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

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!

JRO UA1

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.

JRO UA3

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!

JRO UA4

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!!!

SQ Africa1

ONEWORLD

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.

JRO Avios1

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

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

JRO BA Chart1

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

 

SKYTEAM

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.

DL NBODL NBO2

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.

BOTTOM LINE

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!

Antananarivo Airport & Kenya Airways TNR-NBO-ACC

Antananarivo’s Ivato Int’l Airport is probably not going to top anyone’s list of favourite airports but it gets the job done.  There aren’t a lot of airlines serving this airport but I have already done a guide on how to get here using airline miles.

IMG_5812

The biggest tip is to beware of security guards weighing carry-on bags.  Even backpacks, which normally slide through at other airports if they look small.  If you have more than 7kgs, they will send you back, ostensibly to check your bag.  This is a case where Scottevest saved the day for us as we simply went out of sight, stuffed the heaviest items into our very deep pockets and returned to security.  Backpacks were weighed and passed, jackets were ignored except for the usual x-rays and we were inside and awaiting our flight.  We didn’t have any checked luggage so it wasn’t a money issue, it was more a concern with a tight connection and fear of the bags arriving at all.

We were in economy booked with Flying Blue miles so had no access to lounges.  There are a few shops but otherwise not much to do except read.  No wifi outside the lounge.

Kenya Airways was about half an hour late and I was getting nervous as we only had one hour to connect in NBO.  Luckily, the same aircraft that brought us to NBO remained at the gate and also took us to ACC.   The first flight wasn’t full and we had an empty middle seat to spread out in.  We weren’t so lucky on the NBO-ACC segment, the plane was completely full.

IMG_5813 IMG_5814 IMG_5816On arrival at Accra, we had the usual temperature security to pass, then we ran over to the immigration “other nationals” line which went smoothly since we already had the necessary visa obtained from their consulate in Canberra.  They do not give visas on arrival.

Our next birding adventure in Ghana was about to begin!

IMG_5820 IMG_5822

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!

Ivato AirportSTAR ALLIANCE

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.

ONEWORLD

This airport is not served by any OneWorld airlines.

SKYTEAM

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!

Kayak MRU-TNREXAMPLES OF OTHER FLYING BLUE REDEMPTIONS

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

FB LHR-TNR

PARIS – Less APD but still high YQ

MRU FB1

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

FB JFK-TNR MRU FB2

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!

FB SYD-TNR