Here’s a great tip to go on an affordable romantic getaway in beautiful South Africa, a fantastic destination. How affordable? How about 17 nights in very nice hotels… for only $120 total per person. Yes, you read that right.
For those who already read this tip when we shared it for Spain:
- If you have taken advantage of it, know that it also works in South Africa!
- If you haven’t taken advantage of it, what are you waiting for? It’s one of the best deals possible!
- If you have any questions at all, ask me in the comments below and I’ll be glad to help!
South Africa is an amazing destination. The safaris, the ocean, the penguins, the mountains, the culture shock… it’s a great place to spend a couple of weeks with your loved one (or even with a friend, why not?).
But it’s even more amazing thanks to this tip: 17 nights in nice hotels for $120 TOTAL per person is incredible. In our opinion, it’s a tip worth planning a trip around (I did so this fall myself and Flytrippers’ other co-founder Kevin went last year).
This is a 2-week and a half trip that will cost you only $120 per person in lodging, an absurdly-low average of $7 each per night. For less than the price of a cheap hostel, you get beautiful 4-star hotels.
And it’s super easy. Here’s how.
17 (Almost) Free Hotel Nights In South Africa
There are 25 beautiful Protea Hotel branded properties around South Africa that you can choose from to get 17 free nights. Many of them are well-located in cities where you’ll have a great time.
I’ll share the complete list of hotels, but first here’s the great tip.
You see, by paying with points, you only need about 100,000 Marriott points for those 17 free nights.
And you’ll get 50,000 points as a Welcome Bonus by getting the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card.
Voila! You and your loved one (or friend) each get this card and you have 17 free nights in nice hotels in South Africa.
This is an outstanding deal for Canadian travelers. Assuming you normally pay about $100 per night (after taxes) for hotels, that’s well over $1,000 in value. Incredible.
The card has a $120 fee, so that’s why it’s not completely free (but almost). Still: $120 per person for 17 nights is pretty hard to beat.
Travel reward points are awesome. And there are no taxes to pay either when booking hotels with points, unlike when booking flights with points. We’ll also share tips on how to find a cheap flight to South Africa below.
But first, here is the link to apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Card if you’re interested in these 17 free nights. There is no minimum income required, all you need is a good credit score. So it’s not for everyone, but almost.
Both of us Flytrippers cofounders have this card… and both of our girlfriends have this card too, because we used this tip ourselves and highly recommend it. The card is truly an exceptional value with this Welcome Bonus, one of the highest in Canada.
The main rule to understand, apart from choosing hotels from the list, is that depending on the time of year, it is possible to get slightly less than 17 nights (but it’s also possible to get slightly more than 17 nights). The minimum we see is 12, and it can go up to over 20. It’s because instead of always costing the standard price of 7,500 Points per night, there are now two new pricing levels: 5,000 and 10,000 for off-peak nights and peak nights.
The majority of nights are still at the standard price though, so it’s still easy to find periods where you’ll get 17 nights. And Marriott has said that, overall, there are as many off-peak nights as there are peak nights. It’s still an exceptional deal, even at “only” 12 free nights: that’s a cost of just $10 per night per person! But 17 nights is still by far the most common quantity of free nights you’ll get.
The only other restriction is that to maximize the number of free nights, you need to book your 17 nights in five-night increments. Basically you get 3 free 5-night stays, plus 2 other nights. You could stay for less than 5 nights at a time, but you’d get only 14 free nights instead of 17. That’s because when using points, you get the 5th night free.
By the way, if you prefer you can also get 17 completely free nights in countries like Spain, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Colombia, China, India, etc. as those countries have many eligible properties (Category 1 hotels).
Those are the best countries to maximize your points (and your amount of free nights). And despite South Africa having a lower cost of living compared to here in Canada, some of those other countries are obviously a lot cheaper so hotels are either even nicer or in even better locations.
Think about it. 17 nights. That is an obscene amount of free nights for a couple, right? Imagine how much more you could travel. It’s worth planning your trips around these hotels if you want free stays.
- you both apply for a Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card
(secure American Express link)
- you unlock the Welcome Bonuses and then you book 17 free nights in South Africa absolutely free
(well, apart from the $120 card fee)
- like all good cards, you’ll need to spend $1,500 in 3 months to unlock the Welcome Bonus
(don’t worry, it’s much easier than it looks with our tips on how to reach your minimum spend)
- that minimum spend will give you an additional 6,000 Points on top of the 100,000 Bonus
(enough for 14 nights at 7,500 Points/night + the 3 free nights you get with the 5th night free)
- do not cancel your current cards, it is one of the most common beginner mistakes
(old cards are good for your credit score, we’ll share more about this soon)
A couple of additional benefits of this card:
- it has one of the best earn rates in Canada on non-bonused categories at ~1.8%
(you’ll earn 2 points on each dollar you spend to get even more free nights)
- with Elite shortcut, after your 10th night stayed you’ll become a Marriott Gold Elite member
(pool your points into one account to benefit from the elite perks during your other 7 free nights)
- each year, you’ll get a free Category 5 night when you renew to cancel out the card fee
(some Category 5 hotels are 5-star luxury hotels, definitely worth way more than $120)
- the card gives you free flight delay insurance to get $500 if your flight is delayed
(this is an extremely useful benefit to cover expenses during disruptions)
Here are a couple of detailed articles if you want more info before I get back to the South Africa trip.
- Marriott Bonvoy Card detailed review
- 35 Best Category 1 Marriott Hotels
- How to maximize your Marriott Bonvoy Points
Finally, if you want more tips to maximize your Marriott Bonvoy Points, subscribe to our new free Travel Hacking newsletter to be the first to get our best content.
Hotels You Can Choose From
As I said, there are many very interesting options.
You can mix and match any 3 of the 41 options to build out your own itinerary and choose your preferred destinations: all travelers have different tastes and travel styles, so as usual, we let you decide on your own (we have a map below our favorites too to help you out).
There are comfortable buses in South Africa, but it’s a huge country and both of us found that the roads were excellent. If you go for a car rental, your Marriott card will cover insurance for free so you can decline the expensive insurance that car rental compagnies always try to sell you for nothing.
No matter the type of trip you want, at least one of these 41 hotels will be a great place to stay almost free.
They’re all over the place: from big popular cities to small towns that are off the beaten path. There are really a lot of choices here and it’s not hard to find hotels to choose from in this list. But in addition to these 41, other hotels could be worth sacrificing just a few more points than normal (so getting fewer nights) like the one inside Kruger National Park!
Let’s look at examples of where you can get the most nights (Category 1 hotels).
Without being inside Kruger Park, there is still one close by, the Protea Nelspruit. You could then organize yourself a little safari adventure in Kruger Park like Kevin did: like for pretty much any trip, it’s much cheaper to do it yourself than to buy overpriced packages.
If not, there’s the Protea Hotel Polokwane Ranch Resort that brings the safari to you: you can see 25 species of antelope at the hotel, which is in the Limpopp natural reserve. This doesn’t even take into account the 200 species of birds.
At the other end of the country, Cape Town is one of the most magnificent cities in the world and one where you have 3 hotels to choose from. The Protea Mowbray has the best location.
Do you like road trips? Then make your way towards the famous Garden Route and take the opportunity to explore the town of George that has 2 hotels (plus more in the surrounding area).
For an uncommon hotel experience, there’s the Protea Oudtshoorn where all the rooms are in locally-styled chalets.
Or do you prefer the beach and the sea? Then go to Durban, a city famous for its surfing. There’s the Protea Durban Edward that sits directly on the beach.
You want a spot that is more relaxing that’s still on the beach but not in town? On the outskirts of Durban, there’s the Protea Karridene Beach which is a resort for those you want that type of hotel, with pools, mini-golf, and other things like that.
The Protea in Port Elizabeth is also very close to the water.
If you’re like me and want to go on a road trip to Lesotho—an absolutely fascinating country with magnificent landscapes, entirely surrounded by South Africa—you’ll be close to the Protea Clarens, which was pictured at the beginning of this article.
I think that it’s one of the prettier hotels in Category 1 that I’ve ever stayed in! It’s perfect if you want some relaxation in the mountains in a little artsy and charming village.
In Bloemfontein, one of the 3 capitals of South Africa, there’s an unusual hotel: Protea Willow Lake. It’s a rare hotel that’s actually inside a zoo. Well, it’s not as interesting as being in the middle of a wild safari, but it’s still an option.
Maybe you’re more of a city-lover, though. Another one of the capital cities, Pretoria, is a place that may interest some you, in that case.
If not, the metropolis of Johannesburg (which is not for inexperienced travelers) is nearby, and there are many hotels there.
There’s the Parktonian All-Suite in the city-center with a rooftop pool, where you are sure to get a suite. Or there’s also the Protea Hotel Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton, which is in one of the city’s best districts.
Speaking of Johannesburg, as you’ll see in the last section, you’re likely to land here. This is more for a one-night stay, not for a long 5-day trip, but nevertheless, the Protea OR Tambo Airport is very practical for your last evening because it’s directly next to the airport and has a free shuttle service.
It’s very pretty. I really enjoyed my night there. Especially because I’m an AvGeek and the hotel is entirely aviation-themed, even the desks and chairs.
Do you want to visit other neighboring countries in the same trip? If so, I recommend Protea Livingstone, which is right next to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfalls in the world.
I stayed there for 6 nights and it made visiting Victoria Falls possible. I was able to swim on the edge of the Falls as well as take a safari day trip to Chobe National Park.
For a different type of destination, Namibia is another neighboring country and it’s one of the trendiest destinations in the whole world.
In addition to the 41 hotels in South Africa and the one next to Victoria Falls, there are 5 in this sublime country; two of which are next to the desert, two in the capital, and one in the north.
In short, there are dozens more. There are plenty for every traveler’s tastes and to match your traveling preferences.
We will propose some preplanned itineraries for those of you who don’t like to plan your own trips. So, take advantage of this offer because we are going to help you plan an epic trip to South Africa for cheap.
Here are two of our articles to inspire you to visit the country:
Here is the most important map, to show you where you can go:
And here is the full list of all 41 hotels in South Africa:
|Protea Hotel Bloemfontein||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Bloemfontein Willow Lake||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Cape Town Durbanville||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Cape Town Mowbray||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Cape Town Tyger Valley||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Clarens||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Durban Edward||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Durban Umhlanga||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Durban Umhlanga Ridge||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Empangeni||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! Pretoria Menlyn||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel George King George||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel George Outeniqua||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Harrismith Montrose||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Hazyview||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Hilton||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Johannesburg Parktonian All-Suite||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Johannesburg Wanderers||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Karridene Beach||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Kimberley||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Klerksdorp||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Mahikeng||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Midrand||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Mossel Bay||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Nelspruit||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel O.R. Tambo Airport||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Oudtshoorn Riempie Estate||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Polokwane Landmark||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Polokwane Ranch Resort||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Port Elizabeth Marine||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Pretoria Centurion||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Pretoria Hatfield||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Richards Bay Waterfront||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Roodepoort||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Rustenburg Hunters Rest||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Saldanha Bay||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Transit O.R. Tambo Airport||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Umfolozi River||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Upington||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
|Protea Hotel Worcester Cumberland||Protea Hotels||South Africa||7,500||1|
If you want to explore all available properties on your own, you have two choices:
- you can use the map of all Marriott hotels sortable by category to see them visually
- you can sort the table in our list of Marriott Category 1 hotels by country to see the list
Flights to South Africa
With the biggest expense covered for almost free, the other costly part left is a flight. Flying to South Africa can sometimes be affordable, depending on which Canadian city you are flying out of and how flexible you are.
Since flying for less is Flytrippers’ specialty, here are a few tips to save money.
Deals are the best way to save on plane tickets, and they’re relatively frequent for South Africa. They’re also unfortunately quite unpredictable – as is the case for all flight deals that are almost 50% off like the best ones we spot.
So without a deal, the easiest way to save money on a flight is to be somewhat flexible on your dates. If that’s your case, check out our favourite search tool for complex flight searches.
You enter your departure city, South Africa as the destination and a range of dates and you’ll see the lowest prices (the more flexible you are, the cheaper it’ll be of course).
If you want to search specifically for one of the two main cities, you can input JNB for Johannesburg or CPE for Cape Town.
Finally, with these 17 free nights, you’re probably starting to realize that Travel Hacking, the art of earning free travel with credit cards, is awesome. So to bring the cost of your flight down, you can each get another card.
And contrary to popular belief, having multiple credit cards is BETTER for your credit score than having just one or two (read all the details about credit cards, including why you should always keep your oldest cards open).
A great option now would be the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite (although that one, unlike the Marriott Bonvoy, has a minimum income requirement – $60,000) as it will give you 6 free airport lounge passes to make your journey more comfortable. It also doesn’t charge a 2.5% foreign transaction fee unlike most cards in Canada. And it will give you a $310 credit on any flight as a Welcome Bonus, although with the fee deducted the net is only $171 in free travel.
Finally, an option for those who earn under $60,000 would be the American Express Gold, which gives you a Welcome Bonus worth a net of $100 off any flight (or worth ~$240 if you use it well with Aeroplan or Avios – but not for South Africa).
We’ll have many many other tips about travel hacking, including our beginner’s course (video or text) and detailed how-tos. Be the first to get them when we launch.
Getting 17 free nights in beautiful hotels in South Afric is a good enough deal to plan your next trip around this tip. We recommend applying for the Marriott Bonvoy Card now if you want free stays.
Do you have any questions about the Marriott Bonvoy Card or the Marriott Bonvoy program? Ask us in the comments below!
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Click here to see our flight deals
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