So I had my award ticket to Africa on hold (back when you could do that) and had to ask my manager for the time off. When one asks for time off by email (he is in London) always best to start with “I found a award ticket to Africa for my safari dream vacation and need x days off” because he wouldn’t want to quash my dream would he? At a minimum he didn’t want to hear me complaining about quashing my dream for years to come so he approved the time off. Now, for most people, seventeen days out of the office for a vacation of 27 days isn’t realistic, I am aware. I was quite fortunate to work for a UK firm that while they don’t recognize a few US holidays (I’m still annoyed that I don’t get President’s Day off but I digress) they did allow for long holidays/vacations.
Once my manager approved the time off, I called USAirways to issue the ticket (back when you could put a free hold on a ticket). I then contacted the travel agent in Capetown to start the initial conversation by email as to how to build the trip – while I knew I wanted Safari and Capetown (but not what to do there), I had a lot of time to spend traveling and inquired about Botswana, Victoria Falls and perhaps the Garden Route – could I hit all of these on my trip? I had researched a few tour group itineraries to see what the standard safari trip looked like and spoke with a few South Africans in our London office. Nikki told me that rather than begin in Capetown, I should begin in Botswana and go clockwise from there. Within a few days, she sent me a very detailed itinerary with a day by day agenda, photos and activities at each of the towns I would visit. It was just what my type A traveler needed – being busy each day and fully scheduled with someone to meet me here, there and everywhere.
After digesting all of the information (it was April), I told Nikki that I needed to put it on hold for two months until June as I was getting ready to go on my vacation to Easter Island followed by two business trips. After researching her lodging suggestions based on my budget (my budget was sad, the properties were definitely in the budget category and maybe not quite what I wanted on my dream vacation) I realized that I would need to use some hotel points to make this trip work and I would need to book them now (a placeholder in a way) before settling on the itinerary.
I started with Capetown and found a cash/points (C&P) option at the Westin Capetown ($90 + 4k points/night). With gold status from the credit card, I would have free internet, bottled water and room upgrade. Since I was starting and ending in Johannesburg, I looked at the airport options due to early/late flights and not having to travel into town. I was able to use Intercontinental points that I won on Twitter for a C&P $70 +24k points/night stay at the Intercontinental Johannesburg Airport (a luxury property). This hotel is normally $300+ and super convenient. The net savings of using C&P added almost $1,000 back to the safari budget for Nikki to upgrade the lodging in the itinerary.
I used every penny and more for the upgrades, it was, after all, my dream trip and it was starting to take shape which was exciting and scary at the same time.