I know it’s a challenging time for everyone, so I hope a feel-good Reader Success Story for March 2020 can go some way towards lifting your spirits.
This one features Prince of Travel reader Becca N., who shared with me her experience booking an Aeroplan Mini-RTW to South Africa and Australia while minimizing her out-of-pocket costs on flights, hotels, and car rentals along the way.
Her story reminded me a lot of the “Booked” posts that I usually write for my own trips, and it was refreshing to hear from a reader putting everything into practice and taking a spectacular trip of their own.
My husband and I just came back from our Aeroplan Mini-RTW to Africa and Australia, and I wanted to share with you how we were able to use points to book our trip and minimize our out-of-pocket expenses. We utilized points from multiple reward programs, and even though we might not have used them to their best “value”, our goal was to spend as little as possible on the flights and hotels part of the trip.
We had a short but magical layover in Cairo to see the pyramids, saw the beautiful mountains and landscape in Cape Town, visited some cute lion cubs in Johannesburg, strolled the beaches in Perth, drank some amazing coffees in Melbourne and walked the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver during our 2.5-week vacation.
We had some experience booking complicated itineraries with two prior Mini-RTW trips before this adventure, but they were all within the same continent. When we heard that Aeroplan was changing the Mini-RTW to two stops instead of three, we felt we had to take advantage of this amazing redemption before the changes took place.
It was hard to decide where to go, but I figured this might be the time to hit up two continents we have never been to – Africa and Australia. We would depart for our trip from Toronto, and from reading your posts, I knew that if we were able to get to Perth in Australia, it would provide us with enough maximum permitted mileage (MPM) to maximize our route.
We earned enough Aeroplan points collected through the TD Aeroplan, CIBC Aerogold, and American Express cards to cover the points required for business class seats. The tricky part was finding availability for two people with airlines with low fuel surcharges.
We booked this itinerary initially, all in business:
Toronto–Cairo, layover for 17 hours, on EgyptAir
Cairo–Johannesburg, stopover for six days, on EgyptAir
Johannesburg–Perth, destination and open-jaw for eight days, on South African Airways
Melbourne–Singapore, layover for nine hours, on Singapore Airlines
Singapore–Hong Kong, layover for 23.5 hours, on Singapore Airlines
Hong Kong–Newark–Toronto, on United and Air Canada
The total for two people came to 320,000 Aeroplan miles and we paid $687.92 for taxes and booking fees for booking through the call centre.
We had TD Rewards points through the TD First Class Travel card and decided to use those points to offset some of the taxes by charging the amount to the credit card, so we ended up paying $330 total out-of-pocket for the taxes.
All was set for us to start booking hotels and planning the activities for our trip, until I checked our booking on the Air Canada website a few months later and saw that our Hong Kong to Newark flight was cancelled and they did not issue a new itinerary for us yet. I looked for an alternate route to return from Australia and miraculously, there were two seats available in business on the following route:
Melbourne–Vancouver (layover for 16 hours)–Toronto, on Air Canada
From my initial searches, I knew that taxes for that route would have cost over $1,000 for both of us (even though Australia had limits on fuel surcharges, it did not seem to apply to round-trips).
I called Aeroplan to request the change, and due to the schedule change by the airline, we did not have to pay a change fee or the difference in taxes. Looking back, it was definitely a blessing in disguise that we did not transit through Asia, with all the travel restrictions in place due to the coronavirus.
The next part of planning was to book our round-trip flights within South Africa from Johannesburg to Cape Town. We used approximately 15,500 CIBC Aventura points to cover our economy class flights in the outbound direction.
Then, we had to fly separately on the flight back to Johannesburg on two different airlines, because a lot of flights were sold out on the day we wanted to fly back.
We ended up using 14,000 Scotia Rewards points for one flight, and 25,000 BMO Rewards points + $110 for the other. Like I said in the beginning, this may not have been the best way to use these points, but we had random points in different accounts that we wanted to use to decrease our costs.
We also had to book a one-way flight within Australia from Perth to Melbourne. This was one of the quickest redemptions we had ever made. It took just over two weeks from signing up for the credit card to receiving the points and booking the flights!
I knew it was possible to fly Qantas with British Airways Avios, but we did not have any Avios points. We signed up for the RBC Avion Visa Infinite card through the Drop app (for 80,000 Drop points) and received 20,000 Avion points each.
The Perth to Melbourne route required 22,000 Avios per person for a business class redemption, and we were able to take advantage of the Avion to Avios 50% transfer bonus, transferring 29,334 RBC Avion points and paying $68.38 in taxes for our flights.
We decided to stick with Marriott Bonvoy hotels throughout our trip. We don’t usually spend a lot of time in the hotel rooms, so we went with lower-category hotels to minimize the amount of points to spend. They were all pretty basic hotel rooms and did the job in providing us a place to sleep and rest. We also had family in Melbourne to stay with and did not require a hotel for our time there.
We booked four nights at the Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge, a Category 2 hotel, for 52,500 points. The hotel was right at the V&A Waterfront and we chose it for the safe and convenient location.
We stayed one night at the Protea Hotel Johannesburg Wanderers, a Category 1 hotel, for 7,500 points. When we checked in, we were given a 2 Twin Room instead of the 1 King that we booked. They were able to put us in a King room in the end and offered us free hot buffet breakfast the next day for the trouble.
The Four Points by Sheraton Perth was booked for two nights – a Category 3 hotel for 35,000 points in total. I emailed the hotel prior to our stay to request for an upgrade and we were given a suite in a corner room.
We landed in Vancouver from Melbourne at 7:30am and fully intended to explore the city the whole day until our flight back to Toronto at 11:30pm. However, we definitely overestimated the amount of energy we would have after a 15-hour flight, because we were completely exhausted by 3pm.
We made a last minute decision to book a room at the Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel to sleep for six hours before we took the shuttle back to the airport. We paid for the hotel with the Scotiabank Gold American Express so that we could put 10,600 Scotia Rewards points towards the short stay.
Finally, we also had a bonus hotel stay through EgyptAir in Cairo. We flew EgyptAir in and out of the city and were able to utilize their free hotel stay during our layover, which was obtained through their transit hotel counter prior to customs.
We were given a voucher to stay at Le Méridien Cairo Airport until our departure flight and were offered three meals at the hotel. I even provided my Marriott Bonvoy membership number at check-in and the free night was added as an elite qualifying night credit on my account, along with approximately 850 points!
The Car Rental
We decided to rent a car for our (very short) day in Vancouver to drive around to see the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Granville Island. We used 6,700 RBC Avion points (leftover from the RBC Avion Visa Infinite) for the rental.
In total, our expenses for this trip for two people came to the following:
320,000 Aeroplan miles
25,000 BMO Rewards points
15,500 CIBC Aventura points
95,000 Marriott Bonvoy points
36,000 RBC Avion points
24,600 Scotia Rewards points
89,000 TD Rewards points
We were able to utilize many different reward points for this unforgettable trip, and we would never have had the opportunity for an experience like this without Miles & Points. I have learned so much through your blog and cannot thank you enough for all the information you share to help others book amazing trips. 😊
First off… $510 out-of-pocket for all business class flights, hotels, and car rentals on a 2.5-week trip for two people? WOW!
It’s always fun to see how low you can squeeze your out-of-pocket costs when redeeming points, especially when you get around to using fixed-value points currencies like Scotia Rewards or Amex MR Select points to offset the little costs that pop up here and there. Becca did a great job of drawing upon the many small balances of points that she had accumulated across all the banks to bring that total down to such a low amount.
A few other moves also left me very impressed, and it was awesome to see some of the advice I had given over the years put into practice.
For example, the importance of routinely checking up on your award redemptions cannot be understated, since you’ll never know when there might be an involuntary schedule change that allows you to book a more favourable routing without paying a change fee or the difference in taxes.
On Becca’s trip, switching from the Singapore Airlines routing via Asia to a direct Air Canada flight from Melbourne to Vancouver likely allowed her to sidestep a host of travel restrictions during the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic on her return journey.
It was also great to see Becca taking advantage of the sweet spot of Category 1 and 2 Marriott Bonvoy hotels in South Africa. While there seems to be less and less value these days in redeeming Bonvoy points for Category 5 and 6 hotels in major population centres, the tourist destinations with lower-category hotels (with South Africa being one of the best examples) can still represent a fantastic use of your points.
Finally, I can’t help but smile when I hear about an Aeroplan trip that includes many of the same destinations that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting on past Mini-RTWs as well, such as a long layover in Cairo to see the Pyramids, a relaxing escape in sunny Western Australia, and a side-jaunt to coffee-crazy Melbourne onboard Qantas business class.
I’ve still got to make it to Cape Town myself, though – hopefully sometime this year, if our new pandemic overlords will allow it.
Thanks for sharing, Becca, and I’ll be sending you 5,000 Aeroplan miles as a reward to get you closer towards the next big trip.
And if you’d like your story to be featured too, send me an email with “[Success Story]” in the subject line for a chance to be selected for the April edition!