For me the biggest hindrance to travelling more - besides my children’s schooling – is how expensive it is to fly to most destinations from South Africa during the school holidays. When I read about how international travelers (particularly those from US & UK) get to travel all the time because of the airline miles and bonuses they accumulate rapidly with their credit cards, I get envious. In South Africa, our options are limited to say the least. Between my husband and I, we’ve tried out most of the airline loyalty programs in South Africa. Here are our experiences.
We had the Nedbank Voyager Credit Card for a while. During that time, we qualified for a free air ticket which we used to travel to Hong Kong. We still had to pay for airport taxes, which were high. Eventually we cancelled this card because Voyager’s service was pathetic. They didn’t respond to customer queries. If they did, it was after weeks of waiting. If you phoned them, you had to wait on hold indefinitely. Redeeming miles was a mission too. Basically, every exchange with them involved complaints, escalations and all-round stress. Voyager miles are also subject to many conditions, including flight dates and types.
We moved onto the FNB private clients credit card for a while because of the free airport lounge benefits. You also earn eBucks which can be used on a variety of other items. I didn’t find their travel deals worth it though. Also, FNB Private Banking kept changing the rules for airport lounge access. Email queries were generally ignored and only responded to after many follow-ups. We then moved on to ABSA because the travel benefits were better.
The British Airways ABSA credit card earns you Avios which can be used towards flights, hotels and car hire. We’ve had it for about two years now, and in that time, we’ve used our miles for our family of four to travel to Namibia and Zambia, and Port Elizabeth, and for my husband and I to travel to Durban, Cape Town , Mauritius and even Hungary.
In all these cases, we had to pay a Reward Flight Saver fee (currently R1000 per ticket), which was still much cheaper than the normal price of the tickets. We also used it to book a night of accommodation and car rental for a weekend. The Reward Flight Saver deal is available for local flights and regional flights to Windhoek, Livingstone, Victoria Falls, Harare and Mauritius.
Note that it took about two months from the time we first applied to the time we received our card (after complaining on HelloPeter). The delay was due to ABSA’s inefficiency.
2022 Update: Comair, which operated domestic British Airways and Kulula flights, is being liquidated so these flights are not available anymore.
The service from all these banks has been poor. We have endless problems trying to get service / responses from them. In most cases, I usually have to resort to complaining on HelloPeter.com before they resolve my issues.
Unlike the FNB credit card which offered free airport lounge access for all air tickets purchased with the credit card, the British Airways ABSA credit card only provides free airport lounge access if you are travelling on British Airways.
Enquire if your bank offers free travel insurance when purchasing air tickets with your credit card. If it does, take advantage of it. Ask the bank to provide you with a travel insurance letter before you travel.
Discovery Vitality offers up to 35% off Emirates, British Airways and Qantas flights for Vitality Diamond members, which we are. Flights have to be booked more than six weeks beforehand though, which is not always possible. In the many years that we have been with them, we’ve only used it once for international flights to South America, and a few times for local flights.
2022 Update: Discovery Vitality was in partnership with Kulula, which was operated by Comair. Since Comair is being liquidated, these flights are not available anymore. However, Discovery has partnered with FlySafair, Airlink, and Lift, and bookings now have to be done through Discovery Bank's Vitality Travel. You can sign for a free Discovery account and get the benefits as long as you are an existing Vitality member.
If you don’t have miles to travel with…
I look for the cheapest flights irrespective of which airline it is – because the less you spend on your trip, the more trips you can fit into your travel budget. If more than one airline has similar prices and journey times, then I will choose the one where I can earn airline loyalty points , either directly with the airline or through its alliance network. My Emirates points recently earned me a free power bank and a memory card for my camera. My SAA Voyager points have earned me free spa treatments and some clothing from online retailers.
I look on Tripadvisor, Travelstart and Skyscanner for the cheapest flights as they scan a wide range of airlines. After finding the cheapest flights on these websites, I also check the specific airline’s website to see if I can get a better deal there.
Have you had any experiences with airline loyalty programs in South Africa? Do you have any tips to share?