Wherever you're flying from, long-haul flights to Africa are generally expensive. If you have frequent flyer miles or rewards points, using them to get there for free seems like a great idea. In reality, using air miles to get to Africa is almost never free. You will still have to pay airport taxes and charges (which can amount to hundreds of dollars on overseas flights, especially if you have to make multiple layovers). If you're flying from the United States, the fact that only a handful of airlines offer direct routes to Africa can make the process trickier still.
Be Aware of Your Loyalty Scheme Rules
If you're busy accruing frequent flyer miles through an airline or saving up rewards points on your credit card with the long-term goal of using them on a trip to Africa, make sure to keep checking your loyalty scheme rules. Many schemes change their terms on a regular basis, and you may find that miles that have been sitting in your account for too long devalue or expire. By keeping track of the rules, you'll have time to redeem your miles before this happens.
Familiarize Yourself With Alliance Agreements
If possible, flying direct to Africa is preferable as it requires fewer miles, reduces airport taxes and saves you the hassle of a layover (usually in Europe or the Middle East). There are only six airlines that offer direct flights from the United States to Africa, all of which depart from the eastern states. These are Delta, South African Airways, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and TACV (the national airline of Cape Verde). If you don't have miles with these carriers, check whether any of them have an alliance agreement with your frequent flyer airline.
For example, South African Airways, EgyptAir and Ethiopian Airlines are all members of Star Alliance. If you have air miles with other Star Alliance members (such as United or Air Canada), you may be able to use them on flights with their Star Alliance partners. Alliance agreements can also be useful for reducing the cost of indirect flights. For example, if you have miles with Air Alaska, you could use them to fly to Europe, and from there, use them on a connecting flight to Africa with Air Alaska partners such as British Airways and Emirates (via Dubai).
Partner award schemes like oneworld also allow you to use your rewards on several different airlines.
Book As Far in Advance as Possible
Most major airlines publish their flight schedules 11 months to a year in advance. If you're planning on using air miles, try to book your flight as soon as possible. Rewards seats are grouped into categories, some of which cost more miles than others. The seats that cost the least miles inevitably fill up first, so the longer you wait, the more miles you'll have to use.
If All Else Fails...
The truth is that using air miles to fly to Africa is often more effort than it's worth, while airport taxes mean that there's no such thing as a free ride. If you find that you aren't succeeding, consider trying to find the cheapest cash deal instead. By booking in advance, flying indirect via Europe or the Middle East and using a flight comparison website to avoid paying travel agent commission fees, it is usually possible to find budget-friendly African flights for a similar price to what you would have paid using your air miles. If there's a special running, you may even end up paying less by opting to use cash.
By booking at least part of your journey with your reward scheme airline or its partners, your long-distance journey to Africa will also accrue plenty of miles that you can use to save money on domestic flights or direct flights to mainstream destinations in Europe or the Caribbean at a later date. If you still want to use your miles on your trip to Africa but find that the savings on an economy seat are minimal, sometimes it's worth using them to upgrade to business class instead. While you may not save money overall, there's no better way to make the long journey to Africa bearable than by flying in style.