Marriott Merger Loopholes: Penguins, Safaris, & More in South Africa!

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Two years ago, Marriott acquired an African chain, Protea Hotels.  I reported about great redemption bargains in Africa using Marriott and Starwood points.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Stay in Cape Town for Free Using Marriott or Starwood Points, and Make New Feathered Friends at Boulders Beach

Today, I’ll show you in detail how to use Marriott points to get great bargains in South Africa.

Protea South Africa Hotels

Link:   Protea Hotels by Marriott in South Africa 

You can stay ~5 minute walk from South Africa’s largest game reserve to see lions and elephants.  Or use points for a hotel near a great place for penguin watching.  Or pick your hotel based how close it is to South Africa’s white sand beaches.

To help you get familiar with using points at these hotels, here are some facts.

Protea Hotels by Marriott consists of 3 brands:
  • Protea Hotels (usually 3 to 4-star hotels)
  • Protea Hotel Fire & Ice (usually 4-star hotels)
  • African Pride (4 or 5-star hotels)
Protea South Africa Hotels
Protea Hotel Port Elizabeth Marine Is a 4-star Hotel With Breathtaking Views of Algoa Bay (Category 2)

There are 69 Protea hotels in South Africa, and many of them are in popular tourist destinations.  And you’ll be glad to know that Category 4 is the highest.  So a night at a Protea hotel costs 7,500 to 20,000 Marriott points.  That’s a great value because South Africa isn’t cheap.

Protea Hotels by Marriott Categories
  • Category 1:   32 hotels – 7,500 Marriott points
  • Category 2:   22 hotels – 10,000 Marriott points
  • Category 3:   11 hotels – 15,000 Marriott points
  • Category 4:   4 hotels – 20,000 Marriott points

Protea Hotels tend to be a great value with points.  Because you can usually redeem Marriott points for at least 1 cent per point or better.  Here are some examples.

 1.   A Free Luxury Stay in Cape Town

A night at the luxurious Cape Town African Pride 15 On Orange Hotel costs 20,000 Marriott or 7,000 Starwood points (you can only transfer points between Starwood and Marriott in 1,000-point increments).

Or if you stay for 5 nights, your last night is free.  So your cost would be 80,000 Marriott points or 16,000 Marriott points per night.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Enjoy a Great Location and 5-Star Amenities of the African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel in Johannesburg (Category 4)

If you pay cash for this hotel, it can cost you $200 to $300 per night in peak season.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Hotels in South Africa Can Be Expensive, Especially During High Season ~ $165 to $285

But this is what Marriott points get you.

Protea South Africa Hotels
20,000 Points Is The Highest Price You’ll Pay for a Protea Hotel

So, you’re basically getting the value of 1 to 1.5 cents per Marriott point.  That’s a great value at this excellent 5-star hotel in a great location.

2.   Stay for Free in a Great Hotel Near the Safari

On the low end, you can stay at the Category 1 Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, but don’t let its low category fool you.  This is a very nice hotel sitting just 100 yards from the famous Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest game reserve.  Take a drive or hire a guided tour and see lions, leopards, elephants, and hundreds of other animals.

Protea South Africa Hotels
The Protea Hotel Kruger Gate (Category 1) Is Located Just 100 Yards From the Park

Safaris can be costly.  A fully inclusive family package can go for $1,000 to $2,000 a night.

But a stay at this nice and well-reviewed hotel, with a viewing deck overlooking the river where you can see hippos and elephants, will only cost you 7,500 Marriott or 3,000 Starwood points a night.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Visit Wildlife at Kruger National Park, Just a Stone’s Throw Away From the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate

And if you stay for 5 nights, it gets even better, because your 5th night is free!  So you’ll only pay 30,000 Marriott points.  Or, if you transfer Starwood points to Marriott, you’ll pay 10,000 Starwood points (2,000 Starwood points per night).

Protea South Africa Hotels
Can’t Beat 7,500 Marriott Points per Night in a Great Hotel That Can Cost ~$200

As you can see, not every day is available for check-in, but you can easily make it work if you’re flexible with travel dates.

This is a great deal, because a room in this hotel can cost you $170 or more.

Protea South Africa Hotels
The Protea Hotel Kruger Gate: ~$170 a night

So, you will get an especially great value at this hotel:   over 2 cents for a Marriott point.

I can’t review all 69 Protea hotels in South Africa, but I’ll show you a few interesting ones. 🙂


Johannesburg is a bustling city filled with unique museums, cutting-edge galleries, and funky restaurants.  And you can go on a day-trip to the Cradle of Humankind – a paleo-anthropological area – or the Lion Park, where you can interact with animals, including lion cubs, zebras, or cheetahs.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Johannesburg, South Africa’s Largest City, Has Many Nicknames, Including “The City of Gold”, but the Locals Lovingly Call It Jonzi or Joburg

One of the best neighborhoods to stay in when you visit Johannesburg is Melrose, where there are 3 Protea hotels.

Protea South Africa Hotels
You Can Relax in a Nicely Appointed Room at the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Johannesburg Melrose Arch (Category 4)

There are also 2 airport Category 2 hotels for folks who need to spend the night or even a few hours during the day between flights.  Either hotel will only cost you 10,000 points.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Protea Hotel O.R. Tambo Is a Great Solution for a Short Airport Stay (Category 2)

The transit hotel is a great deal if you have a long layover because it’s located air-side, and the rooms can cost $140 and up.

Cape Town

Cape Town is a breathtaking city nestled between the mountains and the sea with a lot of things to see and do.  You can ride a cable car to Table Mountain, enjoy the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, stroll and dine in the famous Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area, and watch penguins on the beaches in False Bay.  Then you can take in some sun on the white-sand beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton.

Protea South Africa Hotels
The Architecture, the Beaches, the Mountains, and the Penguins, Cape Town Has It All

Then you can take in some sun on the white-sand beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton.  Or visit vibrant neighborhoods like Bo-Kaap to sample Cape Malay cuisine and enjoy the colorful architecture.

Protea South Africa Hotels
The Bo-Kaap Neighborhood Is a Cultural and Heritage Center, and Was Once Called the Malay Quarter

The best neighborhoods for visitors in Cape Town are Gardens and Tamboerskloof, but some folks might prefer V&A Waterfront.  It’s very popular with tourists and locals alike and resembles Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Elegant Protea Hotel Cape Town Victoria Junction in V&A Waterfront (Category 4)

You have a large choice of hotels in Cape Town.

Protea South Africa Hotels
Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Cape Town Is Located in Tamboerskloof, One of the Best Neighborhoods of Cape Town

There are other hotels, too, although they are a little further away.


Durban, a city on the Eastern coast of South Africa, became famous in 2010 for hosting the FIFA World Cup.  It has a few great beaches, like Golden Mile, Addington Beach, and more.

Folks can also visit the Durban Botanic Gardens, which is the oldest botanical garden in Africa.  If you travel with kids, take them to uShaka Marina World and Sea Animal Encounters Island for a day of fun.

Protea South Africa Hotels
300+ Days of Sunshine and Warm Seas Temperatures Make Durban a Paradise for Beach Lovers – Like Me!

There are a few Protea hotels in and close to Durban.  All of them except the 5-star African Pride hotel are Category 2 hotels.

Protea South Africa Hotels
The African Pride Audacia Manor Boutique Hotel Overlooks the Indian Ocean (Category 3)

The luxurious African Pride Audacia Manor is a very good deal for only 15,000 Marriott points, because it can cost around $300 a night.  That gives you 2 cents per point.  Or more if you stay 5 nights (because the 5th night is free).

Game Reserves & Safaris

Folks who don’t need an all-inclusive package can book a hotel in or close to the game reserve and hire a guide.  Or rent a car for a self-guided tour to make it even more affordable.  You can even hire a guide through your hotel.

Protea South Africa Hotels
You Don’t Need to Stray Away From the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate to See Large Animals

I’ve found at least 4 Protea hotels for you that can do the trick, and 3 of them are Category 1 (7,500 Marriott points per night).

Protea South Africa Hotels
This Sprawling 4-Star Protea Hotel Polokwane Ranch Resort in Limpopo Offers Its Own Game Drive and Lion Walk (Category 1)

Check the Cash Price First

The cost of a hotel room in South Africa can vary between the seasons and even days of the week, so folks should always check the lowest cash price before spending their Marriott points.

For example, paying 7,500 points for a Category 1 hotel may not seem like much, but if a room only costs $50 with taxes, it may not be a good deal for South Africa.

In addition, some Protea hotels might offer special deals like 3 nights for 2, and that might drive your points’ value even lower.  If that’s the case, I recommend you pay cash and earn more points that you can use later at more luxurious hotels.

On the other hand, if you have a huge surplus of Marriott points, do what you feel is right for you.

How to Earn Marriott and Starwood Points

There are plenty of ways to earn Marriott and Starwood points, either directly or indirectly.

1.   Marriott Credit Cards

Link:   Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Link:   Marriott Rewards Premier Business Card

With the Marriott Rewards Premier personal and small business cards, you’ll earn 80,000 Marriott points after completing minimum spending requirements.

If you get the personal version of the card, you can earn another 7,500 bonus Marriott points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first 3 months of opening your account.  The $85 annual fee is NOT waived for the first year.

The $99 annual fee on the small business version of the card is also NOT waived for the first year.  Here’s my review of the offer.

2.   Ritz-Carlton Credit Card

Link:   Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards card comes with 3 complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1 to 4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

While you can’t transfer these free nights to Marriott, this card earns Ritz-Carlton points, which are essentially the same as Marriott points.

3.   Starwood Credit Cards

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

Link:   How to Fill Out an American Express Business Card Application

You can earn 25,000 Starwood points after completing the minimum spending requirements on the Starwood Preferred Guest personal or small business card.

Check out my series on how to earn and use Starwood points.

4.   Chase Cards That Earn Ultimate Rewards Points

Link:   Chase Sapphire Reserve

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Link:   Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Link:   How to Fill Out a Chase Business Credit Card Application

Because you’ll be able to indirectly use Chase Ultimate Rewards points for Starwood stays now, you could consider cards from Chase that earn Ultimate Rewards points.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.  Check out my full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

You can also earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Or earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening an Ink Business Preferred account.

Here are my reviews of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Ink Business Preferred small business card.

And don’t forget, having 1 of those 3 cards allows you to transfer points you earn from the Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Business Cash Credit Card too!

Bottom Line

With 69 hotels to choose from in different parts of the country, you can plan your entire trip to South Africa around Marriott’s Protea brand.  And in many cases you can’t beat the value.

Marriott points have a better redemption value in South Africa than in most other places in the world.
  • In Johannesburg, you can choose from 3 great hotels located in Melrose, a very nice and popular touristy neighborhood.
  • Cape Town has several hotels and neighborhoods to choose from, or you can break your stay and try a few different hotels.  Those penguins are cute!
  • For a safari, there are at least 4 hotels to stay in, and 3 of them are Category 1 hotels that cost 7,500 Marriott points a night.
  • To combine urban exploration with beaches, try Cape Town or Durban, especially if this is your first trip to South Africa.
  • There are other cities and places in South Africa with excellent beaches, like Port Elizabeth, and Protea has a great beachfront hotel there, too.
Marriott points can take you far in South Africa!  Have you traveled there? Please share your tips with fellow readers? 

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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