When the wife and I travel overseas, we don’t just go to 1 location. It’s usually 2 or 3 locations. That’s mainly because the award routing rules let you do that, so why not take advantage of them? The main destination of this trip was a safari in South Africa of course. Why South Africa and not Kenya? Because Cathay Pacific flies directly from Hong Kong to Johannesburg. That’s the only reason. If Cathay flew directly to Kenya, we would have gone to Nairobi. Safari has been on my bucket list for years now, and it should be on yours as well! I was also able to book us on Cathay first class, which is our first FIRST class experience. Then we also flew on Emirates A380 FIRST class, which was also on my bucket list. So without further ado, I explain how I did all this on miles and points.
2 FIRST CLASS tickets from Seattle to Hong Kong to Johannesburg
- Retail Cost – $12,800 per ticket so $25,600 total (but realistically, I would have paid like $1500 in coach per person)
- Cash Cost – $45 x 2 = $90 total (airport taxes)
- Points Used – 70K Alaska miles x 2 = 140K total
Let’s put this into perspective for you. It would cost you 20K miles to fly ONE WAY from Seattle to Hawaii in coach. It would cost you 40K in first class. NOW IMAGINE GOING ALL THE WAY TO SOUTH AFRICA IN FIRST CLASS FOR ONLY 30K MORE MILES! This is exactly why I don’t redeem my Alaska miles for domestic flights or even international coach seats. You are getting over 10X more value from your Alaska miles when you redeem them for international premium seats!
Alaska also lets you have 1 stopover on one-way awards. We technically flew SEA-LAX on Alaska first class, then overnighted in LAX, and then flew LAX-HKG on Cathay first class. Spent 3 nights there (considered our stopover.) Then HKG-JNB business class (there are no first class seats on this 10 hour flight.)
Now the question is – how I did get 140,000 miles? Well, I resold a lot of crap from Kohl’s, Sears, etc. And everything I sold made a profit, so the points were “free.” I also got 50K miles from the Alaska Visa credit cards too, so it’s a mix of credit card signups as well as reselling.
1 night at Hyatt Concourse LAX
- Retail Cost – $110
- Cash Cost – $0
- Points Used – 11,000 Barclay Arrival points
- Manufactured Cost – $27.50 (using Buxx loads)
I could have used my SPG points to stay at the Sheraton LAX, but I was getting a less than $.02 value on my SPG point, and so I decided to just pay cash and redeem my Barclay Arrival points. I manufactured those 11K points by loading USBuxx and NWBuxx cards at a cost of 25%.
3 nights at Hyatt Regency Hong Kong
- Retail Cost – $258 x 3 = $774
- Cash Cost – $0
- Points Used – 12K x 3 = 36K points * .8 = 28,800 points
- Manufactured Cost – $200
This was a very good redemption since Hyatt is running a promo through July that gives you a 20% rebate on all award stays. Thus, instead of 12K a night, it was only 9.6K pts per night. $258 / 9600 = 2.7c of value. Usually Hyatt averages 1.6c of value, so if you can get anything over that, use the points! How much did it cost me to get 28,800 points? Well Staples sells a $200 Visa gift card for $6.95, which I earn 1K points for the purchase. Thus, it cost me 28.8 * $6.95 = $200 for the 3 nights (instead of $774.)
Also, since you get lowly Platinum status for having the Chase Hyatt card, we got upgraded to a deluxe room. Status means a lot more outside of the US since foreigners can’t get the Hyatt Visa card, and so they have to actually PAY AND STAY for their status (so foreign hotels see fewer elites.)
1 night at Hyatt Regency Johannesburg
- Retail Cost – $233
- Cash Cost – $0
- Points Used – 8K * .8 = 6.4K
- Manufactured Cost – $45
Same as above. Ridiculously good rate. We also got upgraded to a ‘suite’ and had access to the executive lounge, which gave us free continental breakfast.
2 South African Air coach tickets from Johannesburg to Hoedsprut to Cape Town
- Retail Cost – $492 x 2 = $984
- Cash Cost – $0
- Points Used – 98K Arrival points
- Manufactured Cost – $246
I couldn’t use any United miles to book this award flight, so I just used my Arrival points. The flight from JNB-HDS took like an hour and from HDS-CPT took about 2 hours. I thought the retail cost was too expensive, but even the locals called it a tourist tax since only tourists would fly to HDS, a very small airport.
4 nights at &Beyond Ngala Safari Reserve
- Retail Cost – $3,000
- Cash Cost – $0
- Point Used – 300K Arrival points
- Manufactured Cost – $750
When I was booking this trip, I wasn’t sure which safari to book, and so I asked a South African coworker, who told me he used these guys. It turned out to be a pretty luxurious safari. This was even during a ‘4th night free’ promo too! We asked another Australian couple in Cape Town, and they paid double what we paid (for I’m guessing an even more luxurious resort.) I was trying to rationalize paying $800 per couple per night, and if you consider the lodging, the food, and 6 hours of safari every day, it’s not so outrageous after all.
I lucked out in that they were considered a ‘travel’ category for my Barclay Arrival card, and so I’ll be able to redeem 300K points for the stay. Yes, that’s a CRAPLOAD of points, and I probably won’t be able to generate enough points to fully pay it off in time.
4 nights at Radisson Blu Waterfront Cape Town
- Retail Cost – $250 x 4 = $1000
- Cash Cost – $0
- Points Used – 100K points
This was a great location and hotel. We used the wife’s 2 Club Carlson Visa cards (pers/biz), which got us 80K points on signup. At the time, they let you book 1 night and get 1 night free, so we made 2 separate 2 night bookings for 50K points per booking, and thus 100K for the 4 night stay. We were upgraded the first 2 nights to a business class room, and would have been forced to move to a cheaper room the last 2 nights until I complained on Twitter the last night “CC, are you seriously going to make us downgrade rooms our last 2 nights in Cape Town?” and within an hour, the CC Twitter team said we could stay in our rooms. And this people, is why you need to get on Twitter.
2 FIRST CLASS tickets from Cape Town to Dubai to Seattle
- Retail Cost – $3,000 per ticket so $6,000 total
- Cash Cost – $93 per ticket so $186 total (airport taxes)
- Points Used – 100K Alaska miles per ticket so 200K total
The cash cost for this sounds too low. I’m not sure what the actual cost would have been; I just looked at a future date and that’s what the price is, so we’ll just go with that. Once again, this was a one-way award that we went from CPT-DXB (stayed 2 nights) and then DXB-SFO (to fly on the A380) and then SFO-SEA on Alaska metal. All for 100K miles each person ONE WAY.
How did I amass 200K miles here and 140K miles from above? LOTS OF RESELLING!
2 nights at Intercontinental Festival City Dubai
- Retail Cost – $175 x 2 = $350
- Cash Cost – $49
We used our annual free night certificates from our Chase Priority Club card for this redemption, which carries a $49 annual fee. Why is it not $98? Because I cancelled mine after they gave me the free certificate. We were also upgraded because of our lowly Platinum status (see the theme here?)
Total Retail cost – $38,051 ($11,500 if you count realistic airfare of $3K each in coach)
Cash + Manufactured Cost – $1,594
Total Points redeemed – 340K Alaska miles, 100K CC, 409K Arrival, 35K Hyatt
As you can see, we paid about $1600 total for a trip worth over $11K (I won’t use the $38K number since that’s not realistic.) I won’t add up the total points since each point is valued differently, but if you were to add them up, it comes out to 884,000 points. I actually had a hard time whether I should count the full $3K safari cost or the manufactured cost of $750. There is no way I can MS 150K of Buxx loads on my Arrival card in 120 days to redeem it fully, so I technically paid the full cash cost. But then, every cash outlay could have been MS’ed using AGC and portals. Thus, I kept going back and forth on it and decided to count the MS cost, but really, it should be the cash cost since I can’t MS that in time. I can however MS the SAA flights in time with Buxx loads, so that should have been counted as the MS cost.