As Greg pointed out when introducing me, I am currently on a round-the-world trip — after all, we collect these miles and points with the intent to use them. I think Greg hit the nail on the head when he said that hoarding and cherry picking is the way to go. I hoard various currencies and then look to maximize the value of my points through strategic redemption.
I started this trip in South Africa, where I discovered a decent redemption opportunity in South African wine country: Protea Hotels.
Protea is an African chain that bills itself as a luxury brand, though in reality I’d say it consists of mostly mid-tier (3- and 4-star) hotels. For points collectors, the key is that this chain is owned by Marriott. The Protea group also includes a couple of other brands, namely African Pride and Protea Hotels Fire & Ice. The good news is that I believe all of them participate in Marriott Rewards, meaning that one can both earn and redeem points at these locations. While private guest houses and B&B’s are widely available and can be a very economical option in South Africa, the comfortable reliability of foreign chains is mostly absent outside of Cape Town and Johannesburg.
With yesterday’s news of Marriott category updates, I noted some interesting changes in South Africa:
As you can see, quite a number of Protea properties are dropping from Category 2 to Category 1, meaning that they will be available for just 7500 points per night. If you are converting from Starwood, that’s just 2500 Starpoints per night — representing quite a value in comparison to cash rates at many of these properties.
Being in the heart of South African wine country, the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshuis & Spa seemed like a great option for exploring a bit of the wine region. The hotel is located right in the center of town, close to cute shops and restaurants. Revenue rates at the hotel were starting from 2,842 rand (~$210 at the time), which seemed like a great way to maximize the value of Marriott points:
Unfortunately, this hotel is on the list of properties increasing in category next month. On March 7th, this will become a Category 2 hotel, costing 10,000 points per night — still a strong value compared to revenue rates — but until then, it can be booked for just 7500 points per night as far out as the schedule allows.
Of course, before arriving, we weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Protea Hotel Dorpshuis & Spa. While I remembered reading that Protea hotels could be a good value, I hadn’t yet stayed at one. With private accommodations abundant in the $100-$200 range (and some even cheaper), I wondered if this hotel was worth anywhere near the asking price. If it was, this seemed like a way to get great value out of my points. After all, based on Frequent Miler’s reasonable redemption values, 7500 Marriott points is worth ~$51. Getting a $210 room for those points seems like a steal. But was it?
The website looked pretty nice:
However, when we arrived and saw the pool, we were a bit concerned that it might not be quite as pristine as the pictures….or any deeper than a birdbath:
Our room was up a few steps and around the corner from the pool. As we approached the door, the entrance had us curious. What could be behind curtain #31? Deal or no deal?
As a Gold member (thanks to my Amex Business Platinum, which provides Starwood Gold status that can be matched over to Marriott Gold as one of the many sweet opportunities that have resulted from the merger), I was apparently upgraded to a “Deluxe” room, without proactively asking for any type of upgrade:
As you can see, this was a 2-level room consisting of a bedroom and bathroom upstairs with a living room and full bathroom downstairs as well. While the bathrooms weren’t spectacular, the room was spacious, comfortable, and clean. It far exceeded my expectations considering the cheap points price.
Breakfast was included in the room rate (not a Gold benefit at Protea hotels) and there was a decent spread. It included breads, yogurt, juices, and fruit in addition to some sliced meats and self-serve cheeses:
In the end, our only regret was that we didn’t plan more than 1 night here. Even with the change to Category 2, the Protea Hotel Dorpshuis & Spa is a strong value at 10,000 Marriott Rewards points or ~3333 Starpoints. If you have the chance to book it for 7500 Marriott points before March 7th, it’s a fantastic value and a great place to spend a few days in a gorgeous part of South Africa.
We visited several Stellenbosch wineries on a previous trip and discovered that South African wine country is absolutely beautiful. I found many of the wineries in the area around Stellenbosch just as impressive as those in Napa/Sonoma, Bordeaux, etc. On this trip, we stumbled into the Ernie Els winery (figuratively, not literally) and found it to be on par :-):
Pro tip: If you’re going to try your hand at chipping it in, watch out for that first row of lily pads. They can be tricky. And tee up before the tasting. On second thought, tee up after the tasting, but make sure someone is taking video:
Speaking of tasting, prices were quite reasonable at about $3 or $4.50 and the tasting fees were waived when buying a bottle of wine (which started at around $5).
All in all, this came out to be a pretty big win and made me curious about other Protea locations. I ended up staying in several over the course of about two weeks in South Africa and next week I look forward to sharing some photos from my last Protea stay during this particular trip to South Africa.
The current Megabonus promotion means that with about $300 in paid stays (combined with 5x earned by paying with the Marriott Rewards credit card), I’ll earn more than enough points for another free night at one of these Category 1 Protea hotels — and I just might consider booking a stay toward the end of Marriott’s schedule in the hopes of making my way back.
[…] are among the best I’ve seen for these properties. For example, I previously wrote about the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshuis & Spa in the heart of South African wine country (outside of Cape Town). As a Gold member, I was […]
[…] trip. I’ve written about some of the good-value hotels along the way — like the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshius & Spa, the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, and the JW Marriott Phu Quoc. A few weeks ago, I wrote about booking […]
[…] I posted several mini-reviews of parts and pieces of my trip — talking about hotels like the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshuis & Spa, the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, and the JW Marriott Phu Quoc. Several readers asked about how I had […]
[…] I reviewed the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch Dorpshuis & Spa outside of Capetown, South Africa (pictured above). That hotels is moving from Category 1 (7,500 […]
I just stayed at the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch (it’s up on the hill). The rooms are often excellent at the Protea’s. Breakfast is indeed no published benefits for Gold (even Platinum!) but most hotels give it anyways. The quality is terrible though. Internet is a complete fail too.
Bring your own Internet and food for Protea but enjoy the pretty buildings and awesome beds. Stellenbosch has tons of wineries and prices are indeed just a fraction of Napa wineries. The secret is out though and the area swarms with European tourists.
We pulled into that Protea first as I just told Google to navigate to the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch — I guess I knew there were two, but didn’t think about it when navigating. That property looked very nice also — it seemed to have a very modern vibe and the building looked a lot newer. I imagine it is also a great place to stay even if it means driving a couple of miles into town.
You’ve revealed one of the best kept secrets in South Africa. Stayed here and also had the two level room, as did each of the others in my film crew. (This was before the Marriott takeover, but I was a Gold elite in the Protea frequent stay Prokard program, now modified and called Explorer.) Charming and great location…you can walk into the main part of the city where there are some great little restaurants at all price levels.
I’m glad you discovered South Africa. I’ve been practically everywhere, and I think South Africa right now makes for the best vacation in the world. Stellenbosch is a great wine region and unlike, say, California, the wineries and their excellent restaurants are very affordable. Next time, extend your experience by driving the Little Karoo to Port Elizabeth.
That said, I’m not a huge fan of Protea hotels. Obviously, on points, they represent good value. But most Protea hotels aren’t as nice as the one you profile. And they don’t generally include breakfast (and, as you note, you don’t get it on a reward stay, even with gold elite status).
The main reason I don’t stay in them is that the alternatives are almost always better. South Africa has excellent b&b’s (small inns, guest houses, etc.) and they’re cheap. Most also participate with the int’l booking sites, so you can usually further discount their rates (cheaptickets is always reliable for this). So you can often get an atmospheric small inn (I never go below 4 1/2 stars on tripadvisor) for less than $60 with a great breakfast thrown in. At those prices, who needs a chain hotel room?
I will note that Protea does seem to upgrade Marriott Golds to nicer rooms. So it sometimes works out better than the alternatives. But I think most folks reading this blog will do better on most stays by booking away from Protea (unless you have so many points that you have nothing else to do with them).
I wholeheartedly agree that South Africa is a very economical destination with an impressive variety of experiences (and accommodations) from which to choose. With this, I just hoped to highlight an option some folks may not have considered/known about from a points and miles perspective. But you’re right that it’s always good to shop around and pick the experience that matches your desires.
Thanks Nick for your response.
We (2 of us) will be heading to South Africa in mid July for Kruger Park, Garden Route and Capetown.
We have 10 days from Port Elizabeth to Stellenbosch. Did you travel along the Garden Route?
Any recommendation for points /paid stays and where to overnight would be greatly appreciated.
Protea hotels seem cheap enough to just pay for the stay. We are thinking of 3 nights at Krynshna and 2 or 3 nights in Port Elizabeth. We don’t know where else would be a good place to stay.
Yes, we did travel the Garden Route — though, sadly, much too fast. I think your timeline looks pretty good. Knysna is beautiful and you are wise to give yourself a couple of days to take it in. We spent half a day in Gansbaii and so we stayed at the Protea in George as it was a decent stopping point to get some rest and get an early start on Knysna Heads. That hotel was cheap enough that we paid the cash rate. It was clean and comfortable and the staff members were very friendly. I’d not hesitate to go back, but didn’t choose it for anything other than being the right distance between where I was and wanted to be. One recommendation — we had breakfast at the East Head Cafe, which is no closely-guarded secret locale, but the view was gorgeous and breakfast was very good. A bit expensive by South African standards, but I think we spent less than $20 between us even with a couple of cappuccinos, fresh juice, and full entrees. I’d go there again around opening time to enjoy the view.
I had a less-than-stellar experience in Port Elizabeth as the AC didn’t work in either of the rooms I was assigned. We didn’t end up spending time in P.E. apart from having dinner. My initial impression would be that two nights would be enough for me there, but I think you’d do better asking someone who spent more time there than I did. If you’re starting in PE and ending up in Stellenbosch/Cape Town, I’d suggest adding that day to the Stellenbosch/Cape Town end as you won’t run out of things to do or beauty to appreciate in either place.
I will be sharing some thoughts about Kruger in the near future as that was the main draw for us — we went in late 2015 and loved it enough to book this trip in early 2017.
Not sure whether you’ve been before or not, but I imagine you’ll love South Africa. It’s hard not to.
I forgot to add that the breakfast and dinner included you are referring to is the Marriot Member PAID rate and not a redemption rate for 7500 points.
This is misleading information.
Certainly no intention to mislead you. I received breakfast, no dinner. I did not receive free breakfast at any other Protea hotels (some paid stays, some points, but none included breakfast, all booked direct via Marriott). It’s worth reaching out if you have an upcoming stay to see – though, truth be told, I’d recommend it whether breakfast were included or not. Hope you enjoy your trip – South Africa is a terrific place to visit!
Are you sure breakfast is included for everyone and not just those with Gold or higher status?
On booking.com, you need to pay $15 USD per breakfast?
I booked 2 nights for total of 15k marriott points as I will be there in August . Nowhere does it state breakfast included.
Interesting trip that’s not written about a lot. Are you going to do reviews of each part of your trip? If not, maybe you can give us a summary, like what cities you flew in and out of, which hotels along the way, what airlines, and any other point sweet spots. I look forward to reading your blog-articles.
Hi Larry — thanks for the feedback — I’m glad you found this interesting. I won’t lie — I like a nice 5-star beach resort as much as anyone (especially when I can get it for the right value), but I agree that sometimes values like this trip to South African wine country go overlooked. I’m not necessarily planning to review every part of my trip, but I’ll have a few more articles about parts of my trip as they pertain to ways to get good value out of your points, miles, and money. Sometimes I stumble on something accidentally as I did here — other times I come across a good value and then construct a trip around it. The journey I’m on now started as a desire to go back to South Africa and ended up as a 9-country, 5-continent trip crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific. Sometimes it just happens that way :-). Stay tuned for more!