Sometimes you can’t use miles because you are flying between two cities whose airlines aren’t in one of the major alliances. This is the case when flying from Mauritius to Madagascar.
I would have to pay cash for the flights. A quick search on Kayak gave these possibilities. Prices are in USD.
In case you are wondering why I didn’t use United miles for the South African flight, take note that the JNB-TNR segment is actually operated by Airlink which is not part of Star Alliance. And it’s ridiculous to take 22 hours for a flight that is less than 2 hours nonstop! Air Mauritius is a partner of Flying Blue but the cost of 15k miles and around 100 Euros per person tax made it poor value.
But wait, can that Air Madagascar flight really take less than 2 hours? When researching this airline on Skytrax, Flyertalk & Trip Advisor, I found all kinds of reviews on how unreliable they are. Cancellations and excessive delays are normal. Many people also said that they are poor at communicating the reasons and length of the delays. I tried tweeting them to ask questions and got no reply.
Once you get in the air, the service is supposed to be good. If I were a backpacker with several weeks to travel around Madagascar, I would have gone for this cheaper nonstop option.
To help me decide on cost vs reliability, I checked Flightstats. Over the past 2 months, 7 out of 11 flights were either excessively delayed or cancelled.
Just before buying the ticket this is what happened on last Monday’s flight. Bear in mind that this flight is only twice a week and the Saturday’s flight 2 days prior had been cancelled. I don’t know if they made those passengers wait for this Monday flight or booked them onto the next departure on Air Mauritius or Air Austral.
This was the only flight to be THAT bad out of all arrivals to TNT that day. 2nd place went to a domestic flight with about 2.5 hour delay.
Since we would only a have a week in Madagascar to get to two of the best national parks for birds and lemurs, I just couldn’t take the risk. I checked the stats on Air Austral which is actually an EU based airline. They are based in Réunion, which is also one of the 27 regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the Republic with the same status as those situated on the European mainland. Réunion is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, is part of the Eurozone. EU airlines offer more protection.
Now this is more like it!
Sometimes it really pays to do your homework when you are considering airlines that aren’t familiar to you and you need to make decisions on cost vs timings & reliability. Both Air Austral & Air Madagascar have scheduled arrival times before noon. This is enough time to get to Andasibe and have a late afternoon of birding. Air Mauritius has an arrival time of 15:30 which means arriving at Andasibe after dark and delaying the birding trip to morning. I decided it was worth the extra $105 USD per person for the more reliable option and being able to spend more time in Madagascar.