Getting To Tanzania & Other East African Countries With Airline Miles

East Africa is probably the most popular option for people wanting to go on a safari.  Unlike South Africa where it is easy to drive yourself around the game parks, the experience here will be in 4WD safari trucks with a driver either on you own or shared with others.

There are several airports you can use to visit East Africa and the one you choose will depend on what you want to see, safari prices and birdlife you are targeting.  I will be using Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro International Airport as an example because that is where I went and also because Tanzania is in my opinion the best country in East Africa for a general bird and mammal safari experience.

The first step is to identify which airlines that participate in one of the 3 alliances serve the airport in question.  You can do this by looking the airport up in Wikipedia and making a note of which airlines fly there and cross referencing with my guides on Star Alliance, OneWorld Alliance and SkyTeam.  Other East African airports of interest to birders will be Nairobi for Kenya, Addis Ababa, for Ethiopia, Entebbe for Uganda & Dar es Salaam for southern Tanzania & Zanzibar.

This is what you are looking for and I have highlighted all alliance members in yellow.

JRO Airport


Star Alliance rules Africa in general and for most people, these are the miles you want if you are going anywhere in East Africa.  Ethiopian Airlines and Turkish Airlines fly here.  Most people will be using United Airlines miles for their trip although Australians may be using Singapore Krisflyer miles.  I advise using United or possibly Avianca Lifemiles to avoid YQ fuel surcharges.  Here are some typical routes and costs with United, all are quoted as one-ways so double it for a round trip.

Traveling from the USA or Canada will cost 40k economy or 80k business class.  Beware of mixed classes in the business class column, sometimes the long flight is in economy!


From the UK or Europe you will pay 30k economy or 55k business class.  Watch the high airport tax from the UK!

JRO UA2From Australia or New Zealand you will pay 50k economy or 85k business class.


If you need intra-Africa flights, these are a bargain at  17.5k economy and 35k business class.  Notice how the 2nd itinerary gets you a free overnight in Addis Ababa!


If you are using Singapore Krisflyer, the miles are reasonable but the YQ surcharge is insane!

SQ AfricaThe website only quotes for SQ redemptions but this gives you an idea because SQ flies to JNB.  They also charge YQ on partner awards.

Seriously?  Over $500 AUD for the YQ surcharge!!!

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Only 1 OneWorld Airline serves Kilimanjaro – Qatar Airways.   Beware of YQ surcharges when using Avios or Qantas miles.   Due to routing restrictions, you will need to redeem 2 awards if you are coming from Australia/New Zealand – Singapore/Bangkok – East Africa.  Americans can use Qatar all the way from the gateway to Kilimanjaro but they may need to pay extra for a positioning flight if Qatar doesn’t offer a through-fare from the originating city.

AA Ghana

If you are flush with Avios from a credit card bonus, they are an option but please beware of the YQ surcharges!  I couldn’t find any availability online using Avios on Qatar but this might mean the system is down so it’s worth calling in.  Here is what you are looking at.

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LHR-DOH is 3261 miles and falls into Zone 5.

DOH-JRO is 2201 miles and falls into Zone 4.

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So add the figure for your preferred class of service in Zone 5 & Zone 4 as per below to find out how many Avios you need.  Partner awards use the peak chart so you need 46,000 Avios for one way economy and 81,250 for business.  When you call in, you will find out the YQ surcharges.

JRO BA Chart



Accra is served by 2 Skyteam partners – Kenya Airways & KLM.

Delta has annoyingly removed their award charts so I tried to quote IAD-JRO and couldn’t find anything.  I did find a quote for a sample IAD-NBO route using Delta and KLM.   However their website doesn’t see Kenya Airways flights so you may better these examples by calling in.  Also see the West Africa post for an example where Delta serves the airport – Accra.

I have to admit that I have no use for Delta’s Skypesos which seem to devalue at an alarming rate so if I need SkyTeam partner flights I use the Flying Blue program with miles transferred in from Amex or SPG.


Using Flying Blue miles on Kenya Airways can be good for hopping around Africa and they do add certain destinations like Madagascar that Star Alliance can’t provide.  For more information on using Kenya Airways, see my Madagascar post.


You can’t beat the Star Alliance coverage which at time of writing has no fuel surcharges, so collect United Mileage Plus!  Chase is your friend!

Birding The Grounds Of The Addis Ababa Hilton

We were given a pick-up time of 9:30am which pretty much killed any hope of going anywhere for birding so we had to do the best we could at the hotel.  Lucky for us the Addis Ababa Hilton has vast grounds with lots of birds!  We were up at 6am and birded for a couple hours.  Here are some of the birds and a nice look at the grounds of the Hilton.

I did my best to match them up with pics in the bird book – Birds of Africa South of the Sahara 2nd Edition by Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan.

African Mourning Doves

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Heuglin’s Wheatear

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Hilton Swimming Pool


Dusky Turtle Dove

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Typical arched hall linking the various wings of the Hilton


I’d really like to get this Sunbird right.  I’m struggling to find one with the iridescent green head, purple breast, cream belly and yellow patch on the wing but without a red collar!  If anyone can help, please comment!

So far the most likely suspects are Violet-breasted Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Oustalet’s Sunbird, Amani Sunbird, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird or Variable Sunbird.  Any of these birds’s pics in the bird book are close but none are spot on.

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Some kind of Bulbul?


Who’s hiding in there?


A little Speckled Mousebird!


While we only saw a few birds, considering this is just 2 hours in a major hotel in the capital city, I’d say Ethiopia is worth a 2nd visit someday to see more birds!

Hotel Review: Addis Ababa Hilton

There is a bright side to flying on Ethiopian Airlines.  If you have an overnight layover, they provide hotel accommodation, meals and transport between the airport and hotel.

Blurry photo taken on the run trying to beat everyone else to the transit desk.


First you have to get past the lines.  At 8pm, they were packed.  Most people had connecting flights in the morning and several planes had disgorged passengers so being first off the plane didn’t help.  We had to go in the same bus with everyone else and pass the temperature taking control.

Then we need boarding passes which we didn’t get in Accra as the computer was down and they were handwriting passes.  So we went to the transit counter which had a Cloud Nine line and got them without drama.  Next we had to go to the accommodation desk which was packed!  Although I rarely do this, it was time to pull the DYKWIA card.  I “innocently” went to the front and asked where the business class accommodation line was.  The lady said “Right here”, took our boarding passes and issued us vouchers for the Addis Ababa Hilton, dinner and breakfast and a transit visa voucher.  Whew, one line avoided!  Most business class passengers get the Hilton, economy passengers get a cheaper hotel, maybe a 3 star.

One last hurdle to pass – immigration.  There was a business class line and next to it a line for diplomats.  The oddest people seemed to be diplomats!  The same officer was serving both lines and “diplomats” got to go first so it took forever to get through.


It was close to 10pm by the time we got out of the airport, got in a shuttle and were carted off to the Hilton.  The Christmas tree in the lobby was gorgeous!  We outran the others in the shuttle to get our room.


We were in the older wing which could be a disadvantage to some people but it worked ok for us.  The grounds on that side were very birdy in the morning!


Desperate for a shower and not hungry, we grabbed some dessert from the designated restaurant, showered and passed out.


The next morning we could see more where we were.  I like character in a hotel so the old wing with the huge atriums and catwalks over the gardens were perfect for us.  We did some early morning birding so tomorrow you will see the grounds and birds!


There were some nice Ethiopian touches around the lobby.  There seemed to be a conference in town and the hostesses were dressed in beautiful traditional costumes.

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We couldn’t see the entrance as we arrived at night so here it is now.

IMG_6333From here, the shuttle took us back to the airport and we got a glimpse of Addis Ababa on the way.

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Disappointing Experience With Ethiopian Airlines: Accra – Addis Ababa – Kilimanjaro

I should have known something was up when I wasn’t able to do online check-in and got a message to handle it at the airport or something to that effect.  We were booked on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in business class so I was expecting a really comfortable experience like this.

ET 787So we were dropped at the airport and went to the business class check in, then went to the business class lounge to wait.  It was attractively furnished and the Christmas tree was a nice touch and we grabbed some snacks while I went online.

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When it was time to board THIS is what we saw.  A 737!  Where the hell was the Dreamliner I signed up for?  None of the staff knew, they just said it was changed with no further explanation.


Instead of the posh business cabin above, THIS is what we got!  Needless to say, I was not happy, this was not worth spending extra miles on.  We could have split the redemption on United and used J for the outbound and Y on the return and saved 70k for us both.  Anyway it was too late now so we shoved our backpacks into the overheads and settled into the meagre 737 seats.


The food was mediocre as well though the crew were very nice.  We were given yellow amenity kits which I forgot to take photos of.


Yeah, finally something to make me forget where we were!  The cabin was half empty so we each had a row of two seats to ourselves.  I had already seen the movie on the overhead tv (yes, you heard me – an overhead tv in business class)!

IMG_6245I might as well throw in the next leg, Addis Ababa – Kilimanjaro.  After our overnight layover, we passed through the usual formalities and headed to the Cloud Nine Lounge to wait.


We weren’t hungry since the hotel voucher included breakfast which is just as well since the food was mediocre.  There was another security check between the lounge and the gate which was annoying.

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You guessed it – another 737.  Sigh!  I decided not to take photos.  The amenity was a yellow neck pouch which was actually nice for budget travelers, we use these a lot for docs and money.  We put them inside our clothes in pickpocket zones.

At least this was a short flight and the wonders of Tanzania lay ahead!


Senegal Parrot (Poicephalus senegalus)

The Senegal parrot (Poicephalus senegalus) is a Poicephalus parrot which is a resident breeder across a wide range of west Africa.  It makes migrations within west Africa, according to the availability of the fruit, seeds and blossoms which make up its diet. It is considered a farm pest in Africa, often feeding on maize or millet.

I took these photos in Shai Hills, Ghana.

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Original shots show how far away the bird was.

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There are three subspecies.  They do not differ in behaviour, but only in the colour of the “vest”.  In the pet trade, the nominate subspecies is the most common though all three are raised and sold as pets.

  • P. s. senegalus (the nominate subspecies): this subspecies has a yellow vest; its native range includes Senegal, southern Mauritania, southern Mali to Guinea and Lobos Island.
  • P. s. mesotypus: this subspecies has an orange vest; its range is from eastern and northeastern Nigeria and Cameroon into southwest Chad.
  • P. s. versteri: this subspecies has a deep-orange/red vest; its range is from the Ivory Coast and Ghana east to western Nigeria.

The photos above are of the Ghanaian subspecies P.s. versteri.  For comparison, here are some photos I took of the nominate subspecies in Birds of Eden, South Africa.

IMG_3186 IMG_3187Senegal Parrots have a very large range throughout West Africa but the majority of sightings come from Ghana such as mine in Shai Hills, the Gambia and Senegal.



World Parrot Trust


Xeno-Canto (all 3 Subspecies)

Birds of Eden

National Geographic – A heartbreaking look at the abuse of these beautiful birds by wildlife poachers.


It was hard to find wild Sennies amongst the hundreds of pet bird videos but here’s a couple from YouTube and IBC.

This guy starts out with birds flying overhead at a distance but he gets lucky and finds a perched parrot!

Splendid Sunbird (Cinnyris coccinigastrus)

The Splendid Sunbird (Cinnyris coccinigastrus) is a sunbird. The sunbirds are a group of very small Old World passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young.  Their flight is fast and direct on short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time.

My photos taken at Legon University do not do this stunning bird justice.  Follow the links below for better photos.  I think the first one is a female and the 2nd one is a male.  The iridescent purple is stunning!

IMG_6230 Sunbird1 IMG_6231 Sunbird2Although their range is very large, many of these countries are not accessible for birding.  Ghana is safe and easy to travel in and by mine and other’s people’s experiences Legon University is the easiest place to find them.






This is where you can better appreciate the beauty of this bird!  I found one clip on YouTube and more on IBC.

The World’s Shyest Lovebirds In Accra

After leaving Shai Hills, we still had a couple hours to kill and the Ashanti Tour people in Cape Coast had recommended a couple places in Accra near our hotel where we might find Red-headed Lovebirds – Legon University & Achimota Forest.

Uni GhanaBy this time we were hitting traffic so it took longer to get back.  We had brought some breakfast so decided to head to the campus, have a picnic and look for the birds.


Ghana is very concerned with keeping Ebola out of the country.


Vendors in the traffic


We finally arrived at Legon University and were running out of time.  I showed the photos in my bird book of the Lovebirds to some students and they said to try the trees in a certain area which they explained to the driver.

The lovebirds were indeed in the trees but by now it was around 10:30am and they weren’t interested in coming down.  I could hear them squawking and see them furtively moving around in the highest branches but they just refused to give a good showing.  It would have been better to come early in the morning when they were feeding but we couldn’t be 2 places at once!


A few other birds weren’t quite so bashful so I snapped a few pics.

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This tree had a whole flock of Lovebirds in the top branches!


African Grey Hornbill


Seeing a Splendid Sunbird who was the coolest bird I managed to photograph at this location.

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This is our driver whose name I did write down but I can’t find the paper.  He was a really nice guy although not a bird guide.  Once our time was up, we had to full up the petrol and couldn’t find a station that took credit cards so used the last bit of cash we had.

IMG_6233He dropped us back at the Holiday Inn.  Now that we were officially broke, we wandered over to the shopping centre next door and found a cafe that took credit cards and had lunch there.  And so goes our last day in Ghana……………… looking forward to Tanzania!

Day Trip From Accra To Shai Hills Reserve

Since we made our home base in Accra at the Accra Airport Holiday Inn, it was easiest to use the car hire service in the lobby.  In Ghana, most car hires include the driver.  I don’t remember offhand the exact prices but since we only needed the car for the morning, we negotiated a 6 hour rate and had to have the car back by noon.  I also agreed to pay the petrol as we wouldn’t be using too much just to get to Shai Hills and back.

Shai Hills

We started out early and by the time we got to Shai Hills we were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the rock formations.

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Once again they had a rate for “bird watching” that was double the cost of general entry with no apparent extra service provided.  Since they only took cash, no credit cards and we only had a fixed amount until the next day when we were leaving, we could only afford 2 hours.  I paid the normal fee for us both while talking about baboons and wildlife.  We took one of their guides who turned out to be good a bird spotting and paid for 2 hours since I figured by 9am the birds would be resting.  I really hate the way they charge by the hour.  Once you are in the park, why not just let people stay as long as they want?  This is the first time I have seen this (meaning Ghana in general as Kakum also had it) and I think it’s ridiculous!  To be honest, if they had credit card facilities I wouldn’t have cared so much about the cost but being our last day, we were just low on cash and also had to pay for the car and petrol.

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There is a small display as you enter, then the first birds we saw were these ostriches.

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There weren’t a whole lot of birds around.  I had one mission – to find and hopefully photograph Senegal Parrots.  But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to look for as many birds as possible!  This little guy was sunning himself on a rock.

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African Grey Hornbill

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After driving around and spotting mostly LBJs (little brown jobs) and pigeons, I finally got my Senegal Parrots!  They were flying swiftly overhead as parrots tend to do but because it was open terrain, not thick forest I had time to grab a few shots.

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White-bellied EgyptAir bird!

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We also saw lots of Baboons, more Hornbills and more LBJs.

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Fruit & veggie stall just outside the park.



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