What got us set on family travel to Africa?
Our family travel to Africa got started a few years ago at a the zoo just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was an amazing place and my daughter absolutely loved it! We were watching the African exhibit and my daughter turned to me and asked if we could go to every zoo in the US. Clever me, thinking on my feet, said “how about instead we just go see all the animals in the wild instead”.
“Sure. You are taking us to Africa then” was her reply.
Luckily I have always wanted to try family travel in Africa, and I did not want to go to a zoo in every city we visited so I said yes- and our family travel to Africa began.
While there are quite a few amazing places to visit in Africa we settled on South Africa, specifically Kruger National Park. Kruger Park is an amazing place and very accessible (more on that in part 3). We also wanted to see the Indian Ocean and chose Scottsburgh a town just south of Durban four our second destination in South Africa.
We did not have enough miles in any one account to get a round trip ticket to Johannesburg (JNB) thus we did 2 one way trips. Flying out we used American Airlines miles. AA is a codeshare partner with British Airways which showed a ton of availablity to JNB, but when you fly British even on an award fare you are charged a “fuel surcharge” which ended up pricing out at $570 per ticket in fees plus 40k AA miles. Traveling with 5 we would have been WAY over budget if we had to pay that fare. After some research I discovered that AA also partners with Qatar Air. If you fly on a Qatar flight then there are minimal fees and the ticket price was in the $60 range. The hard part was finding award space on Qatar Air. Their award space doesn’t show up on a search from the AA.com but it does show up if you use the British Airway’s award searching tool. So the task began to find space in a Qatar flight to Doha (DOH) then from DOH-JNB. Once I found that space (via the British Airway site) I had to find space on an AA flight from our hometown of Boise (BOI). Qatar has flights from the USA to DOH leaving from a few airport but I had to focus on the ones we could get to on AA, so my search narrowed down to DFW-DOH or LAX-DOH. We lucked out and found award space from DFW-DOH and then DOH-JNB so I immediatly called the AA reseration desk as you cannot make reservations for Qatar flights online. Once I explained what I wanted with what routing and route numbers the agent found the space and we began the booking process, all to find out that all award space from BOI-DFW was gone. No way to get to DFW or LAX to hop on the Qatar flights…
Back to the drawing board we went this time also looking for available dates on Qatar leaving from London, England (LHR). Sure enough found space again from LHR-DOH-JNB on Qatar and I was back on the phone to AA reservations. Same intro and explination about the routing and avoiding using British Airways. And we stuck gold; found room BOI-DFW-LHR all on AA planes and then Qatar from LHR-DOH-JNB. The routing was a bit long at 13,130 miles it was gonna be a long trip. But I had always wanted to fly Qatar Airlines and our kids are pretty durable so we booked it! 200k in AA miles and just under $250 in fees and we were set for our family travel to Africa. Even better this year I held Platinum status with AA and we were able to get the Main Cabin Extra seats free of charge!
We wanted very much to visit the coast and hang out at the ocean and found a great town to visit, the problem was it would have been a 12 hour drive to get from the beach town to Kruger Park for our game drives. Any drive past the 10 hour mark in foreign countries that we have never traveled to before makes us a bit anxious so we opted to fly from JNB to Durban (DUR). A quick pass through google flights we found round trip tickets on a British Airways code share called ComAir for $120 per ticket. I thought about using miles for the journey but the tickets were cheap enough we opted to pay in cash. Of course we used our Amex Platinum credit card to get the 5x bonus on airline purchases directly from the airline.
For our trip home we had to get creative as we had used up most of the AA miles we had at the time. There was a bonus at transferring Delta miles from Amex Membership Rewards so we opted to move over a bunch of AMEX points for our return trip. Delta also has one of the few direct flights from JNB to Atlanta (ATL) which we really wanted to get to cut down on the length of the journey home. The hard part with Delta miles is that they do not have any published award chart. So you can pay any range of miles per ticket depending on how they choose to calculate it that day. After some browsing I found it possible to get from JNB-BOI on Delta for 40k in miles as well. The hard part was finding the availability. By this time we had a pretty firm time table on when we needed to fly home. Delta opens the availabity 331 days in advance and I wanted to make sure to get the cheaper 40k flight option so exactly 331 days before our trip I jumped on the web and Eureka! I found 5 available seats JNB-BOI on Delta for 40k miles per person. That was the good news, the bad news was that the availability on the JNB-ATL flight was 200k miles per person. The flights we were able to book were on Virgin Atlantic JNB-LHR-SEA-BOI. But we had to get home and had to keep to the mile budget so we booked them! 200k Delta miles and just under $275 in taxes and we were booked home. During our time in Africa I discovered we had a schedule change on our homebound flights and was able to use one of my favorite travel hacks to get us the direct JNB-ATL-SLC-BOI routing!
There was nothing too special about our car booking, after checking around prices we found Avis to give a great value and as a perk of my Citi Executive AA Card I have Avis “Preferred” status. We rented a car for the week in DUR for $130 and a week at Kruger Park (rented at JNB) for $120 for a total of $250 in rental cars.
This one we got lucky- a great friend of our family had some time shares that she graciously offered us to use for both the weeks we were in South Africa. The costs was minimal to us which obviously was a huge savings, but we checked around both on AirBnB and VRBO.com to see comparable costs and you can easily stay for under $100 per night for a 2 bedroom apartment.