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It’s hard to believe now, looking at its glittering skyline of sharp-spired skyscrapers, but Dubai was little more than a fishing village 50 years ago. However, the discovery of oil in the United Arab Emirates in 1966 and the beginning of its export just three years later put Dubai on a course toward becoming one of the world’s most important cities.
Since then, significant investments by the government have turned this dusty desert village into a gleaming modern metropolis. Thanks to the lighting-fast growth and ever-expanding route network of its flag carrier, Emirates, Dubai has also become one of the globe’s busiest travel hubs.
Today, even a quick visit to the city can include one-of-a-kind experiences like a trip up to the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (the city also boasts the world’s tallest hotel), a scenic flight over The Palm and The World artificial islands with Sea Wings, a mid-shopping indoor session on the slopes at Ski Dubai, an afternoon of amusement at the world’s largest theme park, a Bedouin-style banquet and desert safari in a vintage Land Rover with Platinum Heritage, browsing local designers’ wares at the new Al Seef development along Dubai Creek, or just basking in the sun at one of the many swanky beach clubs that now line the coast.
Really, a trip to Dubai can be anything you make of it. Here are three ways to see the city depending on your budget and your interests – though in all likelihood, your strategy will probably be a mix-and-match assortment from the following choices.
Only have a limited amount of cash and time to discover Dubai? Fear not. You can fit a lot into 24 hours (or less). Here’s how to do it by maximizing Emirates’ free Dubai Connect service, with some more information for planning your own stopover if you choose to go that way. Note that this service is different than the Dubai Stopover option.
The Dubai Connect option is only available for passengers with Emirates- and Qantas-issued tickets for Emirates- or Qantas-marketed and operated flights, and most paid fares qualify. You cannot take advantage of it if you have redeemed an award using partner miles – so only award tickets booked through Emirates or Qantas are eligible. In addition, if you use Qantas miles, it has to be in business or first class. Finally, you must fit into one of these categories:
- A first or business class passenger for whom the best connection time is not available and who will be on the ground between six and 24 hours
- An economy passenger for whom the best connection time is not available and who will be on the ground between eight and 24 hours.
If you meet those conditions, the airline should provide accommodation, meals, ground transportation and visa costs. You will be notified that you are eligible for Dubai Connect during the booking process. After you have booked and paid for your ticket, you should be able to log into your reservation and book the service and then receive a voucher upon check-in.
Keep in mind that the hotel choices are limited. But if you’re redeeming Skywards miles or paying for an Emirates ticket anyway and will have a long, unavoidable layover, you might as well get some freebies.
If you want to save on cash and book your ticket as an award, you have three main mileage choices. For US-based flyers, the best mileage program for Emirates awards is likely Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. The program will charge you 42,500 miles each way in economy between the US and Dubai (DXB). However, Mileage Plan allows stopovers even on one-way awards, so why not build a few days in Dubai into a larger itinerary?
That becomes an especially good deal when you consider that the airline charges just 47,500 miles each way in economy between the US and Africa, so you’re essentially getting a few days in Dubai and an extra leg to your final destination for just 5,000 miles more. Plus, it’s easy to book these online using the multi-city search option. Here’s a sample award from New York-JFK to Dubai with a few days in the city and then continuing on to Johannesburg for just 47,500 miles and $52.20.
Feel like going to Asia instead? That’s 10,000 miles more for a total of 52,500 each way plus minimal taxes and fees. Here’s a sample award from New York-JFK to Hong Kong with a few days in Dubai as a stopover.
Your second mileage option would be Japan Airlines’ Mileage Bank. The program did recently add huge surcharges to Emirates tickets, but you can avoid them by originating or ending in various countries. The program also allows stopovers, even on one-way awards.
Its partner chart is distance-based, though, so you won’t find free add-ons like in the Alaska example above. Still, this can be a good way to squeeze some extra time into your trip, and if you plan to fly round-trip, those values are even better. Just be careful about the distance bands of your flight, as they break down in ways that can be confusing.
For instance, Boston, Chicago, New York-JFK or Washington-Dulles to Dubai all fall within the 6,001 – 8,000-mile band for one-way flights. So awards will cost 39,000 miles each way until November 19 and 45,000 miles after November 20. Round-trip distances are between 12,001 – 14,000 miles for Boston and New York, meaning flights will cost 55,000 miles round-trip in economy. Chicago and Washington both fall within the 14,001 – 20,000, band, as do round-trip itineraries from Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), so they will cost 60,000 miles round-trip until November 19 and 70,000 miles after.
Use a site like GCMap to calculate your flight distances, and that should give you an indication of how many miles you’ll need. Also, given that most of the chart’s redemption values are going up in November, book sooner rather than later.
The third and final way to redeem miles for Emirates flights is through its own Skywards mileage program. Skywards is an American Express transfer partner, and you can even use these miles to book FlyDubai tickets as well if you’re coming from one of that carrier’s destinations. For now, let’s just focus on Emirates’ own flights. Unfortunately, due to the mileage values and taxes/fees, Skywards awards aren’t your best option.
The program charges different amounts of miles depending on your origin and destination, so use the Flight Calculator to figure out how many miles you’ll need. According to it, the airline will charge 62,500 miles one-way or 72,500-125,000 miles round-trip from New York-JFK to Dubai. Flights from Los Angeles to Dubai will set you back 71,250 miles each way or 82,500-142,500 miles round-trip. Now for the kicker: round-trip award tickets incur about $600 in taxes and fees! No thank you.
Korean Air SkyPass is still an Emirates partner, but unfortunately, it’s no longer a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so its usefulness is now more limited.
Where to Stay
Though the city is known for glitzy luxury hotels, travelers still have budget options where both the paid and points rates are bargains. Here are some you might want to consider.
Hilton Honors members have dozens of hotels to choose from. Among the cheaper ones: the Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Al Mina costs as few as 16,000 points, and rates at the Hampton by Hilton Dubai Airport can dip to 21,000 points.
You can also transfer Chase points to World of Hyatt, where you’ll need just 8,000 to stay at either of the city’s two Hyatt Place properties.
Though taxis and Uber are fairly cheap, if you’re sticking to a budget, you can take the city’s metro system and buses. Make the most of it by using a credit card that earns bonuses on travel expenses, though pay attention to make sure it specifically includes mass transit. Such cards include the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi ThankYou Premier Card, both of which earn 3x points per dollar spent on local transit and commuting services. Meanwhile the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and The World of Hyatt Credit Card both offer 2x points per dollar on these purchases.
Depending on your activities and how you plan to pay for them, you could use a credit card like the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and then redeem your miles at a fixed value for a statement credit toward your purchases to save a little extra cash on your travel expenditures. Just be sure to pull out a card that waives foreign transaction fees or your wallet will be feeling a bit of a Dubai hangover upon arrival back home!
Of course, if you have some more time, there is plenty more to see and do in the area. You can experience things like falconry shows, camel races, scuba lessons and skydiving. By using your points and miles, you might even have a little cash leftover to put toward purchases at Dubai’s mega-malls and luxury stores.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to use miles to book premium class Emirates award tickets to, from or through Dubai. The bad news is that you’ll need quite a few miles to do so, and the airline’s business class can be underwhelming.
As with economy awards, your options are basically Alaska Mileage Plan, JAL Mileage Bank and Emirates Skywards. If you’re traveling from the US to Dubai, Alaska charges 82,500 miles each way after its unannounced (and massive) devaluation back in 2016, and you’ll also need to cough up about $81 in taxes/fees. Unfortunately, the options for tacking on flights to Asia or Africa are not really bargains in this case, as they’ll cost you an additional 22,500 and 37,500 miles each way, respectively.
As mentioned above, JAL’s partner chart can be confusing, but you’re generally better off booking round-trip flights. Here are some quick examples of business class redemptions:
- New York-JFK to Dubai (one-way): 63,000 miles before November 20 and 80,000 miles after
- New York-JFK to Dubai (round-trip): 85,000 miles before November 20 and 110,000 miles after
- Los Angeles to Dubai (one-way): 65,000 miles before November 20 and 85,000 miles after
- Los Angeles to Dubai (round-trip): 100,000 miles before November 20 and 130,000 miles after
Skywards charges varying amounts of miles, but here are those same routes in business class:
- New York-JFK to Dubai: 100,000 miles one-way and 145,000 – 200,000 miles round-trip
- Los Angeles to Dubai: 113,750 miles one-way and 165,000 – 227,500 miles round-trip.
The taxes and fees on itineraries like this? Oh, just $1,721 round-trip. Again, not a great option.
As a side note, Abu Dhabi (AUH) is just an hour-long drive or so from Dubai, so you could also consider flying Etihad there instead and just taking a taxi or Uber to Dubai. Here’s a post on using Etihad Guest miles to book awards and another on strategies for booking premium awards on Etihad using partner miles.
Where to Stay
If you have a few more points, it could be worth throwing them toward a stay at a higher-end hotel.
World of Hyatt members can redeem 12,000 points to stay at the Hyatt Regency Dubai and the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights or “splurge” by using 15,000 points per night at the Grand Hyatt Dubai. All three of these properties would also be great uses of Hyatt’s free night certificates from the World of Hyatt card.
If you have IHG Rewards points, you could spend 50,000 of them per night at the Intercontinental Hotel Residence Suites Dubai F.C. or the Intercontinental Hotel Dubai Marina.
Among Marriott Rewards properties, TPG found the La Ville Hotel & Suites City Walk, Autograph Collection to be a nice mid-range option for just 35,000 points. That’s the same rate you’d pay at either the Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai and the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai.
Let’s not forget about Radisson Rewards. You can book the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek and the Radisson Blu Hotel Apartments Dubai Silicon Oasis for just 44,000 points per night. The Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Media City and Radisson Blu Residence Dubai Marina are just slightly more expensive but still reasonable, with nightly award rates of 50,000 points.
In terms of transport, taxis and Uber are the easiest way to get around, despite sometimes horrific traffic. Use a credit card that earns multiple points per dollar on travel in general or even Uber in particular, and bear in mind that Uber purchases count toward the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit.
Speaking of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, be sure to bring it or another card that earns bonuses on dining purchases, such as the Citi ThankYou Premier, Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express or the Uber Visa Card. That allows you to maximize your point earning while dining out everywhere from the multitude of celebrity chef restaurants that populate the city’s hotels to delicious beachside food stalls like SALT for burgers or Maiz Tacos.
In a city of superlatives like Dubai, you can bet there are luxury experiences to impress even the most discerning of travelers, especially if you like over-the-top decadence with a side of gilt. Here’s how your points and miles can help you experience the good life out in the desert.
Emirates first class is the stuff of legend. Private suites, onboard showers, caviar and champagne service…what’s not to love? Well, a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars is hard to swallow. Luckily, your points and miles can offset much of this cost.
Emirates wowed the world when it unveiled its new first class suites back in November. Unfortunately, these are only available on a few routes to Europe so far, though the airline does have plans to add them to its A380 fleet. We won’t see them for a while, so you’ll have to settle for the older but still fabulous version aboard the airline’s A380s and older 777s. Your best resource will be our guide to booking Emirates first class awards using credit card points.
As noted above, Alaska devalued its Emirates award chart in early 2016, and first class took the brunt of it. Even though the prices are no longer fantastic, you’ll still lock-in an incredible experience and save significant cash on the taxes and fees when compared to booking with Emirates. The program also regularly runs bonuses on purchasing miles, so this might still be an option. You’ll need to fork over 150,000 miles each way (300,000 miles round-trip) for flights from the US to the Middle East, though taxes and fees are a very manageable $81. You could also consider tacking on another leg to Asia for just 30,000 more miles in each direction.
If you want to use Emirates Skywards miles, get ready for sticker shock: an award from New York-JFK to Dubai in first class will cost 136,250 miles one-way or 217,500 – 272,500 miles round-trip, while an award from Los Angeles would set you back 155,000 miles one-way or 247,500 – 310,000 miles round-trip. Once again, taxes and fees are a whopping $1,721 round-trip. On the plus side, award tickets booked using Skywards miles are still eligible for chauffeur service.
Like with business class, one alternative might be to book an award in Etihad’s A380 Apartments, which are currently available from New York-JFK to Abu Dhabi (AUH). Unfortunately, you’d need to make your own way from there to Dubai, as Etihad has cut its chauffeur drive service for premium award tickets.
Where to Stay
Dubai has no shortage of luxury hotels as the world’s glitterati come here to stay and play.
There are several high-end Hilton properties in and around the city. The Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah has rooms ranging from 58,000 – 80,000 points, and rooms at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah are available for 46,000 – 70,000 points.
Hyatt’s most luxurious hotel here is the Park Hyatt Dubai, which is on a pretty spot along Dubai Creek and costs 20,000 points per night.
Among the Marriott options at the high end of the price spectrum are The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre and the soon-to-open W – The Palm Dubai at 50,000 points per night and the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai at 60,000 points per night. However, the real splurge has to be the Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa, which is just 60,000 points for the rest of the year, though you’ll have to call Marriott directly or hope to find availability through the app to book.
Radisson’s nicest hotel in the city is the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Waterfront for 70,000 points per night.
Apart from points redemptions, some credit cards can save you considerable cash if you plan on just paying for your stay. If you have the Citi Prestige, you can take advantage of that card’s fourth night free benefit to save on a stay. This can generally be used on upgraded accommodations or resorts that don’t partner with a loyalty program, so they’re a great option at this end of the luxury spectrum.
For additional luxurious options, cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN have access to the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program. When you use your associated card to book directly through the program, you can enjoy on-property perks like a room upgrade, free daily breakfast, guaranteed late check-out, credits for spa and dining, and more.
The 15 participating FHR hotels in Dubai include Al Maha, the Armani Hotel (which is in the Burj Khalifa), the landmark Burj Al Arab, both of the city’s Four Seasons hotels, several Jumeirah properties, both Ritz-Carltons, the Waldorf Astoria, the Bulgari Resort Dubai, Raffles Dubai, the Park Hyatt and One&Only The Palm.
If you have a Visa Signature card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture Rewards, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, United Explorer Card, or many, many others, you can also consider booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal. Doing so might earn you benefits like room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, on-property credits and more. There are 15 participating Dubai hotels, including the Taj Dubai, the Armani Hotel, Nikki Beach Resort & Spa, The Address Downtown, Palazzo Versace Dubai, Al Maha, Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates Dubai and points properties like the Park Hyatt and Conrad, among others.
Finally, Leading Hotels of the World, which is in the process of revamping its Leaders Club so members can earn and redeem points at the collection’s 400+ luxury hotels across the world, counts the One&Only The Palm and the Residence & Spa at One& Only Royal Mirage Dubai among its members.
Stocking up on Points and Miles
Inspired to plan a trip to Dubai but running short on loyalty currency for flights and hotels? There are some incredible credit card welcome offers currently available if you need to bulk up your points portfolio. Many even feature historically high sign-up bonuses that can put the awards you want within reach. Here are some to consider.
Transferable and Fixed-Value Points Cards
If you want Amex Membership Rewards points that transfer to Emirates Skywards and Hilton Honors, you could consider getting The Platinum Card® from American Express, which is offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months (though be sure to check the CardMatch tool to see if you’re targeted for a 100,000-point offer; this offer is subject to change at anytime).
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards and Marriott Rewards, among other partners. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card currently offers 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months, and its $95 annual fee is waived the first year. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve also offers 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. Though its annual fee is $450, you get $300 worth of travel credits each calendar year along with an array of additional perks. Just be aware that you can now only get an initial offer from one of these cards every four years, so if you’ve never had either one, compare them closely before pulling the trigger.
With the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you earn 2x miles per dollar on every purchase and can redeem them at a fixed value of one cent apiece for statement credits. It also launched a new bonus in early 2018, allowing you to earn 10x miles per dollar spent on hotel stays booked and paid for through Hotels.com/Venture. The card currently carries a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening, and its $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
The Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card also has a bonus of 50,000 points after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. Though its $95 annual fee is not waived for the first year, you do get $100 in airline fee credits each year, saving you on things like checked bags or seat assignment charges. The card earns 2x points per dollar on travel and dining and 1.5x on everything else, though you could boost your earning rates higher by qualifying for the bank’s Preferred Rewards program. Miles are worth one cent apiece when redeemed for statement credits. Read our full review of the card here.
Airline and Hotel Cards
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. You also get a companion fare each year that can be worth hundreds of dollars depending on how you redeem it. The annual fee is $75. Read the full review here.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card currently offers 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, then another 20,000 points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first six months of account opening. There are other new benefits to the card as well, including bonus earning categories and automatic Discoverist status.
Hilton and American Express introduced new credit cards in January, and they are currently offering some great welcome bonuses. The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card comes with 125,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your card within the first three months of card membership. It also comes with one free weekend night after spending $15,000 in a year and automatic Gold status for the $95 annual fee. It’s higher-end brethren is the new Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, awards 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 in eligible purchases on the card within the first three months of card membership. The $450 annual fee unlocks numerous benefits like a $250 annual Hilton Resorts statement credit, an annual $250 airline incidental fee credit, automatic Diamond status and Priority Pass lounge access.
The new IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is offering 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months after opening your account. It also credits cardholders with a fourth award night free on stays and has an anniversary benefit of a free night certificate each year, valid at any IHG property that charges up to 40,000 points per night. It also confers automatic Platinum status.
The new Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card currently offers 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from your account opening. It entitles cardholders to an anniversary free night award valued at up to 35,000 points plus automatic Silver elite status. However, you may want to wait and see if its 100,000-point bonus comes back before applying.
Finally, American Express’s new Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card launched in August and is a bastion of benefits including a welcome bonus of 100,000 points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months (offer ends October 31, 2018). Its annual free night award is worth up to 50,000 points, and it also provides an annual $300 statement credit for Marriott and Starwood purchases and confers automatic Gold status.
Dubai has been transformed over the last several decades and now boasts global transportation hub, scores of international businesses and activities to excite just about anyone. Whether you’re a budget traveler minding your expenses like a hawk or a luxury traveler looking to splurge, the city has you covered. Hopefully this has inspired you to start planning your own trip to the desert using the hard-earned points and miles you currently have (or soon will have) in your various loyalty program accounts.
Featured image by David Rodrigo via Unsplash.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees