Marriott Merger Loopholes: Penguins, Safaris, & More in South Africa!
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Two years ago, Marriott acquired an African chain, Protea Hotels. I reported about great redemption bargains in Africa using Marriott and Starwood points.
Today, I’ll show you in detail how to use Marriott points to get great bargains in South Africa.
Protea South Africa Hotels
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)
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.
If you pay cash for this hotel, it can cost you $200 to $300 per night in peak season.
But this is what Marriott points get you.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
One of the best neighborhoods to stay in when you visit Johannesburg is Melrose, where there are 3 Protea hotels.
- Protea Hotel Johannesburg Wanderers – Category 2
- Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Johannesburg Melrose Arch – Category 3
- African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel – 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.
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 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.
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.
You have a large choice of hotels in Cape Town.
- African Pride 15 On Orange Hotel – Category 4: Gardens
- Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Cape Town – Category 4: Tamboerskloof
- Protea Hotel Cape Town North Wharf – Category 3: close to V&A Waterfront
- Protea Hotel Cape Town Victoria Junction – Category 3: V&A Waterfront
- Protea Hotel Cape Town Cape Castle — Category 3: V&A Waterfront
- Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge –Category 3: V&A Waterfront
There are other hotels, too, although they are a little further away.
- Protea Hotel Cape Town Sea Point – Category 3
- Protea Hotel Cape Town Mowbray – Category 2
- African Pride Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa – Category 4
- Protea Hotel Cape Town Tyger Valley – Category 2
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.
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 Hotel Durban Edward – Category 2 (on the Golden Mile beach)
- African Pride Audacia Manor Boutique Hotel – Category 3
- Protea Hotel Durban Umhlanga Ridge – Category 2
- Protea Hotel Durban Umhlanga – Category 2
- Protea Hotel Karridene Beach – Category 2
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.
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 Hotel Umfolozi River – Category 1
- Protea Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris – Category 2
- Protea Hotel Kruger Gate – Category 1
- Protea Hotel Polokwane Ranch Resort – 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
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
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
Check out my series on how to earn and use Starwood points.
4. Chase Cards That Earn Ultimate Rewards Points
Link: Chase Sapphire Reserve
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.
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.
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! :)