Dreaming of an African safari: How I’ll book my bucket-list trip to Tanzania on miles and points
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With our feet planted firmly on the ground lately, the TPG team has had plenty of time to dream about traveling again. For me, there are the usual summer plans, like getting back to the Big Apple, lazing on a beach in Spain or going to Denmark for dinner.
But with all this time to think and plan, I’ve been dreaming of something much bigger.
A bucket-list trip to Tanzania.
There are three reasons Tanzania is on my must-visit list:
- I have sponsored a child in Tanzania through the World Vision Foundation for almost a decade and it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit him.
- I have heard such great things about the safari drives in Tanzania. I did my first safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park a few years ago and while I loved it, the scrub was very dense. I could only see one or two animals at a time, so I’d love to do another safari where there are more wide-open plains and herds moving together.
- I love a good beach. My sister honeymooned in Zanzibar, a little tropical island off the coast of Tanzania, and I’d love to finish the trip off there with some time lazing at the beach.
How to get there
Tanzania is in East Africa, south of Kenya and north of Mozambique. The country has an airline, Air Tanzania, but it does not fly to the U.S.
So, I’ll need to connect somewhere. To fly into the country’s main airport, Julius Nyerere International Airport serving Dar es Salaam (DAR), I could choose to fly one-stop from major airports in the U.S. on:
- Egyptair, via Cairo (CAI);
- Emirates, via Dubai (DXB);
- Ethiopian Airlines, via Addis Ababa (ADD);
- Kenya Airways, via Nairobi (NBO);
- KLM, via Amsterdam (AMS);
- Qatar Airways, via Doha (DOH);
- South African Airways, via Johannesburg (JNB);
- Swiss, via Zurich (ZRH); or
- Turkish Airlines, via Istanbul (IST).
Let’s say I want to start my trip in Los Angeles (LAX). Round-trip prices in economy are fairly reasonable if I’m willing to change planes twice, not so much if I only want a one-stop journey.
As this is a bucket-list trip, I’d love to fly in a premium cabin, but business-class prices aren’t exactly affordable:
Booking flights with points and miles
Fortunately, most of these options can be booked with points and miles and there are plenty of different airline options, programs to book them through and transferable points currencies to choose from. To narrow this down I’ll start with the airlines I’d most like to fly with, then look at how to best book them.
Based on TPG’s reviews of the various business-class products, I’d be happy with the following, in order:
Let’s take a look at the best ways to book each airline to Tanzania with points and miles:
The best way to book Qatar business class from the U.S. to Tanzania on miles and points is with the American Airlines AAdvantage program which charges a reasonable 75,000 miles each way in business class.
One of the easiest ways to earn American AAdvantage miles is through cobranded credit cards, both via sign-up bonuses and everyday spending. Both Citi and Barclays currently issue American credit cards, giving you six different options with different welcome bonuses and points-earning abilities.
Citi’s American AAdvantage portfolio is the most attractive of the two issuers when it comes to earning bonus miles on everyday credit card spending. Currently, Citi offers four AAdvantage cards:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. ($450 annual fee)
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on gas station, restaurant and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. ($99 annual fee)
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening. ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months)
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on grocery store and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. (No annual fee)
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Turkish Airways and Swiss
Both Turkish and Swiss fly to Tanzania. I’ve flown Swiss business class before and I especially like their lounges in their Zurich (ZRH) hub, so I’d be happy with either of these carriers in business class.
The two best ways to book business-class awards on Turkish or Swiss are through the loyalty programs of their Star Alliance partners, Air Canada (Aeroplan) and United Airlines (MileagePlus). Both programs have similar mileage requirements to Africa — 75,000 Aeroplan miles in business class between the U.S. and Africa and 80,000 MileagePlus miles each way.
Aeroplan also partners with a number of transferable points programs, letting you instantly top up your account when you’re ready to book an award. You can transfer credit card points to Aeroplan at the following ratios:
- American Express Membership Rewards: 1:1
- Capital One miles: 2:1.5
- Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 (with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred)
If you’re looking to build up your Aeroplan balance quickly, consider applying for one of these credit cards to take advantage of a valuable welcome bonus:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 75,000 points after you spend $15,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
If you would prefer to book through United but need to top up your account, there are all sorts of cards that can help get you there:
- United Explorer Card — Best for occasional United flyers
- United Club Infinite Card — Best for United Club access
- United Business Card — Best for small-business owners
- United Club Business Card — Best for small-business owners who want lounge access
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — Best for flexible travel rewards
- Chase Sapphire Reserve — Best for frequent travelers
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card — Best for high-spending businesses
- The Platinum Card® from American Express — Best for lounge access around the world
- Citi Prestige® Card — Best for booking United awards with other programs
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express — Best for booking United flights directly
The information for the United Club Business, and the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The Dutch flag carrier offers a solid if not groundbreaking business-class product. You could book KLM through their own program, Flying Blue, or through the program of their SkyTeam partner, Delta, though neither program publishes award charts, so it’s very difficult to know how much this will cost you.
A new option is to redeem Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for Air France/KLM flights. This would be a flight from Zone 7-West U.S. (using Los Angeles as a starting point), to Zone 4-Central Africa, which would cost 110,000 Flying Club miles each way, off-peak per person in business class. This is considerably higher than the miles required for Qatar, Turkish or Swiss so I would only be looking through KLM if there was no award space available on the other three airlines.
To earn Virgin Atlantic miles without flying, you have a number of options. Virgin Atlantic partners with most of the popular transferable points programs:
- American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio, instant transfer) from cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and American Express® Gold Card
- Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1 ratio, instant transfer) from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1 ratio, instant transfer) from cards like Citi Premier® Card and Citi Prestige® Card
- Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 ratio — with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring at least 60,000 points, less than 48 hours transfer) from cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Although Emirates has an amazing first-class product, there’s no cost-effective way to book it on points and miles. Bookings run as high as 400,000 miles per person, round-trip or come with a huge surcharge of close to $2,000!
Because of these hurdles and because it wasn’t top of my list anyway, I’m not going to worry about Emirates.
Where to stay
If I flew into the closest airport to my sponsor child, Mt. Kilimanjaro (JRO), there aren’t many points hotel options in the region, though there is a Four Points by Sheraton in the nearby town of Arusha. This property can be booked for just 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points for a standard night, which is an excellent deal considering cash rates are around $220 per night. This means I can obtain far higher value than TPG’s current valuation of 12,500 Bonvoy points at around $100.
There certainly won’t be any luxury hotels anywhere near the tiny village where my sponsor child lives (nor would I feel right staying in a fancy hotel during a visit like that), so that part of the trip won’t involve points and miles. I’ll talk about the safari options separately below, which just leaves Zanzibar, with these options:
- Protea Hotel Zanzibar, Mbweni Ruins ($115 or 17,500 Marriott Bonvoy points per standard night)
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Zanzibar – Stone Town ($130 or 30,000 Hilton Honors points per night)
- DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Zanzibar – Nungwi ($270 or 30,000 Hilton Honors points per night)
- Park Hyatt Zanzibar ($400 or 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night)
I like DoubleTree properties and the Stone Town hotel is a great value as a cash booking. But for a bucket-list trip, the five-star Park Hyatt fits the bill perfectly. It’s actually a great redemption deal at only 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night, as they’re worth $255 points per night according to our valuations, making points a big saving over the cash price of $400 per night.
Here are some TPG reviews of Park Hyatt properties around the world for some inspiration:
- Stuck in translation: A review of the Park Hyatt Tokyo
- Caribbean luxury for cheap: A review of the Park Hyatt St. Kitts
- Temple of serenity: A review of the Park Hyatt Sanya on Hainan Island, China
- Local luxury: A review of Park Hyatt Siem Reap in Cambodia
Tanzania is a relatively expensive country for a safari. (Neighboring Kenya is more affordable and I found South Africa to be astonishingly cheap to visit.) Safari options range widely in Tanzania depending on your budget. At the bottom end of the spectrum, I can sleep in a basic tent and go on game drives in groups. At the top end, I can book a luxury private villa with butler service and my own Champagne-infused breakfast game drives.
I’m looking for something in the middle. I’m not a massive fan of camping, but I could definitely be talked into glamping if the bed is comfortable. After my experience in South Africa, about a safari of three nights or so would be perfect — ample time to see all the animals I want to see.
One resource I found really useful when researching and booking my South African safari was African Budget Safaris. The company is an aggregator of safari options in different African countries, allowing me to easily compare the options. Although the name suggests a budget experience, there are options for all sorts of budgets. For example, looking at Tanzania, there are options up to $5,000 per person — hardly budget!
Without that help, it can be overwhelming to see the hundreds of different options if you are just Googling “African safari.”
If you can pay for your safari with a points-earning credit card, you can start restocking your points balance after depleting it with the flights and hotel nights booked for this trip.
It will be quite a while before I actually go on my bucket-list trip to Tanzania. This allows plenty of time to research and perfect my plans for the trip. The safari experience itself is unlikely to be cheap, but I can certainly reduce the costs of the overall trip by using my points and miles for flights and hotel stays.
For more dream trips:
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Related: Dreaming of Sanibel, Florida
Related: Dreaming of the Middle East
Related: Dreaming of Edinburgh and Dublin
Featured image by Getty Images.
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