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South Africa, Safari in Maasai Mara Kenya, & Mauritius (UA J, SA J, XAK, LX J, AC J)

South Africa, Safari in Maasai Mara Kenya, & Mauritius (UA J, SA J, XAK, LX J, AC J)

Old Dec 1, 13, 11:16 am
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: YVR - Vancouver, with most winter weekends in Whistler.
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Posts: 4,601
South Africa, Safari in Maasai Mara Kenya, & Mauritius (UA J, SA J, XAK, LX J, AC J)

South Africa, Safari in Maasai Mara Kenya, & Mauritius (UA J, SA J, XAK, LX J, AC J)


Links to my previous trip reports:

A family trip to Westin Playa Conchal, Liberia Costa Rica, Aug 2013
Buried Treasure: UAE Empty Quarter and Beyond to Huvadhoo Atoll, Maldives (UA Y, EY J/Y, Q2 Y), Nov 2012
The Time Share Presentation, F RTW, Spain, China, Thailand, May 2012.
A visit to Macchu Picchu and Valle Nevado, Peru and Chile. Sept 2011
Travel after the Revolution of January 25, 2011. Egypt. May 2011
A Step Back in Time: The Twilight of Burma, a visit to Myanmar Sept 2010

Trip Planning / Preparation:


Time for another great trip this one taking us from North America to South Africa. I had last been to South Africa in 1998 at the end of Apartheid but the opportunity hadnt presented itself until now to go again. In addition, it was timed with a slightly round, traumatic birthday.

The scope here was to maximize an Aeroplan Africa Reward, which allowed for 2 stopovers, in addition to the point of turn around. This ticket was actually booked as a Vancouver to Mauritius ticket with stopovers in Johannesburg and Nairobi, with a separate paid ticket between Johannesburg and Cape Town (since the reward ticket doesnt allow back tracking).

The ticket was booked at 11 months out and by some stroke of luck, flexibility and 30 very frustrating hours of searching, I was able to get 2 reward seats in business for ALL 10 segments. Taxes, fees and YQ came to $849 per ticket, in addition to 150,000 Aeroplan miles per passenger. Hotels were booked with mostly reward points through SPG (outright reward redemption and Cash and Points) and Hyatt Gold Passport points for a total of 420,000 reward miles spend for this trip.

YVR-ORD-IAD-DKR-(ORD-GRU-JNB)-JNB-MRU-JNB-NBO-ZRH-LHR-YVR on UA, SA, LX, AC (business reward redemption)

JNB-CPT-JNB on SAA Economy (separate paid ticket)
WIL-Ngrende Airstrip-WIL on Air Kenya (separate paid ticket)

In this report:

Vancouver Airport Transborder Maple Leaf Lounge
United Business Vancouver - Chicago O'Hare
United Club Chicago O'Hare - Concourse B7 & C17
United Business First Chicago O'Hare - Sao Paolo International "Cancelled"
IRROPS Re-booking & Intercontinental Chicago O'Hare
United Business Chicago O'Hare - Washington Dulles International
Lufthansa Senator Lounge - Washington Dulles
South African Airways Business Class Washington Dulles - Lopold Sdar Senghor International Airport Dakar
Dakar Technical Stopover
South African Airways Business Class Lopold Sdar Senghor International Airport Dakar - O.R. Tambo Johannesburg International Airport
South African Airways Baobab Lounge - O.R Tambo Johannesburg Terminal A Domestic
South African Airways Economy Class O.R. Tambo Johannesburg Cape Town international
Westin Cape Town
Cape Town / Cape Point
The Test Kitchen
Le Quartier Franais - Franschhoek
Western Cape Winelands
The Tasting Room
South African Airways - Cape Town Cyobab Domestic Lounge
South African Airways Economy Class - Cape Town - O.R. Tambo Johannesburg
Hyatt Regency Rosebank Johannesburg
Soweto & Informal Settlement Tour
SAA Baobab Premium Lounge - OR Tambo Johannesburg
South African Airways Business Class O.R. Tambo Johannesburg - Mauritius
St Regis Mauritius
Air Maurituis Amde Maingard Lounge
South African Airways Business Class Maurituis - O.R. Tambo Johannesburg
South African Airways Business Class O.R. Tambo Johannesburg - Jomo Kennyata Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi, Kenya
Fairmont Norfolk, Nairobi
Air Kenya - Wilson Airport - Ngrende Airstrip
Fairmont Mara Safari Club
Safari Time 1
Safari Time 2
Air Kenya Ngrende Airstrop - Nairobi Wilson
Swiss Air Business Nairobi - Zurich
Swiss Air Arrival Lounge - Zurich
Swiss Air Concourse D Lounge (non Shengen) Zurich
Swiss Air Business Zurich - London Heathrow Terminal 1
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge - London Heathrow Terminal 3
Air Canada / SAS Lounge - Heathrow Terminal 3
Air Canada London Heathrow - Vancouver International

Last edited by worldtraveller73; May 9, 14 at 10:44 am
worldtraveller73 is offline  
Old Dec 1, 13, 11:29 am
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Wow - this looks epic! Looking forward to it!
stu1985 is offline  
Old Dec 1, 13, 11:43 am
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Vancouver Air Canada Transborder Maple Leaf Lounge.

Departed the house. Decided to use Aerocar Car service this morning to avoid having the car sitting outside for 3 weeks in airport parking in the fall Vancouver rain. There was frost on the ground for the first freeze of the year in Vancouver.

Arrived to YVR in under 1 hour to United States Departures. Super quiet check in today after the initial rush of early morning travelers. Seemed we were in between waves of flights. Almost like a private terminal but not quite.

Great art around the Vancouver International Airport. This is Bill Reids sculpture which is on the back of the Canadian $20 Bill.

Our original ticket had us travelling ORD-GRU-JNB as that's where I could find reward seat space. As a result, I asked for the bags to be short checked to GRU so that they could be wrapped in plastic film after we had gotten through TSA territory. I was hoping to avoid any pilferage from the bags. This move would turn out to be a major mistake as you will see when you read on.

Proceeded through security to the pleasant Vancouver Air Canada Transborder Maple Leaf Lounge. The usual breakfast offerings. Full of business travelers on the Monday morning trip.

Somehow the cereal silos look more appealing here than in the United Clubs.

worldtraveller73 is offline  
Old Dec 1, 13, 1:32 pm
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United Airlines
Business Class
YVR-ORD (Vancouver International Airport Chicago OHare Terminal 1)
UA 1405 Business Class (I)
11:00 AM 5:02 PM
November 4, 2013
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-700

At about T - 45, we left the lounge for the gate. Today's flight was departing from E78, one of Vancouver's swing gates (which can be shared with International Departures).

After boarding Group 1, we settled in on board. Pre Departure Beverage offering of water and orange juice in the usual picnic plastic cup.

Lunch meal orders taken at seat while still at the gate in YVR.

We had beautiful mountain views on the climb out of YVR thanks to recent snows. These photos are of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, USA.

Towel service was offered with a pretty tired looking nuked towel.

For entertainment, free Direct TV was offered, although there isnt much to watch with only 6 movies available and a few TV channels of each category loaded with commercials. It seems a shame to have to pay for channels if in economy, only to have to sit through all the advertising.

No printed menus today with a verbal choice given of the infamous shrimp salad w/ croutons and a balsamic vinaigrette or a chicken sandwich. Tomato and red pepper soup was offered as a starter, along with the usual warmed nuts. Wine on offer today were Two Oceans Sauvingon Blanc in the tiny thimble glass. Funny since the photo on the Two Ocean's bottle of Cape Point was exactly where we were headed.

As some of you may know, Mrs WT73 and I have vastly different food tastes. Id consider myself a foodie, whereas Mrs WT73 prefers the tried and traditional foods. Todays food fit into the traditional category and that was putting it generously. The sandwich looked pretty depressing. It reminded me of something I would expect to get in my kids grade school cafeteria. It was deemed OK for Mrs WT73 although eating this on a repeated basis commuting would probably get tiring quickly.

Cookie for desert, which was quite tasty, despite the McDonalds fast food wrapping.

Good wine refills all afternoon with todays SFO based crew.

Arrived in Chicago after dark and minimal holding pattern without incident ready to start the next leg of our adventure.

After reading many trip reports on here, Id have to conclude with many other posters that American Airlines seems to have United beat in terms of Domestic Business Class. An interesting choice too with Direct TV, since you can't watch a movie start to finish unless you're organized enough to catch it right from the start. I think it fits into background entertainment as opposed to a genuine way of passing the time with a true Advanced Video on Demand system.
worldtraveller73 is offline  
Old Dec 1, 13, 1:57 pm
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United Club Chicago OHare Terminal 1 Airport Concourse B & Concourse C

Over the years, Id given up on booking tight connections (under 90 minutes) and intentionally seek out longer connections on my tickets. For me, it means less stress, less running around and usually an opportunity to catch up on things if your flight doesnt get delayed. Todays layover in Chicago was 4 hours, which is a perfect amount of time as far as I was concerned.

Passing up my usual favourite, the Bergoff Caf, we opted for MrsWT73s favorite Wolfgang Pucks in the B Concourse. Once dinner was complete, we had an opportunity to visit two of the United Clubs Concourse B near Gate B7 and Concourse C near Gate. C17

Starting at the United Club, B Concourse near Gate I knew I was in trouble after MrsWT73 announced as I was sitting down, I dont like it here. Uh - oh. Wait until she sees the un-renovated United Club on C concourse.

The B7 United Club looked like a library without any books. Regretfully another windowless lounge, although this one had beautifully airy ceilings. The most interesting aspect of this lounge was the people watching.

After an hour, we headed back over to Concourse C where our flight tonight was departing from. We were set to depart from Gate C18 which was immediately adjacent to the Concourse C lounge. We arrived to the most tired looking lounge of the whole trip, reminiscent of a mens golf country club. The best part of this place are the windows offering great view of tarmac.

The usual United Club snacks were on offer, although most were being packed up already at 8:15 PM., 75 minutes prior to the lounge closing.

All in all an okay place to spend some time, but only because the Concourse C terminal doesn't really offer many places to sit and the gates are usually really over crowded. Travellers certainly won't be disappointed with this place eventually gets renovated.
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Old Dec 1, 13, 1:59 pm
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Cool report and good photos and commentary thus far. Happy to see the rest.
sky303 is offline  
Old Dec 1, 13, 2:28 pm
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United Airlines
Business Class
ORD-GRU (Chicago O’Hare Terminal 1 – Sao Paulo Guarluous )
UA 845 – Business Class (I)
9:25 PM – 11: 40 AM
November 4, 2013
Booked: Boeing 777-200
Flown: Boeing 777-200 - Flight was cancelled due to mechanical issues (radar)

I was pretty stoked to try the United Business First long haul product. A full flat bed, large TV and no fuel surcharges on reward tickets. What’s not to like? Unfortunately the flight didn’t pan out for us as you will read here. I’ve decided to include what we experienced here for the benefit of others who face cancelled flights on tickets and how we dealt with it.

At about an hour before the flight, we left the country club and walked over to Gate C18 A. Tonight’s boarding was through a double bridge boarding with separate boarding counters for Group 1, First and Business, and patrons of the Global First Lounge. A document check at the counter was also conducted for the Brazil Visas needed for most passengers.

On board we settled into a comfortable, but narrow seat. I personally found the seats a little compact when lying down. As a 6ft 2 inch tall person, I had to curl up a bit to lie flat in the seats. We had 3 windows to our seat on the Boeing 777-200.

A pre departure beverage offered. Tonight it was sparkling wine in the "elegant" picnic plastic cup. Looking around, there was not much sign of wear and tear on tonight’s plane.

Giant IFE screen – or giant by comparison to what is normally on offer out there today.

Menus presented. Orders taken while at seat.

Flight crew offered newspapers from the cart, including Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The flight attendent handed out Amenity Kits. These were well stocked and the United kits is personally one of my favourites and the best Business Class Amentiy Kit we received on the trip.

As we buttoned up to depart, I decided to listen to Channel 9 on the way out. Unfortunately, I was able to hear that a mechanical issue with the aircraft’s radar had identified itself. We were nearing the hold line and we ended up parking on a taxi way while the flight deck attempted to re-boot the system.

After about 30 minutes, the decision was made to return to the gate and off load the plane along with all our personal effects. The plan was to have the United engineers trouble shoot the system. United planned to open the United Club for travelers in First and Business to accommodate us while they fixed the aircraft.

I’ve never seen a line like this rushing for the United Club.

Unfortunately, the bar staff had gone home and the only left was leftover silos and the instant coffee machines.

After about an hour, ground staff announced that they were ready for re-boarding. Everyone crushed together the holding area gates. To make matters worse, the supervising gate agent announced that although the problem hadn’t completely been fixed, if the plane were to leave tonight, that the ground staff had 40 minutes to get the plane fully loaded with all passengers completely seated otherwise the crew would be illegal and over time. Somewhere, somehow, they were given the green light and we all rushed on board, eager to get underway.

Boarding was completed in record time, door promptly closed, and we taxied out to the runway. New amenity kits were quickly issued.

We held at the hold line for the runway. I was listening again to Channel 9 and heard the first officer chatting with Air Traffic Control about the same problem again. Channel 9 cut out and was immediately replaced with Two Princes from the Spin Doctors – yeesh. Another problem. Obviously one they didn’t want us hearing about... Shortly afterward, the decision was made to cancel the flight for the evening and we returned back to the gate for a second time.

I started to contingency plan in order to fix what was left of our travel plans...

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Dec 1, 13 at 4:59 pm
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Old Dec 1, 13, 5:36 pm
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Irregular Operations Re-Booking due to flight cancellation

We returned to the C17 United Club lounge to handle re-booking. You'll note that I say "re-booking" here and not "re-ticketing", although at the time we were non the wiser. . .

I knew we may be in for some challenges with the irregular operations situation given that we were traveling on reward tickets and that UA did not normally fly to Johannesburg through Sao Paulo. I was also little worried that we were going to be subjected to a downgrade to economy with little or no protection on our behalf given we were booked on a reward ticket and generally, there are challenges due to high demand in finding reward business seats to South Africa.

I had a hunch they would re-book us into a paid fare bucket but I didn’t know what routing they would propose, or whether they would attempt to stick us immediately back into any available Star Alliance business reward bucket "I" inventory based on currently available space. As we were waiting, I whipped out the laptop while we were standing in line and using the UA Club wifi, was lucky enough to find 2 Lufthansa business seats ORD to FRA and then FRA-JNB (Airbus 380) the very next day. I kept this information up my sleeve in case they proposed something bad.

As we approached the counter, I explained our situation of Johannesburg being the final destination and that Brazil was a means to an end, a method of getting to South Africa. The agent initially had no idea where JNB was or where it was situated. OH boy. This isn’t going to turn out well…

After a few keystrokes on the computer, I was asked “ What about Dallas?” – my brain immediately thinking, what carrier flies from Dallas to Jo-Berg? Did she mean United via Houston and Lagos? The Chicago accent was a little thick and I was corrected – “No – Dulles as in Washington DC”. Would we be interested in tickets departing IAD-DAK-JNB in paid revenue fare bucket? Of course- we accepted this prior to any mind changing and she started to work on our re-booking.

After about 20 minutes, and the last ones in line to be re-booked we were placed on a routing ORD-IAD-DAK-JNB. Turns out we didn’t need that Lufthansa booking after all. Although, it was really nice to have this information up our sleeve in case we needed it. I should add that by this time, this re-booking was being completed at 2:30 AM. While my wife finished this off at the counter, I got on the internet and started making alternate arrangements for our paid South African Internal flights. Since we needed to get to Cape Town, we had booked a separate paid ticket from Johannesburg to Cape Town on South African Airways. We initially had a 5 hour delay between the reward and paid tickets, but with the flight cancellation, even that was not enough slack time in the travel plans.

As my wife returned with $42 USD in food vouchers and a hotel voucher, we eventually got booted out of the UA Club at about 2:45 AM as all the staff wanted to go home. United Club staff told us our luggages would be located, and re-tagged to Johannesburg. We asked for the bags back but were assured that the bags would be looked after. This was my second mistake in not being insistent on having the bags returned. We were given a new baggage claim voucher.

Not knowing what the internet situation was at the hotel we stayed outside the UA club and looked up numbers for SAA ticket offices to rebook our separate paid JNB-CPT tickets to a later flight which cost us $161 in change fees and fares differences which we would have to eat. We tried to change this ticket on line, but despite purchasing the ticket through the www.flysaa.com website, the booking portal was being stubborn and refused to allow us to change the ticket. As the North American Ticket office for South African was well closed for the evening, we called the South African Airways ticket office in Johannesburg and had the tickets changed.

Concourse C at O’Hare is absolutely deserted at 3 AM. I’d been through here many times but never this quiet.

Intercontinental Chicago O’Hare
2 Double Beds Deluxe Room

We found the Intercontinental Hotel shuttle at about 3 AM and made it to the room for 3:40 AM. Nice place but we didn’t spend to much time there. Some others got booked with Embassy Suites and Best Western dependent on tier status and fare class. All were looking for the shuttle busses, which weren’t running at top frequency in the early morning hours. Many of the Brazillians on the flight didn’t speak English and my Portuguese isn’t what it could be.

On arrival to the hotel, they didn’t have any kings or queens left so we went senior citizen style with two doubles. Check in was relatively smooth with the UA voucher accepted with out issues. We were politely reminded of an 11 AM check out, which only meant a very short turn around. An inquiry of internet availability today? "That will be $16." I guess that's how you treat business travellers. No thanks for us...

Attractively and freshly designed rooms with fashionable, but neutral colours.

Lovely rain shower in the bathroom. This was the last decent shower we had on the trip until we returned to Europe.

Much nicer airport hotel than I would have expected. Nice and peaceful view in the morning from the room.

I left this place thinking that I would have liked to have spent more time here.

The downside of our re-booking, was that we had to get up early to take another positioning flight to get to our overseas one. The other passengers on the original routing to Sao Paulo were taking a 5 PM departure, whereas we had to get back to the airport for an 11 AM departure. We found the free shuttle, which ran every 20 minutes.

Taking a proactive approach in making sure our bags didn't get left behind, we checked with UA ORD check in desks. No news on bags or whether they had been re-tagged. Passing through security, we checked again with the customer service desks in Concourse B. “Sorry, can’t help you.”

We headed back through the tunnel again to Concourse C. Stopping by the United Club again, we re-checked at the counter where we were last night and were told “Both your bags are in IAD already”.

We contacted Aeroplan in Montreal Quebec to confirm continuation of original itinerary and non cancellation of remaining balance of the e-ticket based on missing one segment. We also called and contacted SAA USA office for seat assignments on the IAD-DAK-JNB legs. Maybe this was overkill re-confirming everything, but we decided to take a complete approach to avoid any more surprises.

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Dec 1, 13 at 8:36 pm
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Old Dec 1, 13, 6:33 pm
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That is some sage advice. Better safe than sorry. Going MX is sucks, and on a complex award ticket to boot. Glad to hear it worked out for you.

I'm enjoying the read so far, WT73. Looking forward to the rest.
dat4life is offline  
Old Dec 1, 13, 8:34 pm
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United Airlines.
Business Class
ORD – IAD (Chicago O’Hare – Washington Dulles)
UA778 – Business Class (D)
November 5, 2013
Booked: Airbus 320
Flown: Airbus 320

We left the Chicago United Club for the last time on this trip, burned up the rest of our food vouchers on Starbucks take-aways and located the gate for the positioning flight.

We had separate seats on opposite sides of the cabin due to the last minute re-booking so we sat apart and didn’t bother to try any last minute negotiations on board to switch with other passengers.

Pre-Departure drink service today was orange juice in the picnic glass.

Snack service was the warm scone presented in a similar format to the “freshly baked cookies”. The snack was okay but I was really hungry for a decent breakfast by this time.

I spent most of the flight sleeping as we’d only gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before by the time we had settled into the hotel and I figured I’d probably want to stay up a bit for the long haul.

Some interesting mountain terrain on the approach in.

On landing in Washington Dulles, we approached UA Customer Service desks in Concourse C to try to check / prompt United on the status of the checked bags. The agent said that one bag was here at IAD “in the pit” and the other was missing in action. The agent sent us to UA baggage services for further investigation.

We left the tired and dark United concourse and went to United baggage services in the IAD domestic arrivals hall. We got an “I don’t know” answer. “You should check later in Johannesburg” was his useful suggestion. Is there any way to check now? “Not really. There’s 10,000 bags out there.”

Without any real resolution there, we decided to give up on the bags prior to leaving North America and went into the beautiful departures hall at Dulles to check in with South African Airways.

“I’m sorry I can’t check you in.” says the friendly check in agent at the SAA business counter.

“They’ve booked you on the flight but haven’t issued an e-ticket yet.” Oh boy.

We received an explanation that United had re-booked us but not re-ticketed us. I asked about the seat assignments that we had called about earlier this morning. “Yes, we have those but no ticket has been issued.” We were re-directed back over to the United check in desk where we spent the next 40 minutes at the counter there while an agent talked on the phone attempting to get our tickets “re-ticketed”. The reservations agent allegedly had to re-ticket ever segment of your 10 segment itinerary for two persons. Groan.

After that test of patience was finished, we returned to South African Airways with new e-ticket numbers on 016 ticket stock. This time we were able to check in again without any issue. Seats were assigned as promised. We were invited verbally to visit the Lufthansa Senator Lounge near Gate B51.

Finally, after 1.5 days of bouncing around North America, we were finally going to be on our outbound overseas flight!! If our troubles only ended there, we would have been happy. However, the test of travelling in Africa was soon to present itself again...

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Dec 1, 13 at 11:26 pm
worldtraveller73 is offline  
Old Dec 2, 13, 2:52 am
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WOW!! amazin story!!
yerffej201 is offline  
Old Dec 2, 13, 3:10 am
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OMG, what an ordeal. Great resolution under trying circumstances.
Mercifully, you are done with United. Looking forward to your SA report and safari pics. ^
SFO777 is offline  
Old Dec 2, 13, 6:12 am
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Doesn't look like a good start to your trip but hopefully the rest of the trip will get better. Looking forward to the next part.
sammyindc is offline  
Old Dec 2, 13, 7:26 am
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Phew, getting there at last, looking forward to the rest of the trip report. You will be needing a rest after that saga
mike&co is offline  
Old Dec 2, 13, 8:33 am
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wow, great report so far. tremendous job, can't wait for the finish
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