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Today’s reader question comes from David, who is trying to get from New York City to South Africa on a short timeline.  He must have read my earlier article about avoiding fuel surcharges and using the cheapest miles to South Africa and written in from that

a flag of the south africa

David writes:

I just came across your site (wow—you know your stuff!) not sure how I’ve missed it. I have a question for you: was looking for better ways to get to Johannesburg from EWR or JFK in August (I have travel there) and have been trying to upgrade on SAA via UA’s program (I have a gazillion miles on UA—I’m in northern NJ so they have a pretty firm hold on me.)  But no luck, and time is running short (need to leave Aug 2 or so, for 2 weeks.)


Do you know of any way for me to get there on biz class with miles?  Or a discounted fare?  This last post on your site ( came close but not quite, so I thought I’d write directly.

Getting bit by the traveler’s triangle

My first thought was that David is in a bit of a tricky situation because he has to go to a specific place at a specific time, which means that options are going to be limited (i.e. cost more).  I wrote about that quite a bit a year or so ago in an article called The Truth of the Traveler’s Triangle: the relationship between location, time and price

a triangle with white text

Some saver availability or using other mileage currencies / airlines

David was not clear if he might have other mileage currencies, but looking at the original post on the cheapest miles to South Africa, United came out the winner.  80,000 miles one-way in business with no fuel surcharges is pretty good for business class.  There is some availability (specifically I see some on July 31st, August 10th and a few other dates).  So depending on how flexible his dates might be, that could be an option.

The one other thing I was not sure about was if there were United partners that don’t show up on that might be options.

Standard Awards

Next thought was the possibility of booking a standard aware (Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and book a “standard” award). At a minimum, if David truly has a “gazillion” miles, he could use 180K to fly business class one way EWR-GRU-JNB.  That’s twice as much as you normally have to pay (a “standard” award) but it might be worth it.

Cash and upgrade?

I was also not sure if David already had a cash fare booked or not, or if he has any status with United.  I figured if you’ve got a lot of miles then the chance that you had SOME status might be an option.  So perhaps an upgrade would be an option, though as someone who doesn’t have / chase elite status, I’m not entirely sure how that would work.  I’m hoping one of you smart people will provide some tips on that in the comments 🙂

Also if David does have any status, he’ll want to make sure to be logged in to when he is searching as United elite members (and United credit card holders) have access to more award space than the rest of us.

Any other options or suggestions for David on how to get a business class flight to South Africa on a tight timeline?  Leave them in the comments

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