In this edition of our series on using points to fly business class to various continents, we’ll explore options to access Africa in comfort.
From North America, flying to Africa can be very expensive, especially in business class. Using points to fly to the continent can yield excellent value for your points.
Let’s look at the eight best ways to get to Africa in business class using points, with options for both direct and indirect routings.
In This Post
- 1. Air Canada
- 2. EgyptAir
- 3. Ethiopian Airlines
- 4. Royal Air Maroc
- 5. United
- 6. Via Europe
- 7. Via the Middle East
- 8. Via Asia
1. Air Canada
First on this list is Canada’s very own Air Canada. From its Montreal hub, the airline flies to three destinations in North Africa: Casablanca, Algiers, and Cairo.
With Aeroplan, pricing for these flights is subject to the distance-based tiers on the North America–Atlantic zone on the Flight Reward Chart.
Once service resumes on these routes, flights to Casablanca are scheduled year-round, while flights to Algiers and Cairo remain seasonal.
For redemptions, the cost in Aeroplan points depends on the total distance flown. Direct flights from Montreal to Casablanca or Algiers fall under 4,000 miles, while a direct flight from Montreal to Cairo comes in at 5,436 miles. Adding a connecting flight from elsewhere in Canada or the United States may push you to the next tier, depending on the distance.
A one-way flight from Montreal to Casablanca or Algiers would cost 60,000 Aeroplan points at the lower-end of the dynamic spectrum with Air Canada.
Flying Air Canada to Cairo from Montreal costs as few as 70,000 Aeroplan points in business class at the lower-end of the dynamic spectrum, although it can also cost significantly more.
All three destinations are served by three-cabin aircraft, with lie-flat pods in business class. The flights range in duration from seven to 10 hours, and eastbound, are scheduled overnight. Having a bed to catch some rest on is key to feeling rested upon arrival.
As Air Canada flights are subject to dynamic pricing on Aeroplan redemptions, one method to reduce the cost in points is by employing the “Latitude Attitude” and using your Aeroplan Elite Status to your advantage.
By booking in a cheaper economy fare and using eUpgrades to upgrade to business class, it’s possible to bring the redemption cost back to reality when dynamic pricing is skewed the wrong way.
As an example, booking an Economy (Latitude) fare for 55,600 Aeroplan points and using 13 eUpgrade credits to instantly confirm an upgrade to business from Montreal to Cairo saves 76,400 points as opposed to booking in business class to begin with.
Of course, if you don’t have Aeroplan Elite Status, you can look for fixed-value award space on other Star Alliance airlines, which we will explore below.
An honourable mention on this list goes to Cairo-based EgyptAir. The airline offers ample business class award space and connects its three destinations (Toronto, New York JFK, and Washington Dulles) in North America to many destinations in Africa.
Compared to most other airlines, though, the ground and in-flight experience pales in comparison. Only for the convenience of a direct flight, or in the absence of other business class award space, consider flying with EgyptAir.
From Toronto, a direct flight to Cairo measures 5,746 miles, placing it in the second distance band on the North America–Atlantic zone with Aeroplan. In business class, this flight would have a fixed cost of 70,000 Aeroplan points.
Adding a connection to some destinations in Africa would push the distance into the third band, therefore increasing the cost to 85,000 Aeroplan points. Extending to other African destinations, or adding a connecting flight from Western Canada, could even push the distance into the fourth band, which prices at 100,000 points.
If you choose to fly with EgyptAir, be sure to look for its Boeing 787 Dreamliner for your transatlantic flight. The cabin, which features lie-flat seats, is vastly superior to the angle-flat seats on the airline’s older 777 fleet.
3. Ethiopian Airlines
Addis Ababa-based Ethopian Airlines has a strong worldwide network and also serves many destinations within Africa.
In North America, it serves Toronto, Chicago, and Washington Dulles with direct flight from Addis Ababa.
The airline also runs a number of fifth-freedom routes throughout its worldwide network. Ethiopian Airlines operates a direct flight from both New York JFK and Newark to Lomé, Togo, which can be booked for only 70,000 Aeroplan points.
Flying from Toronto to Addis Ababa measures 7,154 miles, placing it in the third distance band on Aeroplan’s flight reward chart. A one-way business class flight has a fixed cost of 85,000 Aeroplan points.
Adding an flight to other destinations in Africa will likely increase the cost to 100,000 points, as doing so would increase the distance to the fourth distance band.
Keep in mind that you can add a stopover of up to 45 days for an additional 5,000 points. This would give you the opportunity to explore Ethiopia, which has been high on my list of countries to visit in Africa for quite some time.
On the transatlantic routes, Ethiopian Airlines operates both the Boeing 777, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the Airbus A350, with various configurations.
On some routes, you’ll still find the 2-2-2 business class configuration with angle-flat seats that recline to 170 degrees. On others, you’ll find lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, or the dated 2-3-2 configuration on some 777 aircraft.
The newest cabins feature a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration with lie-flat seats, so aim for either of these if at all possible for the best experience.
Be sure to check out the seat configuration for your flight, perhaps by using a tool such as ExpertFlyer, to ensure the best flight experience.
4. Royal Air Maroc
Royal Air Maroc connects travellers from four continents to its hub in Casablanca. Its African network serves destinations in North, West, and Central Africa.
In North America, the airline flies twice daily to Montreal, with routes to New York JFK and Washington Dulles, too.
Its network has changed over the course of the pandemic, so it would be best to verify its current routings, as the above map, while pleasant to look at, may not be current.
Redemptions on Royal Air Maroc with Alaska Mileage Plan aren’t particularly intriguing, so we recommend focusing on using Avios and Asia Miles instead.
Avios can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio from both American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion, as well as at a 25:10 ratio from HSBC Rewards. They can also be earned directly with the RBC British Airways Visa Infinite Card.
There are also often transfer bonuses to Avios, so keep an eye out for one of those promotions to give you balance an extra boost.
Redeeming Avios for Royal Air Maroc is subject to distance-based pricing. The distance between Montreal and Casablanca is only 3,534 miles, placing the flight in Zone 5 of the British Airways award chart for partners.
A one-way business class flight from Montreal to Casablanca costs 62,000 Avios. Considering the frequent 30–50% transfer bonuses, the cost is effectively reduced to 42,000–48,000 points, which is a great deal.
If Avios aren’t your cup of tea, earning Asia Miles is relatively easy, too, as it’s a transfer partner of Amex Memberships Rewards at a transfer ratio of 1:0.75, RBC Avion points at a 1:1 ratio, and HSBC Rewards at a ratio of 25:8. RBC also offers the co-branded RBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum Card.
Asia Miles redemptions are also subject to a distance-based reward chart. A flight from one of the North American gateways to Casablanca would cost a similar level of 61,000 Asia Miles.
Since Avios are easier to earn, it’s better to use them if you’re just looking for a direct flight to Morocco. However, as Asia Miles calculates the number of points required using the total cumulative distance flown, and not the sum of individual segments likes Avios, Asia Miles have the edge when redeeming for awards beyond Morocco that require a connection.
A one-way business class flight on Montreal–Casablanca–Dakar, for example, comes out to 4,952 miles flown, falling just below the upper bound of Asia Miles’s “Medium” distance band and thus costing the same 61,000 Asia Miles as a flight only to Casablanca.
On the Montreal–Casablanca route, Royal Air Maroc runs both the Boeing Dreamliner 787-8 and 787-9 aircraft. Of these two, the 787-9 is superior, with lie flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The 787-8 also features lie-flat seats, but in a less desirable 2-2-2 configuration.
5. United Airlines
The sole US-based carrier on this list, United Airlines flies several routes between the continental US and Africa.
From Washington Dulles, there are direct flights to Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria, and from New York Newark, there are direct flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Having a direct flight from North America to South Africa, in theory, is a great opportunity. However, business class award space on these flights can be very difficult to come by.
This isn’t the case with flights from Washington Dulles, though. There is ample business class award space to both Accra and Lagos throughout the year. Both destinations fall within the second distance band on the North America–Atlantic zone with Aeroplan, meaning that a one-way flight in business class costs only 70,000 Aeroplan points.
While these routes have Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, they have yet to be retrofitted with United’s premier Polaris business class product. The configuration on these routes is 2-2-2, and once retrofitted, will be a superior 1-1-1 or 1-2-1.
While the hard product isn’t as competitive as other airlines on this list, you’ll be sure to have an excellent ground experience at Washington Dulles in the newly-opened Polaris Lounge.
Polaris lounges offer an excellent pre-flight experience, complete with à la carte dining, showers, premium cocktails, and an overall refined lounge experience. Check out our reviews of Polaris Lounges in Chicago and Newark.
6. Via Europe
As the continent to the north of Africa that happens to be flush with airlines in various alliances, there are a number of interesting options to access Africa via Europe.
There are many Europe-based Star Alliance partners that fly to destinations in Africa. Brussels Airlines, Eurowings Discover, Lufthansa, Swiss, TAP Air Portugal, and Turkish Airlines all serve various destinations on the continent. Among them, Turkish Airlines has both the best business class product and the most destinations in Africa.
Turkish Airlines has direct flights to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal in Canada, as well as to 12 destinations in the United States. Its network in Africa (and the rest of the world, for that matter) is extensive, covering cities across North, West, East, Central, and South Africa.
On many of the routes to North American cities, the airline flies either the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A350. These aircraft feature a newly renovated interior, with a cutting-edge business class product that pairs very well with its outstanding soft product. Other routes are served by Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 aircraft, with less ideal cabin configurations.
Perhaps Vancouver-based travellers are looking for a single connection to Addis Ababa without Ethiopian Airlines, which prices at 100,000 Aeroplan points in business class.
Or maybe a traveller from Montreal is looking to head to Entebbe, Uganda after stopping in Istanbul for a week or two, which would price at 85,000 points for the flights and 5,000 points for the stopover.
In either case, you’d be sure to have an excellent stopover in Istanbul at its flagship business class lounge, complete with multiple dining stations, a self-playing piano, ample entertainment, an art gallery, and beverages aplenty.
Meanwhile, redemptions with SkyTeam members Air France and KLM’s Flying Blue program also offers easy access between North America and Africa via Paris or Amsterdam. Both carriers have an extensive network to North America and Africa, making it ideal for points redemptions.
Flying Blue is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards at a sub-optimal ratio of 1:0.75. While the transfer ratio isn’t ideal, the points are relatively easy to come by and it can still offer good value for business class flights, if you can find space at the lower end of the dynamic pricing range.
Further, Air France and KLM serve many cities in Canada, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. Keep an eye out for Promo Rewards, as they cut the redemption cost by various margins on different routes each month.
How about a one-way booking with KLM in business class from Vancouver to Nairobi via Amsterdam? This costs 96,500 Flying Blue miles.
If converting from American Express Membership Rewards, this is equivalent to around 129,000 MR points. While the cost in miles and taxes and fees is relatively steep, it could serve a unique and quick single-connection trip to Africa.
7. Via the Middle East
Many Middle East carriers are known for offering an outstanding premium product. Of these carriers, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways are no exception.
Etihad’s network in Africa is relatively limited compared to other airlines, with flights from Abu Dhabi to Casablanca, Rabat, Cairo, Mahé (Seychelles), Zanzibar, and Johannesburg. In North America, it offers service to Toronto, Chicago, Washington, and New York JFK.
Award space on Aeroplan is plentiful, though, so if any of these destinations tickle your fancy, be sure to consider flying with Etihad, who has a reputation for excellent hard and soft products.
For example, flying from Toronto to Mahé via Abu Dhabi would cost 100,000 Aeroplan points.
Similarly, flying to Johannesburg from Toronto would also cost 100,000 Aeroplan points.
If Aeroplan points aren’t in your current portfolio, then perhaps flying with Doha-based Qatar Airways, a Oneworld airline, better suits your style.
Its premium product, Qsuites, is amongst the best business class products in world, and maybe even the best. In addition, it flies to many destinations in Africa (and across the world), so catching a single connection in comfort is very much in the realm of possibility.
As a Oneworld airline, flights on Qatar Airways can be redeemed with British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and American Airlines AAdvantage. Its own loyalty currency, Qatar Airways Qmiles, will soon merge with Avios and become Qatar Airways Avios, which can make for very compelling redemption possibilities.
Of these programs, the best value comes from redeeming with AAdvantage miles, which doesn’t levy painful surcharges. The easiest way to obtain these in Canada is to convert RBC Avion points at a ratio of 1:0.7, or to convert Marriott Bonvoy points at the optimal ratio of 60,000:25,000.
Montreal is the only Canadian city served by Qatar Airways, but there are also 12 destinations across the United States that could be accessed with an easy positioning flight. Connecting through Doha, there are a number of destinations scattered across Africa accessible with a single connection.
Flights on partner airlines from Canada or the United States to Africa have a fixed price of 75,000 miles for a one-way flight in business class. With the 1:0.7 transfer ratio from Avion, that totals 107,142 Avion points, which is similar to the cost of other loyalty programs in this guide.
Indeed, we see this cost reflected in flight searches. Note the minimal taxes and fees, too.
For our friends on the west coast, how about flying to Cape Town from Seattle, with over 24 hours in the comfort of Qsuites, for only 75,000 miles.
Availability on some of these premium routes can sometimes be challenging to come by, but if you plan far enough in advance, you shouldn’t have any issues finding perfect flights to suit your needs.
8. Via Asia
Last on this list is taking the long way around to get to Africa. Why not fly with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong to get to Africa?
Vancouver and Toronto are the sole Canadian cities served by the airline. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York JFK, and Boston are the carrier’s US destinations, which see a mixture of Boeing 777s and Airbus A350s. Johannesburg remains Cathay Pacific’s sole African destination.
In Canada, the best way to earn Alaska miles is through signup bonuses on co-branded Alaska Airlines credit cards, such as the MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard, or transferring Marriott Bonvoy points at the optimal ratio of 60,000:25,000.
A well-known sweet spot is to book Cathay Pacific business class flights to South Africa with Alaska miles. A one-way flight from North America to South Africa in business class costs only 62,500 Alaska miles!
A one-way business class flight from North America to South Africa via Hong Kong costs 85,000 Asia Miles plus around $100 in taxes/fees.
Cathay Pacific business class availability continues to be severely restricted as compared to before, largely due to extremely limited flight schedules to Hong Kong at the moment.
Availability to cities in the United States tends to be more generous than availability to Canadian destinations, though, so be sure to check your nearest US hub for your next redemption.
Depending on your ultimate destination in Africa, flying from North America requires anything from a quick seven-hour jaunt to a lengthy journey via another continent. In any case, flying in business class will make the trip much more comfortable, and could even become a key part of the experience.
Luckily, there are many options for Canadians to redeem loyalty points for these flights. There are choices amongst the three major airline alliances, giving you flexibility depending on which program you wish to redeem with.
It has been a long while since my last trip to the continent, and I’m eyeing up some destinations in Africa over the next few years. Which destinations inspire you most? And how do you plan on getting there?