I Just Booked A Cheap Business Class Fare To South Africa!

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At the beginning of the year I wrote a post about the 16 airlines I want to review in 2016. You guys have asked for me to review new airlines (especially in business class), so I’ve been doing what I can to check out new carriers.

So far in 2016 I’ve reviewed the following new products:

On top of that, I have a couple of trips I’ve recently booked, which I’ll be taking in the coming months:

I’m making good progress checking airlines off my list. Now I figured I’d share the next trip I booked, which involves a carrier which wasn’t even previously on my list.

I’m flying Star Alliance business class to South Africa!

On Friday Nick wrote about the fantastic business class fares which are published out of Canada to many points in the world. Part of the reason the fares are so cheap for Americans is because of the weakness of the CAD (or strength of the USD?). The fares were available on both SkyTeam and Star Alliance. Since I’ve reviewed Air France business class, Delta business class, and KLM business class, I figured I’d take the opportunity to review some Star Alliance carriers I haven’t flown in a long time.

So I booked a ticket from Vancouver to Cape Town with the following itinerary, for ~2,250USD roundtrip:

  • Vancouver to Toronto in Air Canada 787 business class
  • Toronto to London in Air Canada 777 business class
  • London to Johannesburg in South African Airways A340 business class
  • Johannesburg to Cape Town in South African Airways A319 business class
  • Cape Town to Johannesburg in South African Airways A319 business class
  • Johannesburg to London in South African Airways A330 business class
  • London to Toronto in Air Canada 777 business class
  • Toronto to Vancouver in Air Canada 787 business class

YVR-CPT-Fare

I paid for the trip for the trip with my Citi Prestige® Card, which gets me triple points on airfare, plus great travel protection in case something goes wrong.

I’m really excited, as I’ve been wanting to review Air Canada’s new business class product for a long time. Air Canada’s 787s feature reverse herringbone seats, so that’ll be great for the transcon flights.

Air-Canada-787

Then from Toronto to London the flights are also scheduled to feature Air Canada’s new reverse herringbone seats, though if there’s a last minute equipment swap I’ll get their herringbone seats, which aren’t too bad either.

Air-Canada-787-Business-Class

I’m curious to review South African Airways as well, though truthfully am less excited about those flights in terms of the actual experience. While South African has fully flat seats, they’re in a 2-2-2 configuration, so you do have a seatmate at every seat.

South-African-Business-Class

Still, I figure it’s a useful review, given that South African is generally regarded as Africa’s best airline.

I’m also really excited to return to Cape Town, as I’ll be spending a few days there. Cape Town was on my list of six places I want to visit in 2016, so it’s great I can knock that out on a trip which wasn’t even booked with much consideration for the destination. I’m planning on booking the Westin Cape Town using the Citi Prestige® Card fourth night free benefit, given that I’m staying for that length of time.

Cape-Town

The funny thing is that I’m a oneworld guy, as it’s the only alliance with which I purposefully maintain status (I do have Star Alliance Gold through Copa ConnectMiles, but I’ve never credited a mile to them). However, this trip is 24,000 “butt in seat” miles in paid business class, so now I have to decide which Star Alliance program to credit to. Stay tuned for a follow up post with my thoughts on that.

Bottom line

We’re constantly seeing the gap narrowing between the cost of cheap business class tickets and economy tickets, to the point that I’m finding myself sometimes outright paying for business class rather than redeeming miles.

To put it into numbers, a business class award to South Africa would cost a minimum of 150,000 miles roundtrip, and I’d be forgoing 50,000 miles for redeeming miles rather than paying for a business class ticket. That means the “real” cost of such an award would be 200,000 miles, when comparing it to the cost of a revenue ticket. Given that, ~$2,250 is a very reasonably price to pay for business class, especially since I didn’t face nearly as many capacity challenges.

I’m really excited to finally try Air Canada’s new business class, and am also excited to check out SAA’s old (and reliable?) business class.

Anyone have any tips for Air Canada business class, South African business class, or Cape Town?

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Comments

  1. Awesome. It’ll be great to see you doing some flying in Canada. As far as airlines in North America go, Air Canada actually offers a very competitive product with their new reverse herringbone business class seats, and it’s a small cabin on the 787 as well. The only downside for those of us in Y is they have moved to 3-4-3 on the 777’s now.

  2. I have to decide which Star Alliance program to credit -> Apart from Copa, you may consider to play
    Miles+Bonus if you go to Greece in future.

  3. Eat at Test Kitchen in Cape Town and The Foodbarn in Noordhoek! And drink a lot of Graham Beck sparkling wine, better than a lot of Champagne imo. Enjoy CT, it’s a great place!

  4. Make sure you spend a day driving down to the cape if good hope. Go to the town with all the Penguins. Amazing. Go to the wine farms near Cape Town. Beautiful country. Hidden valley farm and overture restaurant is amazing. There’s not a to. To do in Cape Town proper- so make sure you venture out and aroubd to cape if good hope and the wine farms (they call them wine farms instead of vineyards). Incredible scenery. Don’t get too excited about SAA J. Comfortable but nothing memorable.

  5. I did the same routing as you Lucky, and I’ll be crediting this trip to LH. This trip will give us enough miles to fly LAX-FRA-HKG-FRA-LAX in F for two people. Been crediting all my UA flights to LH last year and this year.

  6. Just flew Air Canada on Tuesday from London to Toronto. The flight crew was nice, and it was a good flight, but I had an issue with my entertainment system: the touchscreen was very unresponsive in that 90% of my attempts failed (I had to guess and try to touch an area an inch away to try to get at where I wanted to.)

    As an aside, when I entered my flight number on google, it showed the flight delayed by 3 hours. But Air Canada showed it being on time. I decided to show up on time but due to some errors in planning I showed up at the gate 15 minutes before the departure time (and google was way off, the flight took off on tie), panicking and sprinting like mad. Not to worry, the friendly staff escorted me like I was royalty. They didn’t roll their eyes or anything. One of them even waited for me down the hall as I was running with my carry-ons, asking for my name. Although Air Canada is not wow in any respect, I’ve never had a really bad experience with them. Oh, except one time a flight attendant came by for the meal service, I was watching a movie so she took the napkin and tossed it on top of my screen. I don’t think she meant to be rude, I think she was just mentally impaired.

  7. You lose so much of the experience by staying in an American hotel chain in Africa (as a Hyatt/Marriott/SPG loyalist). Would highly recommend staying in a locally renowned property. Good South African hotels have true luxury in the Asian sense of service, room style, and food quality

  8. I’d like to submit Asiana Club as the best Star Alliance program to credit miles to. They’re qualification rules are extremely generous; requiring only 20,000/40,000 miles flown in *TWO* years for Silver and Gold status respectively. Their redemption rates aren’t the best, but they’re still pretty good. They are also partners with Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways so you can redeem miles for award flights on them. I’d say my only problem with the program is their website, which really could use an update. There are some pages on it where you can tell it wasn’t built by a native English speaker; and Star Alliance Award search functionality is only available on their Korean website, which requires a lot of copy+pasting in to Google Translate to make use of.

    I am not a frequent flyer, especially by the standards of readers on this site. Generally I will take 2 or 3 domestic trips per year and a trip to Japan once every few years. I last traveled to Japan last September (on Asiana) and I am looking to take a trip to Nepal this summer on a combination of Asiana and Thai Airways. at over 20,000 miles round-trip, that should simultaneously put me over the threshold for Asiana Club Gold (Star Alliance Silver) and Asiana Club Diamond (Star Alliance Gold), which will be my first time attaining elite status with any loyalty program. I could use that status to get into United Clubs (which I know are very sub-par relative to foreign lounges) during my often lengthy layovers in ORD and DEN.

  9. Lucky, I would definitely plan a day trip and lunch in Franschoek. Quaint small town in the heart of wine country. Also happens to have some of the top rated restaurants in SA. Really good.

    Have to agree that SAA is nothing to look forward to.

    A yr ago I immigrated from SA to San Diego so still trying to figure out all the best and cheapest US routes to SA (via Lisbon as my parents live there and my Dad is very ill so I try route thru LIS as often as I can – any advice would be welcome). SA is a great place but there is no doubt that the most precious part of the country is what we fondly call the “bush” (Africa’s wildlife). A trip to SA without a trip to the “bush” is a huge missed opportunity (in my humble opinion). There are some great game reserves not too far from Cape Town and many of these have some of the most exquisite accommodations (esp the Pvt owned game reserves). I wouldn’t travel to SA without visiting the “bush”! This is the soul of Africa.

    Enjoy…

  10. Looks like a great intinerary Lucky. I missed a good DL fare to South Africa a couple weeks ago. I’m sure another will turn up. The nature of the miles hobby (my words) is really changing – and this year seems accelerated probably because of the changes in the AA program. I’m actually enjoying not worrying about status like I use too.

  11. Credit to OZ if you are not actively maintaining a Star Alliance status. 2 years and 40,000 miles to get to *G isnt half bad. Or maybe SQ if Suites are still in you mind.

  12. If you have three days in Cape Town, use one day to go to Franschoek and Paarl. The scenery is incredible, South African wineries are amazing if you enjoy wine tasting, and as another commenter mentioned, Franschoek has some of the best restaurants in SA. Use a second day to travel to the Cape of Good Hope, and on the way back, pass by the seal colony and Boulders Beach, where you can watch the penguins.

  13. I would credit those miles to Krisflyer for a later on Singapore suites experience. Safe travels!

  14. Good luck with SAA, I avoid them at all costs and will hopefully never fly them again. Intra-southern Africa, I pretty much always fly British Airways (it’s actually Comair, but branded BA), even though it almost always costs more.

    You absolutely need to reconsider staying at the Westin – yes, SPG is your brand of choice, however you can do SO MUCH better in terms of location and value, especially with the current exchange rate USD to ZAR (see below).

    @J

    Newmark has some very good properties in S. Africa – and three on the waterfront in Cape Town: The V&A Waterfront (my default hotel), the Queen Victoria, and the Dock House. V&A Waterfront has the best views, though, of both the harbor and Table Mountain but you need to specify this when making the reservation. Otherwise you may get stuck with a “piazza”-facing room. Which is code for the parking lot and Ferris Wheel.

    http://www.newmarkhotels.com/accommodation/hotels/victoria-alfred-hotel/

    The Newmark properties aren’t up to the Cape Grace or Table Bay or One and Only or Mount Nelson or Twelve Apostles standards (which are other locally-renowned properties), but if you ask, Newmark will include high speed internet, parking, and breakfast with the (incredibly affordable) nightly rate.

  15. Depending how much time you have for cape town I would suggest:
    – One day tour (rent a car if you used to drive on the left) starting really early with stops at Muizenberg, the penguins and all the way down to Cape Point & Cape of Good Hope and on the way back doing the famous Champain’s Peak
    – Up to Table Mountain (as soon as there is no cloud on top) & hitting the wineries at Constantia (stop at Buitenverwachten for lunch with a tasting menu or at least a stop at Coffe Bloc for some fab coffee)
    – Stellenbosch, Frankschoek are fab wine countries but its still a 2 hour round trip so if you have more then three days its a def yes to head out of cape town

    I know you’re usually not big on staying outside the chain hotels but one of the most romantic places is def tintswalo atlantic lounge overlooking Hout Bay with some of the best sunset views in cape town. And since you’re not known to be a big fancy eater – might be worth to skip Test Kitchen & the other fab restaurants and just brows the food markets during the weekend?

  16. Hi Ben. I can assure you SAA will be your first and last experience. As a South African I avoid them at all cost due to poor service, bad inflight experience and maintenance concerns. Have already booked two trips to the US this year, both on Qatar where I get access to OneWorld and excellent service (and the A350 of course….).

  17. Flew SAA several times and it’s a hit or miss situation. Had some great experiences, but overall it’s not at the same level as the asian carriers.

    Hidden gem’s in Capetown and the Winelands is “Waterkloof Restaurant in the Sky”. Number 6 in the top 10 restaurants of SA and well worth it’s spot!! The architecture, the views, the food, the wine,….. Perfection!!

  18. I would have thought you would have credited your *A miles to Lifemiles since their a award chart is awesome. I mean who doesn’t enjoy the Suite life on bargain basement award tickets…

  19. Make sure you swing into Vancouver for a craft brew beer if you have a chance and the time. Lots of great microbreweries and brewpubs in Vancouver east side. E-mail me if you want suggestions.

  20. One of the firms that graciously employs my services has a hand in the repurposing of an old grain silo into what should be Cape Town’s most spectacular hotel. Appropriately, it will be called The Silo. I’ve seen sketches of the very contemporary interiors and am seriously impressed. The views should be equally impressive. I don’t know when The Silo opens (there have been numerous delays) but it might be worth checking it out.

  21. Lucky, your opinion may differ , but SAA business is MISERABLE for such a long flight. If you have an aisle seat you’ll feel the breath of the guy across from you in your face while sleeping, and the seats were pretty flimsy (hard product was indeed hard)

  22. Contrary to some here, I found SAA J to be comfortable considering it’s an outdated product. The seats are surprisingly comfortable and I got some of the best sleep on their A340, but exhaustion from a phenomenal time in SA could have helped. I also traveled with my spouse, so I didn’t have the stranger next to you issue.

    I stayed at the Dock House on the V&A and agree with @TravelinWilly. It was amazing and I won’t stay anywhere else when I return to CT. Definitely check out one of those three instead of an American chain.

  23. Lucky- Why not try the new Garuda Business Class Product out of Australia to Depensar, and then the amazing Garuda First Class product either to AMS or LHR with dates I’ve tested all through June (may go further) for $3700 USD. Bookable via the Australian Expedia website.

    You can also find a fare that gives you 23 hours overnight in DPS and Garuda I believe will pick you up in their new Jaguar Limousine to take to the airport.

    About the new Business product as you already know about their First product-
    http://www.ausbt.com.au/garuda-gets-new-business-class-for-airbus-a330s

    That way you can review 2 products you didn’t even have on your list 🙂

  24. Looking for advice from the choir… I booked the United deal down under for 5 people. I applied our United numbers, but then was reminded to credit to Singapore so I made accounts. Then called United to change the ff # cause it would not change online. Foreign customer Service guy got confused ( didn’t understand??) and told me to call Singapore air. Should I just insist they change my ff# at United check-in or call back until I get someone who is smart? I’d rather make miles on this flight than not due to low spend. Thanks!

  25. I flew SAA A340 biz between CPT and JNB and was underwhelmed by that experience! But I would happily fly SAA in Y to go back to CPT if given the choice.

  26. Happy to read you are heading to South Africa. Two days ago, I booked us with AA miles (2) BIZ seats on Qatar MIA-Doha-JNB….(we will purchase ticket to CPT separately)…. then returning same route….. on Qatar 77W and 787s. It came to 200K miles each but only $150 for two of us in fees (had a BA connection in First MIA-LHR-CPT that cost nearly $1800 in fees that I did not want to pay). Very excited to read the suggestions on things to do, hotels to consider, etc. Thanks for the timely post.

  27. As a South African living in Asia, I’ve flown SAA many times. On long haul trips (notably the HKG-JNB route) the economy service is ok. Not as good as Asian carriers, but definitely superior to most European and American carriers. The business class service is average. The seats are comfortable enough, and if travelling with a partner then the 2-2-2 seating isn’t a problem. The service is very average, as is the food for a business class product. Also, the plane is rather tired, and quite often the inflight entertainment system will be broken on one or more seats. (Happened to my brother 2 years back on a 13 hour flight). Their prices are VERY competitive, due to the weak rand, so often the planes will be very full. SAA is often 30-40% cheaper than other carriers flying the same route (both in Econ and Bus).

    Overall, I’d give the inflight product a rating of 6.5/10 (bus+econ combined), value for money 8/10 and customer service on the ground a 2/10.

    That said, they’ve recently switched over to a revenue mileage system, so if I’m not mistaken, you’ll be getting quite a few less miles than you were expecting.

  28. I’ll be trying AC’s business class from Toronto to Paris return in July on their 777-300. It’s unclear if the old Classic Pod will be converted to the new Executive Pod by then (AC says the 777s are being converted “starting in Spring 2016″). The new ones feature an 18″ TV screen and a 6′ 7” flat bed. They’ve already changed the menu to feature the recipes of a well known restauranteur which should be interesting. They also have an espresso machine in international business class now.

  29. Flew SAA C from IAD to JNB via DKR just over a year ago. C was so empty that there was no need to worry about seatmates. It is a quite serviceable C, but will get no awards these days.

    Radisson Blu was a great deal while Carlson Visa offered second night free – fantastic location on the water. ParkInn Foreshore was terrible.

  30. Ps- westin- nice large executive suites, lounge is stingy, but the wine is good. Stay right on the waterfront for the best experience for sure. I’d return to the westin as a plat just for exceptional last minute rates and nice exec suite, but spend my time elsewhere.

  31. Currently in Stellenbosch for the 4th time in 7 years, 30mins drive from CPT, and enjoying the wine farms and superb food. With the Rand extremely weak, SA is more affordable than ever.

    Food recommendations: Jordan, Tokara and Mont Marie.

    Avoid: Overture @Hidden Valley. Used to be one of my favorites, but they must have changed chef. Very odd menu and confused staff.

    For CT, of course the Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club!

  32. Well done, looking forward to the review, you’ll be raving about Cape Town for ages to come, truly brilliant place

  33. Dear Ben,
    Cape Town is the most beautiful city on earth (I spent part of my studies over there), but why fly all the way from the US to Cape Town, and then stay at the Westin (a corporate hotel, in a not so exciting location). You should stay at either the One&Only hotel on the waterfront or the 12 Apostles hotel (the latter has a dramatic location near Camps Bay).
    KR

  34. Lucky,

    I flew this last year on the same sale. The SAA planes are nothing special.

    Here is the itinerary I booked today for the same price as what you paid, on AC ticket stock: Instead of just picking from aircanada.com’s suggested routing, I added a stopover to the outbound (one is allowed on the outbound AND the return, at no charge). I booked the return as an open jaw from CPT. I’ll buy a one way cheap flight on Mango (SAA’s low cost carrier) to get from JNB-CPT, which is what we did last year.

    YVR-YYZ-IST Air Canada 787/787
    IST-FRA Lufthansa 737
    FRA-JNB Lufthansa 747-8i
    CPT-JNB South African A330
    JNB-LHR South African A340
    LHR-YYZ Air Canada 777
    YYZ-YVR Air Canada 787
    Note that BA 747-4 and BA A380 were options for the long hauls between the UK and Africa as well, same pricing. (I know how much you lke to earn Alaska Miles, which you could do on those).

  35. Just hope that 777 isn’t in the HD configuration. Business is a big letdown in those compared to the herringbone pods in the 787 and old 777 layout. Until recently, they only flew the HD layout out of YVR and YUL, but they’ve started to retrofit the remaining fleet.

  36. +1 for Franschoek Wine region and the Cape of Good Hope. We actually took an all day Uber for the day and did both in one day. (Our driver didn’t charge us for the “wait”.) Best bargain in my humble option. He was awesome, let us stop wherever struck our fancy, translated for us, and we got to learn all about his life and life in SA. I still have his name and phone number – if interested, just email me.
    Also reccomend a trip to the Botanical Gardens too, as the walkway over the trees is awesome!
    We stayed at Hilton while we were there, but if I had to do it again, I would have chose Protea (Marriott brand) as the locations were better.

  37. Lucky, you will love Cape Town. Most recently, we spent the month of February there, because we wanted to lay out at the beach at Camps Bay and it was too cold during our prior visits to to do. The rand has fallen so much that food was practically free. Sushi on the waterfront for 2 cost $16 including 2 beers and an “Appetizer” drink (sparkling grape juice drink made in South Africa). Steak at Hussars Grill (in Camp’s Bay) for 2 people for $30, and you choose your steak off a platter they bring to your tablebefore ordering.

    I would not stay at the Westin, even though my husband is SPG Platinum. The prices are not a good value for Cape Town for what the Westin offers. (Cape Town is also an excellent place to book an apartment via AirBnb.) If you want to stay at a luxury hotel, I’d agree that you should stay at 12 Apostles or the One and Only. Car rental prices via rentalcars.com are insanely cheap. Our per day rate for 31 days from the airport (Budget) was $14 a day for a VW Polo. If you go in June/July which is winter there, taxi drivers are slow on business; in July 2014, a taxi driver took us all over (to see the Penguins, Cape of Good Hope) all day for $75. (I agree that Uber is also a great option in Cape Town.) And, when we went this year in February, we had lunch at Hidden Valley (a 3 hour affair) in Stellenbosch, and we loved it. That place was built by someone who had an unlimited budget and exceeded it–make a reservation in advance if you want to go. And, of course, you must go to Table Mountain and Cape of Good Hope. If you go to Table Mountain, try to go earlier in the day since clouds often form in the late afternoon, obscuring views from the mountain top. This is the place to try paragliding– from the top of Table Mountain.

    Finally, one of the most unique and fascinating tours that we have ever taken was at the “Heart of Cape Town”,which takes you through a 2 hour guided tour of the actual operating room/history of the first successful open heart transplant surgery by Dr. Christiaan Barnard back in 1967, allowing South Africa to beat the Americans by just a couple of days. The museum recreated the scenes of actual operating rooms using the original equipment and wax figures, and the guides are an articulate and knowledgeable bunch. My excitement level during this tour was akin to listening to “story time” in Kindergarten, and we only went to the museum because our taxi driver urged us to do so on a Sunday morning since it was a little early to start drinking wine in Stellenbosch.

    You will have an amazing time in Cape Town. Just don’t get freaked out by the disinfectant spray they use on airplanes when you leave South Africa. Cover your face with your hands while they do it, and the smell will dissipate within a minute or so.

  38. Cape Town is a great city and there’s lots to see/do: If you can see Table Mountain without clouds, change plans and go up – great views and the top is often shrouded in clouds, so don’t miss a nice day. You can book gondola tickets online and avoid the lines. If you plan to visit Robben Island (and you should), book well in advance – trips sell out during high-season. Cape Point (rental car) and Stellenbosch/wine country (tour) are nice day trips. Knysna or Hermanus (whale watching) are nice over night trips.
    I’d suggest the Radisson Blu Waterfront – the Business Class rooms are facing the ocean and are stunning, service is great (my review here: http://dreamtravelonpoints.com/2015/02/luxury-with-a-view-radisson-blu-waterfront-cape-town/

  39. Ben you should visit Stellenbosch, a town outside Cape Town! Nice winery, Great university as well!

  40. Flew AC round-trip YYZ to DEL in November on board their brand new 787-9 in business. Flight was excellent except for the slight discomfort with the tray table due to the BE diamond design where the table merely slides forward and can be annoying for those who shift a lot during their sleep. The food and drinks (champagne, wines, and port) were excellent. The hd entertainment system was crisp and superb. Best of all were the views of the sunrise and the mountain ranges from 43000 ft. I arrived rested, fresh and energized after the 14 hour journey both ways – I am a 787 fan and do what I can to fly on it when possible. In business cabins, there is no aircraft that offers the similar levels of comfort with respect to pressure, humidity, fresh air, noise dampening, and turbulence mitigation (787-9) based on qualification tests which I was involved in. So the flight should earn favorable reviews.

  41. Lucky,

    I would consider staying in one of the many boutique hotels in Cape Town rather than the Westin.

    There are a lot of amazing properties and are very reasonably priced too.

    Also a few days in the winelands is highly recommended

  42. I am doing similar itinerary and adding 2 nights in Victoria Falls
    Hope it’s enough

  43. SAA has some of the most hilarious flight attendants. A little sample from a Joburg to Munich flight: “We expect some turbulences coming up. Nothing to worry about, just a bit uncomfortable. A bit like meeting your in-laws the first time!”

  44. Live like a Cape Townian while you visit – breakfast at Jasons Bakery corner of Bree and burg street. Lunch at Willoughbys (best sushi) in the waterfront. Dinner at the Test Kitchen or Pot Luck Club. Take in a sunset while walking off jet lag on Sea Point Promenade. Repeat daily. Then take a day trip to Franschoek – stunning town with a number of top restaurants. Yell if you need company.

  45. Where do I find those deals?!
    I looked everywhere I know of, and tried to find those same prices next year at the same time…but to no avail….
    I have taken advantage of booking out of CMB, but would have loved a trip to CPT from YVR at that price. Was that only available if booked outside of Canada?

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