Epic Adventure in South Africa on Points and Miles

Pam

Africa has always been a place of beauty and mystery.  For many, the allure of seeing Africa’s treasures is offset when they think of traveling such a long distance to such an unknown destination.  There is no doubt that the journey to get to Africa (especially South Africa) is long and tiresome. Thanks to Trent and this report of his, we know more about South Africa on points and miles. Here is his reader success story:

Recently my wife, 14-year-old son, and I took a journey to South Africa.  I had the chance to visit Kenya and Tanzania back in the mid-’90s.  I was extremely excited to return knowing what experiences we would have.  My wife and son had different feelings.  For them, Africa was still an unknown and potentially scary destination.  Yes, they looked at the countless photos I showed them of my trip almost 30 years ago. They listened to my never-ending stories about staying in tents in the Masai Mara or going on night safaris. However, they still had visions of the seedier side of Africa that all too many travelers conjure up when thinking about Africa.

Flights

We began our journey to South Africa on points and miles flying from Salt Lake City to Frankfurt, Germany on Euro Wings (a sister airline to Lufthansa).  From Frankfurt, we flew on Egypt Air to Cairo, Egypt.  The 777 we flew on was very dated and dirty.  I had read plenty of reviews about Egypt Air and every review was pretty much spot on.  We flew on another Egypt Air flight from Cairo to Johannesburg, South Africa.

These flights were booked using 120k United miles total for all 3 of us and about $40 in taxes per person. Our miles were accumulated by signing up for the United Business card and meeting the requirements for the signup bonus. We also used some Chase Ultimate Reward points I transferred to my wife’s United account. We flew economy which is not ideal when flying for nearly 22 hours, but we survived.

Lodging

Once we arrived in Johannesburg we were picked up by a private car and taken to our resort.  We chose to stay at the Sun City Resort (anyone who has seen the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie Blended will know this resort). It is approximately 2 hours north of the Johannesburg airport. The drive was very pleasant and about half of it was on freeways.

The second half took us through what I would consider true Africa. We were able to see how things really are for most of the South African population.  This was extremely humbling for my son who now has seen how people can still be happy and positive even with very few possessions. I booked the private car transfer well before we set off and used Visa gift cards that I had purchased from Staples using my Chase Ink Cash to get 5x.

Sun City Resort was absolutely amazing. I will admit that being there at times made us forget that we were in South Africa because of how modern and Americanized it is. All that it took to snap us back to reality was a baboon running across the lawn. The resort is set up with 6 different hotel options ranging on your budget. There was a no-frills option all the way up to the Palace that has rooms going for $600-$700 a night.  We chose to stay at the Cabanas and were pleasantly surprised.  Our room was nothing special but that was not the reason we had traveled all that way.

 

Resort with water and mountains

Sun City Resort in South Africa

 

Price of Lodging and Amenities

I booked our 5 nights at the Cabanas using Chase Ultimate Rewards points and booking through the Chase travel portal.  The total for the 5 nights was 69,504 UR points.  I chose to book this way because of the 1.25 per point I get from my Chase Sapphire Preferred.  The travel portal is not everyone’s favorite and can lead to major headaches.  I felt okay using it since it was for a hotel and not a flight that could be canceled.

I have heard of people booking hotel reservations through the travel portal and then showing up only to find out Chase never completed the reservation.  So, I reached out directly to the resort just after making the reservation to make sure they had indeed received everything from Chase and that the reservation was in their system. Using the portal worked for us on this trip to South Africa on points and miles.

Sun City Resort is very much set up to make everyone feel at ease.  We kept joking that it was very “Disney-like” because of the amenities they have onsite and the style of how everything is displayed. There were shuttle buses to every hotel as well as what is called Sun Central.  Sun Central is basically a mall.  There are countless restaurants serving Americanized food like burgers, pizza, chicken strips, ice cream, etc.  That came in very handy for my wife and son who were both very nervous about the food situation we would find.

 

Elephant statues in front of red rocks

 

There are shops, a movie theater, an arcade, a bowling alley, and best of all-a water park.  The water park has a giant wave pool, 5 or 6 different water slides, a kiddy area, a lazy river, and a full ropes course complete with zip lines that go over the pools. The water park was a nice way to complete our days after long hours out on safari. There are also two 18-hole golf courses for those that like to swing the sticks.  I was lucky enough to play on the Gary Player course and had a blast. Just don’t look for any stray golf balls in the bushes, there are creatures on the course we don’t have here in the US.  All in all, the Sun City Resort would make anyone that is apprehensive about being in Africa feel safe.

 

Self-Drive Safari

The real reason we traveled so many hours and endured the lack of sleep at times was to experience going on safari and seeing things we just don’t get to see in the states (except in zoos). For our safaris, I rented a car from Hertz which has a rental location right on the resort property. Again, I used Visa gift cards for the rental car and got 5x points. One thing to note about the rental car is the fact that the primary rental car insurance you can get by using a Chase Sapphire Preferred is not valid in South Africa.  I opted to pay an additional $13 per day to get full coverage from Hertz.

I had read quite a bit before we left about doing a “self-drive” safari and for us, that appealed more than being on a time-restricted tour. In the end, it could not have been a better decision.  We were able to start our days whenever we wanted and end them when we felt we had seen enough.  The game park we explored during our time in South Africa was Pilanesberg National Park.  It was a two-minute drive from Sun City’s back gate (only guests staying at Sun City are allowed on the resort property).  You pay approximately $10 per person to have access to the park all day.

 

Animals on safari

 

You could come and go as you please, but we never did so. Once inside the park, you are free to basically go wherever you like.  We had purchased a map of the park and slowly started our epic hunt for what is known as the big 5.  The big 5 consists of the lion, cape water buffalo, leopard, elephant, and rhino. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the lion or cape water buffalo, but we saw plenty of other animals to make up for it.  We saw zebra, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos, giraffes, wart hogs, impalas, gazelles, cheetahs, leopards, elephants and so much more.  We had elephants walk right up to the side of our car so close we could have slapped them. In the end, it was nothing but successful!

 

Large grey animal with tusks

 

 

Flight Home

Just like most things in life, our journey had to come to an end.  After 6 fun-filled days in South Africa, it was time to come home.  Coming home we flew from Johannesburg to London on British Airways.  This was an extra special flight for my son and me because it was on an A380.  The A380 is a double-decker airplane, and our seats were on the upper deck. I must admit, once you are on the plane you don’t even realize there is a second deck below you.

We landed in London the day after Queen Elizabeth II had passed away but did not know it until we got into the airport.  Since we had an 8-hour layover, we left our bags at the airport and cruised around downtown London for a few hours.  We saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Big Ben, the Parliament building, and much more.  From London, we flew on American to Dallas and then on to Salt Lake City.  These flights were booked using 120k AA miles total for all 3 of us and about $100 in taxes per person.  The AA points I used were from a promotional sale that was on Simply Miles late last year. You could donate to a charity and receive 240x.  It was quite the promo but sadly only lasted a few days. You could also book flights by applying for American Airlines cards.

In the end, we had an amazing time and created memories that will last our lifetimes.  I would have loved to book all our flights in business class to experience what business class has to offer. At the end of the day, I saved a few hundred thousand points that I have already earmarked for a trip to Australia in 2023.  This was a trip that I would not have been able to take my wife and son on had it not been for points and miles.  The total cost of this trip would have been well over $20k and I paid less than $1k out of pocket for everything.  I LOVE points and miles!!

Bottom Line

Thanks, Trent for this great report on South Africa on points and miles. Trent is a rockstar using his points/miles to benefit his family as evidenced by a prior trip he took to Maui.  I didn’t even know about the self-driven safaris – thanks for educating us! And a $20K trip for less than $1,000 is beyond impressive!

Animal with long neck walking in dry grass

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