Fly from USA to Nairobi, Kenya for $72

Step-by-step: How to fly from the USA to Nairobi (NBO) on miles for just $72

I’ll just start with this screenshot:

I just moved to Kenya, and many people have asked me how they can earn and use miles to visit. This will be a (very long) comprehensive post detailing how to rack up the miles and fly to Kenya. If done right, you can get to Kenya with less than 10 hours of work and $72. If you can beat that, well done! This process doesn’t happen instantly—it takes at least 6 months from now until the day you can get your flights. You need to apply for cards, earn the miles, and probably redeem them a few months in advance, so you should start ASAP if you’re serious about it.

 

There are three main ways to get to Kenya with miles:

Option 1: 80,000 United Airlines miles and $72-150.

Option 2: 80,000-100,000 Alaska Airlines miles and $325-500.

Option 3: 75,000 American Airlines miles (and US Airways miles since they are merging) and $150-700.

*These prices are round-trip, but you can do one way with each option for half the price, so mix-and-match is possible.

 

Within each of these options, there are two main steps necessary to make this happen:

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
    2. Search for award flight availability
    3. Book award flights

I will explain these steps in detail for all three options listed above, as they are different for each airline and credit card. All of my examples will be from San Francisco (SFO) since that is where most of my readers are based, but these tools can be applied to go anywhere from anywhere in the US.

**DISCLAIMER: Before applying to any credit cards for their benefits, know the risks and learn how to avoid the potential pitfalls. Start by reading my guide to credit card churning. Don’t be afraid of credit cards; be informed.**

 

Option 1: 80,000 United Airlines miles and $72-150.

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses. You need 80,000 miles, so you can get any two of the three cards below and you’ll be set. The Ink Bold and Ink Plus are business cards, which are totally attainable even if you don’t have a formal business. Check out this post on how to legally apply for a business card without legally owning a business. Chase generally allows you to get 1 personal and 1 business card every 3 months, but sometimes they will even allow you to get 2 personal cards on the same day. If you want to spread your spending out, you should get the United Explorer first, and then 95 days later, get one of the others below.
        • 50,000 miles after $2,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual fee waived first year. This offer is not generally publicly available (it is only advertised to United elite status members), so there is an extra step to get the full 50,000 miles. Just apply for the 30,000-mile offer and then send Chase a secure online message (from your online account when you log into chase.com) saying: “Hello, I recently applied for the United Explorer card but I saw a better offer for 50,000 miles. Can you please match my application with that offer? Thank you.” I have never heard of this method failing; Chase is very good about matching offers.
        • 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (transferable 1:1 to United miles) after $5,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual fee waived first year.
        • 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (transferable 1:1 to United miles) after $3,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual fee waived first year.
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card. These Chase cards all have pretty high minimum spends, so unless you are a high roller (or a fully-grown middle-class adult with normal bills), you’ll probably want to set up your Amazon payment account before you get the cards.
      • Amazon Payments is great. It is like Paypal but without fees (full explanation here). You can send someone $1000/month and they can send you $1000/month, and then you each transfer the $1000 that you received into your linked bank account, and then pay the credit card off with that money that is now back in your bank account. It is a hermetic cycle of awesomeness for meeting minimum spends. Just don’t send money to yourself with two separate accounts—they’ll shut you down. The $1000/month rule is done by calendar month. So in the 33 days from August 30 to October 2, you could actually rack up $3,000 in spending. 
      • If you’re desperately trying to meet the last bit of minimum spend, you can buy all-purpose Visa gift cards at CVS/Walgreens with your credit card.
      • Offer to pay for stuff at work and get reimbursed.
      • See some other ideas on how to meet minimum spending requirements here.
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account
      • Miles generally post within 4-8 weeks after you have completed the minimum spend. If you’re worried, just call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank when they will transfer the miles into your frequent flyer account.
      • Transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards points into United MileagePlus miles
        • Log into the Ultimate Rewards website and look for the option to transfer points. You will need your United MileagePlus number to make the transfer, and you can only transfer into your account. The transfer happens instantly at a 1:1 ratio, and there are no fees to transfer.
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
      • One-way awards are allowed and bookable for 40,000 miles, so you could do one way with United miles and then the other leg with another one of the options below.
      • On international round-trip flights, United allows one stopover and one open-jaw. The “stopover” means you could spend a few days or a few weeks in Paris, Istanbul, Rome, Zurich, Cairo, or any other logical stopover point on your way over to (or back from) Kenya. The “open jaw” means you can either fly back from a different African city or back to a different US city.
      • The best routings from the West Coast using United miles are:
        • SFO-ZRH-NBO on Swiss
        • SFO-IAD-ADD-NBO on United and Ethiopian
        • SFO-JFK-CAI-NBO on United and Egypt Air
        • LAX-IST-NBO on Turkish
    2. Search for award flight availability
      • United has a very convenient online award flight search tool. On the homepage of United.com, you can search for flights, and just make sure you click the “Award Travel” button below the dates and above the search button.
        • Make sure you go for “Saver” award availability which is indicated on the calendar by yellow and green shading, and which is shown in the search results as the left-most blue button. Each one-way between the US and Africa should be 40,000 miles for a total of 80,000 round-trip. Using double miles for non-“Saver” flights is a travesty—email me if you are ever contemplating such a rash decision and I’ll help you through it.
        • The default number of search results is 25 itineraries, but if you want to change to 50, click on “Advanced Search” and click the option to display up to 50 itineraries.
    3. Book award flights
      • Check out the screenshot at the top of this post for an example of what your final product should generally look like (80,000 miles) when you’re ready to book.
      • United’s online system will book straightforward itineraries with no problem. And if you’re going to get creative with a stopover and/or open jaw, it will generally calculate the correct price but sometimes it has glitches. If you’re having trouble, you can always call United’s customer service line to check availability and book flights.

 

Option 2: 80,000-100,000 Alaska Airlines miles and $325-500 ($225-300 in credit card fees and $100-200 in award taxes/fees).

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses. You will need 80-100,000 miles for this option. Each card comes with a 25,000-mile signup bonus, which means you will need at least three and probably four of these cards, both of which are issued by Bank of America. BofA generally allows one personal and one business card every 90 days, and there is a very specific best practice for getting these cards. On Day 1, apply for one business and one personal. Spend at least $1 on each card. On Day 95, apply for both cards again and spend at least $1 on each card.
      • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Personal Card by Bank of America
        • 25,000 miles after spending $1. The $75 annual fee is NOT waived.
      • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Business Card by Bank of America
        • 25,000 miles after spending $1. The $75 annual fee is NOT waived.
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card
      • Wendy’s $99-cent frosties are a superb option for meeting this minimum spend. However, if you are in a state that does not charge sales tax, you are out of luck.
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account.
      • Miles generally post within 4-8 weeks after you have completed the minimum spend. If you’re worried, just call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank when they will transfer the miles into your frequent flyer account.
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
      • One-way awards are available for half the miles, so you can do one way with Alaska miles and the other leg with one of the other airlines discussed here.
      • Alaska Airlines allows one stopover per international round-trip ticket, which means you could spend a few days or a few weeks in Amsterdam or Dubai on your way over to (or back from) Kenya.
    2. Search for award flight availability
      • Alaska has a great online search tool for partner award availability. Alaska miles can be used with several partners who fly into Nairobi: KLM, Emirates, and British Airways (BA). BA charges fuel surcharges which will cost you about $700 round trip so I’m just going to discard it as an option. KLM and Emirates don’t charge fuel surcharges, so their total round-trip taxes should be less than $200.
      • Here are your partner redemption options with routings and prices:
        • KLM: SFO-AMS-NBO for 80,000 miles + $100ish
        • Emirates: SFO-Dubai (DXB)-NBO for 95,000 miles + $86.40
    3. Book award flights
      • These should all be bookable online, but if you’re having trouble with complex itineraries with stopovers and such, you can always call Alaska’s customer service line to check availability and book flights.
      • Here is a screenshot of an Emirates award booked with Alaska miles:

Alaska Emirates

 

Option 3: 75,000 American Airlines miles (and US Airways miles since they are merging) and $150-700.

  1. Earn the miles
    1. Apply for credit cards with signup bonuses. I did a post about these cards a few months ago. The cards below are issued by Barclays and Citi. Barclays allows one personal and one business application every 6 months. And they are probably going to discontinue these cards in mid- to late 2013 as the AA-US merger advances. Citi allows one personal AAdvantage card application every 18 months, but you can re-apply for a new AAdvantage business card every 6 months. I generally encourage people to apply for both the AAdvantage personal and business cards on the same day, and they’ll be set for a while. US Airways and American Airlines are probably merging their frequent flyer programs in late 2013 or early 2014, so these miles will be one and the same sometime soon. You can mix and match these cards however you want to get your grand total of 75,000 miles. The offers below are constantly changing, so go here for the latest and best application links.
      • US Airways Dividend Miles Premier World (or Platinum) Personal Mastercard by Barclays Bank
        • 35-40,000 miles after spending $1-750; annual fee waived first year. 
      • US Airways Dividend Miles Business Mastercard by Barclays Bank
        • 35-40,000 miles after spending $1-750; annual fee waived first year.
      • American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select Personal Mastercard by Citi
        • 40-50,000 miles after spending $2,500-3,000; annual fee waived first year.
      • American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select Business Mastercard by Citi
        • 40,000 miles after spending $3,000; annual fee waived first year.
    2. Meet the minimum spending requirement for each card. These Citi cards all have pretty high minimum spends, so you may want to set up your Amazon payment account before you get the cards.
      • Amazon Payments is great. It is like Paypal but without fees (full explanation here). You can send someone $1000/month and they can send you $1000/month, and then you each transfer the $1000 that you received into your linked bank account, and then pay the credit card off with that money that is now back in your bank account. It is a hermetic cycle of awesomeness for meeting minimum spends. Just don’t send money to yourself with two separate accounts—they’ll shut you down. The $1000/month rule is done by calendar month. So in the 33 days from August 30 to October 2, you could actually rack up $3,000 in spending.
      • If you’re desperately trying to meet the last bit of minimum spend, you can buy all-purpose Visa gift cards at CVS/Walgreens with your credit card.
      • Offer to pay for stuff at work and get reimbursed.
      • See some other ideas on how to meet minimum spending requirements here.
    3. Wait for your miles to be credited into your account
      • Miles generally post within 4-8 weeks after you have completed the minimum spend. If you’re worried, just call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank when they will transfer the miles into your frequent flyer account.
      • I don’t know exactly know what the merging process will entail, but it is likely that in the next 6 months American Airlines and US Airways miles will be exchangeable or maybe even merged completely into the same mileage currency.
  2. Redeem the miles
    1. Know your routing options
      • One-ways are permitted for half the round-trip price. American allows one stopover per one-way ticket in the “gateway city” which is the transit city from/to the US from/to Europe. This is good if you want to stop and visit the East coast, or also if you want to tack on a free one-way (if you can return to the US at your final destination). For example, for 37,500 miles you can fly NBO-LHR-SFO. But you can also do NBO-LHR-SFO (stopover for 6 months) and then a SFO-Hawaii one-way whenever you decide you want a Hawaiian vacation in the next 365 days (and can find “MileSAAver” availability). This free one-way trick can be done to anywhere in the US or Canada.
      • More details on free one-ways on AAdvantage miles here, and see the screenshot below for an example.
    2. Search for award flight availability
      • American miles can be redeemed for travel with two of their partner airlines who fly into Nairobi: British Airways and Etihad Airways, based out of Abu Dhabi (AUH). BA has the best routing, SFO-LHR-NBO, but once again, their fuel surcharges of about $650 round trip make them a last resort option. Then again, the convenience of a one-stop flight and a free one-way anywhere in the US or Hawaii from SFO might be worth the extra $500 to some people.
      • To search for BA availability on AA.com, use the homepage search function but make sure to tick the box for “Redeem Miles.” The cheapest 37,500-mile one-way flights will be marked in bright green on the calendar and called “MilesAAver”.
      • Here are a few sample routings using Etihad to get to Nairobi:
        • SFO-JFK on American; JFK-AUH on Etihad; AUH-NBO on Etihad
        • SFO-DUS on Air Berlin; DUS-AUH on Air Berlin; AUH-NBO on Etihad
    3. Book award flights
      • BA award flights, as well as stopovers, can be searched and booked on AA.com. Unfortunately, Etihad award flights can only be found by calling AAdvantage reservations at 1-800-882-8880.
      • Here is an example of a crafty routing with a free one-way tacked on that makes the BA fuel surcharges easier to stomach:

AA 638

 

Wow, that was exhausting. Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions!

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2 thoughts on “Fly from USA to Nairobi, Kenya for $72

  1. Great post! Any tips on getting United to reinstate my expired miles for free? I called and talked to someone – they said they’d do it if I had had a flight with United between now and November 2012. I haven’t had a flight on United in that time period, so I’m probably stuck paying to reinstate the miles (to reinstate my 37k they charge $100).

    I basically called the phone number to book a flight, once I got an actual person to talk to me I told them I wanted them to reinstate my miles for free. I’ve been a United customer for over ten years and I have the Mileage Plus Explorer CC. Any advice? 🙂

  2. Thanks Mike! I will definitely use this for when I plan to visit you.

    If American and US Airways are merging, the miles will merge too?

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