Last summer I was able to knock something off my bucket list that’s been there for 15 years! We reached the roof of Africa and it wouldn’t have been possible without credit card points.
It was the trip of a lifetime. We saved up for this trip in our travel sinking fund over the course of several years and then delayed another year due to COVID-19. It was only once we were both vaccinated that we felt we could travel safely. We were able to go on a 3-day Safari, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and then spent a week in Zanzibar. After the stress of everything since March 2020, it was a massively welcome change to do something of this scale. The last time we went on a big trip was our honeymoon. We used our credit card points for that one too!
NYC to Kilimanjaro
The flights alone would have cost us a total of $4,500. However, we were able to cover just about all of these costs using credit card miles. I was even able to cover a $925 flight for my mother in law on the way there. Not too shabby if I do say so myself!
For our flights to Tanzania, I booked through the United portal. I used a combination of United and Chase Sapphire points to cover the costs for all 3 of us to fly to Kilimanjaro airport (JRO) with an overnight in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since United and Chase Sapphire are both partners through Star Alliance, I was able to make a simple one for one transfer of points through their online portal.
For the overnight, we were able to get a hotel for free with Ethiopian Airlines. This was only possible because we had longer than an 8 hour layover. Sleeping in a bed that night was MUCH appreciated after being on a plane for so long. Always double check the benefits of your flight through your credit card and the airline itself to see if you qualify for this kind of benefit.
Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar
Our next flight was after our trek up Kilimanjaro. My mother in law had to return to work after the trek, so it was just Kayla and I for the rest of the trip. The rule in our house when we travel is that for as many days as we do the adventure part (for me), we also add a relaxing beach part (for my wife). So, we flew from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar to spend a week out there. These were relatively cheap, so I was able to use my Chase credit card points for these flights as well.
Zanzibar to NYC
After one of the most relaxing weeks we’ve had in a long time, it was time to fly home. We were so excited to go home and see everyone again, but sad to be leaving an actual slice of paradise. These flights were the only ones that we had to pay a bit more than fees. The total cost of these flights was $2,080 and I had enough CapitalOne credit card points to cover $1,480 of it. These points are nice because they are flexible. They can be used to reimburse your card for any form of travel or cover other purchases if needed. I’d specifically saved these knowing that I could use them to fill in any gaps in points needed for flights or hotels.
Total Savings on Flights: $3,900
When we landed in Kilimanjaro, we were picked up by the Safari company and brought to the hotel that was part of our 3-day Safari package. In case you’re curious for any future safari trips, we went with Safari Soles and had a great time. Highly recommend them! We were even lucky enough to see all of the big 5 (lion, rhinoceros, elephant, leopard and water buffalo).
The Trek to the Rooftop of Africa
After that amazing experience, we went to our next hotel to prep for our trek starting the following day to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. The hotel was included as part of the package, which helped. This was by far the most expensive part of the trip, but the company we used, Altezza Travel, was amazing. I would also highly recommend this company very highly. They were attentive, friendly and were very safety conscious.
We went up the Machame route and it was gorgeous. We started out in the jungle and went through 4 different climate zones until we hit the summit on day 6. The trek itself was fairly difficult, but we knew that would be the case going in. Reaching the peak was an especially meaningful part of the trip for me. Not only was it a bucket list item for me, but my dad had passed the year before and I was able to take some of his ashes and scatter them there. He had lived in Africa for a few years in the 80s and always said that it was one of the best times of his life, so I thought spreading his ashes at the highest point in Africa was something he’d enjoy.
Ending this action-packed trip on a beach was absolutely the right call (props to Kayla for that). We were able to spend our anniversary in an amazing place with great food and a beautiful view. Unfortunately, this leg of the trip was the only part of the trip where our accommodation was not already covered.
Of course, I had to figure out how to cover this with credit card points. We stayed at the Double Tree in Nungwi, which is a part of Hilton Hotels. In preparation for this trip, I had gotten the Hilton Honors American Express card. The sign-on bonus was 100,000 points if $3,000 was spent in the first 3 months. We reached that threshold and accrued the points. However, I was still about 80,000 points shy to be able to cover the rest of the 7 night stay. Using the points I had available, I would have had to pay $800 out of pocket still. I was not a fan of this, so when Hilton had a point purchase promotion, I took advantage of it. I bought the remaining points I needed for $450, which saved me $350 overall.
Having covered the hotel, we were able to focus on taking in all the sites (and food). We went on a tour of Stonetown, toured a Spice farm, swam with Dolphins and pet sea turtles! One of the turtles did bite Kayla in the leg, but we cured her with good food and drink after.
Total Hotel Savings: $1,150
Wrap It Up!
We had an amazing trip and by leveraging credit card points, we were able to save $5,050! This allowed us to spend more time away and do more activities we enjoyed. If you are thinking of using credit card points, but aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend the FREE course on Travel Miles 101. I get that it can look very confusing. Yet using credit card points can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. So, take a look at where you can save on your next trip. You might be surprised at all you can save!
If you’re interested in learning about credit card points, budgeting, long term financial goals, elder care planning or any other personal finance topics, check out my financial coaching services. Let’s work together to use your money as a tool to build the life you deserve!