As South African Airways is a member of the Star Alliance, there’s no doubt that you can get to a lot of places with the airline’s Voyager miles. The question is: Would you want to?
South African Airways recently became one of the many airlines to change the basis of its award earnings and redemptions from the number of miles flown to the number of dollars spent.
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Of course, this change wasn’t received very well by long-time customers. But unlike many other airlines, SAA has also preserved some of the valuable aspects of its former award program. In addition, all of the airline’s prices are tied to the South African rand so North American travelers can find some great values thanks to the exchange rate.
Beyond the fact that you can use your miles with partner airlines, South African Airways hub in Johannesburg is one of the few airports in the world that connects to every continent. Since SAA offers flights to every continent, the airline is a great option for a round-the-world itinerary if you want to travel to South Africa.
Points Transfer Partner
- El Al
- Jet Airways
- TAM Airlines
- SA Express
- Swaziland Airlink
- Virgin Atlantic
- O.R. Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg)
Under its new “money-focused” scheme, South African Airways is really pushing members to use miles for non-airline awards, such as car rentals, spa vouchers and retail products.
If you want to use your miles to actually fly, SAA gives you two main options. JourneyBlitz Awards are available randomly as promotional awards and basically follow the old award pricing. Dynamic Awards are tied to the cash price. Thankfully, fuel surcharges are included.
For local airline partners that are basically an extension of SAA—Airlink and SA Express—the previous MileageKeeper (like a saver fare) and AnyDay award pricing levels remain in effect. Other partner airlines have their own set prices for economy, business and first class. Non-alliance airlines each have their own individual charts, and Star Alliance airlines are all addressed in the same award chart.
- Additional miles can be purchased during award booking at a rate of R250 (about $21) per 1,000 miles
- Changes to Dynamic Awards in the Y, M, B, K, J and C fare classes are free of charge
- Miles expire three years after they are earned
- R200 (about $17) ticketing fee for domestic awards and R500 (about $42) fee for international awards ticketed through a South African Airways office
- One-way awards available
- No stopovers
- Awards except for Dynamic Awards must travel the most direct route
- Awards can only be cancelled within 30 days of issue for a R185 (about $15) fee
- To change an award ticket, you must cancel and reissue it
- Dynamic Awards and JourneyBlitz Awards can only be issued online
The best parts of the South African Airlines award chart are partner airline flights between the U.S. and South America. This zone-based chart counts the whole of South America as one zone, while many airlines split it into two or three different sections. Furthermore, while economy seats are a decent deal at 50,000 miles roundtrip, business class is a steal at 75,000 miles.
Since the introduction of Dynamic Awards pricing, they have become the worst possible ways to use your Voyager miles—and not just when cash prices are high. The markup on these awards is really significant, around nine to 10 times the price in South African rand. Though the exchange rate can work in your favor, that still means you’re easily looking at 200,000-plus miles for a “cheap” roundtrip to South Africa from the U.S., with badly timed flights or awkward routing.
Upgrades on South African Airways are extremely restricted, not only to primarily South African Airways-operated flights, but even to types of SAA flights. Upgrades are only available by sector and to the next highest level of service, and they are subject to high taxes, fees and surcharges.
Following the South African Airways devaluation, upgrade awards are both hard to come by and a bad value, so we recommend not using your miles in this way.
Each subsequent level includes the perks of the previous level, unless stated otherwise.
- Silver: Miles do not expire once you’ve flown 6,000 tier miles in a calendar year, 3,000 bonus miles on achieving silver status, 2,000 bonus miles for every 15,000 tier miles flown, 25 percent bonus-tier miles, preferential economy seating for member, premium class check-in, priority baggage handling, priority boarding, additional baggage allowance, lounge access for member
- Gold: 6,000 bonus miles on achieving gold status, 50 percent bonus-tier miles, preferential economy seating for member and one guest, priority boarding for member and one guest, lounge access for member and one guest
- Platinum: 12,000 bonus miles on achieving platinum status, dedicated call center, 75 percent bonus-tier miles, preferential economy seating for member and two guests, access to exit row seats, priority boarding for member and two guests, lounge access for member, chauffeur service for member and two guests on qualifying flights
South African Airways has co-branded Gold and Platinum cards available for South African residents only.