Destination Cape Town, Multi-Stop Routes (outbound booked!)

In several prior posts, I mentioned my desire to book business class award flights to Cape Town, South Africa, for my family of three.  I started by looking at award prices through a variety of tools and then I looked to see if there were any 1-stop options for our flights.  You can catch up on this series here:

While I did find a couple of potential 1-stop routes (via Amsterdam or Paris), neither has good award availability.  I’ll keep on eye on those routes, but first I’ll look to see if there are any good multi-stop options.

In the previous post, I found all possible one stop routes and examined them for feasibility.  In this case, there are far too many 2 stop options to do the same thing.  Instead, I’ll simply look to see what pops up.  My high level strategy is to look for Star Alliance availability first, and then to check specifically with a few airlines that might be available for more luxurious flights such as Qatar business class, Emirates first class, and Etihad first class.  If I fail with those searches, I can then open the field further to additional SkyTeam, OneWorld, or other options.

Star Alliance

There are several reasons I’m starting the multi-stop search with Star Alliance.  First, Star Alliance is the largest alliance and, as a result, it is usually easier to find award availability.  Second, some of the best award prices are available on Star Alliance (such as 104K round trip business class with ANA miles).  Third, United.com has an excellent built-in award search engine.  It doesn’t cover every possible Star Alliance carrier, but it does have most.  So, my plan for searching Star Alliance award space is to start with United.com and then move to ANA and Aeroplan’s websites if necessary.

United Award Search

When searching for awards, I often search not just from my city of departure and to my destination, but also from/to airports that are readily accessible at either end of the trip.  For example, there are tons of short, and usually cheap, flights between Detroit (my origin) and Chicago.  So, I don’t mind booking awards that originate in Chicago even if the award doesn’t cover the initial Detroit to Chicago leg of the trip.  Similarly, while my intended destination is Cape Town, I don’t mind flying into Johannesburg.  I could then take a cheap flight to Cape Town, as needed.

So, my plan was to search United.com for business class award availability across the following routes:

    • Detroit – Cape Town
    • Detroit – Johannesburg
    • Chicago – Cape Town
    • Chicago – Johannesburg
    • DC  – Cape Town
    • DC– Johannesburg

Before beginning my search, I logged into United.com.  I have Silver status thanks to my Marriott Platinum status (see: Shortcuts to earning and renewing Marriott elite status) and it is possible that United will show me more award space on their own flights, due to my status, than they would otherwise.

To keep things simple, I began by searching only for outbound one-way flights…

United.com Outbound Flights

Detroit to Cape Town (DTW-CPT)

I began by searching for award space for just one adult.  I immediately found multiple saver level options for flights on South African Airlines or Ethiopian Airlines.  In both cases, United flights were available (often in economy) to position me to the international flights.  One intriguing option included a non-stop flight between JFK and Johannesburg on South African Airlines.

Unfortunately, when I changed the search to include 3 adults, all available business class options disappeared for my dates of interest.

Detroit to Johannesburg (DTW-JNB)

This seemed to be the “sweet spot” search.  I found plenty of availability for 3 people, in business class.  Most available routes were as follows:

  • Detroit to either Chicago, DC, or Newark (often in economy)
  • Chicago, DC, or Newark to Sao Paulo on United BusinessFirst
  • Sao Paulo to Johannesburg on South African Airlines business class

Other outbound searches (ORD-CPT, ORD-JNB, WAS-CPT, WAS-JNB)

None of the other searches revealed new options besides the ones already found in the DTW-JNB search.

United.com Inbound Flights

Cape Town (CPT) to Detroit (DTW)

While a one person search did reveal an available option, it wasn’t a good one.  The trip would begin with a 6 hour flight on Ethiopian Airlines in economy, followed by a business class flight on Ethiopian Airlines which stops in Dublin before arriving in DC.  Then, I would change airports in DC to return home.  Ugh.

Johannesburg (JNB) to Detroit (DTW)

The one available result here was similar to the one above except that the first leg would be in Ethiopian Airlines business class.  A stop in Dublin and then an airport change in DC make this an unattractive option.

Johannesburg (JNB) to Frankfurt (FRA)

I looked at this option because I know that there’s a Lufthansa non-stop flight from Frankfurt to Detroit.  And, this route (JNB-FRA) was wide open for business class for 3 people on Egypt Air, with a stop in Cairo.  Unfortunately, this flight arrives in Frankfurt at 2:10pm whereas the Lufthansa flight departs at 10:55 am.  If we want to do a stop-over in Frankfurt, this could work.  Otherwise, we’ll have to look for availability on the Lufthansa flight from JNB to FRA since that flight arrives at 5:25 am and can easily connect to the flight to Detroit.

Cape Town (CPT) to Sao Paulo (GRU)

Since Sao Paulo was a commonly found layover city for the outbound flights, I decided to check to see if I could cobble together return flights through GRU.  And, indeed, South African Airlines showed good availability for 3 people with a stop in Johannesburg.

Sao Paulo (GRU) to Detroit (DTW)

Following a flight from South Africa, which would arrive at 5pm in GRU, I found availability for 3 on United Airlines to DC.  That flight departs at 12:05 am, so we would have a long 7-hour layover unless we decide to stop-over for a couple of days on the return.

United.com Options Summarized

The good: It looks like I could piece together a 3 person Star Alliance award, most likely with a layover in Sao Paulo Brazil in each direction.  We might throw in a stop-over in Sao Paulo since we would be there anyway.  Unfortunately, that would mean paying for Visas for the three of us unless Brazil extends the waived Visa policy that they’ve put in place for the summer Olympics.

The bad: All of the currently available options involve 3 stops in each direction.  I was hoping for just 2 stops.  And, based on reviews I’ve read, I won’t expect extreme luxury in business class on either United or South African Airlines, but both should be comfortable enough.

Destination Cape Town Star Alliance Route via GRU

Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

Qatar

Qatar Airways runs quite a few Routes between the United States and Doha.  And, from Doha they fly non-stop to both Cape Town and Johannesburg.  After looking at their route map, I identified the following US airports that would be reasonable candidates for me to position to (I excluded west coast airports since they are too far out of the way):

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • DC
  • Miami
  • New York
  • Philadelphia

Using BA.com to search for award space on Qatar, I found business class from Philadelphia to Doha readily available:

Destination Cape Town Qatar PHL-DOH

Qatar flies their new A350 on this route (read a review here).  I’m excited to try it out!

Doha to South Africa was more difficult, but I finally found a flight to Durban (with a stop in Johannesburg) with 3 business class seats available.  Between Doha and South Africa, Qatar flies the 787 Dreamliner.  One Mile at a Time describes Qatar’s 787 business class seat as “simply amazing” and rated their food “10/10… Absolutely perfect”.

For the return, I found flights to Doha:

Destination Cape Town Qatar JNB-DOH

But, I couldn’t find available awards from Doha to any of the the US airports listed above.

Qatar Options Summarized

The good: Business class award flights were available for all 3 of us from Philadelphia to Doha to Duban.  And, I love the idea of flying both the A350 and the 787 Dreamliner in one trip.  In fact, I went ahead and used my AA miles to book the outbound flight.  Since I have Executive Platinum status with AA, I can always cancel and get my miles back with no fee if I find a better option.  Luckily, despite AA’s recent devaluation, the business class award rates to South Africa remained at just 75K miles each way. Another positive: While I visited both Johannesburg and Cape Town many years ago, I’ve never been to Durban.  This route will make it easy for us to stop-over in Durban before going onward to Cape Town.

The bad:   We’ll have 3 stops on the way to Durban: Philadelphia, Doha, and Johannesburg.  That said, I don’t think we’ll even have to deplane at Joburg, so that stop shouldn’t be a big deal.  Another concern is that the layover in Doha is short: 65 minutes.  If we miss the connection, the next Qatar flight from Doha to South Africa is about 20 hours later.  Now that would be a painful stop.

Destination Cape Town Qatar Outbound Route

Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

Next up

Qatar business class looks pretty nice, so I’ll continue to look for Qatar award space to open up for our return flight.  I’ll also look at other Star Alliance websites (ANA and Aeroplan) to see if they can help me find options that United.com failed to show.  And, I’ll also explore higher end options such as Emirates and Etihad first class.  I may even look into longer distance luxury options such as Singapore Airlines from South Africa to Singapore, and then perhaps Cathay Pacific to Chicago.  Stay tuned.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

    • Did you use any special site to find those fares? I looked at a few after reading your comment, but couldn’t find any good fares for the time of year I want to be there.

  1. I’ve done this trip many times. Last minute changes (well < 2 weeks) are the way to get best routing. The SAA or Delta direct are shortest followed by a stop in Europe, Doha is quite out of the way and increases travel time and fatigue. You want to be as ready to go as you can once you get there. Do a safari as well, it's worth the significant price.

    • When looking at the total travel time, the Doha route only adds a couple of hours of flight time over a European stopover.

      For example:
      PHL-DOH: 12:30 hours
      DOH-JNB: 8:20
      Total: 20:50
      vs.
      DTW-CDG: 7:45
      CDG-JNB: 10:40
      Total: 18:25 (2.5 hours less flight time)

      Of course, we have to get to Philadelphia, but that’s a really short flight, and we’d probably do it the night before.

  2. Are you concerned about the Zika virus transiting through Brazil?

    I’ve noticed a ton of space to JNB via GRU presumably because of this.

  3. I’ve been stalking *A flights in J from ORD-JNB for Dec. The via GRU shows up frequently for SAA but doesn’t on ANA search engine. A call in to ANA sometimes gets it sometimes not. Frustrating.

  4. I flew IAH-EZE-JNB in 2013 on UA and SA. I found the seat, food and service to be quite good on both, although the service is better with SA. I wouldn’t hesitate to route through South America again to get to South Africa.

    A yellow fever card wasn’t necessary when transiting Argentina although I was prepared for that. Brazil may be a different story, and these things change with time anyway.

    I’m going back this fall and flying Qatar in both directions with a long layover in Doha on the outbound. Looking forward to it.

  5. Just returned from doing these routes. For the return, originally had cpt-jnb-dfw on QR for 75k AA. Last minute, dropped the last segment to try EH a380 apartment when it opened up auh-jfk for 90k AA, just for fun. Kept the cpt-doh segment alone for 45k. Yes QR 787 was excellent. The seat is now my favorite J. Good service and food as well. You’ll be very pleased if you route this all on QR J especially with the a350 out of Philadelphia.

    • Great to hear! Yep, I’m dreaming of possibly doing the same return as you described if EH a380 award space opens up. How did you get from DOH to AUH? Was that on Etihad too or added onto your Qatar award? I guess either one should work.

      • I added it to the etihad segment. This allowed for access to the al safwa F lounge in doha, which really is worth it, even if a little sterile. I took the 8PM-ish QR flight to abu dhabi, about 1 hr, it books in F this way, gives 5-hr layover in auh before leaving at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am. Security in AUH is a total cluster, even when flying the apartments. Prob the new etihad F lounge will be open by the time you go. Still i think security will remain a total cluster.

  6. I am on my way right now SFO – MUC on LH Business (where I am sitting in the Lufthansa lounge) time for a shower and then onwards with SAA to JNB all Business class. Return will be JNB – GRU – Houston – home.
    320,000 United miles for 2.
    I’ll bet you could have found a cheaper option.

  7. Dont’ forget ITA Matrix can filter flights by alliance up front. Use advanced routing code and put [/ alliance star-alliance].

    I just searched for November 2016 and found plenty of business class available on United, Swiss, Turkish, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Ethiopian, South African and Brussels.

    When I searched on United.com I found the Lufthansa for 40k miles going through Frankfurt.

  8. Did the QR routing last Feb – MIA-DOH-JNB//JNB-DOH-IST//IST-MAD-MIA with 110K US miles booked right after it became OneWorld.
    We then flew JNB-PLZ on Avios. Did self-drive safari at Mountain Zebra NP and Addo Elephants NP – both are from Port Elizabeth. After that we drove the Garden Route to Cape Town where we spent 4 days. Flew cheap tickets on Kulula back to JNB to connect QR’s flight to IST. Kulula is the LCC sub of Comair which is 100% sub of BA. You could use Avios on that route but not worth it as pay tickets can be very cheap.

    This year we are going in Sept via HKG with AS miles 140K on CX F LAX-HKG and then CX J HKG-JNB. With stopovers at HKG on both directions. Pick Sept because this would be good time to go to Kruger NP, then Whale Watching at Southern Coast, plus Wild Flowers at West Cape. Have Radissons hotels at Cape Town booked pre-devaluation for this particular trip.

    We prefer the self-drive safari in the excellent South African National Parks. Though good camps in Kruger NP are booked up early. However cancellations happen all the time. Should you decide to use the camps in Kruger, use Telephone booking instead of online booking. The telephone booking gives you a lot more flexibility.

    Also Protea hotels in South Africa are great redemption value with Marriott points. The Protea Kruger Gate is within 200 meters from the park entrance gate and is a Cat 1 property IIRC.

    Rand has devalued 50% since last Spring, making South Africa a very cheap destination. The country is beautiful and has a lot unique things to offer. You would have a great time.

    • You will be very pleased with the radisson cpt. I also booked pre-deval for 16 nights, and booked into biz class room since too many carlson pts to use. It is very much worth it at this prop since it books into a suite with balcony and water view. As a gold, they did upgrade anyway, but hotel sells out fairly often, and then they won’t if you didn’t book that room. This is an excellent property right on the water, huge beautiful breakfast, great service, perfect location. Makes me miss 2-4-1 carlson so much. RIP.

  9. So confused by this post……..simplicity what is the route booked? Try a recap at the end to tell us what you told us?

  10. Greg, did you consider DTW – ATL – JNB? With your Delta status this looks to a good & pretty direct option. I’m investigating South Africa myself out of ATL for 2017 using Alaska Miles.

    • Yes, I would like to fly that route, but they hardly ever release saver level business class award space for the long ATL-JNB flight. I looked at the return flight and they want 375,000 miles per person one-way. Not gonna happen. I could buy economy tickets and try our luck with global upgrade certs, but it would be very risky.

  11. I don’t know if you ever check the Premium Fare Deals thread on FT, but you could buy a return on QR from CPT for $2200-$2400

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