Safari and Beaches in Africa With Miles and Points: Credit Cards for Free Travel Can Get You There Too!
In November of 2017, my wife and I took an amazing 2-week trip to Africa. The highlights of the trip included a safari in the Masai Mara, getting SCUBA certified, relaxing on beautiful beaches, and visiting the school and orphanage that our local church helped start almost 20 years ago.
We didn’t break the bank on this vacation, thanks to the best travel credit cards. By redeeming miles and points for flights and hotels, we saved thousands of dollars – and you can do the same!
Because we would be flying all the way to Africa, we tried to make the most of our time and combine several destinations, including Kenya, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.
I’ll share how we booked the trip and some of the highlights. And how you can use miles and points from top travel credit cards to visit Africa, too!
Here Are Cards That Helped Make Our Trip to Africa Possible
We redeemed miles and points from several different programs to book our African adventure. Here are some of the cards that can help you get there, too:
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – This is our #1 small business credit card pick with a whopper welcome bonus. Here’s our review of the Ink Business Preferred.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – An excellent card for frequent travelers with lots of incredible perks. Here’s our review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN – One of the best cards for airport lounge access. Here’s our review of the AMEX Business Platinum.
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® – The best current bonus of any American Airlines card! Here’s our review of the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select.
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card – Earn easy Hilton Gold elite status and tons of Hilton points. Here’s our review of the AMEX Hilton Ascend.
- Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card – Redeem miles for nearly any travel purchase, including smaller airlines and non-chain hotels. Here’s our review of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and review of the Capital One Venture.
I had already scoped out hotels in some of our destinations, but my general strategy for international trips begins with flight planning. So our first order of business was booking flights.
Because we were Washington, DC based, I decided to use British Airways Avios points to fly with British Airways from Washington, DC, to London, and then on to Nairobi.
That’s quite a long journey (including a ~4 hour layover in London), but the award flight prices were reasonable and I discovered that there were often lots of empty seats on British Airways’ daily London to Nairobi flight. This meant that with some strategic seat picking, I could almost guarantee us an empty middle seat for the longer flight from London to Nairobi (and my strategy worked!).
We booked these flights for ~29,000 British Airways Avios points plus ~$275 per person. The taxes and fees were a bit steep, but we had a haul of British Airways Avios points burning a hole in our pockets, and cash prices for the one-way flight to Africa were pricing out at ~$750.
British Airways is a Chase Ultimate Rewards and AMEX Membership Rewards transfer partner. So if you need to top-off your British Airways account balance, you can easily move points from cards like the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or AMEX Business Platinum.
The flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara were quite expensive, flown on a small propeller plane from Nairobi’s smaller airport, Nairobi Wilson. We flew on AirKenya (Kenya’s domestic airline) and had a great experience flying out of a major city, but landing on a dirt strip which was initially covered with zebras and wildebeest. Our round-trip flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara cost ~$330 per person, which you can offset with points from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus or the Capital One Venture.
Note: If you’re lucky (like we were), you can see Mt. Kilimanjaro from above the clouds on the short propeller flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara. It was beautiful and so cool to see!
From there, we used Flying Blue miles transferred from AMEX Membership Rewards to fly non-stop on Air Mauritius (a Flying Blue partner) from Nairobi to Mauritius. I earned the miles with my American Express Business Platinum card. We flew in coach for the 4-hour flight, and had an average experience. But our priority was maximizing our time, so I highly recommend this option if you want to fly non-stop!
The flights cost 17,500 Flying Blue miles plus ~$160 per person, and I found award seats by searching on Flyingblue.com. Although these were quite steep, they were a great deal relative to the ~$477 Air Mauritius wanted to charge in cash!
From Mauritius, we booked paid coach flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal on Air Seychelles from Mauritius to Mahe, Seychelles. The flights cost $375 per person, so we redeemed 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points each for the 3-hour flight.
I earned these points with the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, but because I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I can combine my points to that card and redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for 1.5 cents each through the Chase travel portal.
Although we booked our flight in coach, the airport agent upgraded us to Business Class because she mistook us for honeymooners. This was a fabulous surprise and we were grateful to get to sit up front in more comfortable seats for the quick flight north across the Indian Ocean.
Note: You may have noticed that flight prices between Kenya, Mauritius, and the Seychelles are super expensive… and you’re right! I’m not sure how or why the flights were all so expensive, but the destinations were totally worth it and we’re grateful points made the trip so much more affordable!
Finally, we would fly home from the Seychelles back to Washington, DC. Because it would be such a long journey, I wanted to use points to fly in Business Class (if we could find reasonable award seats).
Because we have a stash of American Airlines miles earned from the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, I was hoping to redeem American Airlines miles on a partner airline. The Seychelles are considered part of the Africa region on the American Airlines award chart, so our best bet was to fly on Qatar Airways connecting back to the US via Doha.
We lucked out big time that there were award seats available, and we redeemed 75,000 American Airlines miles per person for our Business class flights.
American Airlines miles come in really handy for partner award flights. Check out our ultimate guide to how to use American Airlines miles!
For our hotels in Africa, I used a variety of points, cash, and booking through travel portals. In Nairobi, we spent 3 nights at the Hilton Nairobi for 26,000 Hilton points per night. Cash rates were ~$150 per night including tax, so I thought it was a solid use of my large stash of Hilton points at ~0.58 cents per point. On average, Hilton points are worth 0.5 cents each.
Note: Security can be an issue in certain parts of Nairobi, but the hotel kept us feeling very safe during our visit.
Because I have Hilton Diamond status (because of the spending bonus on the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card), we were upgraded to a one-bedroom suite on the top floor. We also received complimentary full breakfast and access to the executive lounge for evening snacks and drinks. The food was delicious, the service was fantastic, and we loved this hotel option right in the Nairobi city center. We had a great time visiting the school and orphanage we had heard so much about, and we even briefly stopped off at the Giraffe Center for a quick visit!
Next up was our time in the Masai Mara – perhaps the most adventurous part of our trip. Safari lodges are not cheap, so I had done plenty of research and was ready to shell out nearly ~$500 per night for a nice lodge including all game drives, food, and drinks. I had my eye on the lovely Fairmont Masai Mara, which is incredibly well reviewed and one of the only chain hotels in the Masai region. We loved the idea of staying in a luxury tent and we’ve always been huge fans of the Fairmont brand.
Just as I was about to pull the trigger on redeeming 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards through the Chase travel portal at a value of 1.5 cents per point for our $1,500 reservation, I remembered that I had a few outstanding Fairmont certificates left over from signing up for the Chase Fairmont credit card (no longer available).
I happened to have a 3rd night free certificate, which meant that I could book all 3 nights, including game drives, food, and beverages, for just over $1,200. Because I value Chase Ultimate rewards more highly than 1.2 cents per point, I decided to pay cash and save my Chase Ultimate Rewards points for another occasion.
Overall, we absolutely loved our time in the Masai Mara and the Fairmont Mara Safari Lodge is one of our favorite unique hotels in the world. Our driver and safari guide, Evans, took incredible care of us throughout our 5 game drives and we experienced all of the “Big Five” with relative ease.
I also got to witness a mother lion carrying one of her cubs in her mouth, which was a dream come true for me. We can’t recommend this property highly enough if you’re considering a Masai safari!
After 3 amazing days of seeing elephants, leopards, lions, giraffes, and too many more animal species to count, we finally left the Masai Mara and flew back to Nairobi, transferring airports in anticipation of our flight to Mauritius. Although we arrived in Mauritius at night, we could already tell we’d love the island vibe and charming culture that makes it such a special place.
We needed 4 nights in Mauritius and decided to redeem Starwood points to offset the cost of the lovely hotels where we’d spend our time. We spent the first 3 nights at the Westin Turtle Bay Mauritius and loved the landscape, beach, and overall great service from the staff. We booked our nights using a points and cash rate of 5,000 Starwood points plus $75 per night, which was a great deal.
Rooms were going for ~$240 per night including taxes and fees, so we were thrilled with our points redemption from a value perspective.
Note: Starwood and Marriott have merged. The Westin Turtle Bay Mauritius now costs 17,000 Marriott points plus $140 per night with points and cash.
The hotel was great, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with their dive master who helped me achieve my PADI open water diving certification. My wife was already a certified diver, but she joined us on a few of our dives and also loved relaxing by the beach. We continuously discussed how the resort felt so much like Maui – a high compliment in our books.
Although the Westin was very nice, I actually wouldn’t recommend you trek all the way to the middle of the Indian Ocean if that’s your destination. On the other hand, the St. Regis Mauritius was absolutely exquisite and one of the most luxurious resorts we’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. For our last night, we redeemed 20,000 Starwood points (instead of a cash rate of ~$460 including taxes and fees) to get a brief experience at the St. Regis, and we didn’t want to leave.
Note: The St. Regis Mauritius now costs 60,000 Marriott points per night with the new award chart.
The beach was gorgeous, the Le Morne region (in the southwest of Mauritius) is breathtaking, and the hotel overall provided a flawless, luxury experience. Although we booked a standard junior suite, we were upgraded to an oceanfront suite with an incredible ocean view and nearly 1,000 square feet of high-end furnishings. It was incredible! I can’t recommend highly enough that you consider visiting the St. Regis Mauritius if you plan to adventure to this lovely island.
Our final destination for the trip was the Seychelles, which we were perhaps most excited about. The Seychelles is a small island group in the Indian ocean (not too far from the Maldives, for you points and miles addicts!). But the Seychelles are different than other island destinations in that most everyone tries to experience at least 2 or 3 islands on their trip. We spent a total of 5 nights in the Seychelles, broken up across the different beautiful islands.
We spent the first 2 nights in Praslin (my favorite island), spending ~$100 per night at the Yasad Luxury Beach Residence booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. We would have loved to stay at the beautiful Raffles Seychelles (which looked incredible as we drove by!), but the price differential was too big considering we would be spending most of our time out and about anyways.
During our time on Praslin, we enjoyed Anse Lazio (the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen) and one of my all-time favorite culinary experiences at Les Rochers restaurant.
We then boarded a short 30-minute ferry to spend just one night on La Digue, the smallest of the Seychelles’ main islands and home to Anse Source d’Argent. This has repeatedly been named the nicest beach in the world, and we loved wandering around the shallow waters, finding abandoned alcoves, and being awe-inspired by the island’s natural beauty. La Digue doesn’t have any chain hotels, so we spent ~$100 to stay at a simple bed and breakfast booked through AirBnb. La Digue was fantastic overall, and we loved the laid back culture and “island-time” feel.
Note: There are very few cars on La Digue, and most everyone rents bikes to get around. So pack light!
Finally, we spent the last 2 days of our vacation on the Seychelles’ main island of Mahe at the glamorous Hilton Seychelles Northolme. This is a top-tier hotel in the Hilton portfolio, so we redeemed 95,000 Hilton points per night instead of paying the cash rate of over $540 per night including taxes. We were apprehensive at first about the high cost, because that same amount of points can get you a free night at the Conrad Koh Samui or the Conrad Bora Bora.
But the Hilton Seychelles Northolme absolutely deserves its 5-star stripes, and we loved the gorgeous views, luxurious hospitality, and phenomenal service by the staff who seemed to genuinely care about us. We spent our days mostly resting by the pool and meeting other guests, as well as snorkeling and kayaking around the Seychelles’ perfectly blue waters. It was an amazing end to our long trip, and we were sad to leave at the end of our 2 rejuvenating nights.
Our trip to Africa was truly a dream come true for my wife and me. I planned it and earned the miles and points for months with the best travel credit cards, but the culmination was an affordable trip staying in luxury hotels for a small fraction of the cost.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure, and that it even inspires some of you to make a similar trip. If Africa is on your bucket list too, you can make it happen for a lot less than you’d expect!
Are you looking to travel to Africa or have you made a similar trip? I’d love to hear your questions and comments!