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
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
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.
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.
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.