The Best Credit Cards for Travel to Africa

May 04, 2017 | Be First to Comment!

Himba boy playing with a goat in Africa

It’s impossible to understand how incredible Africa is until you’ve been there. However, you might find that Africa is much harder to get to than it should be.

There are just a handful of non-stop flights between North America and Africa. Most travelers must go through Europe or the Middle East on the way. Furthermore, air service within Africa is very limited, with most passengers having to transit through hubs in Nairobi Kenya, Johannesburg South Africa, or Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Fortunately, you can visit Africa by earning rewards from the right credit card.

Best Credit Cards to Earn Free Flights to Africa

Here’s three of the best credit cards you can use to earn rewards towards your African adventure, and some tips on which credit cards to use during your trip. For the purpose of this article, I’ll look at destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, even though some airlines charge fewer miles for awards to northern African countries like Egypt and Morocco.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

With Chase Sapphire Preferred, you're getting a large sign-up bonus in addition to receiving 2x points for all travel and dining purchases, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Rewards are received in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred to miles with seven different frequent flyer programs and four hotel programs.

Transfer points to Korean Airlines, United, Flying Blue, and Hyatt

To use these rewards get to Africa, you could transfer them to miles with Korean Airlines, even though you wouldn’t actually fly on Korean to get to Africa. This carrier is a member of the SkyTeam alliance which includes Delta, Kenya Airways, Air France, Alitalia, and KLM. This program allows you to book award tickets to Africa on these airlines for just 80,000 miles round-trip in economy class, and only 200,000 in business. Just be aware that Korean only allows you to book awards in the name of yourself or an immediate family member, including spouses, parents, grandparents, grandchildren children, and siblings. No friends or cousins allowed, and they even ask you to document your relationship.

United Airlines is also a transfer partner of Chase. United is part of the Star Alliance and you can use its miles for award flights on its partners such as Lufthansa, Austrian, Air Canada, Brussels, Turkish, Swiss, Ethiopian, and South African. It offers award flights to central and southern Africa starting at 80,000 miles round-trip in economy and 140,000 in business class.

Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of Air France and KLM, and like Korean Air, is part of the SkyTeam alliance along with Delta, Kenya Airways, and Alitalia. It offers economy class award flights to Africa for 80,000 miles round-trip, although it’s business class flights are an absurd 200,000 miles.

Ultimate Rewards points can also be transferred to Hyatt hotels, which as properties in Johannesburg South Africa as well as in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Tanzania.

And if you are planning on visiting Africa in the off-season, you can consider redeeming Ultimate Rewards points directly for airfare using the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center. Points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred®are worth 1.25 cents each, so a $1,000 flight to Africa would cost only 80,000 points. You can also use these points to book hotels, car rentals and activities in Africa. There is a $95 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express

The popular Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express gives you plenty of flexibility with airlines too. Use its sign-up bonus to get a head start on earning free travel. You'll also get a 5,000-point bonus when you transfer 20,000 points to miles with several different airlines that serve Africa.

Miles can be used with Korean Air, Flying Blue, ANA, American, and Marriott

Options for transferring your miles include the Flying Blue program of Air France and KLM, which offers round-trip flights to Africa in economy class for 800,000 miles round trip. Flying Blue is also a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which includes Delta, Kenya Airways, and Alitalia.

Korean Air is also an option, which offers awards on SkyTeam partners for 80,000 miles round-trip in economy class, and only 120,000 in business.

ANA Airlines of Japan offers economy class round-trip award flights from North America to Africa for 65,000 miles round-trip, and just 104,000 miles in business class. ANA is a member of the Star Alliance which is partnered with United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss, Ethiopian, South African and others.

You should also consider transferring your points to miles with American, which offers awards to Africa in economy class starting at 80,000 miles round-trip, and 150,000 miles in Business class. American is part of the OneWorld Alliance which includes British Airways and Qatar, both of which offer extensive service to Africa.

Starwood points can also be very valuable for award nights in hotels. Starwood offers numerous properties in Africa that you can use your points for. You can transfer each Starwood point to 3 Marriott points and stay in even more hotels throughout Africa. And when you redeem your points for free night awards, either through Starwood or Marriott, you receive your fifth consecutive night for free. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year and no foreign transaction fees.

Amex EveryDay Preferred

Amex EveryDay Preferred is my favorite card for earning American Express Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to miles with 17 different airlines.

But what’s exciting about this card is that it offer 3x points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 spent each calendar year), 2x points at US gas stations, and 1x elsewhere. In addition, you also get a 50% points bonus each billing period that you make 30 or more transactions, which allows you earn 4.5x, 3x and 1.5x respectively.

One way to use these points for an award flight to Africa is to transfer them to ANA, which requires the least amount of points for this trip. As a Star Alliance member, you can redeem ANA points for flights to Africa operated by any of its Star Alliance partners including United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss, Ethiopian, South African and others.

Another Membership Rewards transfer partner is Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue program, which offers economy class round-trip flights to Africa for 80,000 miles on partners such as Delta, Kenya Airways, and Alitalia. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, but it does have a 2.7% foreign transaction fees.

Tips for Using a Credit Card in Africa

Aerial sunset view of Cape Town, South Africa

You can use any MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Africa, although American Express cards are less widely accepted. The Discover card is accepted in most, but not all African countries.

As with any trip outside of the United States, you’ll want to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. The only card mentioned here that has foreign transaction fees is the American Express Everyday Preferred, which has a 2.7% fee. Also, most other cards impose a 3% fee on all charges processed outside of the United States, so find out if your card does before using it.

Watch for high cash advance fees and APRs

Keep in mind that Africa is part of the developing world, and you will still find many shops and stores that don’t accept credit cards or those who simply prefer cash. You should never use your credit card to access cash from an ATM, as it will likely be subject to large cash advance fees, and a very high cash advance interest rate. In addition, interest will alway be incurred on cash advances. Unlike new purchases, there is no grace period for these transactions.

Instead, you should take always have an ATM card with you to access cash. An ATM card that works in the United States will work at most ATM machines in Africa. You can also bring U.S. Dollars with you for exchange, but you are unlikely to receive as good of an exchange rate as you would with your debit card or credit card.

Credit Cards Are Handy for Your Africa Getaway

Africa is an unforgettable destination that should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. The incredible wildlife, geography, and cultures that you will encounter will truly change your perspective on the world you live in. By earning rewards with the best credit card and using the right cards on your trip, you can help make your trip to Africa as affordable as possible.

More: Best Travel Credit Cards
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