Can A Coup In Turkey Affect Your Travel Plans?

I am sure that everyone has seen the news reports of an attempted coup in Turkey and the temporary shut down of Istanbul’s airport.  The FAA has banned flights from Turkey landing in the USA until further notice.  Reports on Flyertalk show that Turkish Airlines has been very difficult to contact regarding upcoming flights.

Turkish Airlines is one of the members of Star Alliance and a popular redemption for people traveling between the USA or Australia via IST to Europe or Africa.  If you have an African safari booked and are depending on Turkish airlines to get you to your gateway airport you need to call your ticketing airline (UA, SQ, SA or ??)  immediately to see what the options are.  Award tickets issued by United are being rebooked on other airlines provided saver space is available.  If you are coming from the USA, try one of Ethiopian’s or South African’s USA flights or route through Europe on United, Lufthansa, Swiss or TAP.  Coming from Australia, try routing via Singapore or Bangkok to Africa and connecting to Ethiopian or South African.

This is a good example of why I always encourage people to build in a buffer day or even two before starting a prepaid Africa safari.  Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover “acts of war” and you could lose your prepaid safari if you can’t find other flights.

It’s impossible to predict world events that could affect your travel plans, especially if you are booking 11 months in advance to score those elusive award seats.  We are going to Africa next year and things I considered among routings and airline quality also included airline reliability and how they respond to emergency situations.  In the case of the FAA blocking TK from flying to the USA, you don’t even get the choice of using IST as a transit point should flights be restored.  Turkish Airlines has an excellent product and great in-flight service but their ground service and phone agent availability has been lacking.  In our case, we aren’t using a pre-booked safari and are arranging things independently but I still chose to go with Etihad to AUH (VA miles booked before devaluation), spend a couple buffer days in Dubai and use Kenya Airways (Flying Blue) to get to our first stop in Uganda.  If Etihad is delayed we just miss out on extra shopping in Dubai.  We arrive in Entebbe around noon and if this flight is delayed we would miss an afternoon of birding locally but we can still get to these locations the next day.

In this day and age, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing your flights so look at all the options and try to imagine the worst case scenario and what alternatives you would have if it happens.  Always build in a couple days buffer, especially if you have expensive prepaid travel arrangements like a safari or a cruise.

Premium Travel – Been There, Done That, Got Selfies – Now What?

Conde-Nast Traveler does some interesting articles as do some miles & points bloggers who specialize in luxury travel.  In this slideshow, they show the first class cabins of several airlines – Singapore, Etihad, Air France, Qantas, All Nippon, Asiana & Emirates.  Sure they look fancy but do we really need all this luxury for a mere 8-15 hours of your life?  Redeeming miles for first class could be anywhere from double to triple the miles for an economy flight.

Yeah, I know economy sucks but at the end of the day, you get to your destination the same time as everyone else and at worst you have to wait for them to disembark first.  But then once off the plane, even a middle-aged backpacker like me can outrun someone dragging a rollaboard!

I’ve had my fair share of flights in business class which in recent years could be had for around 25-50% extra miles over the economy redemption.  I’ve never flown first class but on our last trip to Europe, we had one segment BKK-IST in a wet-leased Jet Airways plane (they are no longer doing wet-leases).  These trips were booked using US Airways miles obtained from lucrative promos such as Grand Slam that are now obsolete.

Thai Airways Business Class BNE-BKK

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Turkish Airways wetleased Jet Airways first class suite (sold as business class) BKK-IST

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Normal Turkish Airways Business Class Seat (as comparison), still pretty nice!

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Swiss Euro-business Class BCN-ZRH-FCO, I would never redeem an intra-Europe award in J but this was part of a longer route back to Australia.

 

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Air China Business Class FCO-PEK

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Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class PEK-SIN, these seats were huge!

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Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BNE, not an A380 but still nice and plenty of free Singapore Slings!

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SO NOW WHAT?

So I’ve been there, done that and got the selfies.  Now what?  Airlines are tightening up on business class award availability.  They are also devaluing their miles making premium seats much more expensive.  It can come down to a question of do you want to travel in a larger seat, eat fancy food and drink champagne or do you want to have two trips instead of one?

Sure it was nice to have the lie-flat seats and get a good night’s sleep but we did have to take some very convoluted routes to do that.  BCN-ZRH-FCO-PEK-SIN-BNE   That’s 4 changes with security screening and lines at each stage which kind of negates the relaxation from the larger seat.  The first 2 flights were delayed.  Yes SWISS was delayed, who’d of thunk it?  We could have been home a day earlier if we had done BCN-SIN-BNE but it wasn’t available at time of booking.  We aren’t fans of fancy-schmancy food, I actually prefer the simplicity of economy food.  The big seats that lie flat do make a big difference in arriving somewhere well-rested and I love having lounge access to surf the net on layovers and have free snacks.

Now that I have had the experience of luxury travel, it’s made me rethink what is important.  OK, so I’m a destination based traveler so I know what’s important to me.  Definitely not the food.  Some airports have free wifi, otherwise I can just read or watch something I downloaded.  Free snacks and drinks are nice but not a deal-breaker.  Economy seats suck but my DR helped me out with sleeping pills and my husband can already sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat.  The journey is basically what gets you to the destination.  Some bloggers will have you believe that you shouldn’t leave home if it’s not in a premium cabin, but what’s the real point of travel?  You need to GET some place first and if economy is the only affordable way to do it than so be it!

I’ve been blogging a series about a trip to Africa which was the last trip we did in business class using United Mileage Plus.  Our most recent trip in April 2015 was Thailand, Malaysia & the Cook Islands all in economy.  I’d blown my stash of UA miles and that’s all we could afford.  Thankfully we survived!  I’ll be blogging about this trip starting in June.

Now I am looking towards next year – 2016.  This will be a major trip to Ecuador, Colombia, some Caribbean islands to see some amazing birds and a visit to family in the USA..  Looks like we are in for economy tickets again.  If you are using AA miles, it’s almost impossible to get business class between Australia and South America or the USA and Australia as Qantas members have earlier access and snap them up.  While I do participate in Qantas’ program, I am not about to pay their hefty fuel surcharges.  I don’t have enough QFF points anyway.  So once again, it will be the back of the plane but to some pretty amazing destinations!

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.

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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!

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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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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.

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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

 

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.

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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!

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!

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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.

STAR ALLIANCE

UNITED AIRLINES

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.

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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.

AVIANCA-TACA LIFEMILES

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.

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SINGAPORE AIRLINES KRISFLYER

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.

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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.