How to get a Cheap Plane Ticket from the US to Africa

by phil on February 17, 2011

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Instead of beating you over the head with West Africa music posts, I’m going to break up the series a bit. This post will be about finding flights to Africa (just in case that is ever on your agenda) and my next one will be about some of the people that will be in my life in the next few months, inshallah.

Today I will show you how to find a cheap flight to Africa from the US. Ok, maybe not cheap. Reasonable. How about that? A reasonably priced plane ticket to Africa is actually a significant accomplishment. Here’s why:

1. There are not as many flights going to Africa relative to other destinations. This is because there are fewer tourists and people traveling on business. In addition, most Africans cannot afford international flights. Fewer flights, less competition between airlines = $$$.

2. Many flights are routed through Europe, creating two legs and adding to the cost. Once again, this is caused by low demand for flights. Direct flights from the US to Africa are not considered profitable by most airlines. This is changing somewhat, however, and there are more options now for direct flights than there were five years ago.

While the tips I offer here are geared for US to Africa travel, some of them are relevant to Africa air travel in general and could be used if you were traveling from Canada or Europe, for example.

Start your Flight Search with an Aggregate Search Engine

Pretty standard. I use the following: Kayak, Hipmunk, Dohop (Dohop has been very kind to me recently), Farecast (now Bing Travel), and FareCompare. When I begin my search on these sites, I look for my ideal flight. In other words, I look for specific dates, direct flights if possible, and I set the destination to the city I want to end up in. I take note of prices and airlines and then move on to the next step.

Look for two Different Flights

After looking for my ideal flight, I will then look for two separate flights. The first flight will be to London, Paris, or Brussels. These flights can be found for as little as $350-$400 (one way, and from either Boston, Chicago, New York, or Washington, DC), if you are diligent about your searching. Searching right now on DoHop for a random Wednesday (one of the cheapest days to fly on) in April, I see $355 from Iceland Express, New York to London. The next leg of the flight will be from London, Paris, or Brussels, to a city in Africa. It is important to note that because this often involves buying tickets from different airlines, you will be shit out of luck if you are delayed on your first flight and miss the second. Try to give yourself an adequate window of time between flights.

Excellent Tip offered by Katrina from the very funny and insightful blog Tour Absurd: I would just add the suggestion that you purchase travel insurance that covers missed or delayed flights! Can help out tremendously when creating your own itinerary with multiple airlines.

Check with Specific Airlines

So you’ve found a cheap ticket to Europe. Now you need one to Africa. Run another search with the aggregate sites, this time from your European city to your destination in Africa. Play with dates. Take note of prices. After you run that search, take a look at specific airlines.

For each region of Africa there are certain airlines that provide extensive service. You should be aware of these airlines and you should check with them individually to further refine your search. You can also check with these airlines to see if there are any direct flight options. Some, like South Africa Airways, offer frequent deals for direct flights from the US to Africa.

North Africa/West Africa

Royal Air Maroc, Tunis Air, Air Algerie, Emirates, Afriqiyah, For Morocco specifically: Easy Jet and RyanAir.

West Africa

Air France (service to Francophone countries in W. Africa), Brussels Airlines, South Africa Airways, British Airways (for Anglophone countries in W. Africa), Alitalia, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air (Ghana and Nigeria), Afriqiyah, Fly 540 Africa.

Central-Southern Africa

This list is not comprehensive. Keep in mind that there are numerous international carriers that fly to South Africa. Check with your preferred international carrier if it is not on the list below.

South Africa Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air (South Africa), British Airways, Virgin Atlantic (S. Africa), Emirates, Lufthansa (S. Africa), Air France

East Africa

This list is not comprehensive. Keep in mind that many international carriers have flights to Nairobi. Check with your preferred international carrier if it is not on the list below.

Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, Emirates, South Africa Airways, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Kenya Airways, Turkish Airlines

Break up your Trip One More Time

Depending on your tolerance for lengthy voyages, you may want to skip this step. But if you are trying to save money, read on. For each region of Africa, there are gateway cities and air hubs. In West Africa, Dakar, Senegal, Accra, Ghana, and Lagos, Nigeria all see significantly higher air traffic than their neighbors. On my next trip to West Africa, I will be traveling to Mali first. Flights to Bamako are expensive, even when you split it up (NY > Paris, Paris > Bamako). So I am flying to Dakar instead (DC > Brussels > Dakar). From Dakar, I will take a bus to Bamako. It will be a long trip, but nothing as intense as the 33 hours from Abidjan to Bamako.

I mentioned the gateways to West Africa. For Southern Africa, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa are your best bet. There is extensive regional bus service as well as regional flights. For East Africa, Nairobi is the big one. For North Africa, well, North Africa is a bit difficult to travel in outside of Morocco at the moment, given present circumstances and long standing barriers to American tourism in Algeria and Libya.

If you have any tips for cheap air travel to Africa, whether it is from the US or not, please share in the comments below. If you offer good advice, I will update the post with your comments.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Alice February 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Thanks for the tips! Looks like I have to work on saving for my second trip to Africa.

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phil February 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Yeah, even with the tips it’s not cheap!

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Kirstin February 18, 2011 at 2:50 am

One of my travel dreams would be spending some exploring Europe and hope over to Africa by ferry from southern Spain to Morocco. Really, I just hate long flights and too many layovers. I know there’s a DC-Dakar direct flight, is it insanely expensive? Or, my mother-in-law flew to Ethiopia via Dubai. The US-Dubai flight is soooo long, but it’s an easy city for exploring during a long layover, and Dubai really does connect almost anywhere (except Bishkek, boo!)

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phil February 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm

The Spain – Morocco ferry is something I almost did myself. I had a flight out of Madrid and was working my way north in Morocco. I ended up flying from Casablanca, though, just because easy jet has casa -> madrid flights for $30 one way. Crazy. I would like to take the ferry at some point, though. Your right about the DC->Dakar flight. I spent a long time watching prices on that one, but they just didn’t get low enough. Hopefully it gets cheaper in the future. And yeah, you’re right about Dubai, it’s a huge connection point, especially for Africa. Thanks for the comment Kirstin!

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Theodora February 18, 2011 at 6:05 am

OK. So I find music and camels more immediately interesting, but this is a bloody invaluable resource. So thank you.

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phil February 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Haha, I like writing about the music and camels more as well, so expect more! Thanks for the comment!

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Katrina February 18, 2011 at 10:44 am

I would just add the suggestion that you purchase travel insurance that covers missed or delayed flights! Can help out tremendously when creating your own itinerary with multiple airlines. :)

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phil February 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Katrina, thanks! I will add this to the post now.

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Michael Hodson February 18, 2011 at 11:35 am

great tips here — pass them along!

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phil February 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Thanks Michael!

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Shane September 25, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Cheap Flights to/from Africa to/from USA via Brussels Exclusive Discounted Airfares
1-877-230-4967
Shane , Travel Agent for ASAPtickets.com

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Marissa Sertich February 1, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Thanks for this post. Truly, I love all the information you offer

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