How I got $25,000 worth of airfare and 5 Nights in Dubai for Only $94.60

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.

Dubai marina

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.

burj khalifa dubai

American Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance which includes other airlines such as:

  • Air Berlin
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN
  • TAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Qatar Airways A350

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?

Qatar Airways Business Class A350

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.

Qatar Airways Business Class A350

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:

Qatar Airways Boston to Dubai

Qatar Airways Boston to Dubai

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.

AAdvantage miles award 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!

AAdvantage miles Qatar Airways oneworld

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.

SPG award redemption Dubai

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!

qatar airways business class meal

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!

Doha to Dubai in First Class Qatar Airways

Doha to Dubai in First Class

  • Cathy Ries

    Great use of points! I love how much you can really get in value for them. 🙂

    • Same here. That’s why I prefer to use credit cards that earn miles instead of cashback.

  • Jordan

    Seems like you have totally got this system down! I love Dubai – Glad you had a good time, and on a student budget no less!

    • Exactly! The student budget variable is what throws the value way over the top!

  • I get a little envious when I see people from the US taking advantage of this!

    We simply don’t have the credit cards offering the lucrative sign-up bonuses and the like, so we can only accrue miles generally by paying for them the old fashioned way.

    What a great deal it was for you both!

    • Oh, believe me I can empathize. My husband is from New Zealand and recently became a US permanent resident after we got married. When we were dating he was always shocked by the credit card sign up bonuses available to me. He’s been chomping at the bit to join in the fun ever since.

  • Danni Lawson

    Great planning and strategising, this an inspiring use of points!

  • Subhadrika Sen

    wow. I must say that i am pretty jealous (in a healthy way) after listening to you. I would love to go and visit some place in the world with such fares. i used to live in Dubai years ago and would love to see this place and how it has changed today.

  • JustGoPlaces

    Wow! you are really good at getting these deals. We have lots of BA miles (living in London you are stuck with BA lots of the time) and we used our BA miles to fly free in first class to Dubai last year too. Had to pay for the hotel though because we didn’t have the SPG points.

  • Well done! I love it when the points all work out, but I can never get anything super extravagant with mine. Maybe I just need to save up a lot more!

  • Way to work the system! I never would have known about the Executive Club membership to open more doors to new flights. Thanks so much for sharing your tips on how to score a deal.

  • bc21578

    $1,600 for a “free flight” (that’s a WHITESNAKE song) is too much lol. I regret only laying over in both Dubai and Doha. MIT people are really smart. That’s why Noam Chomsky is there lol!

  • Tom Stevenson

    Bloody hell! That’s an absolute bargain, I need to start collecting airmiles. Shame I didn’t do it when I went to Australia and back and then New Zealand and back!! I’d have loads!

  • Super resourceful!! Well done, this will make your holiday twice as enjoyable 🙂 That reminds me, I need to check on my miles…

  • Mary Charie Ylagan

    AWww! Congratulations on your anniversary! Hope you had fun! This is one of my small regrets, the magic of award miles. Too late when I found out about it, not even sure if the banks in my country do it! But I’m happy for you guys! You deserve it!

  • Kevin Wagar

    Wow! Kudos to you for some amazing detective work. Getting all those miles racked up and organized was a feat. The trip looks like it was fantastic!

  • Vyjay Rao

    This was a great deal. Though your ingenuous planning is behind it rather than pure luck. Need to be on the lookout for such opportunities and know how to make the best of them.

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