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South Africa Safari Award Ticket – Flying SAA from IAD to JNB

Posted on Posted in Africa, Airlines, Loyalty Points, South Africa

So while it sounds great to say “I’m going on safari in Africa with an award ticket”, the reality is that I needed to reposition myself to Washington, DC from Philadelphia via Amtrak for the SAA flight from IAD to JNB (Johannesburg, South Africa).  The South African Airways (SAA) flight would be 17 hours from Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg (included a refueling stop in Dakar).  The flight time was the biggest question everyone seemed to have – that’s a long time on a plane.  While technically yes, it is a long time, I remind them that I will be flying SAA business class with a flat bed so I am not that concerned with the flying time and no need to feel bad for me – it’s business class with my points!  It is a mental game of checking the boxes during my travel thus compartmentalizing the pieces of the journey so that it goes by quicker especially as I tend not to sleep on flights (yes, I have control issues). For my journey to Africa, these were the separate parts identified.

Elephants in Botswana
Elephants in Chobe -Botswana

The Africa Safari Journey Begins

Part 1: Saturday leave Philly on Amtrak, arrive DC, check into the W hotel, wander to the White House across the street taking a photo or two, encounter a few issues at the hotel which gets you a free meal at the lobby bar chatting with the Emma Stone look a like bartender before the rains come and the empty bar swells with wet people looking to escape the downpours  and then catch up with friend for dinner.

Repositioning to Washington, D.C.

Part 2: Walk around the Mall in DC after breakfast at a trendy restaurant.  Stop by Corner Bakery for required flight sandwich and cookie in case special meal falls through. Friend drives you to airport, check in complete, wander airport with your safari bag as carryon to find a camera card for the point and shoot because you bought the wrong one before you left (would have helped to take old card for measurement) and now you are paying $40 for a card that should cost $15 – ah, the gouging of the airport so called “street pricing” – the street they reference is the one that is called easy street for them!

Safari Giraffes Botswana
The giraffes in Africa are just stunning – these are in Botswana Chobe Safari Park

At the Airport for the SAA Flight IAD to JNB

Part 3: Board SAA flight, look for all exits, all bathrooms, get situated with must have seat items and put carryon overhead organized with items you will need mid-flight (food, book, fleece jacket, etc).  Realize that you have no status on this airline and are assigned a window instead of aisle and hope your seatmate is friendly (he is not) as you will need to be yoga flexible to climb over him each and every bathroom visit hoping to not hit him (7 out of 10 isn’t bad?).  This is where upper arm strength would come in handy to lift you up and over like a pommel horse (but you realize that you don’t have coordination, upper arm strength or the space for the move if you tried although you really want to try and pawn it off as an oops if caught!).

South African Airways In-Flight

Part 4: Read magazines you saved for the trip and recycle them with the cabin crew if nice (they weren’t).  At cruising altitude, put on headphones and browse menu and pick something to eat (its a long flight) – save your safety food (sliced apples, Corner Bakery sandwich, cookie, power bar, water, nuts, etc.) for later when you realize that its a self service flight as no one comes back until next service and you are opening all of the little metal cabinets to find water because the Olympics of the vault over the smelly, grumpy guy next to you can be considered exercise on the flight – need to burn calories somehow and hydrate.    Find a movie (or 4!) to watch.  I catch up on a few – the animated movie Brave was quite fun.

Sunset in South Africa Sabi Sands - Award Ticket IAD to JNB
The changing colors of the sky at sunset in Sabi Sands

Part 5: Like a bus, we make a stop to drop some people off in the middle of the night and pick some others up in Dakar.  We also refuel during our hour stop.  It is the dead of night and dark outside – there is no terminal so everyone just walks down the stairs onto the tarmac for the bus.  A bit of a break to stand up, stretch and attempt to smuggle more water to your seat for the rest of the flight -there are only three bottles left in your bag –

Johannesburg Arrival

Part 6: Arrive in Johannesburg Monday dinner time not having much sleep (sadly I should learn to partake of the free alcohol on the flight to get me to sleep!) and then slowly make your way through immigration -everyone is chatting and the woman in from of me is from the U.S. on a booktour as she lived in Botswana with her family and throughout Africa and has written about the experiences.  The guy behind me is adventure camping.  Everyone is excited after the long flight to begin their African journey – we are all awake and ready to go.

Zebras in Africa Okavango Delta - Award Trip IAD to JNB
The zebras in between the trees


Part 7: Learn to loudly say “NO” – everyone wants to help me with my bags being as bold as to put their hands on the trolley (they all want money and are quite aggressive about getting it) – I’m loud and have that look that makes them go away (I may need to evaluate this look as it might explain my lack of dates here at home?).  I exit the airport and am hit with cold fall-like air which is refreshing and surprising – everyone has a vision of Africa and mine right now is that of any airport exit with cars driving by to pick up family and friends.  I could be in any major city and this is a bit of reality hitting me. I may be in Africa more than 8,000 miles from home but at the airport things looks like everywhere else.  My trolley and I cross over the airport arrivals lanes to the very welcoming and well situated Intercontinental Johannesburg.  With a prime location, the hotel rates for my stays were $300 or so per night!  Lucky for me, I won a twitter contest with Intercontinental and used the points for a points & cash award so my cost was 24,000 points + $70 per night.

My long journey to Africa (IAD to JNB) for the safari adventure, which started months ago in the dream planning stage is now turning into a reality as I walk toward the entrance of the hotel.


Monkey in South Africa - award flight IAD to JNB
Hanging out at the conference lodge – actually turning over tables, chairs and other playthings at the empty conference lodge





One thought on “South Africa Safari Award Ticket – Flying SAA from IAD to JNB

  1. Ah, I feel your pain about having to go to DC. This one time my dad got our vacation tickets and we weren’t flying out of Philly like usual. No, this time we had to drive up to Newark, board a plane with a layover in Philly before flying off to our final destination. It seemed so counterproductive! Lol

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