Ask an Award Booker: “How Can I Use Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Flights to South Africa?”
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Million Mile Secrets reader Geeta asked:
I have 350,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and my daughter has 150,000. We’re looking for 6 tickets from North America to South Africa in Business Class this July. Please advise.
Hi Geeta! You have a couple of options with your combined total of 500,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Unfortunately, you don’t have the number of points required for round-trip Business Class flights for all 6 passengers. However, you have enough for 6 one-way award tickets in Business Class, or 6 round-trip flights in coach.
You can transfer Chase Ultimate rewards to a number of airline partners, but only a few get you to South Africa:
- British Airways
- Flying Blue (Air France / KLM)
- Korean Air
- Virgin Atlantic
- United Airlines
Here’s a video guide to transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines to book round-trip award flights to South Africa!
1. British Airways
Because South Africa is a long distance from the US, you’ll generally pay more points for these flights compared to other airlines which use a region-based award chart. And British Airways’ pricing on their own planes varies depending on whether you’re flying during peak or off-peak times.
Most of July is considered peak season. At minimum, you’d need 45,000 British Airways Avios points per person one-way in coach. So you don’t have quite enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points for round-trip coach flights for all 6 of you.
Also keep in mind, British Airways adds significant fuel surcharges to award flights! A sample one-way coach flight I searched from New York to Johannesburg (via London) added over $400 in taxes and fees! So this isn’t the best use of your points.
2. Flying Blue (Air France / KLM) & Korean Air
Link: Korean Air Award Chart
Flying Blue (Air France / KLM) and Korean Air are part of the SkyTeam airline alliance. So you could use miles from either airline to book award flights to South Africa on airlines like Air France or KLM. For example, team member Keith and his wife flew to Cape Town via Amsterdam on Delta and KLM award tickets.
To book SkyTeam Business Class award flights to South Africa, you’d need:
- 120,000 Korean Air miles round-trip (one-way is not allowed);
- 85,000 Flying Blue miles one-way or 170,000 Flying Blue miles round-trip
So in either program, you don’t have enough points for 6 Business Class round-trip flights.
However, Korean Air only charges 80,000 Korean Air miles for round-trip in coach, which means you have just enough for all 6 passengers. Flying Blue (Air France / KLM) is only 68,000 Flying Blue miles round-trip in coach, so you’d also have enough for all 6 passengers.
3. Virgin Atlantic
Another option is to fly on Virgin Atlantic, which isn’t part of an airline alliance. During the off-peak season, they charge (from the Northeastern US):
- 22,500 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way in coach (45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip)
- 40,000 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way in Premium Economy (80,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip)
- 105,000 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way in Business Class (210,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip)
Prices are slightly higher if you depart from the Midwest, South, or West Coast. And during peak season (which includes July), you’ll pay significantly more miles (prices from the Northeastern US):
- 42,500 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way in coach (85,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip)
- 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way in Premium Economy (120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip)
- 125,000 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way in Business Class (250,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip)
If you can shift your travel dates to off-peak times, you have enough miles to fly in Premium Economy round-trip.
Note: Virgin Atlantic charges high fuel surcharges, and a one-way ticket from New York City to Johannesburg via London has ~$276 in taxes and fees, and ~$512 for the return. So for 6 people, you’ll have to pay nearly $5,000 in taxes and fees! For that cost, you’re better off redeeming United Airlines miles in coach and paying for preferred seating.
Update: Thanks to Million Mile Secrets reader George who noted you can also redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for award flights on South African Airways! Here’s their award chart.
4. United Airlines
United Airlines is part of Star Alliance, and you’ll need 80,000 United Airlines miles one-way from the US to in Business Class, or 40,000 United Airlines miles in coach on partner South African Airways. This is the most direct (and cheapest) available option to get to South Africa, because United Airlines does NOT add fuel surcharges.
However, you don’t have enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points for 6 round-trip Business Class flights to South Africa. You could consider flying Business Class in one direction, and redeeming other points or paying cash for the return (or vice versa).
I’d begin the search by learning what is the most direct possible route to get to your destination. South African Airways flies from New York (JFK) and Washington, DC (Dulles) airport direct (or with a short stop in Accra or Dakar) to Johannesburg.
South African Airways typically releases award seats either within a month of your travel dates, or far in advance, sometimes ~10 to 11 months prior to departure. However, getting 6 seats on the same plane is a challenge for any airline or route. Fortunately, there are some days with 6 award seats directly between New York (JFK) and Johannesburg.
To search, I used the United Airlines award search engine, and selected the multi-city tool. I also selected “non-stop only.” The website will show you all days within a 1-month period with 6 available direct award seats in Business Class between New York (JFK) and Johannesburg.
Your other option is to redeem for round-trip coach travel, which you have enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points for if you transfer to United Airlines. You’d follow the same process as searching for Business Class tickets, but looking for coach award seats instead.
As you can see, there aren’t many days with 6 award seats in Business Class – only 2 days! You’ll need to be flexible on your desired departure date, and then align your travel with what’s available. Especially if you’re looking at a large party in Business Class.
Once you’ve found your desired transatlantic flight, use the United Airlines award search engine to plan your flights from your hometown to New York (JFK). United Airlines no longer flies to JFK airport, so you’ll need to fly to Newark or LaGuardia and take a car or public transit instead to connect to JFK.
Because you only have enough miles to redeem for one-way travel in Business Class, you’ll need to find another way home. Before you book your award ticket, make sure to check the revenue cost of a round-trip Business Class ticket, because buying a one-way ticket can be more expensive than a round-trip ticket. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t make sense to transfer your miles, and you’d be better off using the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
There are a lot more days with direct available coach seats:
You can also look at using other award programs, however, for this particular trip, your best bet is going to be United Airlines miles because it’s the most direct possible way to South Africa, and South African Airways releases lots of award seats.
If you’re not finding enough award seats, you might consider splitting up your group of 6. You could also look at splitting the group with 1 party using United Airlines miles, and another party using a different program, like Flying Blue (Air France / KLM), which only requires 34,000 miles in coach per person per direction.
The only SkyTeam airline that flies direct to South Africa from North America is Delta. I’ve never seen a single standard award seat on that flight, so you’ll certainly have to connect via Paris on Air France, via Amsterdam on KLM, via Rome on Alitalia, or via Jeddah on Saudia. Finding 6 award seats on any other these airlines will be a challenge, because they rarely have award seats to South Africa.
If you really want to fly Business Class round-trip, you’ll need to earn more points.
Or consider earning United Airlines miles directly with cards like the United℠ Explorer Card, United℠ Business Card, or United Club Card.
The information for the United Club has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
When you’re planning award travel, you need to assess what you can do with the resources you have. In this case, even though you’re looking for Business Class travel, you only have enough to do that one-way, or coach round-trip.
Next, you need to examine what award programs are available to you, and which one offers the best deal. In this case, it’s best to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United Airlines to book direct travel on South African Airways, which has plentiful award seats in coach, and a handful of days with 6 seats in Business Class. And United Airlines doesn’t add fuel surcharges.
Always remember to keep realistic expectations! Getting 6 award seats anywhere can be tricky, especially if you’re looking at flying during peak travel times, like summer vacation.
Good luck Geeta! Please let us know what you decide to book!
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