A few months ago I tried to book an award flight to Rwanda with my Delta miles.
I wanted to go see the few remaining highland mountain gorillas that live in the remote borderlands between Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC.
I failed spectacularly.
After battling with Delta’s web site for days and talking to agent after agent, I finally gave up and booked a flight to Tanzania that I am very happy with.
But I still think about Rwanda and the mountain gorillas.
My frustrations with Delta have ebbed and it might now be time to give another shot at booking a flight to Rwanda.
I feel like a lover scorned: no matter how many times Delta tries to push me away, I always come crawling back.
Why Rwanda? Are you nuts?
Rwanda is a small, land locked country in the Great Lakes region of central Africa. It is dwarfed by its much larger neighbors of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Congo.
Rwanda is most famous for the horrific genocide that swept through the country in 1994, an event captured by Philip Gourevitch’s incredibly haunting book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families.
But there is another side too.
Ordinary life in Rwanda has begun again and the long process of healing is taking place. I wanted to visit the country to see for myself how the country is fairing now, almost two decades after the genocide.
And, of course, there are also the mountain gorillas.
Rwanda’s highland mountain gorillas
Mountain gorillas are critically endangered. There are only 900 mountain gorillas left in the entire world.
They are split into two populations, both wedged into the mountainous rain forests on the borderlands between Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo.
Rwanda’s Parc Nacional des Volcans is one of the only places in the world where you can see these mountain gorillas in person. The park is home to five volcanoes, all covered in dense rainforest.
To see the gorillas, you have to hike. A lot. Through thick forest and steep climbs, with no guarantee that you will be able to find the gorillas.
You also have to pay a park fee of $750 per day. Ouch.
But the reward is sensational: a close personal encounter with some of the very last mountain gorillas in the entire world.
I have several friends who have seen the gorillas.
They all tell me the exact same thing: it was one of the absolute top highlights of their lives.
But first, I had to get to Rwanda.
Trying (and failing) to book a flight to Rwanda with Delta miles
I had a large stash of Delta miles available. I knew that Delta’s Skyteam partners Air France, KLM, and Kenya Airways have a very good route network in East Africa.
So in theory, it would be a piece of cake to find the flights I needed to get to Rwanda!
Shooting for the moon
I am a dreamer by nature, so on my first attempt I tried to shoot for the moon. I was going to swing for the fences with a very complex “dream” itinerary.
From Los Angeles, I wanted to fly LAX-AMS-CDG-TNR-NBO-KGL on a motley collection of KLM, Air France, and Kenya Airways.
I would take a stop-over in Madagascar, perhaps have a long connection in Nairobi, and then land in Kigali as my final destination.
It was beautiful, on paper.
That idea was quickly squashed by multiple Delta agents who refused to ticket the flight.
That’s fine. I expected some resistance to booking something that complex, so I switched to plan B.
Now, I would try to book the simplest itinerary I possibly could.
I would try to book a simple return flight LAX-DTW-AMS-KGL. No stop-overs, no open jaws, as few connections as possible.
Super simple. Right?
I should have known better: nothing is ever simple when working with Delta miles.
My patience was severely tested as award space magically appeared and disappeared, “married” segments became unbookable, or the award priced at the Mid or High level instead of Low.
Using the Delta web site was a nightmare and Delta agents were unhelpful (though they were uniformly very pleasant).
I finally gave up and booked a flight to Tanzania instead.
Not a bad Plan B if you ask me!
Time to try again?
But those mountain gorillas are still on my mind. My frustrations with Delta have eased and now I think it may be time to give booking an award flight to Rwanda another shot. Hopefully this time, not in vain.
I am like that scorned lover. No matter how many times Delta tries to pushes me away, I always come crawling right back.
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