Trip Introduction: South Africa, Namibia, Victoria Falls, Mauritius and the UAE via Emirates First Class and Qatar Business Class


In my experience, the African Continent reward travels are among the hardest award redemptions to pull off. Thanks to a remote location, limited capacity in premium cabins, high demand, and by failing to strategize by keeping too many of one points currency can limit your ability to get into the front cabin for one of the farthest destinations on earth. Thanks to diversification, we were able to put together a trip using a combination of award points in order to get us across Southern Saharan Africa in style, redeeming points for fabulous Emirates First Class and Qatar Business Class flights.

This post is one chapter on our trip to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates. This trip was redeemed through American Airlines AAdvantage & Alaska Mileage Plan. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Trip Introduction: South Africa, Namibia, Victoria Falls, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates via Emirates First Class and Qatar Business Class

Trip Background:

Planning the Overseas Flights:

After being fortunate enough to get 3 Round the World Trips and one Africa Trip out of Aeroplan’s frequent flier program, we started diversifying our point collections. The Emirates First Class award was always high on my mind as an experience I wanted to try. Thanks to a decent amount of seat availability, we were able to lock in and easily plan a trip. We decided to travel westward on Emirates since the flights usually leave for the Americas in the day time. This would allow us to spend more time awake enjoying the First Class experience and less time sleeping. The outstation lounges for Emirates didn’t look all too impressive so we decided to travel westward on Emirates and just had to pick the route.

Initially, we had planned to fly eastward on Etihad from the Americas to Abu Dhabi and a separate award down to Cape Town. Before we were ready to book, Etihad pulled its First Class award availability completely to and from the USA. At the time, when we added in the fact that Etihad was flying old Jet Airways configured aircraft between Abu Dhabi and Cape Town, compared to Qatar’s brand new Boeing 787’s, it made sense to scrap the Etihad First Class complications or challenges and stick with Qatar on the entire routing. We secured an AAdvantage Business Award from North America to Africa at 75,000 miles per person, which I found to be an excellent deal. The trip included flights on Qatar Airways Business Class Los Angeles – Doha on their Boeing 777, and on Qatar Airways Business Class Doha – Johannesburg on their bright Boeing 787.

For the return, thanks to Expertflyer and the Alaska Mileage Plan, I found generous Emirates First Class award availability at the 5 1/2 month mark departing Mauritius. Emirates serviced Mauritius with a double daily A380 and there were lots of seats available. First Class availability for 2, to and from South Africa, was almost non existent (with the exception of Harare in Zimbabwe on their old Emirates Airbus 340’s) so we opted for another short paid positioning side trip to Mauritius, repeating our 2013 visit experience. Between British Airways Comair Boeing 737 and the South African Airways A340’s, we were able to locate a full paid business class fare for 7,318 ZAR or $500 USD per person. I thought this was a reasonable price for a 4 hour international business class flight in a proper lie flat bed. Our return flights involved Emirates First Class Mauritius – Dubai, stopping over for several days, then Emirates First Class Dubai – Los Angeles, followed by Alaska Airlines First Class Los – Angeles – Seattle, redeemed from Alaska Mileage Plan for 100,000 miles per person and $103 USD in taxes and fees. We weren’t able to get any award availability into Vancouver, so we ended up having to purchase a revenue ticket on Delta Airlines First Class Seattle – Vancouver which was cheaper than any change fee when award space finally opened.

Planning Cape Town, South Africa:

We had both been to Cape Town before and had loved it. It’s particularly beautiful and it was my third trip back there. During our time in Cape Town, we stayed at the Westin Cape Town. We had stayed here before but it’s such a convenient property and has everything that we’d needed. We were on a paid rate of 1,800 ZAR ($125 USD) a night, so I I thought that paying cash was a better deal than redeeming against points for our four day stay. We were Starwood Preferred Guest Platinums (now Marriott Bonvoy Platinum) so we had complimentary access to their terrific Westin Executive Lounge, which offered a complimentary breakfast; adding further value.

Planning Namibia:

I had always wanted to visit Namibia and this was our opportunity. Although we could have flown from Cape Town to Windhoek on an indirect route using the BA Avios points through Johannesburg, it was a route that would involve almost double or triple the time as it was several thousands of miles out of the way. We opted for the shorter non stop direct flights on Air Namibia, the national flag carrier of Namibia. We paid cash for those tickets flying Air Namibia Cape Town – Windhoek, stopping over for our stay in Namibia, then Windhoek – Victoria Falls for 4,590 ZAR or $320 USD. We had considered paying for Business Class, but it was pricing at over $900 USD per person for the short segments, so we passed. These flights were less than two hours each so it wasn’t a huge loss.

While we were in Namibia, we stayed at the Sossus Dune Lodge Lodge in Sesriem. This was an interesting place that was highly recommended by one of my past friends who was a writer for the Lonely Planet Nambia Travel Guide since it was near the largest and tallest san dunes in the world. Our stay at the Sossus Dune Lodge was booked directly for $175 USD a night, which I found was quite reasonable for a stand alone private villa. We also stayed at the world class & unique Pelican Point Lodge in Walvis Bay and the Hilton Windhoek. We booked the Pelican Point Lodge through Expedia for $500 USD a night. Since I was not a Hilton Honors collector, we booked the Hilton Windhoek through online travel agency RocketMiles for $210 USD a night and 3,500 Air Canada Aeroplan miles. Since Namibia is quite remote and there isn’t a lot of public transportation, we rented a truck with Hertz. We ended up self driving around the country and to all our destinations which was an interesting experience.

Planning Zimbabwae:

MrsWT73 had an interest in seeing Victoria Falls, Zimbabwae after seeing it on the US Version of The Amazing Race Season 27. It seemed like it had grown up since my last visit there in 1998 when it was a simple “back water” town (not intended to be a joke). We flew into Namibia on a continuation of our flight on Air Namibia Windhoek – Maun – Victoria Falls. For this visit, we booked in at the colonial and beautiful Victoria Falls Hotel for two nights. I’m not sure why but Expedia was offering a better rate than booking with the hotel directly. Through Expedia, we paid a rate of $440 USD for a Standard Room with Full Breakfast versus rates of over $560 USD booking direct on their website. We planned a visit to the falls as well as the usual sunset booze cruise on the Zambezi which is always a neat experience. Our flight departing Zimbabwe to Johannesburg was on British Airways Comair Club Victoria Falls – Johannesburg using BA Avios. We redeemed 7,500 British Airways Executive Club Avios and $50 USD Per Person for “Club” Business Class for this international flight.

Planning Mauritius:

Our return trip to Mauritius was unexpected and was simply based on award availability requiring us to position to this Indian Ocean island. We flew into the country on South African Airways Business Class Johannesburg – Mauritius. We stayed at our usual favourite the St Regis Mauritius in Le Morne, and rented a car through Sixt. We had considered the hotel car transfer, but found it easier and more economical to just rent a car and drive. While we didn’t end up using the car all too much during our short stay, the convenience of having one can’t be beat.

Planning the United Arab Emirates:

On our return flight to North America, we built in a stopover in the United Arab Emirates courtesy of the terms and conditions of the Alaska Mileage Plan. We stayed at our usual favourite The Grosvenor House in a Deluxe Suite at the Dubai Marina, mostly so we would have access to the Royal Meridien Resort at Jumeriah Beach. We also rented a car from the “in hotel” National Car outlet, so that we could take in a day drive to Al Ain.

The Routing:

After it was all put together, our routing ended up looking like follows:

YVR-LAX-DOH-JNB-CPT (AAdvantage Award)
VFA-JNB (BA Avios Award)
JNB-MRU (paid)
MRU-DXB-LAX-SEA (Alaska Mileage Plan Award)
SEA-YVR (paid)
Our Six Ticket Africa Routing Ended Up Like This

All up, this trip was a pain to organize with many moving parts. I was relieved when it was all done, which was mid way through the trip.

I hope you’ll enjoy the next segments of our adventures to probably my most favourite travel continent on earth!

If you’ve built a reward trip to Africa, how did you go about doing it?

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