Once we decided we were going to Africa, I immediately started thinking about how we were going to get there on points. Growing up, my father always tried to fly United, so my United mileage balance was the greatest among the other major airlines (United, Delta, American, and US Airways). I had also recently applied for a Chase United MileagePlus explorer card, which gave me 50,ooo miles and $50. Growing up in Chicago (and frequently flying to & from O’Hare), Brittany also had a decent sum of United miles.
Looking at United’s award chart, we needed 40,000 miles per person each way to fly Economy or 80,000 miles per person each way to fly in business class. We decided to fly to Africa in Economy using Brittany’s miles and to fly home from Africa in business class using my miles (because I had a larger sum). This required Brittany to spend 80,000 miles and me to spend 160,000 miles. I would not normally recommend booking two one-way tickets with United because if you book a round trip award, you can get a free stopover at a location of your choice and therefore visit two locations for the price of one. We only had 2 weeks off from work, however, and we knew we wanted to spend the whole time in Tanzania, so it did not matter for us.
Since we did not book as early as we should have, our selection of award tickets was not as good as we had hoped. We decided to fly out of Toronto on Ethiopian Airways for the flights to Africa. To get to Toronto, we each booked a ticket (using cash) from Chicago to Toronto. These tickets were very cheap – about $80 per person.
The flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) was a long one. It was about 13 hours in Economy. Luckily I did not have a hard time sleeping.
Overall, the flight was pretty decent. Being 6’9″, the legroom was surprisingly okay and the food was fine; we had no big complaints. From there, we had a 3 hour layover in Addis Ababa and then one fairly quick flight to Tanzania (the Mt. Kilimanjaro airport).
We decided to fly business class on the way back so we would still have something to look forward to when the trip came to an end. This was our first time flying international business class. Following the theme, we did not book far out enough to get great flights back to Chicago. We opted to fly Turkish Airlines back to Boston and then buy a cash ticket to get from Boston to Chicago. The cash tickets cost under $100 for each of us.
The flight from Tanzania to Istanbul had a decent business class product, but it was still one of the best seats that either of us had ever sat in. We had about a 3 hour layover in Istanbul and we made sure to visit the Turkish Airlines business class lounge. I cannot say enough about how nice this lounge is. It felt like there were endless possibilities for food and drink, including self-service bars and on-demand chefs. Then it was time for the flight back to Boston. This was the best flight either of us had ever taken.
The flight and the food were amazing. I highly recommend Turkish Airlines’ business class product and will not hesitate to fly with them again.
The worst part of the whole flight experience was getting into Boston, when United cancelled our flight to Chicago. Side note: I am really starting to dislike United. Almost every time I fly with them, they screw me over. In the future, I will try to avoid United whenever possible.
All in all, this trip cost us about 240,000 miles and $400 between the 2 of us! I know this isn’t the best redemption in the world, but it was our first big redemption after beginning this hobby and we look forward to more experiences in the future!