Getting To Madagascar With Airline Miles

Madagascar is one of the most difficult places to get to using frequent flyer miles.  The gateway airport, Antananarivo Ivato Airport is only served by a handful of airlines.  You will most likely have to route through Paris or Nairobi if you want to use miles.  Otherwise, Madagascar will be one destination you have to actually purchase a revenue ticket.  All routes will have YQ fuel surcharges applied.  At least the destination is well worth it!


This airport is not served by any Star Alliance airlines.  Some people may be confused because it can look like South African Airways flies there but this is not the case.  They code-share with Airlink on this route and Airlink is not a member of Star Alliance.


This airport is not served by any OneWorld airlines.


This airport is served by 2 Skyteam members:  Air France and Kenya Airways.  It is also possible to use Flying Blue miles on Air Mauritius segments by calling in.  Given Delta’s unreliability on their program, I used Flying Blue miles sourced from my USA based Amex PRG card to get us tickets on Kenya Airways TNR-NBO-ACC for our outbound flight.

Flying Blue generally charges 17,500 miles for inter-Africa flights (Madagascar is grouped with Africa) and they always add YQ so it depends on the route if it is worth it or not.  On our route to Ghana, it was well worth it as the base fare would have been over $750 per person!

FB TNR-ACC Kayak TNR-ACC Kayak TNR-ACC2On the Mauritius – Antananarivo route, you are better off to just purchase a ticket as you get very poor value for your miles.  The same 17,500 miles only saves you $179!


LONDON – Beware the high APD on top of the YQ!


PARIS – Less APD but still high YQ


Routes from the USA (JFK & LAX shown below) can be good, especially if you are using Amex MR points from a credit card!


AUSTRALIA – Aussies are out of luck with high mileage requirements, no credit cards that credit to Flying Blue and very high taxes.  If you are coming all the way from Australia, best to make Madagascar part of a larger African adventure such as I did.  I used United miles to get to Africa, then just the inter-African award as above.

The example below from Sydney routes via Jakarta and Paris!



Review: Air Austral Mauritius – Antananarivo

Normally I am the sort who wants the absolute cheapest flight from A to B and if I can’t use miles or earn miles then I don’t care which airline it is on.  But this was one time where the punctuality was crucial to our plans and we couldn’t afford for an airline to be late or even worse – cancel.  I had done my homework after reading of Air Madagascar’s reputation on Trip Advisor and tracking their on-time stats on Flightstats.  The odds were heavily against this flight being remotely on time or even arriving on the same day!  So I made a very unusual decision for me, I paid around $100 more per person to go with an airline that had 98% on-time performance on this route – Air Austral.

Flights MRU-TNRI should also point out that I had no flexibility on days.  I had moved this trip forward from 2015 to 2014 and had to cut a few things back so it was essential that we fly on Monday and have a full week in Madagascar.  We would have been happy to fly on Air Mauritius if they flew on Mondays but they didn’t.  A flight delay could mean we would lose 2 out of our 7 days in Madagascar.

The flights themselves were spot on time although we had to change planes in Reunion. Since Reunion is part of France we also had the protection afforded anyone on an European airline.

We boarded right on time and I managed to get our carry-on backpacks on board as carry ons.  They do have a weight restriction and my heavy camera gear put us over the limit but I didn’t want to check the expensive camera and lenses.

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One last look at Mauritius.  The flight time was around 1 hour on both segments.

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This is Air Austral’s business class although I can’t see why anyone would pay the extra on such a short flight.


This is the departure lounge at Reunion.  There are a couple shops and a cafe.  We had less than an hour between flights and the Madagascar flight also was right on time.

IMG_4853 IMG_4854I didn’t take photos of the 2nd flight as it was identical to the first one.  There were snacks served on board and neither flight was full so we each had an empty seat next to us and were very comfortable.  We arrived right on time at Antananarivo and were able to do our full itinerary in Madagascar and that was all that really mattered to us.  Air Austral is a good airline overall and we were happy with the service.


Making The Decision – Air Madagascar VS Air Austral

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.