One of our first steps in planning the trip is to buy plane tickets. You may think this would be a big expense, but with a little effort you can get a ticket for really cheap. Like the title says, our main tickets to Africa from the US are only going to cost us $7 total!
One of the early decisions we had to make was what type of ticket to buy. The big airline alliances do sell “round the world” tickets which allow you to group a bunch of different flights under a one fare. We looked into this, but in the end we decided it wasn’t the best fit for us. On one of the RTW tickets, you are only allowed a certain number of stops, and you have to plan out your dates far in advance. We want to figure out some of that as we go, so not exactly a match for us. Plus, we would have had to pay lots of money for that. But why pay money when you have miles?
Using Miles to Buy Plane Tickets
For the past few years, we have gone on many trips for very little money out of pocket.We do this by “paying” for the flights with frequent flyer miles.
We don’t actually rack up the miles by flying though. Instead, we get big chunks of miles by applying for credit cards with hefty sign up bonuses. It may sound risky, but if you are careful with how you use the credit cards (like we always are) then it can get you some great deals.
Getting credit cards is only a good solution if you are responsible with how you use them. Always make sure to pay off your balance in full every month!! You may worry about negative effects on you credit score, but in our experience our scores have stayed fairly constant.
For some of the cards, you only get the sign up bonus if you complete what they call a “minimum spend”. It’s usually a few thousand dollars within a few months. We don’t typically put that much on a credit card, so we’ve had to figure out some creative ways to do this. If you’re interested, let us know and we can share our strategies.
Getting to South Africa
Based on a variety of factors, we decided to start our trip in South Africa. We knew from research that the best miles to redeem to get to South Africa would be United miles. (We aren’t actually flying on United though. One other cool thing about miles is that you can redeem them on an airline’s alliance partners. United in in Star Alliance along with a few African airlines).
We also knew from the award chart that you need 40,000 United miles to get to South Africa from the US. Luckily, we also knew that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offered a signup bonus of 40,000 United miles. We each got the card, completed the minimum spending requirement, and had our miles.
Then we had to search for the flight. Using the United website, we searched for award redemptions to Johannesburg from a variety of U.S. cities. Unfortunately, availability was a little limited so we didn’t have a lot of options. We were this close to flying via Nigeria until we read some horror stories about layovers there. On the other hand, we read some positive things about layovers in Cairo, so we ended up booking a ticket on Egypt Air. We should have time on our 12 hour layover to see the pyramids – pretty cool!
But, very little in life is free unfortunately. There are some fees associated with the journey: $3.50 per person. So, we can’t say we are flying to South Africa for free. It’s going to cost us a whole $7.
You may notice that we still need to figure out how to get to NYC for our flight. No definite plans on that yet, but we are hoping we can figure out a way to use miles :-).
If you’re interested in learning more about how to travel for cheap, here are some resources we enjoy: