50K Business Class round-trip to Africa (DC to Senegal) now available

Last month, John Klukas published a guest post on this blog: Fly business class to Africa for 50,000 miles round-trip (DC to Senegal).  In that post, John described how Virgin Atlantic miles could be used to fly business class between DC and Senegal for 50K miles round-trip, or 25K miles one-way.  Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the flight in question had just changed routing to a new airport in Senegal, and Virgin Atlantic’s computers weren’t able to see the flight and therefore the award was not bookable.  Now, Virgin Atlantic’s systems have caught up with the new airport and the award is bookable again.  Please see full details here: Fly business class to Africa for 50,000 miles round-trip (DC to Senegal).

The award price is amazing, but is it practical?

Obviously if you live in DC and want to fly to Senegal and if award space is available and if you have a way to get Virgin Atlantic points, then this award is a no-brainer.  That’s a lot of ifs.  Fortunately, for many who live in the eastern part of the US, it is fairly easy to get to DC (Washington Dulles airport, AKA IAD) to start your flight.  And, on the other end, John’s post describes how to use miles to go beyond Senegal if you’d rather visit other African, European, or Middle Eastern destinations.  So, for many, the award can be practical as long as the award space is available…

Award Space IAD to DSS

An easy way to find award space on this non-stop South African airways flight is via United.com.  On the United.com home screen, start by selecting “One-way” and entering IAD as the origin and DSS as the destination (or do the opposite when looking for flights from Africa).  Click “My dates are flexible” (important!).  Then select the month you’d like to travel, the number of people traveling, and select “Business” rather than Economy.  Finally, select the boxes to “Search for award travel” and “Nonstop“.  Press Search.

By following the above steps, you should then see a calendar like this:

The dates with solid lines have economy awards available and the dates with dotted lines should have business class awards available.  When you click on a date with business class awards available, you should see something like this below the calendar:

This nonstop flight on South African Airways is what you’re looking for.  The 80k saver award shows that the business class award is available on the date you selected.  To be clear, it won’t cost you 80,000 miles unless you book the flight with United Airlines miles.  This exercise was just to see if the award was available.  To book this one-way flight for 25K miles you need to call Virgin Atlantic.

If you’d like to fly round-trip, then repeat the exercise above to find award space for your return trip.

As you can see above, award space for 2 in business class is hardly plentiful, but it does exist.

Getting Virgin Atlantic miles

All of the major transferable points currencies (Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and SPG) transfer to Virgin Atlantic. Bank of America also issues a Virgin Atlantic cobranded credit card that routinely offers a 90K-ish sign up bonus (with a pretty hefty spend to get the full bonus).  Check Frequent Miler’s Best Offers page to find up-to-date info about that offer.

See also:

My thoughts

Given the sparse award space and the limited number of flights out of Senegal (found here) this is not an ideal option for those of us who live away from DC and are unlikely to make Senegal our ultimate destination.  Instead, I think of this as a great option to keep in mind just in case my travel plans ever align.

How about you?  Will you book this award if award space is available?

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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  1. If I transfer my AMEX points to virgin Airlines will the flights from DC to Senegal still be available.? Do I need to call Virgin or book online?

    • Call Virgin Atlantic to put the award on hold, then transfer the points, then call to confirm the held ticket once the points appear in your account.

      In some cases the point transfer is instant (you can test this with 1000 points before calling) and so you can reduce the number of calls by calling to confirm that the award is available, ask the agent to wait while you transfer in points, and then book the award.

      • I called Virgin Atlantic, but the agent said they are still unable to book flights into DSS. Their system isn’t recognizing DSS . Anyone else encounter this issue?

        • Hey AJ,
          I was able to place an award on hold as of January 3rd and the agent was seeing DSS and SA208 without issue. I’m not sure why they were having an issue when you called but I would try calling in again. When I called I fed the agent the specific city pair, IAD-DSS, and they placed me on hold while they called SAA to grab the seat. They came back with my VS confirmation number and a SA confirmation number as well.

          You may have already done this, but make sure to confirm that there is space via United or ANA before calling in. VS agents don’t seem to have an efficient way to search partner award space and it’s possible that the agent wasn’t seeing any space and was confusing that with not being able to book to DSS.

          Hopefully, another call to VS will clear this up. Good luck!

  2. Greg, it’s not right for you to leave off crediting Andy for the original post. Without Andy’s post at http://www.lazytravelers.net you would have had zero articles on this subject.

    Please don’t be yet another boardingarea twit who steal ideas from other websites without crediting the original writer.

    I thought you were better than that.

    • John did link to Andy in his post. See the last sentence of his post: “Note: I didn’t know this when I first wrote this post, but The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook also covered this deal here” (http://lazytravelers.net/unicorn-redemption-south-african-airways/)

      When John wrote the post, he didn’t know that Andy had found the same thing. Before publication I told him about Andy’s post and so John appropriately added the link.

      It is not true that we wouldn’t have known about this without Andy. John found the award chart anomaly on his own just as Andy presumably did.

  3. I live in LA and I certainly will consider this option when I’m able to set aside a chunk of time to travel there. From what I’ve read, Dakar is an interesting city in its own right and has good connections to other countries in W/NW Africa, from Morocco down to Nigeria as well as some of the coastal island territories, so it would make a good base to explore the region.

  4. I’m planning to book it. There’s a surf camp near the airport, and I can think of nothing better than flying to Senegal, surfing for two days to get around the 24-hour rule, and then flying on to South Africa – only to surf some more on the way back 🙂

  5. I tried calling to book this flight with Virgin Atlantic today and the agent said that they’re still not seeing the DSS airport in their system so I was unable to book. Has anyone had success booking this deal?

    • Yes, some of the call agents seem to be misinformed. A number of people have booked this. Here’s what one reader said (via Frequent Miler Insiders Facebook group):

      The fifth time was the charm! When we spoke with our 5th representative and after about 15 minutes of insisting this fare could indeed be booked, we finally convinced Virgin to put the award on hold!!!!

  6. I was just able to book this ticket. When I called into the center the first time the agent was unable/unwilling to help after not initially seeing it in their system. I quickly hung up and called back however and the next agent was much more helpful. I mentioned tips from the above e.g. checking with SA Airways, etc and although it took about 20 minutes, he was finally able to book it. Being insistent but polite and knowing the availability on the specific dates helped along the process tremendously.

  7. After my fourth call, I was also able to book this ticket quite easily. It seems to be a manual blind request to SAA and they respond back instantaneously with an approval. So it definitely helps to have the awards confirmed with ExpertFlyer or United to ensure it’s there. My first three calls to Virgin Atlantic were painful exercises in futility (even with manager escalation all insisting this was impossible since DSS doesn’t appear in their systems.) If you get these agents, just politely thank them for their time and try again (perhaps at a different time to get a different call center that is capable of doing a manual request. If the agent is trying to do it in their system, it just won’t process until their IT realizes this new airport exists (despite being opened over 5 weeks ago).

    Another quirk it seems they were able to put my SAA award on hold for 48 hours for me to transfer miles (which were instant via AMEX transfers). The hold isn’t guaranteed the award will be there, but it’s holding the booking details at least. What’s strange is they cannot provide an email or online view of the held reservation (so you just have to trust their verbal description of the reservation is exactly what you’re intending (and the names are spelled correctly). A held booking with a reservation code is not viewable until the reservation is booked (paid). And it takes several more hours for a SAA corresponding booking code to be available to you (only after ticketing it seems). Anyhow….fantastic redemption rate for a part of the world I’ve been wanting to visit.

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