This past March I took my husband on a trip to Dubai for his spring break/our anniversary. I had close to 300K American Airlines AAdvantage miles and there was a looming devaluation on the horizon thanks to the finalization of their merger with US Airways. Since we are currently paying for his MIT graduate school tuition, we really didn’t have the money to even go on spring break. He even chose to forego joining his classmates on a week long trek through Brazil due to low funds. That’s when we decided that it was time to see if we could put some points/miles to work with an award redemption.
Sean said to me, “Find the craziest destination you can and let me know how we can swing it.” So I started brainstorming and one of the first destinations that popped into my head was Dubai. Could I possibly manage to fly two people on a poor student budget in first class to Dubai and back and use points to pay for the whole thing? My first step in searching for award availability was to go to use AA.com and see what my options were.
American Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance which includes other airlines such as:
- Air Berlin
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
For example, this means if you are based in the United States and an AAdvantage member that you can fly with any of these airlines and still earn miles that credit to your frequent flier account. You can also redeem your miles for award travel on either of those airlines. If you hold elite status with any, then you get reciprocal benefits when flying on oneworld carriers.
I found British Airways flights that connected in London Heathrow, but I wanted to avoid that because even flying on an award ticket with British Airways/through LHR racks up RIDICULOUS fees (fuel surcharges). I’m talking $1,600+…so much for a “free” flight, right?
I definitely did not want to book those because it defeated the whole purpose of my mission. Now here is what you do if you want to find other oneworld alliance award flights that may not display on AA.com. Their website only displays award flights for Air Berlin, British Airways, Qantas, Finnair, and Royal Jordanian. If you want to research other airlines then head over to the British Airways website.
Now I know I just told you to avoid British Airways for award flights due to astronomical fees, but bear with me. Their website displays other oneworld partner award availability like Qatar Airways, JAL, and Cathay Pacific. All you do is register for a free Executive Club frequent flyer account in order to access this part of the site.
Here, I found Qatar Airways flights in business class that matched our desired dates. So I called American Airlines and spoke with one of their award redemption representatives to ask how many AA miles it would cost me for two round trip first class flights. She informed me that the aircraft flying this route was the BRAND NEW A350 and that it only had two classes onboard: economy and business which still had lie-flat seats. Perfect! It would cost 67,500 miles one way per person. So 270,000 miles total plus $94.60 in taxes/fees for Boston to Dubai roundtrip with a connection in Doha. I had enough thanks to plenty of American flights, credit card sign-up bonuses, and my Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard!
Now, here’s what they cost for the cash buyer:
I asked her to place it on a five day complimentary hold so I could confirm the dates and times with my husband. That’s yet another thing that I love about American Airlines. Giving a complimentary five day hold is so convenient and makes the planning way less stressful (unlike Delta). Plus, if necessary, it gives you additional time to earn, transfer, or purchase any additional miles you may need for the redemption.
When it was time to book she waived the phone booking fee because the flights were not visible on AA.com. Anytime a flight is available for online booking and you reserve a flight over the phone with a booking agent they charge you an additional booking fee. Make sure you remind them of this if you find a flight through the British Airways website!
Lastly, it was time to take care of the lodging. We needed five nights in Dubai and we decided to first look into using Hilton Hhonors points for the Conrad, but we decided that we didn’t like the location of the Conrad and wanted to stay near the Dubai Marina area. That’s when I found the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort and like our Le Meridien stay in Thailand we took advantage of the buy four nights and get the fifth night free promotion. For the dates we needed it was 56,000 SPG points for five nights (including the free night). It was a no brainer. Luxury resort in the perfect location right at the base of the Palm right in the Dubai Marina? Done.
So there you have it. A newlywed couple paying for MIT graduate school managed to pull off a luxury vacation on one of the top airlines in the world on a brand new A350 and enjoyed five free nights in a gorgeous Starwood resort in Dubai. That’s why I love taking advantage of points and miles!
The other special thing we loved about this trip was the fact that it was Qatar Airways’ brand new launch of the Boston to Doha route. The inaugural flight was the night before ours and despite how fresh it was the Qatar Airways employees did a fantastic job from check-in to landing. The flight blew away all expectations with multiple course mouth-watering meals, complimentary pajamas, slippers, gifts, incredible wine, and of course…the glorious full night’s rest on the lie-flat beds. Our experience was so phenomenal that we’ve already booked another business class award ticket with them for next year: Johannesburg to Boston!