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If you follow me on social media, especially on Snapchat and Twitter, you already know that I had the trip of a lifetime with my parents in Africa — stay tuned, as I’ll be writing a full report of our experience in Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania soon. Overall, we had an incredible trip, and I’m so happy I could bring my parents along for the ride. That being said, toward the end of my trip, I had a kind of sour experience with &Beyond, our luxury safari operator, and couldn’t really explain too much at the time.
I paid top dollar to treat my parents because they’ve done so much for me and I’m not sure when we’ll be able to go on a trip like this again, so I wanted to make sure we had the best experience possible. Everyone I talked to recommended Singita or &Beyond, and several people who I know and trust recently did &Beyond safaris across Africa and couldn’t say enough good things about the company. &Beyond is a luxury safari company that offers tours in Africa, Asia and South America. I chose this specific safari because it’s a tented camp in the Serengeti that follows the Great Migration and situates itself to be the closest to it. I figured that because the Great Migration was in June and we’d be going at the end of June, that would be the best bet. It’s a small camp, with around nine tents, right in the middle of the Serengeti — I mean, how much more special can it get?
I booked this trip for my parents and me directly through &Beyond. We got one double room and one single room for three nights for the three of us for a total of $15,830. Yes, &Beyond is on the pricey side, but you’re supposed to be getting a top-notch safari experience, so I was willing to splurge. As always, it’s TPG editorial policy to pay for all of our own trips, and it’s for reasons like this that we are unbiased in our reports. I paid for the trip with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to earn 2x points on travel, and so I’d have the card’s travel protection benefits.
Long story short, when you go on a safari, the whole point is to go on game drives. You usually go out from around 6:30am-9:30am and then from around 4:00pm-7:00pm later the same day. The day we arrived, we flew in to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), where we then boarded a small regional jet to Grumeti Airstrip Airport (GTZ) to be picked up by &Beyond and taken to our camp. When we landed at Kilimanjaro around noon, we had to wait until 2:00pm for the propeller jet, which was only supposed to be an hour’s flight or so, but we had to stop at other camps along the way, so it took longer — there was a lot of waiting around.
We landed at the Grumeti Airstrip, located about 15-20 minutes from the camps, just before 4:00pm. Given the timing, I thought we’d be able to go out on our first game drive of the trip, but unfortunately, we ended up waiting in the parking lot area for close to an hour with no explanation. Our tour guide was going back and forth to the main park rangers who were in a little office at Grumeti Airstrip — it was more than a little frustrating after a long day of travel. We were so excited to get to the camp and he was just showing us a map of the area — it was almost as if he was intentionally wasting time. By the time we finally got to the camp, we couldn’t go on a game drive. I paid more than $15,000 for six game drives and the first night was lost.
Day two was amazing — we got both of our scheduled game drives in, and it was just as incredible as I’d imagined it would be.
Day three, though, is where the trip turned really sour. On our night drive, we were supposed to go to a certain area of the park, so when we started heading in the opposite direction, I was a little confused. I asked Seph, our tour guide, where we were going, and he informed me that we had to go back to the airport because his license to be a park ranger expired the next day and he needed to renew it. I started to get a little upset because we only had three hours on this game drive and we’d basically burned one of those hours on one of our last game drives running errands for our tour guide. What was especially irritating was that he’d had seven hours off during the day in between our drives to get his paperwork done. I firmly believe that his errands should not have been done while we were on our game drive, so I was a little annoyed with that but ultimately was willing to let it go.
The following day was our official departure date, and our flight was scheduled to leave at 3:25pm to go to Doha, then on to Philadelphia. My understanding was that we would have more than enough time to do our morning game drive at 6:30am, get back to camp by 9:00am-9:30am, leave by 10:30am for our 11:00am regional propeller flight and get to Kilimanjaro by 1:00pm. That would give us nearly 2.5 hours at Kilimanjaro, which is more than enough time, as it’s a tiny airport with a single security line, not your typical international airport where you’d need to be more than an hour early.
Our timing was padded perfectly for a final game drive. The night before we were supposed to leave, I left everything in the game drive car and told Seph I’d see him in the morning, and no one said anything. However, that night at our 9:00pm dinner after a couple of drinks around the campfire, Seph came up and said that they had to push our flights earlier so we wouldn’t be able to do a game drive the next morning after all.
I was immediately upset because the whole point of a safari is to go on game drives, and we were expecting to do so the next morning — so not only did we miss our first drive of the trip, but we were also going to miss our last. To be told the night before at dinner that we’re not going on safari because of the regional airline is not acceptable. I would have expected &Beyond to push on our behalf to have us stay with our original scheduled departure time, or at least to make an alternate arrangement. I told him this wouldn’t be acceptable and he got his manager, who also apologized and said it was out of their control — the regional airlines do this from time to time. But as a customer, that’s not my fault. So the entire night I was stressed throughout dinner and felt like I’d really been taken advantage of. It’s not a good feeling to spend that kind of money for a top-notch experience and to end up feeling like you’re being taken advantage of.
Luckily, there was Wi-Fi at the camp and I texted my assistant in New York who escalated up through &Beyond and let them know that we were very unhappy. Fortunately, he was able to figure something out and got us a 10:00am departure, which would allow us to go on a shorter game drive in the morning. But the safari staff didn’t even come over and tell me this, so the whole night I was really stressed out and unhappy.
In addition to the big scheduling mishap, there were other things that started to become annoying, like the food — there was only one food choice per night, so if you weren’t a fan of whatever was being served, you weren’t eating. I’m not a huge lamb person and had to eat it on the first night, then the final night, there was a very grizzly pork-type of meat — my mom and I wouldn’t eat it, but there were no other options. There definitely should have been more meal options at a five-star luxury safari camp.
After going to bed with a very unpleasant taste in my mouth because of the company and what was going on, we woke up the next morning to go on the most amazing game drive of the trip. It was just absolutely spectacular. We saw a serval cat, which are very rare, and a family of lions. I’m so thankful I pushed for that final drive.
Following our amazing last game drive, we ended up going back to the airport on schedule to find out our flights were delayed and the pilots didn’t have our tickets — it was just a whole debacle at the airstrip. When we got there, I noticed that every other safari camp left immediately after they got their passengers — there was no waiting around at the airstrip for an hour like we’d endured. It seemed all the other safari companies were better prepared and did their paperwork in advance so guests weren’t aimlessly waiting around. And to think we’d missed our first game drive because of something so simple.
At this point, I continued to be annoyed and the camp didn’t really seem to care. It only got worse when we landed back in Kilimanjaro. There, someone came up to me while I was checking in and said someone from &Beyond wanted to talk to me. I said great, I’ll be checking in at the Qatar check-in desk and then heading up to the business-class lounge, so they’d know where to find me. While I was in the lounge, a representative approached me and told me they were ready to talk and expected me to leave the lounge, but I was already through immigration and was not going to re-enter to talk to them — they weren’t going to stress me out even more. No one ended up coming back to chat.
When I got home after a long flight, I posted an Instagram with my parents and an amazing sunset and tagged &Beyond.
&Beyond then commented on the Instagram that they tried to talk to me at the airport, which made me kind of mad because it insinuated that I was being unreasonable. Of course, I wasn’t being unreasonable and was available to speak the whole time I was at the airport — so that really set me off.
The Saturday I got home, and after 32 hours of traveling, someone from &Beyond finally called me. I explained all the issues — there were also some other, smaller issues that I won’t go into here. &Beyond agreed pretty much across the board, and didn’t try to challenge anything I said. Then on Monday, someone from &Beyond called me back and agreed to refund almost 50% of the safari — $7,000.
The following day, the CEO of &Beyond reached out and apologized, and we had a good discussion about the entire situation. Everyone who reacted to what they heard on my social media posts was completely shocked because &Beyond is not known for this — one of its lodges just ranked No. 100 on T+L’s list of the top 100 hotels in the world. Of course, this situation could have just been a one-off, but it’s a warning for those who are thinking about going on safari with the company.
What I Learned
I definitely took away some pieces of advice from this situation.
- First: I booked directly with &Beyond. If I would have booked through Amex Centurion, which was a little more expensive, or even a luxury travel agent, that would have been an extra step for me to get through. For the average person, through, I’d recommend booking through an expert who can also remediate, as not everyone has assistants like me who can do that for them.
- Second: I learned to confirm everything before booking and going on safari. Confirm all your flight times and safari drives — and get it in writing so everyone’s on the same page.
- Third: Look at the food and beverage options and let them know of any restrictions in advance — especially meat-wise, so if you don’t eat meat they can make alternate arrangements.
Overall, &Beyond has been very swift since owning up to where everything went wrong. I got the refund several days after talking to the CEO — and I got the money through a wire transfer, so I got to keep all my Ultimate Rewards points. In the end, my parents and I still had an incredible, life-changing trip. I ended up saving a bunch and more than what I expected with the refund, so I’ve been made whole there. But I definitely learned things that I want to pass on to you, no matter who you choose for your own safari.
I would definitely give &Beyond a chance in the future, but for my next safari I’ll choose Singita simply because I’ve heard such amazing things about the company and it has several properties that ranked much higher in T&L’s list of the top 100 hotels. I don’t know when my next safari will be, but Singita, I’m coming for you.
Have you gone on safari with &Beyond before? What was your experience like?
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