My wife and I recently came back from a trip to South Africa in March 2015. This bucket-list trip was made possible by points and miles and very little out-of-pocket costs. I hope this trip report will inspire you to visit and create your own South Africa experience.
Searching for Award Space:
I started searching for award space around July 2014, 8 months before our trip. I could not find any business class award space with Star Alliance partners. I checked oneworld partners and was surprised to see 4 business class awards daily out of JFK and PHL on Qatar airlines.
I could find award space from JFK-CPT, but no award space from CPT-JFK. After plugging different routings, I was able to find business class award space from JNB-JFK. I booked the awards, and I could either purchase CPT-JNB For $110 each or use 15,000 British Airways Avios +$88 for two at a later date, when I finalized my itinerary. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed us the time to book a one day safari to Pilanesberg from JNB.
In our case, we used 110,000 US Airways miles and 7,500 Avios each for the itinerary.
JFK-DOH (8+ hour layover), then DOH-CPT
CPT-JNB (stop 1 day), then JNB-DOH(8+ hour layover again) before continuing on to JFK
We decided to spend our layover in the world class Al Mourjan lounge at DOH because we were tired from the long flight. The lounge is very comfortable, modern, and the food is good. We had a grilled octopus and smoked salmon salad that was very tasty.
Dad tip: There is also a free layover tour available.
I do not believe a visa is required for this tour, but please check with airline to be safe. As we know, rules are always subject to change.
Airport Transportation in Cape Town:
Uber is available in Cape Town, or you can also take a taxi. Because we travel light, we took public transportation to the Park Inn Foreshore hotel. The fare was $3.89, and is similar to a metro card in NYC. You simply load a debit card, and you are charged based on distance.
To get to the Park Inn Foreshore, take the airport bus to Civic Center (A1). At Civic Center, switch to Bus T1 and take for one stop. The hotel is around the corner, and the journey takes 25 minutes.
Hotel Award Strategies:
In Cape Town, we stayed at the Park Inn Foreshore and Radisson Blu Waterfront using Club Carlson points and the beloved [and soon-expiring] BOGO award nights. Then for our last night, we used a free night certificate for the Johannesburg Hyatt Regency.
One Sentence Hotel Reviews:
- Park Inn Foreshore: Decent business hotel that’s close to many tourist spots and the free walking tour. Roof top bar offers great views of table mountain. The area is a little sketchy a night, mostly in the form of people begging for money.
- Radisson Waterfront: Beautiful hotel facing the water. The breakfast is great (paid), and they offer a free shuttle to VA waterfront.
- Hyatt Regency Johannesburg: 5-star business class hotel. We were upgraded to the lounge floor. The hotel is ½ block from train to JNB airport, and the airport trains are completely safe (20 minute ride).
Tours and Experiences:
Cape Town free walking tour (make sure you tip the guide at the end).
The Grand Cape Peninsula tour: In Cape Town, they drive on the “wrong side” of road, like England. This tour is a great way to see all of the highlights such as Cape of good hope reserve, the penguins at Boulders, Chapman Peak winery, etc. I highly recommend this tour.
Dad tip: I had the tour pick us up at Park Inn, and drop us off at our new hotel, the Radisson Waterfront.
Pilanesberg Day Safari: We traveled all the way to South Africa, so we absolutely needed to do a safari. Based on the positive reviews, we chose David to lead us on the safari experience.
You can do this on your own if you have the time, and are comfortable driving on the “wrong side”. With our limited time, this was the best way to experience a safari. David picked us up at JNB airport, and we drove about 2 hours to reach Pilanesberg. We toured the safari area for 6 hours, and then he drove us to the Hyatt Regency. David has a passion for photography, and he will lend you high-end cameras for your pictures. I highly recommend David.
Hope my trip report inspires you to take a similar trip. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.