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African Safari Hotels on Points

In the after math of a huge mistake fare (which I posted about yesterday) that led to tons of tickets to Africa for ~$200, including my second mistake fare to Africa booked in the last month, I figured some people may be going on a safari or two soon.

Plus our self-drive safari in Pilanesburg National Park in South Africa last year was one of the coolest experiences ever, and we’ve been looking into doing more ourselves. Well, we’ll be doing one in Kenya in January.

While I’m not a wildlife expert, I have looked at a lot of hotels, and book a few hundred a year myself. 😀 However, there are some different things to consider when booking for a safari, especially in Kenya, or anywhere with high park fees.

Masai Mara, Kenya

Maasai Mara is the Kenyan side of these large plains, and the Serengeti is the Tanzanian side. Unfortunately you can’t go back and forth between the two at this time.

I’ll just cut to the chase and state the almost deal-killer with Kenya safaris: the $75 per person per day charge for the parks. Which… is insane. The Serengeti is $25 per person, and our park entrance in South Africa was around $16 and only per car. However, I realized that the way to bring down the cost is to stay in the park, thus only pay the fee upon entrance even if you stay multiple days.

Here’s a screenshot from the Leekorok Lodge in the park.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 11.47.53 PM

Notice it says, “Rate excludes mandatory conservation fee payable directly to the game reserve upon entry“.

Basically what I’ve read is this: While the gate workers are contracted people, same ones that do NBO airport parking (?), they seem to be fickle and harsh. Meaning their rules change, but ultimately they must be on some commission because there are stories of them charging people to enter again, even though they just left to go to their room for a minute.

But, the prices are absurd in the first place. $150 for the two of us is actually less than a room in the lodge for two (and the lodge includes food). Don’t leave the park and you only have to pay once. Therefore, it’s really important to get a hotel or campsite inside the park.

DO AT YOUR OWN RISK. Technically, you’re suppose to pay upfront per day. If they checked upon exiting, you would have to pay.

Leekorok Lodge 

The one I really recommend is the Leekorok Lodge in the center of the park. I posted earlier that the hotel is 40,000 Choice points or $400, but that’s a lie. The website certainly says that $400 is the rack rate for a room, but in reality it’s bookable for $100 a night. And often, I find the room is cheaper on Kayak than it is on the hotel’s website, but not by much.

But it is true that it’s 40,000 Choice points, which is fine if you have choice points. Surely not worth 13,000 Chase points (via a trick I’ll talk about in a minute), given that Chase points could have a cash value greater than the Choice points. But if you have 40,000 points, it’s actually a good option, especially if prices ever climb for peak season.

This hotel is “all inclusive”, or rather “full board” and comes with three meals a day, but I don’t think it includes drinks.

Fairmont

The other option is the Fairmont Mara Safari Club. The Fairmont Credit Card (which I don’t have affiliate links for) gives two free nights, just like the Hyatt card. Which is pretty awesome because the hotel is pretty darn expensive and is on the travel and leisure top 500 list. It’s a luxury camping hotel, which the wife thinks would be super cool.

My problem with it is that it’s right outside the park (I think) and therefore is a major bummer for paying the fee to go into the park all the time. However, I figure you could do it the day before and/or the day after your safari. A little out of the way, but could be a nice experience.

 

Mt. Kenya, Kenya

This isn’t really a “safari” option itself, but outside Mt. Kenya National Park is the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club (another T&L top 500). It looks like a stunning retreat kind of hotel, but it’s just too in the middle of nowhere for me to fly around the world to see. It could be a good midway point, or jumping off point… I don’t know. But it’s probably not an avenue we’ll go with this time around.

 

Nairobi, Kenya

If you’re flying into Kenya, you’re almost surely flying into Nairobi. I plan on getting out as soon as I get in, but there are only 3 points hotels there, each for 30,000 points.

  • InterContinental Nairobi for 30,000 IHG points
  • Crowne Plaza Nairobi for 30,000 IHG points
  • Hilton Nairobi for 30,000 HHonors points

None of them are steals, so it’s just a matter of what points you have, I suppose.

 

The African Choice Hotels

Choice has a partnership to use points with “Preferred Hotels” which have some very luxurious hotels all over the world, including some locations no other points hotels go.

In both the Best Use of Amtrak and Best Use of Choice I’ve written about the following trick.

The goal is to get from Chase to Choice at a 1:3 ratio. The short version of the way of doing this is:

  1. Have an Amtrak Card
  2. Make a $100 Amtrak purchase (although there are ways around this)
  3. Transfer 25,000 points from Chase to Amtrak
  4. Transfer 25,000 Amtrak points to 75,000 Choice points.

You can do 25,000 points with the credit card per calendar year. However, you can do more with Amtrak Status (no short cuts there unfortunately).

If you were to do 25k in December and 25k in January, you could have 150,000 Choice points. Here are some African luxury hotels you could use those points on.

 

Stanley & Livingstone Game Reserve, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – 60,000 Choice Points

The world known attraction here is Victoria Falls, which would be epic on its own. But the area surrounding the falls are lush and it’s in between two national parks. There is a lot happening here and while one night is 60,000 points, it’s really only 20,000 Chase points. Otherwise the hotel goes for $400+ a night.

 

Gondwana Game Reserve, Mossel Bay, South Africa – 60,000 Choice Points

Can’t honestly say I know much/anything about Mossel Bay in South Africa, other than it’s on the south coast of South Africa, east of Cape Town. The game reserve is 20 miles from the coast though. And the hotel looks like a mix of a game reserve with the “big 5″, a retreat center, and some super cool hobbit houses. Another hotel that brings in $400/night or 60,000 points.

To be honest, on my next trip to South Africa, I’m either spending my time in Kruger National Park or Cape Town. Kruger seems like one of the most epic places to safari in the world. So this is very light compared to that. FYI.

 

Hotel Carlton, Antananarivo, Madagascar – 30,000 Choice Points

Okay, the Hotel Carlton is in Antananarivo, Madagascar, which is not a safari locale. But I would be excited to just be in Madagascar! But really, this is likely where you’d fly into if you cash in on some Flying Blue points. So it’s in the city, but the only points option in Madagascar that I know of… So I included it.

It’s half the price of the other hotels at 30,000 points, or $150.

 

Points for non-Chain Hotels

There are sometimes points hotels in the big cities like Johannesburg, for example, which we did a day trip from to get to Pilanesburg. However, staying near the park is essential if you’re doing more than one day. And in Kenya, staying in the park is essential to saving $75 per person per day.

But the truth is, points hotels with major chains don’t have hotels in or near these parks. So my recommendation would be to use a card that reimburses travel expenses at a good rate, like the Barclay Arrival Plus.

Serengeti National Park

Maasai Mara is the best example because the lodge is only $100. I can book on Kayak, and totally cover all the expenses with Barclay points. However, looking for hotels in Serengeti National Park is a different story. The cheapest hotel on Expedia is $474. That’s a little too much for me, even if I can generate the points. At that point I could be covering something else.

But it’s not like you can’t book other places. There are camp sites, and probably guest houses in the area… but to pay with Barclay points, you have to pay with credit card. And online booking sites is a good place to start when figuring out who takes credit card.

Kruger National Park

Kruger is another great example with tons of hotels outside but near the massive park, for $50 a night. $50 a night is very doable for me on Barclay points, or Expedia BRGs, or any OTA’s BRGs.

Being outside the park in this case may or may not be worth it depending on the size of the party. But it’s less of a big deal when the entrance fee is $20 and not $75. But still an extra $40 per couple per day is a cost I’d like to avoid.

 

Conclusion

Reality is, Africa is huge. Enormous. And there are tons of places I would love to see wildlife in that aren’t Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. Truly I’d love to do the highlands of Ethiopia, the delta’s of Angola, the jungles of Uganda, and many more. But most people will likely be interested in these main parks with a tourist infrastructure. Hotels that take credit cards, airports nearby, and easy access by road. All that makes sense and therefore I hope this has provided some value while leaving out 99% of the continent.

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27 Comments

  1. At Kruger you are charged per night, so staying at an outside hotel does not matter, maybe with the exception of the last night (ie, you can enter Kruger in the morning, stay there, and leave next day at night while paying only one days if fees).

    Reply
    • That’s good to know. But I’m curious how they would enforce this? Not to be a punk.

      Reply
  2. I just came back from Southern Africa this year after spending 6 weeks there. You mention Kruger is awesome. it is, but all the roads are paved. Takes away a bit of the wild feel. I enjoyed Etosha in Namibia more. I would strongly recommend that one. And the Chobe in Botswana, if you are near Vic Falls.

    Reply
    • I, too, just came back from Kruger, and can confirm that definitely not all the roads are paved. There is lots to see from the paved roads, but LOTS MORE (and fewer other people) to see from the unpaved ones. The unsealed roads weren’t even that bad, could easily do them in a sedan, but a small SUV is better for sightings for the higher seating position.

      Reply
    • That’s funny because I saw a sedan mercedes driving in Pilanesburg, on a dirt road even. Though, if he can do it, anyone can do it.

      But I’ve heard that krugers roads depends largely on area. Either way I’d love to visit. But I would gladly do all of em. Namibia and Botswana. 😀 Thanks for the tip on the other two.

      Reply
    • To each there own. Yes Kruger has a lot of unpaved roads, but half of them are paved. I enjoyed Etosha and Chobe more than Kruger. Don’t get me wrong, Kruger is a great park, I just liked the other ones more, and by all means, if you are going to just one, go to Kruger due to the accessibility factor from Joburg.

      Also, a sedan can be driven in any of these parks, in regards to road conditions. I heard something about only 4X4’s being allowed on the dirt in Kruger though.

      Reply
  3. Is this a mistake fare? Africa is where the Eboli virus started??? Be careful!!!!!!

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    • Is this satire? If so, well done! If not…

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    • Ebola is VERY far away from Kenya. I believe there is infinitely more Ebola in the US than Kenya. Plus London and even Brazil are closer to west Africa. So I’m not the least bit worried about that.

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  4. The problem with the Choice options is you can only book on points 30 days in Advance (50 if you have status). That makes planning for most families very difficult . . .

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    • Maybe you can hold the basic rooms with refundable rates?

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  5. Do you know if the free nights from the credit card at Fairmont Mara Safari Club include full board? It seems like it might just be included in the hotel standard price but the “non-refundable” rate doesn’t mention full board in the description.

    Reply
    • No full board.

      Reply
  6. Why does anyone want to go to Africa soon? Check WHO’s prediction on Ebola before you book.

    Reply
    • London and Brazil are closer to Ebola countries than Kenya or east Africa. There is more Ebola in the US. “Africa” is a big place continent.

      Reply
  7. Are these ebola posts actually serious? Hard to believe the people are savvy enough to read this blog but foolish enough to think things like that.

    Anyways…….. Africa is awesome. As I wrote above, I just came back from Kruger. And for goodness sake, do NOT stay outside the park. You won’t even save any money going that route, since there are about a zillion kinds of cabins/tents/shacks/chalets/palaces/leantos at every possible price point in the park. So you can easily spend the same or less as you’ve quoted (and still use CapOne/Barclays to reimburse), and not be getting rushed out of the park as when staying outside. Plus, not missing out on morning/evening organized drives and hikes. Plus, the towns on the borders of the park are not nice, at all. Plus, not wasting all your time driving to/from the park gates – remember that the park is absolutely massive. Seriously, cannot stress this enough, do not try to stay outside the park. But anyway, I know you booked NBO (and I’ve not been there), so this is only really advice for the future.

    Also, have been to Ethiopia, and highly recommend going anywhere there (okay, not east really, obviously). Totally different destination (and so amazing) than anywhere I’ve ever visited. Your Arrival points won’t get you very far, but you should also have no trouble with lodging <$20 cash per night in most places in any case.

    Reply
    • totally agree with Andrew – do NOT even consider staying outside the park. There are plenty of camps that cost less than the point-hotels mentioned. And the best part of the experience are the very early morning (when wild life is most active) and night game drives (which were pretty exciting), which you’d miss staying outside the park.
      Similar is true for Masai Mara – you can book tours from Nairobi that include lodging, food, game drives for a lot less than organizing it by yourself and at any price-level, from budget to luxury
      Also agree on the Ebola scare – South Africa is further from Sierra Leone than Europe!

      Reply
    • Would love to do Ethiopia. I tried VERY hard to fit in ADD and EBB in this last fare… but I just couldn’t fit it in. *sigh* But we have a second fare to NBO in april and if the fares are right I’ll hop a flight to somewhere near by.

      Reply
  8. Great score on the flights! If you’re in South Africa and have Avios it’s just 20k return JNB to Mauritius. Maybe there’s some nice hotels there too :-)

    Ditto on Ethiopia being fantastic for cultural/historical. Visiting tribes in Omo Valley is something you’d never forget. Logistics are tricky so overland truck would keep cost down but its no resort experience. Highlands are easy to do independent. Happy travels!

    Reply
    • The highlands are exactly what I was hoping for. Mauritius is down the road a bit… Unless it goes on PointBreaks. 😀

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    • If you do make it to Ethiopia, when I was there 2 yrs ago it was much cheaper to buy internal flights in-country rather than online. blueskyethiopia booked my flights around the highlands prior to my arrival. They dropped them off at my addis ababa hotel where I paid cash. Worked out at $60 for each one-way flight at the time.

      Reply
  9. Hi,
    I visited Keekorok Lodge last year. I believe the $100-200 per night rate found on OTA DOES NOT include food – likewise for Fairmount. You are welcome to call the hotel companies if you think I’m wrong.
    I think you are completely wrong about the daily park fee at Massai Mara. I did a lot of research before going, including all points options. Whether you enter the park by plane (as most people do) or by road (which I do not recommend in your own rented vehicle due to safety unless you are coming by organized transfer), the guards will charge you based on how many nights you booked to stay in a lodge or camp in the park. If you try to extend your stay inside, I assume your camp or lodge will collect the extra park fees on behalf of the park authorities. I am pretty confident about this.
    The package we did, which really is a fantastic deal compared to the alternatives I looked into, is the fly-in package sold by Keekorok Lodge themselves (the owner of the lodge is SunAfrica hotels) – including puddle jumper flights from Nairobi on AirKenya, transfer from airstrip to lodge, lodge accomodations, three buffet meals per day, and two guided game drives per day. If you want to save money, you can also book the drive-in package from Keekorok Lodge, which includes a 4×4 transfer from Nairobi by road (5-6 hours each way).
    The only way to save park fees is by staying outside the park (such as at the Fairmount) and doing some game drives outside the park. If you arrive mid-day on day 1 and leave mid-day on day 4, you can do outside-park game drives on day 1 afternoon and day 4 morning to avoid paying two days worth of park fees.
    If you don’t do a package with Keekorok lodge, and just book room nights by OTA or by points, they will charge you a fortune per game drive (I think $60 per person per game drive), a fortune for the buffet, and a fortune for the transfers to/from the airstrip (obviously non applicable if you drive in yourself in your own rented vehicle (not-recommended for safety reasons) or if you are driven in by a tour company from Nairobi or elsewhere).
    I hope this is helpful.
    Thanks, Ilya

    Reply
    • OTA’s all clearly state full board and all-inclusive. I’m very sure they come with food. All meals are included for all guest of the Keekorok lodge. There’s no room only option. Points or OTA.

      Also, I read many reviews online from people who have experience paying the entrance fee for one day of the stay. For example, I read this on virtualtourist:
      “In last 10 years I was 8 times in Kenya and visited Maasai Mara and other game reserves several times. I usually stayed in the park from 3-6 days and my entrance ticket was valid during all that period.It would be absurd, if guest in the lodge, to pay entrance ticket for each and every day again. Nobody ever have ask me to show the entrance ticket once I was inside the game reserve.
      In case if arriving in rented car you will have to pay entrance fee for the car, if parking it inside the lodge area.”

      And besides that, the hotel has nothing to do with checking entrance fees or reporting entrance fees. They can’t possibly care, because they are run by two different companies. It would be like if the Park Hyatt Shanghai asked to see the receipt for your Visa to make sure you payed the $160.

      However, I agree that the park rules are per day. How they enforce it, I do not know.

      We will definitely rent a car and drive from Nairobi. It’s a very common thing, saves money, and we’ve driven in much more dangerous places. There’s also 8 of us the first time, so it really makes sense economically.

      Either way, I’m sure we can agree that it is and will be a fantastic place to visit. I’m not much of a tour person, but there’s really no wrong way of doing it I suppose, as long as you’re in your own budget.

      Reply
  10. When I went to the park last year I was super appaled at the $75 per person per day. I pulled the one guy to the side and we negotiated a bit. I slipped him $50 and he took all 4 of us in. Beats the LV $20 tips.

    Reply
  11. Great Post! I’m actually going to Victoria Falls this year thanks to the JNB xmas mistake fare and will stay at Stanley and Livingstone Game Reserve. I took your advise and transferred chase to Amtrak to choice. Thanks!!!! Love your blog!

    Reply
  12. Drew, now that you are back from Kenya, can you tell us which hotel you used and whether you had to pay multiple entrance fees? Planning our own trip for next January!

    Reply
  13. I’ve called in to Choice to book for Keekorok Lodge, but there is no availability for its entire calendar, through the end of 2018. Has anyone else been able to find award availability at Keekorok? Any suggestions?

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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