South African Airways Delay Costs Us Our First Night In Namibia

After a relaxing morning at the Intercontinental Lusaka, it was time to go to the airport.  About noon, I got an email that the flight was delayed 30 minutes.  At this point I wasn’t worried as we would have still made our connection in JNB to WDH.  We used the free shuttle and went straight to South African Airways check in where we learned the delay was now an hour.  This was cutting it way too close so we went to the Priority Pass Lounge and I got on Twitter and tried to arrange a fast track to make the flight.  The Twitter was very unresponsive but when we arrived in JNB I saw that someone had finally replied asking for my phone # so they could call.  Too late and I didn’t have a working SIM card, I was just using wifi.

The lounge in Lusaka is very small with a few snacks and drinks available.  Normally we wouldn’t have bothered but I needed the wifi and I still had one pass left so I used it.

There are several souvenir shops like this one in Lusaka’s airport.

The departure was pushed back again, now we would be arriving with 20 minutes to run and make the connection.

I was desperate to make it as we had a very nice hotel booked called the Etango Ranch Guest Farm that had bird baths attracting many species so the plan was to spend the morning and then pick up the car and drive to Etosha.

I tried really hard.  The minute we boarded, I was asking the FA’s to radio JNB and have people waiting to transfer us to the other plane.  They just said to check with the ground crew.  Very unhelpful!  We weren’t the only ones, there were several people connecting to various places in Europe.  Some were as worried as I was, some didn’t care as they were only headed home and didn’t mind a free layover at SA’s expense.

It didn’t help that the plane landed on the tarmac, not at a gate so we had to wait for buses to transfer us to the terminal.  I noticed a few planes right next to us, one of these was probably our WDH flight.  In retrospect, I should have tried to sneak over, we already had boarding passes and no checked bags.

We ended up having to go through a transit passport control, security and RUN to the gate.  The WDH flight was still there!  We are not in great physical shape so were breathless and exhausted, almost ready to pass out from the run.  In spite of all my attempts to connect to SA staff and have the plane held, the ground staff had no idea we were coming.  The gate had barely been closed.  I begged them to radio the pilot or FA’s and ask them to let us run out there and board.  It would have taken 5 minutes, we had our backpacks and boarding passes.  The gate agent did try but the captain (or someone) refused to even give us those 5 minutes.  Even though it was the airline’s fault we were late!  It was the last flight of the day and there were no connections leaving WDH so no one else would have been inconvenienced by a 5 minute wait.

After being refused the chance to board, we were sent to the transfer desk and waited in a long line of people waiting for re-accommodation.  The agent was in a foul mood maybe because there were a lot of people who missed their flights.  She rebooked us on the first SA flight which was around 9am.  I tried for the 7am Air Namibia flight but she refused and said we were lucky to get the morning flight as we got the last 2 seats, otherwise we would have to wait for the evening flight.  She gave us a choice of the airport Protea Hotel or a hotel outside the terminal.  Since it was only an overnight, we had no desire to pass through formalities and wait in more lines so took the Protea.

As far as in-airport hotels go, the Protea is actually pretty nice and any other time we would have been happy to have an overnight here.  It just didn’t compare to the lodge we already had booked, certainly there were no bird baths!  There were showers for humans which we made good use of (after all that running, we needed it) and the bed was comfy.  They gave 30 min free internet, time enough to email the Etango Ranch and tell them not to come to the airport to pick us up.  They still got to keep the money from our pre-paid room.

We also got vouchers for dinner and breakfast at Mugg & Bean which turned out to have really good food!  It was hard to spend the whole dinner voucher as we couldn’t use it for alcohol and the menu was very reasonable.  The breakfast one was a bit tighter, I would have preferred to swap them around as we weren’t real hungry that night.

We did get a good sleep after all that frustration and rushing around, we were just exhausted!  The flight the next morning was on time and we made it to WDH in time to pick up the rental car since I had allowed for a leisurely breakfast and walk around Etango Ranch.


Etihad Guest For The Aussie Eco-tourist

Etihad Guest is a program that wasn’t really on my radar as I have been concentrating on other programs.  (I really need to update my old Top 8 Programs list.)  Now that it will become easy for Aussies to get Etihad miles via Flybuys by simply doing their grocery shopping at Coles, it’s time for a closer look at Etihad Guest.


This is geared for non-frequent fliers as there are other blogs who cater for frequent fliers as well as business travelers and airlines status seekers.  I am concentrating on the non-frequent flier who is into birding and eco-tourism and wants to get free miles for a free airline ticket to somewhere they can watch birds.

  1.  Newest partner Flybuys as detailed in my other post.
  2.  Amex Membership Rewards (Australian) transfer at 1000:1000 with occasional bonuses where you get 10-25% extra if you are ready at the right time.
  3. Etihad partners with E-Rewards so you can get miles doing surveys.  Be sure to join using the Etihad invitation or one from a hotel chain.  If you join with another airline’s invitation, you won’t get options for other airlines.

Be careful as Etihad Guest miles expire 2 years from date of activity so don’t transfer your points until you are close to booking an award.  There is no way to reset expiration by performing any activity.


This is where it really helps to have a bucket list, dream travel list or whatever you want to call it.  Then you can start analyzing a program and where it can help you go.  With Etihad you can obviously redeem on Etihad and on their partners as well.


Awards on Etihad are based on distance so amounts vary depending on the exact distance.  You need to do an individual quote so I will show you an example.  Since I like birding in Africa, I would possibly redeem between BNE and EBB since Uganda is on my bucket list.  Business class is roughly double economy and more tax & fees but on such a long flight it would be nice if I could get that many points!


You can also use Etihad Guest miles to fly on partner airlines.

EY PartnersBearing in mind my travel bucket list, I can see that partners that could be useful in the next few years are Air New Zealand, Garuda, Gol, South African and Virgin Australia.  Lets have a closer look at their award charts to see what is the best value.

Air New Zealand

I don’t like the looks of this chart for anything over 1750 and NZ is notoriously stingy about giving space to partners so this is probably not going to be my choice.  Possible short haul between AKL and Pacific Islands but then again these flights can often be bought cheaply on “happy hour” type sales.

EY4Garuda Indonesia

Again I can see good value in the shorter hops under 1000 miles.  If I hadn’t already ear-marked Flying Blue miles for my 2017 trip to Indonesia, I’d be seriously considering this option.  Using Great Circle Mapper one of my potential routes is Palu-Ujung Padang-Denpasar whic is 679 miles so 10k Etihad is great value here.  Business class is also really good value.


Brazil is one of my favourite countries to go birding in so I would be very interested in this option.  Since we would usually be landing in Sao Paulo I checked a few random cities around Brazil, most are well under 1500 miles so 9000 Etihad miles would be excellent value here!

EY2South African Airways

As I mentioned before, I am planning a future trip to see birds in certain parts of Africa we didn’t get to before.  Namiba, Zambia & Uganda are all part of this plan.  WDH-JNB-LVI is coming in at 1317 miles so would cost 15,556 Etihad.  It’s another option if I don’t go with BA Avios on this route.  It will all depend on which miles are easier to obtain at the time.

EY3Virgin Australia

For Virgin Australia, Etihad doesn’t have a nice, neat little chart.  It’s all on one big pdf categorized by distance/mileage required so please look here.  Find your home town and take note of where you can go and for how many miles.  Just looking at my home town of  Brisbane I can see a few interesting options.

6900 miles each way gets me to Tasmania, Vanuatu, basically anywhere Virgin flies in eastern Australia.

10,900 miles gets me to Papua New Guinea, Solomon  Islands, New Zealand & Fiji.

16,900 miles gets me to Darwin, Perth, Samoa & Bali.

60,000 miles gets me to LAX.

Considering all the options, I am happy to see that my everyday grocery shopping at Coles will get me some valuable miles which can be used in some pretty amazing places!




New Routes To Australia & Ghana From USA

Two new routes open up more exciting eco-travel opportunities for miles and points collectors!  The whole miles and points world is talking about the new routes from California to Sydney.  American Airlines will begin direct service on the busy LAX to SYD route 17 Dec 2015 – just in time for the peak season down under.  This will add more potential award seats which for AAdvantage members go for 37,000 in Y, 62,500 in J.  Since it does commence during peak season, I don’t expect there to be much award availability until perhaps Feb 2016.  At least AAdvantage members will have a fighting chance to get J awards since they will have the same access as any OneWorld member!

Qantas is re-launching SFO to SYD service from 20 Dec 2015.  Economy awards are generally easy to get but premium class award on QF have always been as rare as hen’s teeth.  At least it’s another connecting point and once you are in SYD you can use the same award to get anywhere in Australia you want.  I have a guide on planning a birding adventure using Western Australia as an example.

If you collect Star Alliance miles/United Mileage Plus, there’s good news for you too!  South African Airways is adding a stop in Accra, Ghana enroute to JNB.  This makes a nice birding itinerary similar to what I did last year.

South African Airways: Beijing – Johannesburg, Business Class

Since I have already written a guide on how to get to South Africa using frequent flyer miles, I will jump right into the review of the flight.  Business class awards are becoming an endangered species and it can be pretty tricky trying to get one on South African Airways since they are one of the best airlines serving JNB, the major gateway airport to this amazing country.  This trip was originally going to happen in 2015 but was brought forward to 2014 as I was getting worried about the availability of amazing awards like this and couldn’t afford another devaluation by United.

First look at the plane from the gate in PEK.



Comfortable seats that lie flat!IMG_2558

Seat controlsIMG_2559

The seat backs were already loaded with magazines, headphones and a nice amenity kit.IMG_2560 IMG_2561

I was REALLY glad we weren’t going to do a 14 hour flight in economy!IMG_2562

The flight attendant took our orders for both dinner and breakfast.  It was late and all I really wanted to do was sleep so I asked for a nice liqueur.  She recommended Amarula which was absolutely divine and became my addiction for the rest of the trip (when I didn’t have a rental car to worry about).IMG_2564 IMG_2565 IMG_2566

With seat in the bed position, I slept like a log and was astonished to be woken a couple hours out of JNB with breakfast.  Maybe the two layover excursions in Taipei & Beijing helped as I was totally exhausted.  Best sleep I ever had on a plane!IMG_2568 IMG_2570 IMG_2573 IMG_2576

These fruit crepes were delicious!IMG_2579

We landed right on time at JNB.  The camera showed the plane’s position, it was pretty cool.  IMG_2580 IMG_2581

Business class got our own bus to immigration which was a breeze.  You don’t even have to fill in arrival cards!  Why can’t all countries be this smart & efficient?IMG_2582

To say the least, I loved South African Airways!  Great service, punctual, comfortable, what more could you want?  We still weren’t at our final destination:  King William’s Town.  One more short flight on British Airways/Comair and we would be there!


Getting To South Africa Using Frequent Flyer Miles

Africa attracts the lion’s share (pun intended) of eco-tourists and the good news is you don’t have to spend a fortune to get there!


There are several regions in Africa that will appeal to birders especially so in this post we will have a look at South Africa.  Most people would be flying into Johannesburg (JNB) but some may prefer to fly into Cape Town (CPT) so I will give options for both using my recommended frequent flier programs.



With United, it’s easiest to use their interactive award chart.  To illustrate the mileage required you can just look at the “from Africa” section.  These awards are on a one-way basis.  If you are planning a multi-destination trip around Africa, you should book it as a round-trip to take advantage of a free stopover and open jaw to get more destination in the award.


Region Definitions: The chart above is for travel between the following regions.

  • Central & Southern Africa (includes Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote D’lvoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Reunion Island, Rwanda, S. Africa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe)


Mileage award rates are quoted for one way savers.

To get to South Africa from the USA and Canada, it’s 40k in economy and 60k in Business.   JNB is served by South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Thai, Egypt Air, Turkish and Singapore.  CPT is served by South African.

From Australia and New Zealand, it’s 50k economy and 75k business.  You’d be using Singapore or Thai connecting to South African, Ethiopian or Egypt Air.

From Europe it’s 30k economy and 45k business with connections on South African, Egypt Air, Turkish and Ethiopian.

You may also want to use your miles for intra-Africa trips but for domestic flights you would probably be better off paying for a cheap ticket online.  You can get to other places in Africa for 12.5k economy and 25 business with South African, Ethiopian.  Please note that Egypt is in the North Africa region so costs 22.5k economy and 35k business.


This program is a favourite with those who can’t easily get miles from the generous USA based credit cards as they often sell miles cheaply.  The mileage costs are roughly the same as United but please note in the screenshot how much you can save by using the “More Money” feature to buy miles at roughly $0.15 each if you can’t otherwise get Lifemiles.   Of course if you have more Lifemiles than $$ then simply book the “More miles” option.  Check them out on their website.   In the examples below, I show you an economy trip from New York to Johannesburg and a business class trip from Brisbane to Johannesburg.





SQ is a great option if you live in a country where Amex Membership Rewards transfer to Krisflyer such as Australia.  The YQ fuel surcharge can be pretty high but if you book online for SQ metal awards you save 15% of the mileage cost.  See this example of a one way Brisbane – Johannesburg where the price comes down from 72,500 miles to 61,625 miles.


Notice the yellow highlighter below of the $430 YQ surcharge.  This is why I don’t use Krisflyer for redemptions like this.  I would use United in this case.