Anatomy of a Trip - Sudan and the Seychelles

You can find all my Sudan blogposts here and my Seychelles posts here.

If you know me (or you've been following along on the blog) you'll already know I like nothing more than a ridiculously convoluted travel itinerary and I've written about my planning process often.  Its an fluid mix made from of exploiting frequent flier miles, cheap airfare or hotel deals and fortuitous exchange rates,  while following our diverse interests which could take us anywhere. I find the deals and we follow them. Perhaps the craziest was the round-the-world trip for my 40th birthday which included places that don't normally go together; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Maldives. I added a stop in India for a quick Rajasthani fix and a tiger safari, capping it all off with Bangkok and a quick trip to Yunnan to see an anthropologist friend.  Not content to quit while I was ahead, I planned the Mad Dash Across Too Much which took us from Dublin to Abu Dhabi and on to Bangladesh, Burma, Bali, Bangkok and Malaysia.It was called The Tour of the Bs until I added Malaysia!  Well, it would have taken us to Bangladesh if the violence around the election hadn't left us scrambling to rebook the whole thing from Abu Dhabi - but that's another story! 
Recently we've tried to spend longer in the places we've visited including three months in London l and  four months in Paris but I'm constantly seduced by a deal and last year we flew from London to San Francisco via Bogota because astonishingly it was cheaper - you can see  the details of the Colombia trip here.
Map generated by the wonderful Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

OK, lets look at the anatomy of the current trip to see once again how we end up  on another seemingly incoherent ramble across the globe! 

These things always start modestly and spiral out of control when I think about how best to exploit the miles. This started with a desire to go to Sudan, D. was keen to explore the Nubian Kingdoms  in the south as a follow on to our recent trip to Egypt, lots more about that here. Although northern Sudan may seem like an unlikely  tourist destination in fact it's beginning to appear on quite a number of high end travel itineraries including the British Company Undiscovered Destinations and American companies like Absolute Travel  and Far Horizons. Ok, it may not be on Abercrombie and Kent's radar yet but there a a growing number of small group trips particularly with European agents.

In planning this kind of trip I've found a customized private itinerary with a local agent, is far less expensive  than a group tour booked through a foreign company. However, using one of the high-end American companies  always adds the greatest multiplier to the cost. If you prefer to go through a larger company now is the time to book with a British or European agency to take  advantage of the strong dollar. In contrast we've used smaller, local agents in Burma, India, Uzbekistan, Egypt and Iran with great results, after all these are the guys who will be running your trip on the ground. In Sudan  several  agents were recommended by Bradt and Lonely Planet. I contacted both and have been corresponding with one of them for some time to finalized our itinerary. I'll post all the details in another post.

Logistics: If you're a miles geek looking to maximize a United award it may be worth paying attention to the next section, though I realize this may be a little convoluted for those who aren't as obsessed as some of us...

Here's the outline of the itinerary:

New York-London

Amsterdam-(Canaries)-Dublin-New York City

So how to get there? Well we're starting off with a cheap ticket to Europe in economy; into London where we will be joining my brother for Christmas in Cambridge and out of Dublin - where we'll visit my mother. The rest of the itinerary is fueled by frequent flyer miles. Flights to Africa on United miles are tricky because (for the most part) you can't fly through one region to get to another without triggering a more expensive ticket. That means that though a number of carriers fly through the Middle East to African destinations, you'd have to pay for two awards; one from Europe to the Middle East (45,000) and then  a second from the Middle East to Africa (55,000). So, instead here's what I did  - London to Doha in Business with Turkish Airlines  (45,000 United miles) and Doha to Khartoum in economy with Qatar  (10,000 BA miles). 

Now here's where it gets interesting....

Recently, United Airlines did away with stopovers and introduced what they call the "Excursionist Perk". I wasn't too happy about the demise of the stopovers which I'd previously  exploited with double open jaws - which gave us some incredible itineraries in Asia. But it turns out there are plenty of was to get value out of the new model. Luckily the Boarding Area blogs had done all the work for me. Essentially the new rule gives you a  free one way fare  that for many people operates just like a stopover, so for example you can go US-UK-Europe- US. Here the UK-Europe section is the "Excursionist Perk". What is important to understand however is that  you can take your free one way in any region, which means I could fly from London to Doha for 35,000 UA miles in Business and then get a free one way in Africa  which would  normally cost a further 35,000 in Business - yes it's essentially a buy one get one free ! It's this free one way that explains how and why we are going to the Seychelles in Business, flying Khartoum-Addis-Mahe on Ethiopian Airlines.

In order to get the free "Excursionist Perk" you have to be making a return journey of sorts and so I needed  to book a third leg. Without this third leg you won't get the free one way. Adding a cheap one way to Europe in economy would work at 15,000 miles. However, we needed to get back from the Seychelles. 

Here's where a second dose of clever thinking comes into play. It costs 55,000  UA miles to go from the the Seychelles to Europe in Business, but only 35,000 to go from the Seychelles to the Canary islands because they are both regarded as Africa destinations and this would be a Africa to Africa award. And guess where you'll route through to fly to the Canary Islands - yes Europe! As some routings have overnight stops in Amsterdam, Brussels or Dublin you could take your luggage and leave  the airport, getting to Europe for a 20,000 mile discount. However, burning a flight segment like this (also known as throw away ticketing)  is frowned upon by the airlines.

I'm excited about the trip, in addition to spending time with family and friends in the UK we have almost two weeks in Sudan, an overnight in Addis and just over a week in the Seychelles. With two nights in Doha we'll have a chance  to visit the IM Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art, modeled in part on one of my favorite buildings, the fantastic Ibn Tulum mosque in Cairo. Now I just need a name for this madness, any suggestions?

As always I don't blog in real time so if you want to follow along find me on Instagram @welltravbrit