That Iconic Ethiopian Rock Hewn Church? See it on a Free United Award Connection

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On October 6, United is restricting award stopovers and various other changes, the full impact we do not yet know. See here for full background and how to maximize the current rules.

This is not a time to recklessly burn miles. Yet if you’re dreaming of something special, lock it in now rather than hope it will still work.

A key principle is you can stack up lots of segments until a ticket maxes out.


Here is a trip I took in May:


Important: this trip may be possible after October 6 if the new system, or phone agents, can still get it to price.

Warning: Ethiopian flights periodically disappear from the United website for long stretches. This is one of those times and it has been several weeks. No way to know it will return. You’ll have to search Ethiopian’s schedule, maybe check other Star Alliance websites for award availability, then call United. In West Africa avoid codeshares operated by ASKY since you cannot book those on awards. Good thing Ethiopian award availability is tremendous. I have never had an Ethiopian flight I want to not be available in economy. Business is hit or miss.


Let’s parse this:

  • Open jaw intra-Africa roundtrip in economy for 35,000 miles
  • One way N’Djamena (origin) to Lagos (destination) because only onward connection out of Lagos was over 24 hours, this made Lagos the destination rather than a connection
  • One way Lagos to Brazzaville (open jaw return) with connections in Lalibela (23 hours 55 minutes), Axum (5 houtrs 35 minutes) and Addis Ababa (15 hours 36 minutes)
  • Gondar is the other big Northern Circuit stop; the flight schedule would have worked to add it in if I had had the time
  • No stopover on this ticket since every connection in Ethiopia is under 24 hours; I theoretically could have added a stopover at the end, however that bumped up against a separate, crazy 5-day one-way

ethiopian-787See Ethiopia’s Greatest Highlights on the Cheap

Ethiopia is a world treasure. You can spend weeks and months exploring the country if you have weeks and months to spare.

You can be the typical tourist spending either a lot of money on flights, or a lot of time on awful buses, for the typical visit like this.


ben-abeba-1 ben-abeba-2

Here’s a third way to see the biggest attractions of the country. The frequency of many of these flights coupled with Ethiopian’s great award availability make this possible.

You only need a day each in Lalibela and Axum. The Lalibela rock hewn churches are magnificent. Spend a few hours at them, enjoy a meal at Ben Abeba, maybe go back at dawn. By the second day you will be sick of swatting flies and mosquitoes and ready to move on. Same with Axum: spend a few hours to enjoy the stele in this otherwise sleepy town, and move on. In highsight Gondar may be a better choice than Axum.

axum-airport axum-stele axum-pizza

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6 years ago

Bahir Dar has a great location along the lake and just a great vibe. I did not do the boat trip but we spent a good amount around the downtown area and dock. The locals are super friendly – it’s like the opposite of Lalibella – there isn’t anything that you MUST see but it’s just a joy to be there.

Fares inside Ethiopia really dropped down dramatically indeed. When I booked my award it was $250 for each leg – now it is more like $50. No need for an award anymore.

6 years ago

I found Axum and Gondar to be equivalent in time/village/and holding my interest. I found bahir dar disappointing. Too much hassle for a boat trip that was not that spectacular. Nothing special about the town. While your award is impressive and surprising that it allowed so many transits through addis in a roundabout way, I just want to mention that the cash prices for these tickets is not bad. I did something like addis-gondar-(road)-bahir dar-lalibela-axum-(road)-Mekele-addis for about $524. Gondar-bahir dar was only about 3 hours by bus on good road. Axum to Mekele was an overnight with lots of monastery… Read more »

6 years ago

Mn – we almost booked the same itinerary. I used an award for this as well and added Gondar and Bahr Dar (which I liked most). I wonder what those mysterious changes going to be.