This is the fourth report about my complicated Johannesburg to Casablanca roundtrip on Star Alliance. If you've read any of the prior entries, go ahead and skip the preamble.
Intra-Africa travel can yield a great value when using United MileagePlus awards, if done correctly. Travel between most city pairs in Africa are usually the same award price, whether they're an hour apart or across the continent. When travelling from far southern Africa to far northern Africa, you can often get a complicated routing through Europe. For someone looking to get from point A to point B, this may be viewed negatively, but for a backpacking AvGeek, it's a huge positive. My itinerary below cost 52,500 Mileage Plus Miles and $192.30 in taxes and fees. It was ticketed as a roundtrip from Johannesburg to Casablanca, but it afforded me an 8 hour daytime layover in Frankfurt, a two night stopover in Cairo, and a 17.5 hour overnight layover in Lisbon. For comparison's sake, a one way Business Saver Award from Frankfurt to Johannesburg is 55,000 miles plus taxes and fees. Even Frankfurt to Casablanca would cost 55,000 miles, a bad value for such a short distance, but that's the price of Europe region to Northern Africa region. I was technically just travelling from Southern Africa region to Northern Africa region and back. The value of itineraries like this are even greater when you consider the high cash price of intra-Africa airfares.
After flying back from Laayoune, I stayed in Casablanca for a night then headed to Fez (shown below). After staying in Fez, I made my way back to CMN on the train via Rabat.
I stayed in the Medina in Fez, which was very cool and the place was well kept, but these buildings that are hundreds or thousands of years old don't have many creature comforts.
The rail system in Morocco is very impressive. You can get to any major city in the northern part of the country on the train. The trip from Fez to Casablanca is about 4 hours, 15 minutes and has great scenery along the way.
This is the very sharp train station in Rabat, which is about three quarters of the way from Fez to Casablanca.
Check in at the airport went fine. There was no line and the agent nicely explained how to get to their contracted business lounge.
The contract business lounge was a decent size for a relatively small airport and there was only one other person in there with me. There was a fridge with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. They also had some finger food, but I steered clear as it looked like it had been sitting out for quite some time.
The main terminal is just one long corridor with duty free shops. I was planning on blowing all the Moroccan Dirham I had in cash, but most of these places only accepted Euros. I found one place that accepted Dirham for candy, so I ended up with quite a stash for the rest of my trip.
For my flight, we walked down the stairs from the gate into the waiting bus and caught a glimpse of this RAM 737 getting prepped for flight.
The bus drove us out to our parked Fokker 100 and I tried to do some brief spotting, but the only interesting thing was the Saudi Arabian aircraft at its gate.
No early boarding for the business pax on this flight, we all just crowded around and waited our turn.
The business class seats on this plane were pretty old, but much more comfortable than the standard short haul business seats you often get in Europe which are re-purposed economy seats that have the middle blocked out. We had a pretty long maintenance delay before we finally got going.
The food wasn't good, but this was a very short flight. Hard to complain.
Managed to get some GPS reception during the middle of the flight.
This trip was just after the height of the Ebola epidemic.
After we arrived I hustled to the immigration counters and got through quickly. There weren't many other people in the airport at this time. I took the Metro downtown from the airport, very clean and efficient.
I stayed at HOME Lisbon Hostel, which was the best hostel I've ever stayed in. The bed and bathroom were comfortable and clean, but the fact that the staff makes you feel like a part of the family is what sets this place apart. They had a plaque up from Hostelworld naming them the second best hostel in the entire world one year.
The marquis event here is Mama's dinner. It only costs an extra €10 and gets you a fantastic multi-course home cooked meal to eat with good company. I was lucky I got here in time to catch it due to the maintenance delay back at CMN.
In the morning they also have a hot breakfast included with your stay.
I didn't have much time for sightseeing, but I managed to walk around a bit and snap some pics before heading to the airport for my next flight. I'd definitely like to spend more time here in the future. There were also a bunch of Chinese in town and even Chinese advertisements at the airport. They have an affinity for scooping up Portuguese real estate.
Casablanca - CMN
Lisbon - LIS
The only aggravating thing about this flight was the maintenance delay after boarding. I'm not sure how old this Fokker 100 was, but maybe such maintenance issues are common with them. I had a dinner to get to in Lisbon and nearly missed it. Other than that, the in-flight service was good. I didn't like the food, but this was a very short flight and I wasn't expecting much anyway. The boarding procedure in Casablanca wasn't very smooth as we had to take a bus out to the plane, but that can be expected with a smaller plane at a small airport. Immigration in Lisbon was surprisingly fast (thanks to me hustling to the front of the pack) and I was impressed at how clean and efficient the Metro system was in Lisbon.
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