My Birthday Trip is Booked and I’m Headed to Zanzibar

Every year for the past 7 or 8 years, I’ve gotten into the habit of booking a trip for my birthday. The trips started small at first. The first trip I took was to Las Vegas. After that, the trips got more exotic. I managed to book trips to Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Germany, Ecuador and Amsterdam in the time since.

Why Zanzibar?

Last year I couldn’t take a trip due to my job, so I wanted to make up for it this year. I wanted to go somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. The mostly likely candidate was Australia. Since this is my birthday, I did not want to fly coach. At the bare minimum, I wanted to fly premium economy but would strongly preferred Business class. After taking a look at my options, Australia was not going to be feasible. I couldn’t find any bookable premium award space for the time period I was looking for.

Some friends I met up with in Amsterdam, raved about Zanzibar so I figured I would see if that’s an option. The cheapest business class flight was ~$3000 and involved connecting through mainland China. To me this didn’t seem like a viable option given the political climate. I next turned to trying to book a business class award on Ethiopian Airlines using United miles. I was able to get availability but the routing was crazy to say the least.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

My routing would have involved going from Chicago to Vienna via Austrian Airlines then flying to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines. From there I would fly to Kilimanjaro then finally to Zanzibar. The total time for transit would be in the neighborhood of 60 hours with an overnight in Addis Ababa. I was planning to be gone for only 7 days. If I took this option, I would spend 5 of the 7 days just transiting to Zanzibar.

AAdvantage To The Rescue

I almost gave up on Zanzibar until a friend suggested that I use my American miles to book the trip. I completely forgot that I could book a flight to Zanzibar on Qatar Airways. Even more exciting for me is I wouldn’t have to play phone tag with American Airlines to book the trip. American Airlines added the ability to book Qatar Airways flights online late last year.

I used the online search but wasn’t able to find availability to and from Zanzibar during the week of my birthday. I looked at a couple of weeks later and Jackpot! I found availability and was able to book the trip. Using AA miles, awards to Africa are priced 75k each way for a business class seat. Since the flight is booked on Qatar Airways, there aren’t any fuel taxes and very minimal taxes and fees.

The only downside of the booking is I’m not booked on a direct flight to and from Doha from Chicago. Going to Zanzibar, I first have to fly to Philadelphia then to Doha. On the return I fly from Doha to Boston then back to Chicago. It also means, I won’t be flying in the QSuite as the Philadelphia and Boston routes to Doha haven’t been updated yet. The service on Qatar airways is one of the best in the world and I always look forward to flying.

The QSuites are one of the best business class seats and one of my favorite airline experiences

Now that my flight is booked, I next have to figure out accommodations for my trip. Any suggestions?