By 10xTravel Reader: Randy Sawtelle

My wife and I took an incredible trip this past fall thanks to points and miles and I wanted to share it with 10xTravel! We took a 17-day trip to Capetown, South Africa, enjoyed a safari, and went to Dubai on the way home. It was fantastic!

To start, we earned the necessary miles and points by using multiple credit cards bonus categories (ie. gas, groceries, restaurants), using airline shopping portals, earning credit card sign-up welcome bonuses, and paying bills through Plastiq.

Our total points expenditure for this trip was: 280,000 American miles, 120,000 Citi ThankYou Points, 11,766 Chase Ultimate rewards, 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and 40,000 IHG Rewards points.

In January 2019, I secured our safari dates and started looking for flights.

Our Flights to South Africa: Qatar Airways Qsuites

Our adventure began on October 16. We traveled from Baltimore to Philadelphia via Amtrak, and paid for our tickets using Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to earn 3x. From Philadelphia (PHL), We flew Qatar Qsuites on the Airbus A350-900 to Doha (DOH). Be booked two one-way tickets for 150,000 American AAdvantage and $15.70 per person in taxes/fees.

Enjoying a glass of champagne in Qatar Airways Qsuites.

Enjoying a glass of champagne in Qatar Airways Qsuites.

We had a 4 hour layover in Doha where we enjoyed the Al Mourjan Business Lounge. From there, we boarded another A350-900 to Johannesburg (JNB) where we transferred to a British Airways flight (operated by Comari) to Cape Town (CPT).

For more info on the Qatar Airways Qsuites, check out our review!

Our Stay In Cape Town: Holiday Inn Express

Cape of Good Hope

My wife and I at the Cape of Good Hope

We booked five nights at the Holiday Inn Express located in the middle of Cape Town for 10,000 points per night. We were able to take advantage of IHG’s 4th night free offer as my wife has the Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. That meant we only needed 40,000 points for the stay!

We were given a room that viewed Table Mountain and Lions Head on the 14th floor. We were able to book many of our tours through Viator via the Rakuten shopping portal which averaged about 5% back. Viator bookings also fall under the travel category with Chase so we earned 3x with the Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card.

During our 5 days, we took the Hop on Hop off bus for 2 days and visited Table Mountain where I actually hiked up the mountain – my wife took the cable car.  We visited the penguins at Boulder Beach, Nelson Mandella’s prison cell on Robben Island, and visited Cape of Good Hope, the most Southwestern point of Africa.

Our Safari Adventure

bed, private bathroom and outside shower

Our hut with our bed, private bathroom and outside shower

After our visit at Cape Town, it was time for our Safari.  We booked a Kulula flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg via the Chase travel portal for 11,776 points. The cash cost of this flight was $147.20.

We overnighted at a lovely lodge in Johannesburg (or, as the locals call it, Joburg) which I booked as part of the Safari package back in January. The next morning, we were awoken by South African bird sounds. We showered, had some coffee and headed out on a 6 hour drive to the Greater Kruger area. On our 4 day, 3 night walking Safari, we were spoiled by great food, quaint accommodations, and wonderful guides.

Because we were in greater Kruger, our camp was located in the area of no fences and the animals were allowed to roam about freely. Our daily agenda began with a 5:00am wake-up with coffee and rusks before taking two vehicles for about 30 minutes out to the bush. We were  given the choice of walking on foot with a guide or staying in the vehicle. Either option takes three hours so it comes down to personal preference.

dining table for 12

Our dining table for 12

After our morning game viewing, we went back to camp where we had a full hot breakfast, and at about 10:30am, the day was open until 4:00pm. We could nap, relax and read a book or swim in either of the camp’s two (small) pools.

A lovely lunch was served at 2:00pm.  At 4:00pm, we prepped for our evening game drive where we enjoyed sunset cocktails and snacks at a spot that provided spectacular viewing.

Imagine having an evening bourbon or gin and tonic with a Hippo in the pond behind you!

After sunset, we were driven around for about two more hours in the dark while the guides used a bright spotlight to find nocturnal creatures. Arriving back at camp around 8:00pm, we were welcomed with a pre-dinner drink and a hot towel.

Dinner was usually served around 8:30pm where all 12 people in our group reminisced about the day’s activities. Our camp had a small fence around it but, because animals roamed freely about the area, each hut had an alarm system in it for emergency situations, which was a hand held air horn!

alarm system

Our alarm system!

Overall, it was an absolutely amazing adventure where we saw not only the Big 5 in the unfenced wild but so, so much more wildlife!

I cannot recommend this company enough. For the two of us, we received 4 days, 3 nights at a wonderful bush camp, airport transportation, two overnight stays in Johannesburg, and round-trip transportation between Johannesburg and our camp.

The company we booked with, African Budget Safaris, allowed us to split our payments between my Citi Premier card and my wife’s Chase Ink Preferred. The total cost for all this was $1,918, and was such a great value and, because it coded as travel, the purchase earned 3x points.

Our Flights to Dubai: Emirates Business Class

After our Safari, it was time now to head to Dubai. We booked two business class tickets on Emirates from Johannesburg to Dubai (DXB). To book, I transferred 120,000 ThankYou Points to Qantas and paid $627 in taxes/fees.

Of the entire trip, this part was probably the most disappointing to me.

Don’t get me wrong, Emirates business class was great but, when I booked the tickets, it was on an Airbus A380. Unfortunately, in late August, Emirates changed the aircraft for our flight which put us on a Boeing 777-300.

It was a great flight but Emirates only has its famous business class bar on the A380.

Woe is me… 🙂

Our Stay in Dubai: Sheraton, Mall of the Emirates

In Dubai, we stayed at the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates for four nights at a cost of 25,000 points per night and a $20 dollar booking fee. My wife and I did not have enough points in one account to cover this so we booked three nights with my account and booked one night with her account.

Before arriving, we were contacted by guest relations, thanking me for my silver status (due to my old Marriott card) and welcoming us to their hotel, I seized the opportunity and thanked them and asked if it were possible to get a room with a view, seeing how it was our first time visiting.

Upon arrival, we were greatly surprised by not only getting a room overlooking Dubai but were upgraded to a Junior Suite which costs an average of $209 a night. We enjoyed the many sights of Dubai, visited the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), booked an afternoon of desert dune bashing in a four-wheel drive vehicle, rode some camels and enjoyed an evening barbeque in the desert with belly dancing entertainment.

Our Flights Home: Etihad Business Class

For our trip home, we flew Etihad business class from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Washington Dulles (IAD). For this leg of the trip, we used 140,000 American miles.

At the time I booked this, you could receive a 10% miles rebate up to 10,000 miles if you had a Citi or Barclays co-branded AA credit card. I received the maximum rebate of 10,000 miles which brought our total down to 65,000 miles each plus $49.43 per person in taxes/fees.

Final Thoughts on the Trip of a Lifetime

This was a trip of a lifetime for us and to do it with points and miles made it just that little bit better. Thanks to some savvy planning, we saved a ton of money and will enjoy our memories of this trip for many years to come!