After retiring, reader Linda and her husband Bill spent a year teaching children in Rundu, Namibia. After seeing the plight of these children firsthand, they decided to take more action after their time teaching had finished.
In 2009, they founded Reaching the Goal for African Children. The charity focuses on finding homeless street children in Rundu and other Namibian cities, providing them with food, clothing and shelter. Securing their future, the charity helps these children to enroll in school, which comes with the ability to live at the school hostel and finally escape from the streets.
As a secondary goal, the charity raises and distributes funds for mandatory school fees, such as uniform and textbook expenses, as well as money for continued boarding at school hostels for the charity’s sponsored children.
Linda and Bill are planning to travel from their home in Boston to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, in order to ensure the charity’s money is being directed and used properly on the ground. They’re planning their next trip well in advance, looking to leave sometime near the end of December 2014 with plans to stay for at least three months.
Windhoek is a tiny place with a tiny airport; in a year, it sees the same number of passengers Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport sees in less than three days. Even so, it’s not out of reach with miles and points, and the savings is truly spectacular. Let’s dive in:
Current Program Status
Linda presently has the following mileage balances:
- 25,000 Alaska MileagePlan Miles
- 163,572 American AAdvantage Miles
- 93,131 US Air Dividend Miles
- 128,473 United MileagePlus Miles
- 109,456 Delta SkyMiles
- 100,271 British Airways Avios
- 1,804 Membership Rewards Points
- 69,344 SPG Starpoints
- 64,197 Ultimate Rewards Points
This is more than enough to get her there by a few different methods, so we’ll explore which one makes the most sense.
Which Miles to Use?
Because Linda has the greatest balance with American’s AAdvantage program, it’s the one we considered first when putting this trip proposal together. From a mileage perspective, American’s program is a winner, requiring only 37,500 miles per person each way.
This is lower than the 40,000 each way required by United and Delta, and well below the multi-segment total of 52,500 Avios required by British Airways.
Looking at American’s award availability all the way to our destination of Windhoek, I was surprised to find several dates that worked around the time Linda and Bill are looking to travel:
While this was encouraging, the routing each available flight entailed wasn’t:
This routing set off alarm bells not only for its extended length – to some extent, that’s simply unavoidable in traveling to such a remote destination – but because it involves flying British Airways transatlantic. As regular PointsAway readers are sure to know, flights on BA are subject to heavy fuel surcharges that can make a “free” trip anything but.
Sure enough, when looking at the ticketing page, we’re greeted by the unwelcome specter of $709.40 in fees for 2 passengers, and that’s just for the trip to Windhoek:
I was curious what might happen to these fees if we took out the transatlantic hop, and relied on British Airways only for the flights to Johannesberg and from there to Windhoek. Shockingly, while the required miles dropped by 7,500 per passenger, the fees actually increased to more than $500 per person for a London to Windhoek flight!
This itinerary ends up costing more miles given the need to book a separate flight to London, so the prospect of higher cost in both cash and miles makes originating in London an obvious no-go. So, our objective is to find a reasonable path to Windhoek for less than the $354.70 per person in fees levied on the American award itinerary, without parting with an undue number of miles in another program.
Thankfully, United had just what we were looking for, albeit it with slim pickings. Only a few days – signified by yellow or green – had Economy space available for two award passengers in December 2014 or January 2015 all the way from Boston to Windhoek:
Generally speaking, two separate routings were available for these days: the first goes from Boston to Washington – Dulles, then on to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, continuing on to Johannesburg on Ethiopian before switching to South African for the final flight from Johannesburg to Windhoek. This journey requires about 27 hours, 35 minutes of travel time.
The second itinerary goes from Boston to Istanbul, then Istanbul to Johannesburg, all on Turkish Airlines, before switching to South African Airways for the hop from Johannesburg to Windhoek. This itinerary takes 34 hours, 30 minutes despite including one less stop, due to a 9 hour layover in Istanbul.
Despite the long layover, I’d prefer the second route. It should be possible to purchase a day pass for one of the lounges at IST. For example, the Primeclass Lounge sells day passes and includes shower facilities, massage chairs and other amenities, which could be quite welcome after the long flight from Boston.
This flight requires slightly more miles – 40,000 per person each way – but that’s a small price to pay for the hundreds of dollars saved thanks to the fact United doesn’t pass along fuel surcharges on this booking:
That’s right: by booking through United instead of American, more than $300 per person in fees is saved!
The Way Home
It’s great that Linda is planning this trip so early, but it’s actually too early to plan the return for this trip should she move forward with the United award tickets as we recommend. United’s booking window stretches out only a year, so while flights in December 2014 and January 2015 are already visible, flights in March, when they’d be looking to return, aren’t yet available.
Also, you may recall that while Linda has the 150,000 AAdvantage miles that would be required for two Saver Economy roundtrip flights, she doesn’t have enough miles for the United roundtrip at present. Indeed, at 128,473 United miles compared to the 160,000 required, she’s presently 31,527 miles short.
Thankfully, Linda’s balances with SPG’s Starpoints program and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards can fill this gap. We’d recommend she transfer 20,000 Starpoints, which will become 25,000 United miles thanks to SPG’s transfer bonus. Then, transfer the remaining 7,000 or so points needed to United from Ultimate Rewards.
However, we would recommend she wait to make this transfer until United award bookings for her return flight come available. These transfers are one way, so if an award flight doesn’t open up that works for their schedule and they had to rely on another solution like American on the way home, their points would be stuck in United’s program.
If you’re like me, Namibia might sound familiar but this might be your first time hearing of Windhoek. As such, you might suspect that flights from Boston to this remote capital would be quite costly. You’d be right.
United places a preposterous cost on this trip, of $7,381.40 per person for an award itinerary costing only about $36 each:
The cheapest cash flight we could find followed the British Airways itinerary, and came in at $2,273 per person:
We typically compose our price comparison using the quoted value of the ticket from the airline we redeem an award through, but in the interest of fairness, we’ll use the British Airways fare, instead. Since we’re unable to lock in a specific return itinerary yet, we’ll make the bold assumption that the flight back will come in at the same cost as the flight out. While this won’t be the case, calculating the taxes and fees for the award ticket home was easier: those should come to roughly $78.40 per person following the same route back to Boston as recommended to get to Windhoek.
What we find is an itinerary that conservatively saves more than $8,800 for our two passengers, valuable money for our charitable travelers. That’s money that can hopefully go right back to the kids of Namibia who desperately need it, proving that miles are capable of not only getting you anywhere, but doing good along the way!
|Trip Component||Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|United Award Flight: Boston to Windhoek • Economy 2 Passengers||$2,272.70 Each on British Airways||40,000 United Miles + $36 Taxes/Fees Each||$4,473.40|
|United Award Flight: Windhoek to Boston • Economy 2 Passengers||(Projected) $2,272.70 Each||40,000 United Miles + $78.40 Taxes/Fees Each (Projected)||~$4,388.60|
|Total:||$9,090.80||160,000 United Miles (25,000 via Starpoints, 7,000 via Ultimate Rewards) + $228.80 Cash||~$8,862 (97.5% Off!)|