Depending on where you are flying from, finding a cheap flight to West Africa may be a difficult task. That said, there are certain strategies you can use to ensure that you get the most reasonable flight possible. In this post, we will provide everything you need to know about finding the most affordable airfare to West Africa.
Where to start?
The first thing you want to figure out is your departure date. If you have flexibility with the date, you will be able to find a cheaper ticket. In general, middle of the week flights are cheaper than weekend flights. Also, you will want to avoid fights around holiday times if possible. The Christmas-New Years stretch is a particularly busy time for West Africa flights and prices can be exorbitant.
The initial search
The best way to start your flight search is by looking at results on an aggregate site well in advance of your trip (several months at least). These sites will source multiple airlines and booking agents and they will give you a broad idea of what you can expect to pay and of what airlines fly to your destination.
While you may not end up booking your ticket through one of these sites, they can be very helpful in providing a starting point. Try the following sites (and try all of them):
These sites, however, are rarely the end of your search for a cheap ticket. While you might end up finding the most affordable ticket on one of these sites, you may also find that it’s cheaper to book directly with an airline or to create a multi-flight itinerary with different carriers (we will talk about this later in the post).
Use the aggregate sites as a base. Set up email alerts with them to track price changes, but don’t end your search here.
Zero in on specific airline
After using the aggregate sites, you should have an idea of what airlines fly to your intended destination. Now you can approach these airlines directly. Searching for prices directly with the airline can sometimes yield cheaper results. Here is a list of airlines that fly to destinations in West Africa.
Air France (service to Francophone countries in W. Africa, often very expensive)
British Airways (for Anglophone countries in W. Africa, often expensive)
Royal Air Maroc
South Africa Airways
Create your own multi-flight itinerary
You may go through the aggregate sites and find nothing but astronomical prices. You may find more of the same when you check with individual airlines. Ok. Let’s get creative.
I often can’t afford a single airline flight to West Africa if I’m coming from the US. Instead, a buy one ticket to Europe and then a separate ticket from Europe to somewhere in West Africa. Here are a few examples of flight itineraries I’ve done:
New York -> Brussels (United) Brussels -> Bamako (Brussels Airlines, who are for the moment not servicing Bamako, but will hopefully resume soon)
New York -> Lisbon (Aer Lingus) Lisbon -> Bamako (TAP Portugal)
Washington, DC -> Madrid (US Airways) Madrid -> Dakar (Iberia)
All of these itineraries were hundreds of dollars cheaper than what they would have been if I had taken one airline to my destination. There is a risk here, however, and that is that you miss your connection and then you are out a full fare. To cover for this possibility, I try to allow myself a long layover (sometimes I will spend a day or two in the transit city if I can do it cheaply) and I take out travel insurance that covers for missed flight connections.
Add a third leg to your itinerary
There are certain airports in West Africa that act as hubs for the region. Dakar and Lagos see a lot of air traffic while Bamako and Niamey do not. Something that I have done on more than one occasion is to fly to a hub city in West Africa and then continue from there with a regional airline or a bus (ok, so it’s often the bus because my income is, well, small).
Here is a list of regional airlines that you can consider
Air Mali (Air Mali has currently suspended all flights indefinitely)
Air Cote d’Ivoire
Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airways are not based in the region, but they offer flights between certain cities as part of their multi-leg itineraries that go to Addis and Nairobi.
Finding that flight combinations can’t meet your budget? Here are some other ideas:
– Get someone to do the work for you. This could be a traditional travel agency, but your best bet may be Flight Fox, which uses a pool of competing to experts to find you the most affordable flight. The catch? You have to pay a finder’s fee to the expert that found you the flight. In many cases, however, the flight still ends up being much cheaper than the flights you found on your own.
– Take the bus. As I said, this is what I do most often. For example, you can fly into Dakar and take a bus to Bamako. The bus will take 24-40 hours (ok, a sacrifice, but an interesting journey nonetheless) and it will cost $50-60.
– Overland it from Morocco. Morocco is often one of the cheapest destinations to get to in Africa, because of its close proximity to Europe. From Morocco, it is possible to take public transportation down to West Africa (via Western Sahara).
Have any of your own tips for scoring a cheap flight to the region? Drop them in the comments below.
Photo credit: flickr user Nemo’s great uncle