A super cheap business class airfare prompted booking a trip to Kenya in May 2022. It turned out that in addition to new airline and ground-based experiences, this trip to Kenya was a lesson in the need for flexibility and adaptability in travel plans. No matter the amount of planning that goes into a trip, circumstances beyond one’s control can throw all of the planning out the window in the blink of an eye.

The Original Plan

I had planned to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after coming down with Covid at the end of April (I assume in or on the way to Las Vegas). A seven-day trek up and down the highest mountain in Africa would have been an endurance test for me even before Covid.

One factor weighing in favor of continuing with a Kilimanjaro attempt was that, in 2018, I spent a night in Everest Base Camp in Tibet. The only problem with the altitude there (just over 17,000′ or 5,181m) except that it was easy to get out of breath even walking on level ground.

On the other hand, Kilimanjaro tops out at an altitude of 19,341ft (5,895m) above sea level. Summitting Kilimanjaro would definitely require more effort than spending a night at EBC. Plus I was in better shape four years ago, and recent recovery from a mild case of Covid further increased the chance of experiencing less than desirable physical endurance in thin air.

I took the safe way out, canceled the climb and booked an eight-day safari. Losing the chance to climb Kilimanjaro wasn’t the only disruption to my plans.

Business Class Fare To Nairobi, Kenya

For international flights in business class, I normally use points or miles for the ticket or upgrade a purchased economy ticket with miles or an upgrade certificate. This trip was unusual because I shelled out hard currency and purchased the ticket.

Finding a great business class fare a few months ago from Dallas, Texas to Nairobi, Kenya for $1,700 roundtrip was the primary reason for visiting Kenya. The itinerary included several intercontinental flights on Air France, a Delta SkyTeam and trans -Atlantic joint venture partner. I’d never tried Air France business class, and one of the flights featured Air France’s new business class seat.

The ticket price was more than coach but less than a third of a typical cheap business class fare from the U.S. to Africa. In my situation, buying a business class ticket also made sense because it generated a lot of qualifying dollars and miles that would be a big boost to requalifying as a Delta Diamond Medallion.

A Cheap Business Class Ticket Can Save Money In More Ways Than One

Diamond is the top published status (there’s also super-secret, invitation-only Delta 360 status that reportedly has even more and better benefits) in the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program. As one who in normal times takes at least 12 to 15 plane trips each year, I find that the benefits of Diamond status such as international upgrade certificates, being first in line for free first class upgrades on domestic flights, free CLEAR membership, enhanced mileage accrual, and access to a customer service line with the shortest wait times and best reps who are often willing to bend the rules make having Diamond status worth forking over a few thousand dollars each year that I’d otherwise spend on travel anyway.

To qualify for elite status, Delta requires that SkyMiles members attain certain annual thresholds in miles (qualification miles) or flight segments and money spent (qualification dollars). The annual minimum requirements for Diamond are 125,000 qualification miles and $15,000 in qualification dollars spent on tickets credited to a Delta frequent flyer account. Incidentally, government imposed taxes and fees on airline tickets don’t count as qualifying dollars. Therefore, the actual amount out of pocket to reach the qualifying dollar threshold is usually closer to $18,000.

But there are two ways around having to spend that much on airline tickets. First, Delta explicitly provides a waiver for the Diamond qualifications dollars requirement for members who charge $250,000 in a year on a Delta American Express card. Ha ha! Fat chance! Even if I could afford it, I wouldn’t put such a large amount of spend on a Delta card when putting that spend on other cards would generate more points or miles that are also much more valuable.

The second method is not as well known. When flying on partner airlines and crediting the flight to a SkyMiles account, Delta calculates qualifying dollars as a percentage of the distance flown. On airlines in which Delta has an ownership stake or is a joint venture partner, Delta awards qualification dollars as 40% of the distance flown.

Even though only three of my flights on this trip were on Air France or KLM, thanks to calculating qualifications dollars based on distance flown not ticket price, I was credited with 6,865 qualifications dollars on a ticket that cost $1,700 including tax. That’s 45% of the entire $15,000 requirement for $1,700 out of pocket. If Delta hadn’t changed my flights on the day of departure, the same ticket would have earned about 1,500 additional qualification dollars. That story about travel flexibility will be covered in the next post.

Cheap long-distance business class flights on certain Delta partners are a great way to satisfy Delta’s expensive qualification dollars requirements and retain top-tier benefits and perks without breaking the bank.

How To Find Cheap Fares

Numerous websites help travelers find low fares. The best one for me is the Mileage Run Deals thread on