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By 10xT Reader Steph Kimberly
Last Christmas, my husband and I were planning our next big trip. We have friends living in Lesotho, a landlocked country within South Africa, for work and we really wanted to visit them. But there was no way we could afford the $1,500+ flights to get there for two adults and our 1-year-old.
I had been using credit cards for cash back and Amazon redemptions (such a waste!) for years and thought I had been doing well since I paid off all my cards each month and earned decent cash back. A co-worker told me I could be doing so much more and referred me to 10xtravel.
So, I read the Ebook and got started!
In This Article
I quickly applied for and was approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points once I spent $4,000 within 3 months.
Editors Note: This bonus has since changed, you can find the updated offer here.
I referred my husband to the card which netted us 118,000 points combined points. The additional 10,000 points came from the referral bonus. With day to day bills, $1,000 month in daycare (boo) that I can pay with a credit card (yay!), meeting minimum spends is easy for us.
I was also doing research on the best way to get to South Africa to figure out how many points I was going to need. Flying into Lesotho directly was not going to be cost- or time-effective. Our best bet was to fly into Johannesburg (JNB) and drive 4.5 hours to Maseru, Lesotho.
Our two personal goals were to minimize out of pocket costs and minimize total flying time since we were traveling with a lap child.
While there are redemptions that have a higher “value” than what I chose, these were the things that were important to us, which is all that matters in the end. I found that South African Airways operates a direct flight from New York (JFK) to Johannesburg and they happen to be a Star Alliance partner which meant I could book the economy seats with 40,000 United miles per person, each way.
Given this, I opened the United Explorer MileagePlus and was able to cover the flight with the 40,000-mile sign-up bonus.
Editors Note: This offer has since changed, you can see the updated offer on our credit cards page.
I also chose this card so I could get reimbursed for the Global Entry application fee, as I had just had my husband use his old Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card for his Global Entry credit.
I wanted this trip to be as painless as possible and breezing through customs coming back to the states was a key part of that!
Now that I had the points, I was ready to book. My best advice is to run award searches before you’re ready to book. I had been stalking the flights I wanted for several months to confirm there was consistent award availability, so I already knew the dates and times I wanted.
It can be very overwhelming to try to do all of that at once, so do yourself a favor and practice!
I booked my husband’s ticket through United for 80,000 miles + $55 taxes and then booked my ticket and my daughter’s lap child ticket for roughly 77,000 points through the Chase travel portal.
For international flights, the lap child fee is often 10% of the adult fare. So, by booking through the portal, I was able to use Chase Ultimate Rewards to cover her entire fare with no out of pocket cost.
If you’re traveling with an infant, make sure you know the best airline programs for booking.
The downside of this method was that my husband was not initially seated next to us. However, at the airport, I just asked the check-in agent very nicely if there was anyway he could be moved at least near us to help as I displayed my active toddler for sympathy. They obliged and placed him next to us!
I had requested a bulkhead seat with the baby bassinet two weeks prior to the flight for my 14 month old and was lucky enough to get it for both flights. The baby bassinets are attached to the wall in front of you after take-off (for us it was after the first meal) and removed before landing (or when you ask).
Keep in mind, each airline will have different height/weight requirements for safety. My daughter is tiny, so she was within the requirements (barely), but I had to keep an eye on her when she woke up to get her out or she would climb out. It was worth it. For a 15-hour flight, not having to hold her for all sleeping hours was the most glorious thing. Also, the bulkhead seat gives you a bunch of leg room and baby play room.
We rented a car at the Johannesburg Airport and drove 4.5 hours south to Maseru, Lesotho to stay at our friends’ house for a few days, which was: A) free and B) a great way to unwind, adjust to the time difference, and acclimate to the altitude.
Did you know that area is as high as Denver? I didn’t!
We had limited options for points redemptions where we were going, so our hotel stays were cash, however, the money we saved on flights meant we could afford the costs, which were very reasonable regardless. We also used some of my husband’s Capital One miles from his Venture Card to offset some of the cost.
Next, we all drove about 2 hours to Kiara Lodge in Clarens, just near the entrance to the Golden Gate National park. The four adults and three kids shared a two-bedroom chalet with a full kitchen that cost us $150 per couple for the two nights.
Our stay was wonderful. They had an indoor pool, a splash pad, mini-golf, hiking, a game room, an excellent playground, and great food.
We then said goodbye to our friends and headed to Ndaka, another two hours away, at the Nambiti game reserve. Ndaka is a family-friendly lodge with excellent customer service.
Everyone was very friendly, they knew and called us by our names, and they treated my daughter like the boss she knows she is. They even had car seats on the safari vehicle so our daughter could join in and had a babysitter available (for a nominal fee) for the one night when she was too fussy to go.
Ndaka was a little pricier at roughly $650 for the two days- but it was all-inclusive apart from alcohol and there were four total game drives for our stay.
We stayed in a luxury “tent” for our stay, which was GIGANTIC, had views of the reserve, and an outdoor shower. It really was the ultimate way to end our trip.
Flights: 80,000 United miles and 77,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards + $55.00
Rental Car: $380 for the week
The dollar goes so far that our out of pocket expenses for food and drink were about $400 for the whole trip. We ate and drank very well and never really worried about menu costs.
We saved 50% of the cost of the trip by getting our flights through points which made the entire trip possible!
I never thought I would be able to say that I had been on safari in Africa, let alone that I had taken my 14-month-old on safari in Africa. As I’ve learned more, I know there are other ways I could have saved even more cash on this trip but, in the end, it was still very affordable and a ton of fun!
This was my first big redemption and I am very much hooked. I’m working on our Southwest Companion Pass now and have a stash of hotel points that will hopefully lead to more great trips next year, especially while my lap child is still free!
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Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.