When’s the last time you found out about a great airfare and thought “That’s too good to be true?”
That was what Deborah Green actually mused — “No real person will ever get that fare” — when her husband Ken Wilkenson read an article about a bargain ticket. Not just any ticket, either. It was for first-class tickets — all the way to South Africa.
“Just have a look,” Wilkenson said.
“It was a moment of insanity,” Green said. “We just booked the flights to spend almost a month in Africa, not knowing anything.”
The “great airfare” Wilkenson found was for first-class, lie-flat seats on British Airways from Seattle to London and on to Johannesburg. The cost was $5,875 round-trip. But because of Alaska Air’s partnership with British, travelers wound up with more than 100,000 Alaska Air mileage points. Of that total, travelers receive 59,250 “elite qualifying miles,” which is more than enough to qualify as an “MVP Gold” elite flyer for 2022 and 2023.
With the tickets purchased, the real work began. Green sent emails to several travel agencies for ideas on what to do and where to go.
Lewie Gonsalves, President of Worldwide Quest in Toronto, came back with a proposal.
“They put together an amazing trip,” Green said.
“Ours is a community of travelers,” Gonsalves said. “Eighty percent of our clients are repeat travelers or referrals. I’ve been leading trips there for more than 35 years.”
Wilkenson and Green spent a couple of days in and around Johannesburg on arrival.
“We had guides everywhere,” Green said.
Highlights included a visit to South Africa’s modern capital at Pretoria as well as a tour of Nelson Mandela’s house in the township of Soweto. Soweto was the crucible of Black resistance against white minority rule in South Africa.
From there, they flew to Cape Town.
“We stayed right downtown at the Victoria and Albert Harbor,” Green said. “We visited Table Mountain, the botanical garden and an old Dutch fort.”
It was a 2.5-hour flight from Cape Town to Kruger National Park.
“It wasn’t until I got to Kruger that I felt I was in Africa,” Green said.
Wilkenson and Green stayed at Lukimbi Safari Lodge, one of seven private concessions inside the park. “This was a prime experience,” Green said. “We weren’t surrounded by other vehicles every time you saw animals.”
They stayed at Lukimbi for three nights and two days, enough to go on six game drives.
“The number and variety of animals was overwhelming,” Green said. “We saw 16 white rhinos. And Kruger has two times the elephants that the habitat can maintain.”
After Kruger, Wilkenson and Green flew north to get a look at Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River. Three countries intersect at the falls: Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. A thin strip of land belonging to Namibia almost reaches the falls.
“We spent two nights at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge,” Green said. “One outstanding thing at this hotel is they’ve been feeding the vultures every afternoon for 23 years,” she said. “There are hundreds of vultures in the tree tops. Then the staff comes out and dumps chicken carcasses. Then it’s mayhem — we couldn’t look away!”
From Kruger, Wilkenson and Green drove to Chobe National Park in Botswana, staying at Chobe Game Lodge, along the Chobe River.
“Everything was top-notch at Chobe,” Green said. “It’s the only place where we had a female guide, for both road safaris and boat trips on the river. There were lots of elephants and lions.”
Before returning home after 27 days on the road, Wilkenson and Green stayed in a wall tent in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and a luxurious plant reserve north of Cape Town.
“I would recommend everything we did,” Green said. “The flights were great and the lounges were wonderful. The whole trip was almost too much of a good thing.”
If you want to plan your own version of “Ken and Deborah’s Amazing Africa Adventure,” the first-class airfare deal still is available.
The price has gone up a bit, to $6,190 round trip per person. But that’s an amazing price on British Airways for first class, which usually costs three to four times that much. Plus, the Alaska Airlines bonus miles will help you lock in MVP Gold — or launch your quest for MVP Gold 75K. The first-class deal is available starting Oct. 25. During Christmas the prices go up, but they come back to the $6,190 per person level in January of 2023.
Gonsalves, of Worldwide Quest, recommends spending a minimum of 14 days on the ground in southern Africa.
“Your trip budget consists of several things, including the duration, where you stay, the number of internal flights and what special excursions you’d like to take,” Gonsalves said. “For example, if you want to go on a balloon ride in east Africa during a safari, that could be an extra $500.”
Gonsalves said a “curated” trip from Worldwide Quest, with guides and custom touches could cost between $8,000 and $9,000 per person.
“We don’t plan trips sitting in the office,” he said. “Rather, we meet in the field to develop a network of people. And we work to understand our clients.”
An adventure like Ken and Deborah’s isn’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for a “curated” experience in Africa, this might be a good place to start.