Book this, not that: Alternatives to popular destinations that aren’t bookable with points

Sep 29, 2019

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Most who love travel are also dreamers: You probably like to imagine what could be and think about all the places you could go. That’s why it feels like there’s never enough time to visit every place on your list. I was consulting my own wish list of destinations the other day and saw three vacations that I’d love to take that just aren’t readily available on points. So I came up with some alternatives:

We want to stay at Kings Camp in South Africa …

One place we have stayed at before and desperately want to return to is Kings Camp safari lodge in South Africa’s Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (just west of the more well-known Kruger National Park). We stayed there for part of our first trip to South Africa and it made a lasting impression. It’s a luxury camp with absolutely gorgeous stand-alone lodges. We traveled with a group that booked out the entire property. By luck of the draw, we ended up in a Honeymoon Suite with some upgraded amenities like a claw-foot tub, indoor/outdoor showers and incredible views of the savannah from a private veranda.

The Honeymoon Suite (Photo courtesy of Kings Camp)
The Honeymoon Suite at Kings Camp. (Photo courtesy of Kings Camp)

We were pampered in every way — from the incredible architectural details in our lodge to the gourmet meals prepared to suit all tastes to the activities between game drives. But, what we loved about Kings Camp the most was the staff. Everyone made you feel as if they’d known you forever. It was a comfortable vibe that made it easy to relax and take the time to really enjoy every moment.

The game drives were also absolutely spectacular. While we also visited Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, we preferred Timbavati because it felt more remote and we saw an incredible array of animals. We easily ticked off the Big Five — leopard, lion, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo — as well as birds, reptiles and monkeys.

It was an incredible experience but it comes with a steep price tag. Luxury Suites are $672 (£544) per person/night ($1,344 [£1,088] per night double occupancy) while the Honeymoon Suite is a cool $875 (£708) per person/night ($1,750 [£1,416] per night double occupancy).

kings camp timbavati

… but I can book a Marriott hotel in South Africa instead

While Kings Camp is out for now due to its price tag, I can use my Marriott points to book a stay at one or more of its Protea Hotels. The brand has more than 50 properties throughout South Africa. You could put together a multi-destination trip and stay at several Protea Hotels along the way.

Here’s a 14-night itinerary you could pull off with just 142,500 Marriott points:

  • Five nights at the Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterbreak Lodge (12,500 points per night; get the fifth night free on award stays)
  • Two nights in the Winelands at the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch, Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshuis & Spa or the Protea Hotel Franschhoek (all 12,500 points per night)
  • Three nights at Proteal Hotel Hazyview (7,500 points per night) near Kruger National Park
  • Three nights at Protea Zebula Lodge (12,500 points per night)
  • One night at any of the Protea Hotels in Johannesburg (all are 7,500 points per night) near the Mabalingwe Game Reserve
Protea Zebula Lodge
Take a three-hour game drive at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, near Protea Zebula Lodge. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

I’m only interested in a safari experience, so I’ve narrowed my choices to those in the table below. Some properties are located right in the bush while others are within easy driving distance of major nature reserves and game parks like Kruger National Park.

I included Protea Hotel Bloemfontein Willow Lake on this list because it’s inside Bloemfontein Zoo and could be an interesting place to stay — even though it doesn’t fulfill the traditional game drive experience.

Hotel Marriott Category Location Nearby Game Reserve
Protea Hotel Clarens Cat. 1
(7,500 points per night)
Free State/ Clarens 0.3 miles from Clarens Village Nature Reserve and 9.3 miles from Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Protea Hotel Hazyview Cat. 1
(7,500 points per night)
Mpumalanga/ Hazyview 20 minutes from Kruger National Park
Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Cat. 2
(12,500 points per night)
Mpumalanga/ Skukuza 328 feet from the Paul Kruger Gate of Kruger National Park; you can walk
Protea Hotel Mahikeng Cat. 1
(7,500 points per night)
North West Province/ Mahikeng 7.5 miles from Mahikeng Game Reserve
Protea Hotel Polokwane Ranch Resort Cat. 1
(7,500 points per night)
Limpopo/ Polokwane Located on 1,000 hectares of Limpopo Province bushveld; close to Polokwane Bird & Reptile Park and Moletjie Bird Sanctuary
Protea Hotel Bloemfontein Willow Lake Cat. 1
(7,500 points per night)
Free State/ Bloemfontein Located inside Bloemfontein Zoo
Protea Zebula Lodge Cat. 2
(12,500 points per night)
Limpopo/ Bela Bela Located on 1,100 hectares of bushveld near the Waterberg Biosphere; near the Mabalingwe Game Reserve and Bambelela Wildlife Care and Vervet Monkey Rehabilitation Facility

Four nights at these properties cost between 30,000 and 50,000 Marriott points total. That’s a tremendous value for being so close to some of the world’s best nature reserves. Just remember to factor in the cost of hiring a safari guide and driver.

Photo of Protea Zebula Lodge courtesy of booking.com
Photo of Protea Zebula Lodge courtesy of booking.com

I want to go to Anguilla’s Cap Juluca …

I love the beach. There is something so peaceful and rejuvenating about vacationing on an island. Resorts with oceanfront rooms are close to my heart. Anguilla is a lovely Caribbean island that is part of the British West Indies, and we’ve been wanting to stay at Belmond Cap Juluca.

Belmond Cap Juluca
Belmond Cap Juluca. (Photo courtesy of Booking.com)

The resort is on Maundays Bay near the southernmost tip of the island and includes quite a bit in its rates, such as a daily breakfast buffet; facilities including a fitness center, tennis courts and nonmotorized water sports; and Wi-Fi.

It’s also more intimate than some other Caribbean properties, with 66 standard rooms and 42 suites. Every guest has plenty of personal space — that’s appealing to me. What’s not so appealing is the price. The least expensive room I found during my dates in January, a Deluxe Beachfront King Room, priced from $1,203 (£974) per night. Instead, I’ll be looking for a points-bookable resort on Anguilla that’s similarly intimate.

Cap Juluca Anguilla price

… but I’ll book Zemi Beach House instead

Zemi Beach House Hotel & Spa gets great reviews from repeat guests. This boutique hotel is closed right now for its annual two-month downtime but it will reopen in November 2019 as part of Hilton’s LXR Hotels & Resorts luxury group.

I love the fact that there are 65 rooms here, ranging from superior and premium rooms to one-, two- and three-bedroom penthouse suites and beachfront villas. The villas are right on the beach and each has a private pool overlooking the ocean.

Zemi Beach House - Anguilla
Zemi Beach House, new to LXR Hotels & Resorts, one of Hilton’s luxury brands. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

There are two restaurants, three lounges, three pools (one beachfront, an adults-only “tranquility” option and a 60-foot lap pool), a Thai-style spa and kids club.

The two hotels are not located on the same part of the island. Cap Juluca is close to West End Village, while Zemi Beach House is up near Shoal Bay East. (Image courtesy of Google Maps)

The hotel is not yet listed on Hilton’s website but I’m checking every day and look forward to learning how many Hilton Honors points it will cost per night. Depending on the redemption rate, Zemi Beach House could be an excellent option for anyone who has a stash of Hilton Honors points or even weekend award nights.

I want to sail the new Ritz-Carlton Yacht …

We happen to really enjoy cruise travel but when we say “cruise,” what we’re really talking about is yachting. We enjoy UnCruise Adventures, SeaDream Yacht Club and Windstar’s yachts. So, we were really excited when Ritz-Carlton announced its Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.

Its first yacht, the 298-passenger Azora, sets sail in February 2020; the inaugural voyage is from Fort Lauderdale to Bridgetown, Barbados. The ships are intimate and all 149 cabins are actually suites with a private “terrace” (Ritz-Carlton’s word for “balcony”). The smallest suite is 312 square feet with a 67-square-foot balcony. Unlike other cruise lines that charge an arm and leg for Wi-Fi, it’s free aboard Azora. That’s so much more customer-friendly.

In its first year, you can book ocean crossings or sailings in the Caribbean, Canada and New England, Mediterranean and northern Europe and the Baltic. This is the nine-night sailing we have our eye on:

But that voyage starts at $7,400 (£5,989) per person plus taxes, fees and port charges — and there currently isn’t a way to use Marriott points to offset any portion of the cruise fare.

… so instead I’d book the SeaDream Yacht Club

Instead, I am looking at an alternative like a six-night SeaDream Yacht Club itinerary aboard the 110-passenger SeaDream I in the Caribbean. VacationstoGo.com is selling ocean-view suites for $2,499 (£2,022) per person plus taxes and fees.

Yes, this is an older ship (though SeaDream is currently building SeaDream Innovation, a 220-passenger Polar Class 6 yacht that will debut in September 2021). The trip length is also shorter and it’s the Caribbean and not northern Europe. But SeaDream’s crew is second to none, gourmet food is served at every meal and the line pulls off that balance of laid-back and still luxurious. We love the Balinese beds on the sun deck. Booking a SeaDream cruise and paying it off with points is a good value in my book.

I could use this same tactic to pay for the Ritz-Carlton cruise, but the longer voyage carries a higher price tag, so I’d need a ton of points to make a dent in the cost. The shorter and less expensive SeaDream cruise presents a better value that is more easily within reach.

Bottom line

This is the really powerful thing about miles and points. If you can’t use them for your tier one “dream” destinations, there are usually some pretty close second-choice options to be had.

What are the places where you want to travel but can’t figure out a way to do it using points? Is there somewhere nearby that will do the trick? Expand your search and see what the possibilities are.

Have you booked a “second choice” destination or resort because you wanted to use points? How did it work out?

Featured image of Anguilla by Cavan Images / Getty Images

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