Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world
In October last year, Mike and I spent 5 nights in Dubai during our fall break. I had been wanting to visit Dubai, or more specifically the desert around Dubai, for years, and after snagging round trip tickets HK-Dubai during an Emirates (the official airline of Dubai) spring sale, I set out to find the cheapest lodging possible. There were a couple of activities that I really wanted to do while we were there, and I knew discounts on those would be minimal at best, so I wanted to spend as little as possible on hotels to counteract those costs.
I was able to stay 5 nights at 4 different hotels--including one swanky night at the Waldorf Astoria--using points earned on my credit cards. The first statement I usually hear when I talk about feats like this is, "You must spend a lot on your cards to get that many points." While it is true that I charge as much as possible in order to rack up points (while never carrying a balance), the majority of my points come from sign on bonuses. Most branded credit cards run special offers for significant sign up bonuses at least once a year. What this means for you is that you should never, NEVER, nEvER, sign up for a credit card that isn't offering you a sign-on bonus to do so. How do you know when these offers are available, you might ask? I keep abreast of all the latest deals by reading several travel bloggers. You can see the links I use by looking under "blogs I read" in my header section. My favorite at this moment is The Points Guy. You can see his top cards listed in the header of his page. As I write about the cards/free nights, I will also add links here on my blog. So, let me delve in.
First of all, there was our flight on Emirates. After flying with them twice last year, I can say that they are quickly becoming one of my favorite airlines. They offer more space in economy class, 2 free checked bags, great hot food at no extra cost, and the largest seat back screens in the industry, with a fantastic entertainment selection. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you are flying 15 hours, watching movies is a welcome diversion, at least for me. They also have built in chargers, as you can see in the photo. On our flight to the US at Christmas, they also gave us a nice little zippered amenities satchel filled with a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask, earplugs and socks. This isn't routine in economy class, and it was an unexpected perk. Needless to say, I'm hoping to find other good sales with them this year.
After flying over endless desert, it is very surreal to fly into Dubai, this glittery city with what seems to be the world's tallest/biggest everything. Here are some amazing aerial views from Travel & Leisure. The airport was very nice and easy to maneuver. English is one of the official languages of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), so it is easy to get around. The metro train links right to the airport, and we thought it would be easy to get to our first hotel from what appeared to be a close stop, so we bought a couple of tickets and boarded. The stop was downtown, and easy to find, but after a 30 minute train ride and then wandering around in the baking 100 degree sun for over 30 minutes, (while carrying heavy backpacks), we ended up hailing a taxi anyway. Come to find out, we weren't far away, and we were able to walk to the train later, it was just difficult to find the hotel the first time.
Our first free night was at the Ramada Downtown. Because I am a Wyndham Gold Member, we were offered an upgrade to a nice suite with a balcony without my even asking. Our room was quite large, and included a very extensive kitchen, with a full size frig, microwave, dishwasher and even a washing machine! There was a sitting area, and the bath had a large tub and a separate walk in shower. My first thought was that this would have been a dream room had we been travelling with the kids.
Living Room Area
View looking down at the pool.
This free night was compliments of my Wyndham Rewards Visa (not a referral link), offered through Barclay. Right now there are two cards available, offering different levels of bonus points and annual fees. When I signed up, I received 45,000 bonus points (no longer available) and Gold status, which, among other perks, gives you early check in and late check out along with a welcome amenity, in this case, a small bag of treats. I also get 6000 points a year on my card anniversary. After my current points are all used, I am going to have to decide if keeping the card will be worth the $50 annual fee. Wyndham recently changed their reward levels, and you can stay at ANY Wyndham property worldwide for 15,000 points. Considering you can get 30,000 points for signing up and spending $1000 in 3 months, this can be a great perk. Wyndham has some hotels and all-inclusive resorts that go for over $600 a night, so you can see that this would be well worth your money. The going rate for our room was $400 USD. Not a bad first night free!
Ramada Downtown was within walking distance of the Burj Khalifa, which was visible from our room, as were the world's tallest fountains, which are directly behind the Burj and right outside Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world by total area. There was a small grocery market right next door, so we were able to buy some food there for our breakfast the next morning. We spent some time at the pool, and walked around the mall. Dubai also has Cobones, which are similar to our Groupons. I was able to snag a Cobone for the restaurant on site at our hotel and had a fantastic Middle Eastern four course meal for a very low price. Just be sure to look at expiration dates before you buy. I purchased some coffee coupons, and they expired a few days before we arrived!
This was day one...more to come!