The Definitive Guide to South African Airways’ Direct Routes From the U.S. [Plane Types and Seat Options]

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South African Airways is the state-owned flag carrier airline of South Africa. Although they were founded in 1934, they haven’t actually expanded their route network aggressively.

The government of South Africa has experienced numerous regime changes over the years, which has contributed to the relative absence of innovation in the network. For example, the airline operates 49 aircraft to 42 destinations. By comparison, fellow African airline Ethiopian Airlines operates a fleet of around 117 aircraft to 125 passenger destinations around the world, despite being more than a decade younger than South African Airways.

With that being said, their route network in the U.S. is tiny. So, let’s talk about South African Airways’ nonstop routes to the U.S.

Seat Options by Aircraft Type

In all, South African Airways principally operates 2 types of aircraft to/from the U.S.:

  • A330-300
  • A340-600

Additionally, both of these aircraft strictly have a 2-cabin layout: business and economy.

Here are all of the nonstop routes that South African Airways operates to/from the U.S.:

South African Airways RouteFlight NumberAircraftCabin ClassesFrequency
Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC)SA 210A330-300Business, EconomyDaily
New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB)SA 204A340-600Business, EconomyDaily, then 6x weekly in the winter

The Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra, Ghana (ACC) route is an interesting one because it happens to be a fifth freedom route, whereby South African Airways operates a flight that doesn’t involve its home country.

The New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) route isn’t surprising at all since South African Airways’ hub is located in Johannesburg.

However, what may be surprising is the fact that there are no direct flights to Cape Town (CPT), one of the hottest foodie/beach getaways in the entire world.

Let’s talk about the best points and credit cards to use to fly South African Airways.

Best Points to Earn to Fly South African Airways

South African Airways is a Star Alliance partner, meaning that you can spend partner airline miles (through Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, Avianca, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore, United, and even Virgin Atlantic, a non-alliance partner) to fly on the airline.

When you consider that South African Airways’ loyalty program, Voyager, only has a single transfer partner in Marriott Bonvoy, you’ll see why this is an important distinction.

Here’s how much economy round-trip flights will cost:

Mileage TypeWashington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC) Miles CostNew York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB) Miles Cost
Air Canada Aeroplan Miles100,000100,000
ANA Mileage Club Miles65,00065,000
Asiana Club Miles80,00080,000
Avianca LifeMiles80,00080,000
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands Miles100,000100,000
Lufthansa Miles & More Miles800,000100,000
Singapore KrisFlyer Miles104,000104,000
United MileagePlus Miles80,00080,000
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles70,000100,000

Here’s how much business round-trip flights will cost:

Mileage TypeWashington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC) Miles CostNew York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB) Miles Cost
Air Canada Aeroplan Miles150,000150,000
ANA Mileage Club Miles104,000104,000
Asiana Club Miles120,000120,000
Avianca LifeMiles156,000156,000
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands Miles185,000185,000
Lufthansa Miles & More Miles135,000185,000
Singapore KrisFlyer Miles174,000174,000
United MileagePlus Miles160,000160,000
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles110,000150,000

If you put all of this together, you should generally focus on these types of transferable points in the following order to fly on South African Airways:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, then United MileagePlus, then Singapore KrisFlyer
  2. American Express Membership Rewards: ANA Mileage Club (round-trips only), then Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, then Avianca LifeMiles, then Air Canada Aeroplan, then Singapore KrisFlyer
  3. Citi ThankYou Rewards: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, then Avianca LifeMiles, then EVA Air Infinity MileageLands, then Singapore KrisFlyer
  4. Capital One Rewards: Air Canada Aeroplan, then Avianca LifeMiles, then EVA Air Infinity MileageLands, then Singapore KrisFlyer
  5. Marriott Bonvoy: ANA Mileage Club, then Asiana Club, then Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, then United MileagePlus, then Avianca LifeMiles, then Air Canada Aeroplan, then Singapore KrisFlyer

Here is the breakdown of fuel surcharges plus any taxes and fees by route:

RouteOne-Way Economy Taxes & FeesOne-Way Business Total Taxes & Fees
Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC)~$239.70~$275.70
New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB)~$259.70~$297.70

Here are some great example redemptions you can make:

  • Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC) one-way in South African Airways business class for 55,000 Virgin Atlantic miles + ~$275.70 in taxes and fees
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC) one-way in South African Airways business class for 80,000 United miles + ~$15.60 in taxes and fees
  • New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB) round-trip in South African Airways business class for 104,000 ANA miles + ~$634.45 in taxes and fees
  • New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB) round-trip in South African Airways business class for 150,000 Aeroplan miles + ~$96 in taxes and fees

Hot Tip: What if you’ve earned a stack of South African Airways’ Voyager Miles?  Here are your best bets for redeeming them: 18 Best Ways to Redeem South African Airways Voyager Miles for Max Value.

South African Airways First Class Options

Unfortunately, South African Airways doesn’t currently offer any first class products on their long-haul routes to/from the U.S.

South African Airways Business Class Options

South African Airways Business Class
South African Airways has a stunning business class product on the A330-300. Image Credit: South African Airways

South African Airways has 2 primary long-haul business class products:

  • A330-300 business class (the best)
  • A340-600 business class (old and dated)

The A330-300 is a relatively new product, while the A340-600 business class cabin contains an older seat. The A330-300 has direct aisle access, while the A340-600 does not. There’s more privacy in the A330-300’s business class seat, which is why we’re a bigger fan of it over the A340-600.

South African Airways A330-300 Business Class

South African Airways
South African Airways A330-300 business class. Image Credit: South African Airways

South African Airways’ A330-300 business class is its preeminent product in the premium cabin. Introduced in late 2016, these seats have become one of the best ways to traverse the Atlantic and get to Africa.

Hot Tip: Check out the guide we put together on the best ways to fly to South Africa with points and miles!

Once you’ve booked South African Airways business class, you can expect friendly and fun service (a South African Airways signature), great food, and substantial bedding. As far as the other bells and whistles go such as amenity kits, inflight entertainment, and the ground experience, there’s a bit to improve on. Nonetheless, South African Airways has got all the basics down.

The South African Airways A330-300 business class features Thompson XL Vantage business class seats in a staggered configuration, which resembles products like Delta One Suites.

On this plane, there are 46 business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Each of the seats is extremely spacious, measuring 24 inches wide, 45 inches in seat pitch, and 84 inches in bed length.

This means that a fully lie-flat bed is an astonishing 7 feet 2 inches long. Additionally, there’s a side table next to each seat, and you’ll have plenty of room to relax.

The seats are organized into 2 mini-cabins, with the larger cabin in front of the smaller cabin as shown below:

South African Airways A330-300 business class seat map
South African Airways A330-300 business class seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru

As you can see, the aircraft has a lot of business class seats. There are lavatories and galleys at the front and middle of the plane. 16 seats are located in the mini-cabin towards the back while the remaining 30 seats are located at the forward mini-cabin.

On the sides of the aircraft, seats alternate between window and aisle seats, so be sure to choose rows 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 11 for maximum privacy. Note that rows 1 and 9 are all bulkhead business class seats, resulting in a footwell that spans the entire width of the seat, as opposed to a smaller crevice.

As a rule, I’d always pick the bulkhead business class seats, due to the significant increase in legroom. Therefore, I’d pick row 9 seats first, followed by row 1. Row 9 is located in the mini-cabin, which means that these seats are more private.

If you have a traveling companion, try to opt for the middle seats.

You’ll find the A330-300 operated on South African Airways flights as follows:

  • Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC)

Hot Tip: Want to always select the best seat on your flight? Learn how with our SeatGuru guide!

South African Airways A340-600 Business Class

South African Airways A340-600 business class. Image Credit: South African Airways

South African Airways operates some of the oldest aircraft out there, and they happen to fly the A340-600, which is a quad-engine aircraft.

Interestingly, this larger aircraft doesn’t have the best business class product — instead, the seat is dated. Nonetheless, flying in a seat like this is better than huffing it in the back of the plane.

The business class seats don’t have any footwells; instead, your seat is your bed. What that means is that your recline feature will actually move your physical seat 100% flat, instead of connecting your seat with an ottoman or footwell.

Each of these business class seats is 23.7 inches wide and 73 inches in pitch. The structural design is different, as we just mentioned. However, these seats are still quite comfortable, and you won’t need to fit your feet into a narrow footwell.

There are 42 business class seats on the A340-600, which are spread out across 7 rows in a 2-2-2 configuration.

South African Airways A340-600 business class seat map
South African Airways A340-600 business class seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru

Overall, this layout is pretty straightforward. There are lavatories and galleys at the front of the plane, while there are only galleys in the rear of the business class section.

Because most of the foot traffic will be directed to the lavatories at the front, the best seats are generally going to be towards the back.

Row 7 might have too much noise from being just in front of the galleys, so the best seats are likely row 6 seats. If you’re traveling with a partner and both would like direct aisle access, try to snag the middle row seats 6D and 6G.

Row 1 is the only set of seats with bassinets, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling with a little one.

You’ll find South African Airways operating the A340-600 on this U.S. route:

  • New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB)

Bottom Line: As a general rule of thumb, the South African Airways A330-300 business class is newer and better in almost every way compared to the older A340-600. There’s only 1 flight that operates each aircraft, so it’ll be more of a route convenience decision than anything. 

South African Airways Premium Economy Class Options

Unfortunately, South African Airways does not currently offer premium economy seats on their routes to/from the U.S.

South African Airways Economy Class Options

South African Airways has a niche route network that serves the East Coast well. If you’re looking for a nonstop flight on an African flag carrier, South African Airways is an excellent choice.

Even if you’re not flying in business class, South African Airways can end up offering a great experience. In this section, we’ll be looking over the economy class options and definitively ranking the best one.

South African Airways A340-600 Economy Class

South African Airways A340-600 Economy Class
South African Airways A340-600 economy class. Image Credit: Condé Nast Britain

Our winner in economy for South African Airways is the A340-600. The footprint of the A340-600 and the space allocated to each economy seat is the primary reason why it wins over the A330-300.

There are 275 seats in a mostly 2-4-2 configuration. Each economy seat is around 18 inches wide and has 33.5 inches in pitch! That’s a lot of legroom for an economy seat. Here’s what the seat map looks like:

South African Airways A340-600 economy class seat map
South African Airways A340-600 economy class seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru

The best seats are going to be the seats in rows 36 and 45, thanks to the bulkhead and exit row providing more legroom. If you’re traveling with someone else, you might want to reserve a pair of seats on either side, which will enable you to have an entire row to the 2 of you.

If the exit row seats are all taken and you’re a single traveler, check out seat 73D, which has extra legroom thanks to the missing seat in front.

You’ll find this seat arrangement on these South African Airways A340-600 routes to the U.S.:

  • New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB)

South African Airways A330-300 Economy Class

South African Airways A330-300 economy class. Image Credit: South African Airways

South African Airways’ A330-300 falls behind the A340-600 due to the smaller seat dimensions. With less space (which is the most important part of an economy seat), you’ll have less room to stretch out your legs.

On their A330-300, there are 203 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration (tapering to 2-3-2 towards the back). The seats are 17.5 inches wide and 30-32 inches in pitch.

South African Airways A330-300 economy class seat map
South African Airways A330-300 economy class seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru

On this plane, there are 2 sets of lavatories: 1 in the middle and 1 in the back of the plane. Additionally, there are 2 sets of bulkhead/exit row seats. In this case, rows 45 and 56 will provide additional legroom. Keep in mind that row 56 is located just behind 4 lavatories.

Therefore, the best seats are in row 45. If you’re a traveling duo, you’ll do well to pick the side seat pairs of 45A/C or 45H/K.

You can find South African Airways operating the A330-300 on this nonstop route to/from the U.S.:

  • Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC)

Final Thoughts

South African Airways, though a major Star Alliance partner, actually has a somewhat petite route network, especially to/from the U.S.

Their long-haul fleet consists of the A340-600 from New York City (JFK) to Johannesburg (JNB) and the A330-300 from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Accra (ACC).

In business class, the best seats are aboard the A330-300, which is significantly newer than the A340-600 and has a superior design.

In economy class, the best seats are aboard the A340-600, as the seats have more space, enabling travelers to stretch out just a bit more than on the A330-300.

Overall, South African Airways offers a simple way to fly nonstop to Africa, which is a huge convenience. We hope this helps you decide and figure out how you’re going to fly on South African Airways from the U.S.!


Frequently asked questions

What's the best way to book South African Airways first class?

Currently, South African Airways doesn’t operate a long-haul first class cabin on flights to the U.S. As a result, you can’t redeem any points or miles to fly first class.

What's the best ways to book South African Airways business class?

One of the cheapest ways to book South African Airways business class is using ANA miles. You can spend 104,000 ANA miles for a round-trip ticket on either of South African Airways’ long-haul routes.

ANA is transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

An alternative is to use 110,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for the Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC) route round-trip or 150,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for the New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB) route round-trip.

Virgin Atlantic is transfer partners with American Express Membership RewardsChase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy.

If you want some other ways to redeem miles, check out the content near the beginning of this guide.

What are the best ways to book South African Airways premium economy class?

Currently, South African Airways doesn’t operate a premium economy product. All of their U.S. routes only have 2-cabin configurations: business and economy.

What's the best ways to book South African Airways economy class?

Currently, ANA charges 65,000 miles for round-trip flights in economy.

Other options include Virgin Atlantic, which charges 70,000 miles from Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Accra (ACC) and 100,000 miles from New York City (JFK) – Johannesburg (JNB).

Additionally, you can spend 80,000 Asiana Club miles, Avianca LifeMiles, or United MileagePlus miles for round-trip flights on South African Airways economy.

Where does South African Airways fly out of?

South African Airways primarily flies out of its Johannesburg (JNB) hub. However, they also operate flights out of their Cape Town (CPT) focus city. 1 of their 2 routes touching the U.S. is a fifth freedom flight to/from Ghana.

Where does South African Airways fly to in the U.S.?

South African Airways flies to Washington, D.C. (IAD) and New York City (JFK).

Stephen Au

About Stephen Au

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephen has been privileged to enjoy many premium cabin products and 5-star hotels. A petroleum engineer by trade, Stephen caught the travel bug in college when he traveled to Asia several times. After 2 years of continual promotions, Stephen quit his safe and secure career path in favor of entrepreneurship.

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