Dreaming of: How I’m planning my Tanzanian safari with points and miles

Apr 12, 2020

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With our feet planted firmly on the ground lately, the TPG team has had plenty of time to dream about travelling again. For me, there are the usual summer travel plans on my mind, like getting back to the Big Apple, lazing on a beach in Majorca or going to Denmark for dinner.

But with all this time to think and plan, I’ve been dreaming of something much bigger.

A true bucket-list trip to Tanzania.

The basics

There are three reasons Tanzania is on my bucket list to visit:

  1. I have sponsored a child in Tanzania through the World Vision foundation for almost a decade and could organise the truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit him;
  2. I have heard such great things about the safari drives in Tanzania. I did my very first safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park a few years ago, and while I loved it, the scrub was very dense, meaning I would only see one or two animals at a time, I’d love to do another safari where there’s more wide-open plains and herds moving together; and
  3. I love a good beach. My sister honeymooned in Zanzibar, a little tropical island off the coast of Tanzania, and I’d love to finish the trip off there with some time lazing at the beach.
An old dhow lies on a Kendwa Beach with the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean in the background, Zanzibar, Tanzania
An old dhow lies on a Kendwa Beach with the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean in the background, Zanzibar, Tanzania. (Photo by Marc Guitard/Getty Images)

How to get there

Tanzania is in Eastern Africa, below Kenya and above Mozambique. While the country does have an airline, Air Tanzania, it does not fly to Europe, and there are no direct flights from the U.K. to anywhere in Tanzania.

So, I’ll need to connect somewhere along the way. To fly into the country’s main airport, Julius Nyerere International Airport serving the city of Dar es Salaam (DAR), I could choose to fly from the U.K. on:

Return prices in economy are fairly reasonable, with neat two-hour connections with several carriers:

As this is a bucket-list trip, I’d love to fly in a premium cabin, if possible. Let’s check the business-class prices, which aren’t exactly the most afforable:

Booking flights with points and miles

Fortunately, most of these options can be booked with different points and miles. I’m thinking about options using American Express Membership Rewards points, which transfer to a number of different popular loyalty programmes.

With my British Airways Avios, which I can also transfer from Amex, I’m thinking about flying with Qatar Airways, as they’re both members of the Oneworld alliance. Or with my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, which I can also transfer from Amex, I could book to fly with KLM. A third option would be Turkish Airlines using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. Although I could also book EgyptAir or Ethiopian Airlines also using KrisFlyer miles, having flown both these airlines before, neither would be my first choice. All three of these programs are Membership Rewards U.K. transfer partners.

Here are the mileage costs from the U.K. to Tanzania, using these mileage currencies, per person, one-way plus fees, taxes and surcharges:

  • Avios: 33,750 in economy; 100,750 in business class
  • Flying Club: 12,000 in economy; 48,500 in business class on standard dates per person each way, or add 10,000 miles for each class for peak dates.
  • KrisFlyer: 27,500 in economy; 52,000 in business class

So although I love Qatar Airways, as you can see, the clear winner is KLM with Flying Club miles, which is great value, especially if I can book off-peak dates.

Standard dates in the Flying Club program for 2020/2021 so far are:

  • 6 January 2020 – 2 April 2020
  • 22 April 2020 – 19 June 2020
  • 7 September 2020 – 11 December 2020
  • 6 January 2021 – 31 March 2021

This suits me just fine, as the best months to visit Tanzania are June to October, so I could pick dates in September or October to fit in with the standard dates and require fewer miles. I would feel comfortable booking travel for these two months despite the coronavirus crisis, noting that I could change the dates for little or no penalty if it were still not safe to travel by this date.

On further inspection, the KLM flight from Amsterdam (AMS) does a triangular route. On the outbound, it stops briefly in Mt Kilimanjaro (JRO) before continuing on to Dar es Salaam (DAR).

(Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

That actually suits me just fine, as JRO is the closest airport to where my sponsor child lives. Flying Club allows one-way redemptions, so an open-jaw journey flying into JRO and out of DAR works for me.

Using ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), I can see there is some business-class availability on the route.

The long-haul flights are operated by KLM’s 787 aircraft, which features its excellent 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seat in business class.

Related: Great seat, so-so service: A review of KLM’s business class on the 787-9 from Amsterdam to Toronto

Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy
Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy
Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy

Where to stay

The KLM flight into JRO arrives in the evening, so I’ll need a hotel nearby. There’s not a load of points hotel options in the region, though there is a Four Points by Sheraton in the nearby town of Arusha. This property can be booked for just 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points for a standard night, which is an excellent deal considering cash rates are around £180 per night, meaning I can obtain far higher value than TPG’s current valuation of 12,500 Bonvoy points at £87.50.

There certainly won’t be any luxury hotels anywhere near the tiny village where my sponsor child lives (nor would I feel right staying in a fancy hotel during a visit like that), so that part of the trip won’t involve points and miles. I’ll talk about the safari options separately below, which just leaves Zanzibar.

I quite like Doubletree properties, and the Stone Town Hotel especially is great value as a cash booking. But for a bucket-list trip, the five-star Park Hyatt fits the bill perfectly. It’s actually a great redemption deal at only 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night, as they’re worth £225 points per night according to our valuations, a big saving over the £334 per night cash price.

Park Hyatt Zanzibar. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

Here are some TPG reviews of Park Hyatt properties around the world:

Safari options

Tanzania is a relatively expensive country for a safari. Neighbouring Kenya is more affordable, and I found South Africa to be astonishingly cheap to visit. With this in mind, safari options range hugely in Tanzania depending on your budget. I can sleep in a basic tent and go on game drives in groups, right through to a luxury private villa with butler service and your own personal Champagne breakfast game drives.

For me, I’m looking for something in the middle. I’m not a massive fan of camping, but I could definitely be talked into a glamping option if there was a comfortable bed. After my experience in South Africa, about a three-night safari would be perfect — this should be ample time to see all of the different animals I want to see.

Don’t know what this means? Click here for more information.

One resource I found really useful when researching and booking my South African safari was African Budget Safaris. The company is an aggregator of safari options in different African countries, allowing me to easily compare the options. While the name suggests a budget experience, there are options for all sorts of budgets. For example, looking at Tanzania, there are options up to £4,000 per person — hardly budget!

Related: My negative experience at &Beyond’s Serengeti under canvas safari in Tanzania

It can otherwise be overwhelming seeing the hundreds of different options if you are just Googling “African safari”.

If you can pay for your safari with a points-earning credit card, you can start restocking your points balance after depleting it with the flights and hotel nights booked for this trip.

Bottom line

It will be quite some time before I actually go on my bucket-list trip to Tanzania. The plus side of this long wait is there’s plenty of time for me to research and perfect my plans for the trip. While the safari experience itself is unlikely to be cheap, I can certainly reduce the costs of the overall trip by using my points and miles for flights and hotel stays.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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