Cleared for Takeoff: A honeymoon trip to South Africa and the Seychelles
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Cleared for Takeoff is a weekly series showing readers like you the best ways to book post-pandemic adventures using points and miles. If you’d like tips on booking your own trip using miles, please email us with your preferred itinerary and current mileage balance.
Planning a honeymoon can be complex and expensive. But, you can often use points and miles to lessen the cost of an epic honeymoon. As part of our new series, TPG reader Max H. recently wrote to us for help planning his honeymoon:
We are planning our honeymoon to South Africa and the Seychelles in late August 2022. It will be for myself and my fiancée Kate. We will be traveling from Boston. We hope to go from Boston to Johannesburg first, then return to Boston from the Seychelles.
The couple has a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, American Airlines miles and Citi ThankYou Rewards points they’re willing to use on this trip. So, come with me as I recommend how I’d plan a honeymoon to South Africa and the Seychelles using points and miles.
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Current points stash
Max and Kate have enough points and miles to book an epic honeymoon. In particular, they currently have:
- 350,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
- 350,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.
- 225,000 American Airlines miles.
- 66,000 Citi ThankYou Rewards points.
And their honeymoon is still 16 months away. So, they’ll have plenty of time to earn even more points and miles with their wedding expenses and everyday spending.
Airfare from Boston to South Africa, returning from the Seychelles
Route: BOS-DOH-JNB on Qatar Airways in business class, SEZ-DOH-BOS on Qatar Airways in business class.
Miles needed: 75,000 American Airlines miles + $15.70 per person on the outbound, 75,000 miles + $77.05 on the return.
One of my favorite sweet spots using American Airlines miles is flying Qatar business class between the U.S. and Africa. This sweet spot is one of the least expensive ways to fly in a great business-class product between the U.S. and Africa. And since Max and Kate live in Boston, flying Qatar allows them to book one-stop itineraries in both directions.
Best of all, most Qatar flights between the U.S. and Doha have Qatar Qsuite. So, assuming Max and Kate book an aircraft with Qsuite, they could call Qatar after booking to reserve couple-friendly seats in the middle of the plane. These couple-friendly seats can be made into a double bed for two by the flight attendants.
Plus, by using their stash of American Airlines miles for these long-haul flights, Max and Kate will use the currency that is most likely to devalue. After all, all of the other points and miles they have are transferable currencies. And one of the benefits of transferable currencies is that they’re less susceptible to devaluations due to the sheer number of transfer partners.
How to book this award
Max and Kate’s honeymoon is still 16 months away. So, although it’s great that they’re planning well in advance, they won’t be able to book their award flights yet. After all, you can only book Qatar Airways awards through American Airlines 331 days or less before departure. Max and Kate will need to decide the earliest date on which they’d want to depart Boston and then start searching for awards 331 days in advance.
As such, I’ll show you how to search for award availability and book an award for a trip in early 2022. Assuming American Airlines doesn’t change its online booking process, Max and Kate can follow this same process when booking their awards. Here are the steps they’ll need to follow.
Step 1: Start your search on American’s homepage
On American Airlines’ homepage, select the “One way” option and click “Redeem miles.” Enter your origin, destination and dates and choose the number of tickets you want. Then, click “Search.”
The next page will hopefully show some results. If not, consider altering your origin, destination or dates.
Step 2: Limit your search to select airlines
Next, you’ll want to limit your search to specific airlines. Since Max and Kate live in Boston, I suggest unselecting every airline except for Qatar. But, if doing so doesn’t yield acceptable results, you may also want to select American Airlines so you can connect on American within the U.S.
Step 3: Use calendar search to check alternate dates
Next, click on “Calendar” to see a calendar of award availability. Then click on the “Show all classes” drop-down and select “Business/First.” Doing so will result in a calendar search that only shows dates with business-class awards operated by the airlines you selected in the previous step.
Step 4: Select your award and check the trip summary
If you click on a date on the calendar, you’ll see all the awards available for that day.
Click on the award you want to book and check the trip summary. Then click “Log in and continue.”
Although business-class award availability from Boston to Johannesburg through Doha is currently easy to find, availability from Mahé, Seychelles, is presently limited. So, Max and Kate may need to connect through another U.S. city on their return. Currently, I see more availability on two-stop awards through Doha and Dallas.
How to earn enough miles for this award
Max and Kate already have 225,000 American Airlines miles, but they’ll need 300,000 miles to book these four one-way tickets. And unfortunately, none of their transferable currencies can directly transfer to American Airlines. After all, Marriott Bonvoy is the only major transferable currency that transfers to American Airlines.
Of course, Max and Kate could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy and then transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to American Airlines. But I’d recommend considering some of the following alternate methods to earn American Airlines miles before doing this double transfer.
If I were in Max and Kate’s shoes, I’d consider whether methods I typically use to earn American Airlines miles will net me enough miles before I need to book these award flights. For example, Max or Kate may have a lucrative mileage run scheduled in the upcoming months. Or, perhaps they want to switch their everyday spending to an American Airlines credit card to boost their balance.
American Airlines also periodically offers the opportunity to buy American Airlines miles at a discount. For example, you can currently buy American Airlines miles for as little as 2.15 cents each. Although this is higher than TPG’s valuation of American Airlines miles, it might make sense for this redemption.
There are also opportunities to earn American Airlines miles with partners. For example, American Airlines elite members can earn American Airlines miles on World of Hyatt stays. You can earn bonus American Airlines miles for shopping with the SimplyMiles program. Plus, you can earn miles when you dine with AAdvantage dining rewards.
One other option is to sign up for a new American Airlines credit card. Here’s a quick overview of some of the best American Airlines credit cards and their current sign-up bonuses:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months).
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months).
- AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within the first three months of account opening ($450 annual fee).
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and get a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening (no annual fee).
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select and AAdvantage Aviator Red has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Hotels in South Africa you can book with points
Max and Kate said they want to fly into Johannesburg. But they didn’t specify what they want to do in the city, nor whether they are hoping to go on safari while in South Africa. I’m also not sure what their priorities are for their trip. But, if I were planning a honeymoon trip to Johannesburg, I’d stay for about four nights at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg. This hotel is in the Rosebank suburb of Johannesburg, which is well located between downtown Johannesburg and Sandton.
Then, I’d head out to Kruger National Park and stay at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate for five nights. I stayed at this property shortly before lockdowns began in March 2020 and am eager to return. After all, the property is just outside the main entrance to Kruger National Park. And self-driving through the park is a great way to see lots of wildlife and go at your own pace.
Although you can drive from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park and back, I recommend booking Airlink flights from Johannesburg to Skukuza (SZK) and renting a car at Skukuza. The Airlink flights are $99 per person per way if you book far enough in advance.
How to book hotels with points
The Hyatt Regency Johannesburg is a Category 2 World of Hyatt property. As such, Max and Kate would need to redeem 8,000 World of Hyatt points per night for a standard room, 12,000 points per night for a Regency Club room or 13,000 points per night for a standard suite. To book, go to the World of Hyatt page for the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, click “Book now” and enter your stay information. Then select the room type you want to book.
Meanwhile, the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate is a Category 2 Marriott Bonvoy property. I recommend staying five or ten nights. After all, doing so will let you maximize Marriott’s “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” perk that provides a complimentary night when you redeem for five consecutive nights.
For a five-night stay at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, Max and Kate will need to redeem between 40,000 and 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (depending on whether their dates are peak, standard or off-peak). To book, go to the Marriott page for the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate. Enter your dates and guests and then click the box next to “Use Points / Certificates.” Then select whether you want two twin beds or a king bed.
How to earn hotel points
Max and Kate would need 32,000 World of Hyatt points for four nights in a standard room — or 52,000 points for four nights in a standard suite — at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg. They could earn World of Hyatt points by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. As a reminder, having a Chase Ultimate Rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card unlocks access to Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Another great way to earn World of Hyatt points is the World of Hyatt Credit Card. This card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. Plus, new cardholders can earn two bonus points total per dollar spent in the first six months from account opening on purchases that normally earn one bonus point (on up to $15,000 spent).
Max and Kate would also need between 40,000 and 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for a five-night stay at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate. They could transfer American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy for this redemption.
Currently, there’s a 40% bonus when you transfer Membership Rewards points to Marriott. So, for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points transferred, you’d get 1,400 Marriott Bonvoy points. As such, you’d currently need to transfer between 29,000 and 43,000 Membership Rewards points for this redemption.
But they can likely get better value from these transferable currencies on other redemptions. So, they may want to sign up for a Marriott Bonvoy credit card now, spend enough to earn the sign-up bonus and then use the sign-up bonus to book their stay. In particular, the sign-up bonuses on the following cards would be more than enough for them to book a five-night stay:
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 5 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after you spend $5,000 in the first three months from account opening.. ($95 annual fee).
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. ($450 annual fee, see rates and fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card:75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of cards memebership ($125 annual fee, see rates and fees).
One-way airfare from Johannesburg to the Seychelles
Route: JNB-SEZ on Air Seychelles in economy.
Air Seychelles is the only airline that flies nonstop from Johannesburg to Mahé. However, Air Seychelles only operates this five-hour flight several times a week.
There are other one-stop options, with my top pick being Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa. You can book this option in business class on various dates for just 33,000 United miles and $49.70 per person. However, I’ll assume you’ll book the direct Air Seychelles flight in economy for the remainder of this section.
How to book this award with points
Historically, you could redeem Etihad Guest miles for flights on Air Seychelles. But Air Seychelles is no longer an Etihad Guest partner. And while South African Airways technically has a partnership with Air Seychelles, South African Airways has paused award redemptions. So, I couldn’t find a way to redeem airline miles for this flight.
However, you can book Air Seychelles flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. On most dates the flight operates, you can book an economy ticket for $445.57 per person. As such, you can redeem 29,705 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for this flight if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 35,645 points if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
Business-class fares are also available for about $957 per person. But I don’t think it’s worth the additional cost for this five-hour daytime flight. If you want to fly in business class, I recommend redeeming United miles (which you can get by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points) to book the Ethiopian Airlines option I mentioned above.
How to earn enough points for this award
Max and Kate have enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book either the Air Seychelles flight or the Ethiopian Airlines flights. However, if they needed to earn more Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I’d recommend switching their everyday spending to a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. They could also consider signing up for one of the following Chase Ultimate Rewards cards:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening ($550 annual fee).
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. ($95 annual fee).
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening ($95 annual fee).
However, since they already have a large stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I assume they may already have one or more of these cards. So, they may want to sign up for one or more of the following cards that earn cash-back rewards that can be converted to Ultimate Rewards points when you have an Ultimate Rewards card:
- Chase Freedom Flex: Earn $200 bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (no annual fee).
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back! (no annual fee).
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card: Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first three months after account opening (no annual fee).
- Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card: Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first three months after account opening (no annual fee).
But before signing up for a new Chase credit card, they’d need to check whether they are eligible. In particular, they’d need to ensure they’re under Chase’s 5/24 rule and read the fine print on the offer details to ensure they’re eligible for the sign-up bonus.
Hotels in the Seychelles you can book with points
Max and Kate said they want to visit the Seychelles on their honeymoon. There aren’t any World of Hyatt hotels in the Seychelles. And the one Marriott Bonvoy property (North Island, a Luxury Collection Resort, Seychelles) and one IHG Rewards property (Six Senses Zil Pasyon) in the Seychelles are both extremely expensive on points.
So, if Max and Kate want to use their points stash to stay in the Seychelles, I recommend they stay at one of four Hilton properties. Here’s a quick look at their options for a sample five-night stay next January. But remember that Hilton Honors uses dynamic pricing, so pricing will vary based on dates and when you book.
I’d likely choose the DoubleTree by Hilton Seychelles — Allamanda Resort and Spa since the rate is typically the lowest and the base rooms still offer an ocean view. But, given this is their honeymoon and they have a large stash of points, I recommend they book the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa. You can typically use 95,000 points per night to book a king sunset villa that looks pretty awesome.
How to book this hotel with points
Assuming Max or Kate has elite status with Hilton, they can get a fifth night free if they redeem points for a stay of five nights or more at the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa. As such, I recommend they redeem points for a five-night stay, which will cost 380,000 Hilton Honors points if each night is 95,000 points.
To book this award, go to Hilton’s website and search for your dates at the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa. First, you’ll need to select a room type. Luckily, even the base standard room is impressive.
Then, select your rate. For the dates I searched next January, you could pay 95,000 points or $604 per night. That means using points would give you a redemption value of 0.636 cents per point (or 0.795 cents per point if you get the fifth night free).
Alternatively, Max and Kate may each want to sign up for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. By doing so, they’d each get top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond elite status. But, more importantly, they’d each get a free weekend night certificate upon opening the card and each year after account renewal. And, since newly issued certificates will be valid through Dec. 31, 2022, they could use their certificates for their stay in August 2022.
The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.
How to earn points for this award
Max and Kate could transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Hilton Honors. Currently, there’s a 40% transfer bonus that makes the transfer ratio effectively 1,000 Membership Rewards points to 2,800 Hilton points. So, during this bonus, they’d need to transfer 136,000 Membership Rewards points to get 380,000 Hilton Honors points.
But transferring Membership Rewards points isn’t the only way to earn Hilton Honors points. Max and Kate could also apply for one or more Hilton Honors credit cards. In particular, the following cards offer impressive welcome offers that could help them earn enough points for this redemption:
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, you can earn up to $130 in statement credits on eligible purchases made on the card at any of the Hilton family hotels in the first 12 months of membership. $95 annual fee (see rates & fees).
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Earn 150,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership ($450 annual fee, see rates and fees).
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 100,000 Hilton honors points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of cards membership, plus earn $100 in statement credits on eligible purchases made on the card at any of the Hilton family hotels in the first 12 months of membership. (no annual fee, see rates and fees).
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, you can earn up to $130 in statement credits on eligible purchases made on the card at any of the Hilton family hotels in the first 12 months of Membership. Offer expires 7/6/2022. ($95 annual fee, see rates and fees).
In this guide, I laid out my recommendations for Max and Kate’s honeymoon to South Africa and the Seychelles. They can’t book their travel quite yet, since their trip is still 16 months away. As such, pricing and availability may change before they’re able to book. But, based on current pricing and availability, I recommended they redeem points and miles to book their trip as follows:
- Boston to Johannesburg via Doha in Qatar business class for 75,000 American Airlines miles plus $15.70 per person.
- Four nights in a standard suite at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg for 52,000 World of Hyatt points (earned by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points).
- Five nights at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate for between 40,000 and 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (earned by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points).
- Nonstop flights on Air Seychelles from Johannesburg to Mahé for 29,705 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (with the Chase Sapphire Reserve) or 35,645 points (with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred) per person.
- Five nights at Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa for 380,000 Hilton Honors points (earned by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points).
- Mahé to Boston via Doha in Qatar business class for 75,000 American Airlines miles plus $77.05 per person.
If you have a destination in mind and need help figuring out your points strategy, send us an email to be featured in the next installment of Cleared for Takeoff.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Business Card, please click here.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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