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