Introduction: Zimbabwe Via The Cockpit Suite

Introduction: Zimbabwe Via The Cockpit Suite

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Welcome to my next trip report series, covering a recent trip to Zimbabwe. Unlike my other recent trips (Zipping to Tokyo via Mongolia, A Downgraded Adventure to Oman, etc.), this wasn’t a pure review trip. Instead, the trip had a destination, which was a four night safari in Zimbabwe. However, I tried to make the trip as interesting as possible in terms of airline, lounge, and hotel reviews.

In this post I’ll outline all the basics of the trip, and then I’ll publish the entire trip report series in the coming days and weeks.

Why I took this trip

One of the most memorable trips that Ford and I ever took was a 2019 safari in South Africa, where we traveled with my dad for his most recent “big” birthday, as a surprise. We stayed at Singita Boulders Lodge Sabi Sands, and at Singita Lebombo Lodge Kruger Park.

We had such an amazing time, and have been wanting to try another Singita property. So when the opportunity arose, we booked Singita Pamushana Lodge Zimbabwe, where we stayed for four nights during this trip.

In order to minimize time away from home, Ford decided to fly straight there, while I took a longer outbound routing, to knock out a few things I’ve been trying to review for some time, and also to have an extended layover in Amsterdam. We then flew back home together.

The routing that I flew on this trip

The airlines I flew on this trip

For the first portion of this trip, I needed to get from Miami to Amsterdam. So I booked the following ticket in business class for 70,000 Air Canada Aeroplan points plus $74.41 in taxes and fees:

2/11 LX65 Miami to Zurich departing 7:50PM arriving 10:50AM (+1 day)
2/12 LX736 Zurich to Amsterdam departing 8:45PM arriving 10:25PM

I had an underwhelming experience in SWISS business class recently, but I had a specific motive for planning this routing. I wanted to review SWISS’ first class, as it had been too long, and I wanted to update my rankings of the world’s best first class airlines. Fortunately SWISS sells first class upgrades at check-in, even on partner award tickets, so I managed to successfully get one of those upgrades, though at a steep cost.

SWISS Boeing 777-300ER first class

To get from Amsterdam to Johannesburg, I was happy I had the opportunity to try KLM’s new 777 business class, which I’ve been wanting to fly for some time. I booked the following ticket in business class for 65,000 Delta SkyMiles plus $258.57 in taxes and fees:

2/14 KL591 Amsterdam to Johannesburg departing 10:20AM arriving 10:10PM

As much as we all rag on the value of Delta SkyMiles, the reality is that the program actually often offers decent value for partner redemptions when travel doesn’t touch the United States. Delta SkyMiles was cheaper than Air France-KLM Flying Blue, which is usually a very attractive program.

KLM Boeing 777-300ER business class

Then we flew between Johannesburg and Buffalo Range (the airport in Zimbabwe near the Singita lodge) on Federal Airlines, so I’ll be reviewing that as well. That was booked through the safari lodge, and the experience entering Zimbabwe sure was something…

Federal Airlines Pilatus PC-12

For the return portion of the trip, I had no luck finding award space on my preferred carriers (Air Mauritius or Ethiopian Airlines business class), though I did find a return in Emirates first class, flying back the entire way on the A380. I booked the following ticket in first class for 187,500 Emirates Skywards miles plus $1,261.26 (ouch, Emirates redemptions are expensive!):

2/19 EK764 Johannesburg to Dubai departing 6:50PM arriving 5:05AM (+1 day)
2/20 EK211 Dubai to Houston departing 9:45AM arriving 4:20PM

While I’ve of course reviewed Emirates’ A380 first class before, what made this unique was that the Dubai to Houston flight was operated by an Emirates A380 with the refreshed cabins, so I was curious to see how different this would be, as it was my first time on one of these aircraft.

Emirates Airbus A380 first class

Then we just had a positioning flight from Houston back to Miami, which I won’t be reviewing.

In addition to flight reviews, I also checked out several lounges. You can expect reviews of the following airport lounges:

I was particularly excited to check out the SWISS First Lounges Zurich, so I can update my rankings of the world’s best first class lounges.

SWISS First Lounge Zurich Airport

The hotels I stayed at on this trip

During this trip, I had a two night stopover in Amsterdam, in addition to the destination of Zimbabwe.

I planned the stopover in Amsterdam for a specific reason — I was intrigued by two of Marriott’s properties there, which have some pretty cool aviation geek features. Leisure travel company Corendon has some hotels in Amsterdam that belong to Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio, and I figured I should spend a night at each.

The first night I stayed at the Corendon Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Why? Well, for the simple reason that the hotel has a retired 747 parked out front. I couldn’t help but check out this place.

Corendon Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Boeing 747

The second night I stayed at the Corendon Amsterdam New-West. This property’s top accommodation is a 737 Cockpit Suite, which has to be one of the coolest hotel room concepts in the world, even if the execution is a bit “meh.” I couldn’t help but book this, and sleep next to a Boeing 737 fuselage.

Corendon Amsterdam New-West Boeing 737 Cockpit Suite

Then we spent four nights at Singita Pamushana Lodge Zimbabwe, which was simply incredible. Zimbabwe isn’t as popular for safari as places like South Africa or Tanzania, but we couldn’t believe how great this lodge was, and also how exceptional the game viewing was. From endless rhinoceroses to crocodiles, this felt very different than our South Africa safari experiences, despite being only a couple of hundred miles away.

Singita Pamushana Lodge Zimbabwe

Bottom line

We spent a great, long weekend in Zimbabwe. But in addition to some great game drives, I was able to check out some airline products I’ve been meaning to review, from SWISS’ 777 first class, to KLM’s new 777 business class, to their associated lounges.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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  1. Donato Guest

    It looks like you had a long layover at ZRH. I was planning a similar layover and assumed it would pay to check into one of the Hyatt properties and nap. I see your plans were different, possibly because the Swiss First class lounges have beds.

  2. Fordamist LeDearn Guest

    I'll be blunt: my experience at Mugabe Airport in Harare it often takes additional US currency to get past the Entry Desk, $20 seemed to be the going rate. And, about that to get the Passport stamped to leave.

    1. CanuckRx8 New Member

      As someone who was born and raised in Africa, I am disappointed to see that customs and/or immigration officials are engaging in shady practices that aren't the norm in other parts of the world.
      NBO is notorious for search rent seeking, and I'm not surprised HRE officials aren't far behind their East African counterparts.
      I usually advice anyone traveling in some of the more sketchy parts of the world to carry a few...

      As someone who was born and raised in Africa, I am disappointed to see that customs and/or immigration officials are engaging in shady practices that aren't the norm in other parts of the world.
      NBO is notorious for search rent seeking, and I'm not surprised HRE officials aren't far behind their East African counterparts.
      I usually advice anyone traveling in some of the more sketchy parts of the world to carry a few of crisp $10 & $20 bills to gift to those officials.

  3. LAXLonghorn Member

    Africa is a huge, diverse and beautiful continent because of its people and natural wonders.

    The culture and safari experience varies by country and region.

    South Africa is "bush", Namibia and lower Botswana more desert plains, mid Botswana marshland delta (though varies how season)...Zambia, Zimbabwe, East Africa, etc...it's so varied! It's also not nearly as expensive as people think if you just book directly with a local tour operator (it will be about 1/3...

    Africa is a huge, diverse and beautiful continent because of its people and natural wonders.

    The culture and safari experience varies by country and region.

    South Africa is "bush", Namibia and lower Botswana more desert plains, mid Botswana marshland delta (though varies how season)...Zambia, Zimbabwe, East Africa, etc...it's so varied! It's also not nearly as expensive as people think if you just book directly with a local tour operator (it will be about 1/3 the price...and anyone who says otherwise is either very precious or just doesn't know).

    Finally, Federal Airlines scheduled operation is pretty great.

    1. AC Guest

      would you be able to share some of he names of local tour operators that are more affordable? thanks in advance!

  4. Jacob Guest

    Flew on that PC12(ZS-DAT) 10 years ago in 2014! Cool to see it still flying in Africa.

  5. Kim J Guest

    I'm heading back to Africa in 2025, so very interested to get your review of Pamushana and the health of the rhinos in that area (both black and white?) I'll be flying into WDH, so I will finally try LH F from US - FRA, then FRA-WHD in business.

  6. Josh Guest

    @Ben why not something more exciting than KLM, Swiss or Emirates? What about Air Tanzania or Air Senegal or Air Algerie? No one ever reviews these.

  7. Stvr Guest

    I’m simply shocked by the amount of money you spent on emirates

    1. UncleRonnie Guest

      Yeah, but taller doors!!

    2. Gaurav Community Ambassador

      I'm curious what the cash fares were for those dates.

  8. ArnoldB Guest

    Very cool, different location to review.

    That said, I am confused why you keep lauding FlyingBlue as a good program. Anytime I ever look something up, business one-ways cost like anything from 150.000 to 700.000+ points per person.

  9. Daren Guest

    Looking forward to hearing about the Singita lodge in Zimbabwe, wonderful memories staying at the ones you mentioned in South Africa almost 20 years ago. Simply incredible.

  10. Michael Guest

    Ah I was hoping for a bit more creativity in terms of carriers flown to get down to the bottom of Africa instead of the usual carriers that we tend to see on here.
    Anyways! Still excited for this review trip. One of those things that you can’t please everyone .

    1. CanuckRx8 New Member

      You would be surprised how many domestic African airlines don't fly to other African destinations. In my experience, most of these airlines tend to travel to almost exclusively to their colonial master's cities.
      I believe Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have decent intra-African network.
      In addition, the quality of the product offering is usually not to the standards of the major airlines and couple that expensive prices, you are better off on the...

      You would be surprised how many domestic African airlines don't fly to other African destinations. In my experience, most of these airlines tend to travel to almost exclusively to their colonial master's cities.
      I believe Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have decent intra-African network.
      In addition, the quality of the product offering is usually not to the standards of the major airlines and couple that expensive prices, you are better off on the other international airlines.

  11. Mick Guest

    This is shaping up to be a brilliant set of reviews!!!

    No Kenya airways availability on sky miles?

    Speaking of sky miles… 90k redemptions from Australia to Europe on vietnam airways are some great value.

  12. JB Guest

    Can't wait for the reviews!

    Is it just me, or do the refreshed Emirates A380 First Class Suites look taller? Are the suite walls bigger than older A380s, do they match what is found on the 777s (not the new game changer product?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ JB -- Yep, the new walls are indeed taller, which is one of the reasons I was curious to check it out. :-)

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Donato Guest

It looks like you had a long layover at ZRH. I was planning a similar layover and assumed it would pay to check into one of the Hyatt properties and nap. I see your plans were different, possibly because the Swiss First class lounges have beds.

0
CanuckRx8 New Member

You would be surprised how many domestic African airlines don't fly to other African destinations. In my experience, most of these airlines tend to travel to almost exclusively to their colonial master's cities. I believe Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have decent intra-African network. In addition, the quality of the product offering is usually not to the standards of the major airlines and couple that expensive prices, you are better off on the other international airlines.

0
CanuckRx8 New Member

As someone who was born and raised in Africa, I am disappointed to see that customs and/or immigration officials are engaging in shady practices that aren't the norm in other parts of the world. NBO is notorious for search rent seeking, and I'm not surprised HRE officials aren't far behind their East African counterparts. I usually advice anyone traveling in some of the more sketchy parts of the world to carry a few of crisp $10 & $20 bills to gift to those officials.

0
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