (CPT), but Qatar Airways flies there, so I wanted to test out another destination they don’t serve.  I entered LAX to PLZ on QR into ExpertFlyer’s Fare Information tool:

Qatar Airways publishes a fare from LAX to Port Elizabeth

Qatar Airways publishes fares from LAX to Port Elizabeth

I also clicked the second link on the side since I was curious what published routings were allowed.  Of note, Chicago, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were all published gateways for flights from Los Angeles, but Dallas was not.  Other origin cities, like San Francisco (SFO), had DFW as a published gateway.

DFW is not a published Qatar gateway for flights from LAX

DFW is not a published Qatar gateway for flights from LAX

Because of this, I wanted to add another variable into the booking: see if I could book an award from LAX via Dallas/Fort Worth even though it’s not a published routing.

Since this was a dummy booking, I didn’t really care for the dates, so I searched the British Airways website for space from Dallas to Doha, Doha to Johannesburg, and Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth.  After I did that, I searched for space from LAX to DFW and called up American.  I waited a whole 90 seconds to talk to an American Executive Platinum agent!

I first priced the ticket from Los Angeles to Johannesburg and was quoted 37,500 miles in economy + about $23 in taxes. This is excellent news, since that’s the cost for a one-way economy class ticket from North America to Africa.

American's partner award chart, with North America-Africa highlighted.

American’s partner award chart, with North America-Africa highlighted.

I booked the test itinerary in Economy, but if I wanted Business Class, it would cost 75,000 miles one-way and a similar amount of taxes.  While First Class costs 100,000 miles, Qatar Airways doesn’t have First Class to North America, and you have to fly Qatar Airways over the water in order to price it as one award.  You could fly British Airways First, but that would cost a lot of YQ.

I called back to add the segment from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth, keeping in mind that this was a British Airways flight and that fuel surcharges (YQ) were possible.  I added a flight that departed within 24 hours of the arrival into Johannesburg, and was quoted no additional miles + $113 extra taxes.  I don’t know where they got $113, since it’s a bit higher than what ITA prices.

This somehow equals $113

This somehow equals $113

Still, the total price in taxes for this one-way from Los Angeles to Port Elizabeth comes out to about $146 one-way, which is tough to beat using American miles.  And for what it’s worth, you could redeem Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth (or another Comair destination) as an Avios Reward Flight Saver, meaning it would only cost 4,500 Avios + $44.  Plus you could spend a couple days in Johannesburg since American doesn’t allow stops over 24 hours.

Avios Reward Flight Saver on Comair

Avios Reward Flight Saver on Comair

In the end, my award for 37,500 miles one-way in economy + ~$146 in taxes looks like this:

lax plz booking

1h40m in DFW, 12h25m in DOH, and 2h in JNB

LAX-DFW on American, DFW-DOH-JNB on Qatar Airways, JNB-PLZ on British Airways/Comair

LAX-DFW on American, DFW-DOH-JNB on Qatar Airways, JNB-PLZ on British Airways/Comair

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – Copyright © Karl L. Swartz

So what did we learn from this?

  • You can book an American award between two non-Qatar Airways destinations, so long as Qatar Airways is the overwater carrier and they publish a fare between your origin and destination (and they publish a lot of fares).
  • The published routing doesn’t matter, since I was able to book LAX-DFW-DOH-JNB-PLZ even though DFW isn’t considered a published international gateway.
  • British Airways’ Comair affiliate, based in Johannesburg, can be a great way to add flights with AA or BA miles in and around South Africa. Even if you fly there on another carrier, you can book Reward Flight Savers with Avios.
  • I get bored in hotel rooms and call the American Airlines Executive Platinum desk for fun too much.
  • Royal Jordanian doesn’t publish these fares, so you can’t book one award with them. I’d test Etihad, but they’re not bookable with AA miles at the moment.
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  • Ben

    Great post! In your last bullet about Etihad, when will we know when they are bookable? Is there an FT thread or other location where someone may be calling every day to check? Thanks!

    • Amol

      There’s a thread in the AA forum, but I’m sure it will be blogged about once Etihad is bookable.

      • Nick

        what about inter african flights through Doha, ie LOS to JNB through DOH, this doesnt seem to ticket as the 10k one way option listed on the award chart. AA prices correctly through london for this so I’m not sure why it wouldnt through Doha.

  • Joey

    Thank you for this! I haven’t flown an award like this before but I have I’ve flown Comair in the past and they’re good. The best deal is flying to MRU given a one-way in economy from JNB-MRU can easily cost over $500, whereas JNB-PLZ and to other South African cities tend to be a lot cheaper due to competition with low-cost carriers in RSA.

  • Ze N

    AA should allow Europe-Africa via Middle East as well. Some routes would really make sense (like DME-DOH-JNB).

  • MilesAbound

    Interesting post and yes Comair is a great option in and around South Africa. Some great Avios options there. However I’m gonna say as with pretty much everything in miles life I feel this one is a YMMV and different agents could give different answers and after that it depends on what might fly past ticketing desk

    • Amol

      Well, AA isn’t US. The computer checks what can and cannot be ticketed.

  • Chase

    I don’t know what the deal is, but when priced out an avios redemption CPT-JNB it was over $100 in taxes (which is BA speak for fuel surcharges) plus the mileage. So Comair really isn’t much of a redemption opportunity as Kulula flights (Comair LCC subsidiary) are $82 for the date I wanted. Doesn’t make much sense???

    • Amol

      When did you search that? All these Comair flights came out as $44 in taxes for me.

      • Chase

        If you search CPT-JNB for 13APR15 it’s 7500 miles + $95, whereas kulula is $82 for the one-way. I assume the fuel surcharges are based on distance, maybe that’s why?

        • Amol

          Both flights available on 13APR15 show 7500 miles + $44 for me.

          It’s possible you don’t see Reward Flight Saver if you haven’t transferred any Avios to your account in the past year — “Reward flight saver gives you a better deal on shorter flights. It’s available on all British Airways routes within zones 1-3, as long as you’ve collected at least one Avios within the last 12 months.”

  • Mitch

    The higher-than-ITA tax rate is because certain US taxes are not levied on “free” tickets. As soon as you have to pay a fuel surcharge, however, they need to collect those taxes. If AA made it possible to see the tax/fee/surcharge breakdown, this would be much simpler of course.

  • Susiesan

    The problem with a routing like this would be the 12 hour layover in Doha. I doubt QR provides a hotel room. You’d have to sleep overnight in the terminal if it is even allowed.

    • Amol

      3 days per week, QR has a DOH-JNB flight at 1:25am, so that would be a 7-hr layover.

      PHL-DOH arrives at 5:55am, but I don’t think 50 minutes would be enough for the 6:45am JNB flight.

  • Lish

    Could I use your method to get from NYC to Nigeria?

    • ma’am


  • Robert

    I am an EXP with AA and my wife is a Platinum. We are both going to be about 20,000 miles short of qualifying this year. I am looking for anyone who could help us find a great mileage run. Our availability is pretty open, the restraint is we can only be gone 3-4 days max and preferably less. Ideally we could fly American so we could use SWU to first to make this trip double as a vacation (we haven’t been alone without our kids in almost five years (wow time flys). I have very limited time to read through sites like this, or do anything else not work related. So If anyone could point me in the right direction would be great. I would be happy to compensate someone for their time.

  • keltieknight

    been pulling my hair out trying to get me and my husband to Africa March 2016 on my AA points. I’ve got 330,000 right now, more coming….and want to book business class to either Capetown or Johannesburg. There has got to be a way! Have spent so much time flying AA for business, really hoping to make it work but it is OVERWHEMLING. Anyone done this?

    • Scott Mackenzie

      What problems have you been facing? This post explains a few options, like Comair and Qatar. You may not be able to search for these awards on the AA website. Look at other oneworld Alliance members like Qantas or British Airways. If the award is available on their websites, it’s likely that you can call AA and have them book the same flight.

  • James

    I know this is an old post, but any insight or tips on booking an AA award between Europe and Africa? There’s no exception allowing one to connect in Doha, correct? Unfortunately, it seems like we’re limited to the handful of direct flights to Africa offered by BA and Iberia (plus connecting Comair destinations), all of which (I presume) will incur fuel surcharges. This means it’s impossible to travel from Europe to places like Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sudan, etc. Oneworld is weak enough in Africa as it is – the least AA should do is allow connections in Doha from anywhere in the world.

  • Chase

    Thanks for this post! I actually found space and tried this exact route except going somewhere else in SA other than Port Elizabeth and its currently on hold for 75K in biz with $130 in taxes (one way). Oddly though, and where I have a question is the AA agent was showing no space on the LAX to DFW leg which I don’t get. On AA’s site, there is a ton of saver biz class awards for the date I need but she isn’t seeing it (and didnt see anything in coach either) and is saying it’s not the same thing as what you see online. I went and checked the BA engine (which I used to find the space for every other leg with QA and Comair) and it also shows nothing for AA for that date. It’s not a huge deal because I can always get from LAX to DFW for cheap, but if possible Id prefer to start in LA like you mentioned above since im already getting the ticket for 75K. Am I missing something, I always use AA’s engine to search AA award space on AA metal, but this is the first time where I have encountered that it’s different than what the agent can book and is seeing. How do you know the difference and any advice? thanks so much!