United has cancelled our flights to South Africa

We were booked for a November South Africa an Elegant Adventure tour. I noticed a couple of days ago our United Airlines itinerary through Newark had disappeared. It appears the United is no longer going direct to South Africa. We called Tauck, since they booked our tickets, and they had a few other options all with tight or very long connections and a few thousand dollars more than our original cost. We want to stay with Business class since this is a long journey or 28 to 35+ hours. The benefit to having Tauck rebook is that if the tour doesn’t happen we are not out any money. Normally I would just book non refundable tickets and take my chances. Right now I am thinking the chances for the tour are maybe 50 50 since South Africa is still in a level 4 travel alert and there are several Covid testing hoops to jump through to get there and come back. We are in a little bit of a conundrum right now on what to do.

I believe may people on this forum fly Delta so I have a couple of questions hopefully someone can help with.

  • I can book myself on Delta One. For about $400 more per ticket, I can get the Delta refundable tickets. These would be a couple thousand less per ticket than Tauck is quoting. Has anyone had experience with Delta refundable tickets?

  • Our flights to South Africa connect in Amsterdam Schiphol and onward on KLM. The connection time is 1:45. Is this enough time to make the connection? We have been through Schiphol a couple of times and it has always been a confusing mess.
    The return is on Virgin Atlantic with about 5 hours at Heathrow, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Back up plan: postpone this trip until 2022 or 2023.


  • edited July 2021

    We flew Delta ATL - JNB non-stop, spent the night in JNB, then flew SA to Livingstone on a separate booking the next morning. We had an older 777 (now all retired) but now Delta is using new A350's with D1 suites for that route! The return was CPT - AMS - ATL. That option, though not cheap ($6800+/- but does not include the JNB to LVI leg), is still available but not 7 days a week. But, it gets into JNB late afternoon 1630(?)- after all flights to LVI have left. We had never done a mid-flights over-nighter, but it was great. We stayed at the InterContinental which is just 100 yds from the terminal. We had a great, full night's sleep, so after a leisurely wakeup and mid-morning flight to Livingston, we were ready for activities upon arrival- micro-light flights over the falls.

    I didn't check so don't know the status of SA, but they were (are?) closing down or hoping Ethiopian would buy them out. The SA government usually ends up bailing them out. I believe BA (Comair) and possible Precision Air still run flights from JNB to LVI.

    Delta has other flights to JNB via AMS in the $5000 range. Another option that I considered is Ethiopian (we have flown them before to K&T) but believe they fly into Vic Falls airport, Zimbabwe. Tauck would not provide transport from VFA but shuttles are available but you'll need to get Zimbabwe and Zambia or KAZA Univisa and do a border crossing.

    I know others would not take the chance, but with same carrier or same alliance and bags checked through- I wouldn't hesitate accepting a 1+45 layover in AMS pre-COVID. I don't know what things are like there now- I'd do some research. We made it once when our in coming flight from Prague arrived late and our already short layover turned into a 30 min. sprint. We made it! They knew we were coming and I think they held the door open for us- the aircraft door hit us in the butts as we boarded. :D Unless the flights Tauck shows are really bad, compared to what you can get going directly to Delta, I would stick with Tauck since it is late in the game. Prices will continue to go up as you get closer to departure.

    We fly Delta most of the time, book ourselves, and have never purchased refundable tickets so I can't help with that. Do you have any other trips that you can transfer the credits to if you must cancel? Delta has been really good about that this past year. We haven't lost a cent over multiple cancellations and haven't paid one cent extra to re-book even for a totally different itinerary, different tour (I turned XMAS Mkts 2021 flight tickets into flights for Treasures of the Aegean May 2022, myself, online! Easy, peasy.) The only time we have had to pay extra is when the new flights cost more than the value of our credits.

    Anyway, I suggest you widen your options- consider going earlier, staying later, stopping for 12 - 24 hours between flights, etc. By doing that you can often save a lot of money on airfare which will pay for your extra hotel stays and more.

    Forgot to mention I hate LHR!!! (many on the forum feel the same)

  • Alan, thanks for the advice. We have a bunch of United credits that must be used on United or some of them on Star Alliance airlines. Right now I am thinking that the refundable Delta tickets are the best bet. I have checked prices with American/British, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa and most are at least as much, or more than Delta is currently showing. The extra $400 per ticket for refundability is probably worth it right now. It still is a couple thousand less per ticket than Tauck air is able to do. If this were non covid times I think we would be a bit more adventurous in our booking options. Worst case scenario is that we have to cancel the ticket and get our money back.

    I agree with you on LHR, but since it is a 5 hour layover coming home I am not super concerned.

    It is a bit of a convoluted going itinerary with 2 stops.

  • edited July 2021

    Alan, the Elegant SA tour begins in Cape Town and ends in Johannesburg. Zambia is not on this itinerary. We have used Qatar to Africa, but not to South Africa, we love it.
    I would also check that staying in Jo burg overnight doesn’t involve another unexpected Covid test before flying to Cape Town.
    I do hope your tour is not canceled, it’s a great tour. I wonder if all the unrest may cause cancellation instead of Covid problems.

  • When we talked to Tauck yesterday nobody would commit to anything other than saying our trip was currently scheduled to operate. I have noticed that all the August departures have dropped off the web site so I am pretty sure the August trips have been cancelled. Taking an educated guess, I don't think Covid will disappear before November. The unrest in SA is also concerning.

  • edited August 2021

    Sorry, I mixed the Botswana trip with elegant adventure trips- starting on the west coast sure adds time to that trip! I was going to ask if you had friends you could visit in Atlanta but it seems the fares from there are higher than from Seattle!!! Go figure!

    That spread between non-refundable and refundable is the lowest I've seen for business class. If you decide to book on your own route, it may be worth it.

  • We are proceeding with plans for SA Elegant Adventure the end of September. Our travel agent tells us we don't need anything dressy for this trip. Is that correct? And has anyone experienced rain while there?

  • You only need dressy things for the days you are not on Safari, mainly CapeTown. We have experience rain in Cape Town, been there several times.

  • I too had intermittent drizzle/rain in Cape Town— didn’t adversely impact anything. Loved CAPETOWN. We packed away our dusty muted Safari clothes - and wore ‘normal’ black clothes while in Capetown!!

  • We just had the opposite issue with airlines. We were booked with American and British Airways. Just got a call today that BA cancelled the flight. We are now booked with United/Lufthansa and actually knocked off an extra leg coming back home. This takes us though Newark and Frankfurt instead of LHR (yeah!). Our trip for the Elegant Adventure starts Oct 20th. Hoping things continue to look hopeful. We've had this booked since 2019 and have had to reschedule 3 times due to COVID restrictions. I'd love it if anyone that did the August trips would comment on their experience.

  • We ended up booking our flights with Delta refundable fair. I figured the $400 additional for fully refundable was worth it for the insurance of being able to cancel if necessary. The refundable business class on Delta was actually cheaper than the price Tauck was quoting.

    Our connection going is through Amsterdam (AMS) changing to KLM. Return is with Virgin Atlantic connecting through Heathrow (LHR). :/ These are all Delta codeshare airlines. I am hoping that the Covid test we get at the end of the tour will suffice for whatever UK requirements are for transit. There is a 5 hour layover at Heathrow so hopefully that will cut down on some of the stress at that airport.

    If any of the early adopters on this tour would chime in it would be most appreciated.

  • John, I can only tell you that it is a great tour, but it’s a while since we took it!
    I’m stuck on the phone with my health insurance at present, which is a change from being in line with Tauck.
    For our next tour that takes us to Africa, we are taking Qatar again. Tauck suggested routes through AMS and Heathrow, so we turned those down. Five hours at Heathrow will just about get you through security 🤪
    But I shouldn’t be so happy, since our layover in Cape Town is 22 hours and we have since found out that at present, Doha don’t do Covid testing and CapeTown you have to get the test there at the airport and then24 hours later, you have to go to the test place for your result. So, if things don’t change, we won’t get into Zimbabwe. They want 48 limit tests. The Tauck agent knew nothing about these airport tests, she said both airports were bound to do testing.

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