South African Voyager went revenue-based for earning and spending miles last year, with the changes becoming effective in February.
Now the changes have trickled through it, it has become clear that this isn't good news for most frequent flyers.
Here is what South African is good for, after all these changes.
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SAA Voyager members earn one mile for every ZAR 1.60 in spend for fares purchase on South African Airways and affiliates. So that's about 9 miles per dollar spend. As far as revenue-based mile earning goes, this isn't horrible. With United MileagePlus, you would need to be Premier Platinum to earn at the same rate.
Of course this calculation is based on current exchange rates (and the South African Rand is cheap right now).
South African Airways has changed the way customers can think about their point redemptions – it has designed a perplexing amount of categories and awards, all with different charts and rules.
Journey Blitz Awards
These are the classic awards based on zones flying on South African. Instead of making awards available in X and I booking classes, the airline now says this:
Journey Blitz Awards are only offered from time to time, as promotional Awards on South African Airways.
I haven't been able to find out where you can see routes that are actually available for redemption. I certainly can't find it inside my Voyager account.
Upgrade Awards are almost never good value, now that Emirates has restricted upgradeable fare classes. Don't bother with Upgrade Awards with SAA Voyager.
These awards are based on the fare and require 9-10x miles per Rand in fare.
For example, a business class one-way fare from Cape Town to Frankfurt that costs you 50,000 ZAR will require 500,000 miles – this is obviously terrible value.
A round-trip to Mauritius can be had for 80,000 miles in economy. Thanks, but no thanks!
Redeeming on South African Airways Partners
The award chart hasn't changed much and is very similar to the United MileagePlus chart. Note that fuel surcharges are added, though.
Ethiopian Airlines has good connections all over Africa and you can use the Star Alliance award chart when flying with them out of Johannesburg (and Cape Town soon, too).
Also interesting is that the award chart has the same 'bug' that Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer features – you can venture from Central America (e.g. Panama) to Hawaii in one zone and when flying on United you won't incur any fuel surcharges.
Other good values include South America (incl. 'deep South America') to North America for 75,000 miles. That's great value, since when flying United you also will have no fuel surcharges.
Other Airline Partners (Etihad, Emirates, Virgin etc)
These aren't the greatest value – they look very similar to other programs and are not a good use of miles.
None of the major US programs currently have any transfer options to South African Airways Voyager, so you can only earn when flying or through other activities (e.g. car rentals or hotel stays).
SAA Voyager was never a great program and has now devalued earning and redemptions on South African Airways. When flying in Africa, United MileagePlus is hard to beat since it allows redemption all over Africa for a flat rate (although Egypt is an exception). If you have a chunk of SAA Voyager miles, the award chart still has some gems to offer.