Flight Review: Business Class on Malawian Airlines from Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam (BLZ-DAR), ET 42

Malawian Airlines

Route: BLZ – DAR (Blantyre – Dar Es Salaam)
Air craft: Q400
Seat: 2J
Flight time: 2 hrs

Although this is operated by Malawian Airlines, I booked it as an Ethiopian Airlines. I was booked in economy, but got a gate upgrade to business class.

There are 7 seats in business class on Malawian Airlines Q400 from Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam, with 3 single, business class seats (1-3 A) seats, and 2 sets of two seats (rows 2 and 3, seats J & L; J is aisle, L is window). There is one very small lavatory for business class right at the front.

Malawian Airlines

As a Q400, there is very limited cabin space. Although there were only 5 passengers in business class, cabin space filled up quickly. As I had a bulkhead seat, I had to find stowage for my two bags (one carry-on and a “laptop” bag).

I was assigned Seat 2J. Seat 2J is actually a bulkhead seat, so I had plenty of legroom. The leather seat is basically the same as comparable Q400 flights, meaning, it is comparable to US domestic first class seats on older aircraft, or the same seats as my Premium Economy flight on Aerolineas Argentina two years ago.

Malawian Airlines

After take off, the flight attendant came around to take dinner and drink orders. She served drinks first, before plating up dinner individually. Choice was either chicken or beef. The cabin was pretty tight, she actually plated up the food on seat 1A. The food actually looked the same as the food in economy, but served in real plates. I opted for the chicken this time.

Malawian Airlines

Overall

I probably wouldn’t pay extra to fly business class. The economy seats are tighter, but I’m a small person, so it makes no difference to me. But thanks for the upgrade anyways!

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Flight Review: Economy Class in Malawian Airlines from Johannesburg to Blantyre (JNB-BLZ), ET21

Malawian Airlines

Economy Class

B737-700

Flight time: 2 hrs

I stalked the seat map availability like a hawk. I was initially in 11 F, but moved myself to 23 F as the back of the plane looked emptier. Bad idea – the plane left full, and I ended up with your cliché stinky guitar guy in the middle.

Malawian Airlines

Malawian Airlines from Johannesburg to Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam was the cheapest option, and was sold as Ethiopian Airlines 21. I credited it to my Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles program, and the points posted about three days after the flight (to my relief). Ethiopian Airlines actually credits 100% on most fare classes to Turkish Airlines if you’re looking for a way to build a nice stash of miles.

Malawian Airlines

The aircraft is a little bit old, and the seats have seen better days. It wasn’t the cleanest, and legroom was average, and not particularly generous. There are also no entertainment options, so bring something to do on the plane. Being a full flight, there was quite a fight for cabin space. I was glad that I got priority boarding with my Star Alliance Gold status, as I was able to get a spot for my bag.

Malawian Airlines

Although the flight was short, it was a full service flight. They served lunch (chicken or beef), but they the time they got to me, they’ve run out of coke light (another reason not to sit at the back of the plane).

I had the beef, which was some sort of beef stew with chuck, and some mash. It wasn’t very good, but it was edible. They also served some sort of strawberry mousse as dessert.

Malawian Airlines

Overall

It was a short flight, and while the plane was older, I can’t complain considering the price.

I Think I May Have Peaked: The Day of Upgrades, 29 August 2018

Malawian Airlines

Today started out as a regular travel day, which then turned epic, as I was given a couple of very nice surprises. My travel plans involved flying from South Africa to Tanzania, and the cheapest flight was $150 on Air Ethiopia (actually operated by Malawian Airlines) with a stopover in Blantyre, Malawi.

The day started off normal enough. I went to the Ethiopian Airlines counter, only to be told to check in at the Malawian Airlines counter, and ended up on a very full flight.

Then, those of us who were flying on to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania were gathered, and corralled into the transit waiting lounge at the small Blantyre airport, to wait for our flight to Tanzania. Nothing much to report, it was just a small room, but I spent my time writing.

As it turns out, our flight to Dar Es Salaam was oversold. About 15 mins before boarding, I heard one of the airport staff call my name. He asked for my boarding pass, and gave me a new boarding pass for business class. I had gotten an op-up (explained below)! Granted, it was for a short flight on a Q400, but I was still elated.

To top off my day, when I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Dar Es Salaam, after giving me my keys, the front desk agent casually mentioned that I had been upgraded to a suite as I was walking away. Talk about a great day.

What is an op-up?

Op-up is a short for operational upgrade. Airlines have revenue management software, which helps them predict and manage inventory. Airlines often overbook their inventory, predicting that some customers will not show up for their flights (no shows). However, from time to time (or more often these days), everyone shows up, and suddenly the airline has a problem. Airlines often have some buffer in other classes, e.g. first class, business class, or premium economy seats available. In these instances, they will bump up economy passengers into other classes, so everyone who bought a ticket will still get on the plane.

Different airlines process operational upgrades differently. There are forum (plural?) dedicated to speculating how this system works. Usually, having elite status of some sort helps, but based on my personal experience, being lucky really helps. (And this is coming from someone who is not particularly lucky).

So, why was I so ludicrously excited over this? Prior to this last month, I have NEVER gotten an op-up. I am an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold, Delta Platinum Medallion (Skyteam Plus), American Airlines Executive Platinum (OneWorld Emerald), and Turkish Airlines Elite (Star Alliance Gold), and have gotten elite-based upgrades on Alaska, Delta, and American. But despite all my shiny statuses, I have never gotten an op-up. To rub salt to the wound, several of my friends and family members have gotten op-up, even with a complete lack of flying status, which goes to show the importance of luck. Sometimes, airlines are looking for a specific number of people to op-up, e.g. four, so a party of four travelers might be upgraded together.

In any case, I guess the stars aligned for me this month. In both the British Airways and Ethiopian Airlines (Malawian Airlines) flights that I have gotten an op-up this month, they were overbooked in economy by one, and as luck would have it, I probably had the highest elite status. While I have no elite status with the operating airline, I probably did have the highest partner elite status.

Excuse me, while I go buy some lottery tickets.

Reviews

Malawian Airlines: Johannesburg to Blantyre (JNB – BLZ), sold as Ethiopian Airlines 21 ET21 Economy Class

Malawian Airlines: Blantyre – Dar Es Salaam (BLZ – DAR), sold as Ethiopian Airlines 42 ET 42 Business Class

Hyatt Regency Dar Es Salaam Regency Suite

My Adventures with the Airport Taxis in Livingstone, Zambia

Where is Uber/Lyft/app rideshare when you need them?

I arrived in the Livingstone airport in Zambia without a planned pick up. The moment I walked out, I was fed to the wolves taxi drivers, who could smell a lamb to the slaughter. The trip from the airport to downtown is about 6 km/4 miles. I knew that $20 was not a fair price. It didn’t help that seeing a solo Asian female traveling, the pack of taxi drivers decided to start pawing at me (they were trying to grab my bags), insisting it was a fair price. Intimidated, I retreated from them, and retreated into the safety of the airport terminal.

This was a bad time for Google’s ProjectFi not to function. I was trying to get it to load a map of Livingstone, because I decided that I’d rather walk the 6km, than get ripped off.

Protip 1: If you travel with a lot of suitcases, it significantly reduces your bargaining power. I had a 28L backpack, and when I told the taxi drivers I’d rather walk than pay them $20, I meant it.

Eventually, one of the drivers broke from the pack, walked into the airport terminal, and agreed to my price of $15 ($10 is probably closer to the truth).

Protip 2: If you don’t want to get rip off massively (like 10x), do a search on Tripadvisor/Wikitravel or other travel forums before going to a place. You’re doing other travelers a disservice when you agree to ridiculous prices. I knew I was offering a more-than-fair price at $15 from research

My return trip was a lot cheaper, but no less eventful. Instead of taking an overpriced hotel taxi, I decided to flag a cab on the road. The official taxis in Livingstone are blue in color, and have red license plates. I was willing to pay up to $10 for the trip, but the first guy I got gave me a price of $8, which I agreed to immediately.

The cab was in quite a condition. The handles were gone, the radio was gone. Basically, it just had all the bare essentials for the car to continue functioning.

Cab condition aside, that’s when the adventure began. I asked to be taken to the airport, which I assumed was simple enough. That’s where communication broke down. Apparently, instead of airport, he heard air force. So, we pulled into the Air Force Base.

I started flapping my arms, indicating I was trying to get on an airplane. And that’s when he pointed at this decorative plane outside the Air Force Base which looked like something the Wright Brothers would have flown, and he flapped his arms back at me. Yikes

I asked him to give me a few moments while I tried to search where we were in relation to the airport (I knew we weren’t far). Thankfully, at this moment, someone from the Air Base walked out, told the cab driver that he had gone to the wrong place, and pointed him in the right direction (it was 3 mins away by car)

Travel always gives me a new story.

Botswana: Day Trip to Chobe National Park, 27 August 2018

Chobe National Park

I actually had a great internal debate about whether to do this – not from the fundamental value of visiting Chobe National Park, but mostly because I was trying to stick to a budget of 100 USD/week, and this was going to blow through my weekly budget. In the end, I decided to visit Chobe National Park, and it was worth it. Also, because I was lazy, I did not do it in a cost-effective manner. However, if you choose to do it in a more cost-effective manner, here are some details on how to do it.

Cheap Ways of Visiting Chobe National Park from Livingstone, Zambia

  1. Absolute Cheapest Way to Visit Chobe National Park from Livingstone

You take a shared taxi from Livingstone to Kazungula, take the ferry across, and take a taxi to Kasane, and return to Livingstone the same way (plenty of taxis at the border). This method should cost ~$10 round trip.

Booking directly with Botswana operators will net the best prices. For instance, a standard 3 hr river safari and 3 hr game drive can be had from 60 – 100 USD. Here are some operators Big Sam Hubber and Chobe National Park

Total price: 70 USD – 110 USD

  1. Not absolute cheapest, but one of the cheaper tours leaving from Livingstone

Book through Jollyboys Hostel or Fawlty Towers

Total price: 156 USD

  1. My lazy, lame way of booking

Booked from the hotel, hassle-free, pick up, drop off from hotel. The actual operator was Shearwaters, which priced the tour at 170 USD, but yeah, I did it last minute, and the phone call from the hotel’s tour agency cost me $15.

Total price: 185 USD

Chobe National Park

0900 – 1230: River Safari

1230 – 1330: Lunch

1330 – 1630: Game drive

Chobe National Park

Mine was operated by Chobezi, which is quite a large operator. They launch their river safari from Chobe River Lodge. The river safari itself was not too bad – we saw elephants, crocodiles, rhinoceros, but towards the last hour, I fell asleep from the gentle rocking of the boat. As several operators run very similar tours, expect to see several boats all chasing the same few animals in Chobe River. Having said that, watching the elephants go for their daily afternoon swim at around 11 am was the highlight of the trip.

Lunch was a buffet at Chobe River Lodge. Nothing much to report on that – it was filling, and the bathroom at Chobe River Lodge is nice. They served warthog at their carving station.

Given that it was my first game drive, I didn’t know what to expect. We had a great guide, Emmanuel, who explained all that we were seeing on the game drive. We saw a lot of kudu, and I wound up with a newfound appreciation of these beautiful, graceful animals. He pointed out the different types of birds. I felt rather bad when he pointed out a warthog – what I just had for lunch (sorry I ate your mama!). My friend didn’t help when he texted back with this picture.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 11.19.03 PM

Yes, I ate Pumbaa.

Our afternoon during the game drive got rather exciting. At one point, a bunch of vehicles gathered at this particular spot. As it turns out, an elephant had died, and a family of lions was feasting on it. It was quite hard to see through the foliage, but we did get a peek of the lions, and heard an occasional low roar. That took up quite a bit of time for the game drive, and by that 3.45 or so, Emmanuel had to turn back to drop us off at the Botswana border. Luckily for us, as he was trying to exit Chobe National Park, the giraffes had migrated to the river as well, so we spotted some 6 giraffes taking a drink by the river.

Chobe National Park

That concludes my day trip to Chobe National Park from Livingstone, Zambia. I am not sorry that I exceeded my weekly budget – it was worth the money.

Where Four Countries Converge: Visiting Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, 23 – 28 August 2018

Flower of Africa

Total Cost: ~$560 + 30,000 Marriott Rewards Points

  • British Airways Johannesburg – Livingstone round trip: $305
  • Transportation to and from Livingstone airport: $ 23
  • Botswana Day Trip: $185 (could have been a LOT cheaper)
  • Entrance to Zambia’s side of Victoria Falls: $20
  • Food: $27

Unless money is no object, country counting does require some level of efficiency, e.g. visiting a bunch of countries that are in close proximity to each other. If you look at the map, you’ll see where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe converge. So with one round-trip flight from Johannesburg, I was able to squeeze in three new countries. It’s not a super awesome way to travel sometimes, but hopefully I’ll get to return to these countries for a more in-depth visit in the future.

23 August 2018: Johannesburg – Livingstone (British Airways/South Africa Airways flies into both Livingstone, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, if Victoria Falls is your goal. I picked Livingstone because it has a category 1 Marriott, and it was cheaper). You can read about my obnoxious seatmate here.

24 August 2018: Livingstone, Zambia – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – Livingstone, Zambia. I walked!

25 August 2018: Livingstone, Zambia. The walk took a lot out of me, but you can check out my café review.

26 August 2018: Livingstone, Zambia. I just hung out by Protea Livingstone’s pool. Check out my review of Protea Livingstone, where I spent 5 nights.

27 August 2018: Livingstone, Zambia – Chobe National Park, Botswana – Livingstone, Zambia

28 August 2018: Livingstone – Johannesburg

Livingstone

Hotel Review: Protea Livingstone, Zambia

Protea Livingstone Zambia

Protea Hotel Livingstone is a 3-star Marriott Category 1 hotel in Livingstone, Zambia. Located some 2.4 km south of Livingstone’s downtown, this well-landscaped property is a nice escape after a day’s activities. I stayed 5 nights in this property using 30,000 Marriott points (7,500 points per night + 5th night free benefit).

Elite status: Marriott Gold

Check In/Check Out

I was given a room immediately upon arrival at ~3 pm.

Check out was also pretty fast, took under 5 mins to settle my bill.

Protea Livingstone

Room

I was given a King room overlooking the pond. Try to get rooms facing the pond/pool. The other rooms face the railway track, and the trains are actually quite noisy.

Featuring hardwood floors, the average-sized room has a King bed that took up 1/3 of the room. There was also a good-sized safe deposit in the wardrobe, and a mini-fridge. Water bottles were replenished daily, and there were some tea/coffee sachets.

Protea Livingstone

Bathroom

The bathroom is large, and has a rain shower in a tiled shower area. There’s a toilet, and a single sink on a long vanity.

The hotel uses Earth Therapy products, which are okay.

Protea Livingstone

Food

Breakfast is provided to all guests. The spread was huge, but there wasn’t much variation over the five days I was there. There’s also an egg-chef, who did made-to-order eggs. Their omelets were amazing.

Protea Livingstone

There were four hot stations featuring some veggies, beans, and various meat options like sausages and bacon. The cold buffet has cold cuts, yoghurt, fruit, etc. There are also breakfast pastries.

Protea Livingstone

Protea Livingstone

I had dinner here twice. It’s quite a bit more expensive than other dining establishments in Livingstone, and the food was just so-so. I had high hopes for the sticky ribs (140 kwacha), but it was quite tough, as opposed to melt-in-your-mouth. The lasagna was also just okay. (85 kwacha)

Service

Friendly and efficient.

Amenities

There’s a pool on site, with (sorta) pool-side service. It was winter when I visited, so the pool was a bit cold even during mid-day (you can swim, but the first minute will be a shock). There’s also a playground in the expansive grounds of this property.

There’s also an onsite tour agency, which books tours at a slight premium over others.

Overall

Protea Livingstone is a lovely resort property, and I had a relaxing stay. While there are a few restaurants located nearby, it is located some ways from town, so be prepared to be held captive to hotel’s (rather expensive) options.

Protea Livingstone