Dubai, UAE- Part 2

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Dubai Trip Traveling like the Prince of Arabia
We started our trip from Cincinnati the day before.  Using American Air miles to fly from CVG to ORD. Flights out of Chicago are 33% cheaper or more than out of Cincinnati.  Sometimes we drive but with the weather and the long flight back (24 hours+ with layovers and pre-flight check-in) I thought we would just fly.




We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Rosemont and had a great time.  We user UBER for the first time instead of a cab to go get snacks and things we forgot to pack and wine for the evening (CVS has a great selection and is really reasonable).   The Embassy is a little dated but still a quality pick, there is a Hilton and Doubletree in the same cluster.  I highly recommend the Embassy Suites for a couple of reasons – free shuttle to and from airport, free drinks and snacks from 5 to 8 in the meet the manager reception, a suite so I can work and talk on phone while she sleeps, and Gibson’s Steakhouse (awesome) is across the street in the Doubletree and you can grab a chocolate chip cookie for desert after dinner.  
Having Hilton Diamond status is huge for the free internet, free room upgrades and access to the Executive Lounges as you will see later.  I am a Hilton guy for a number of reasons besides the above, even though they can be more expensive and some say the points are not worth as much I will be loyal as long as they take care of me like they did on this trip.  By spending $40,000 on the Hilton Citi card per year you get all this and more as you will see.
Chicago weather was good and with a good tail wind we made good time to London on British Airways (American Airlines partner).  Having gold status we did get to board first and had our choice of coach seats.  After consulting www.seatguru.com we choose seats in the very back of the plane.  In the back the plane narrows and it is only 2 wide but have space for 3 seats so more room.  Seats are so important to make coach tolerable.  You do not have to stay in your seat but if you want a good won it is better to pick it than to let the airline pick for you.  I am always amazed that there are tall business men that get stuck in the middle seat because they either don’t know or thought they would get upgraded or had someone else book their flight.  Good for me bad for them.  Status plays a big role as well in seat selection and upgrades.
Upon arriving in London, we had a 6 hour layover, we headed straight to T3 from T5 – took about 30 minutes to the American Lounge.  We got drinks and snacks and took showers – there is nothing like breaking up two long flights like a long hot shower (for FREE) curtesy of the Citi Executive Platinum card.  We enjoyed the Admiral Club as much or more than the Delta Skyclubs.  Now half the price and double the guest since Delta changed cost to enter.  Another nice feature is they have a kid’s playroom that is enclosed to keep them from running and bothering other guests.  London Admirals Club – A+.
We landed in Dubai and picked up our rent a car from Avis booked through AA.com site.  Insurance is covered by American Citi card.  We got a little lost going to next hotel – the name had changed recently and GPS did not know it and there was another Hilton on the same road name but in a different city.  Lesson learned take printed directions to hotel from airport with you – don’t depend on GPS in foreign country where you don’t want to use your phones data plan for navigation.  
We checked into the Sharjah Hilton at 4 AM.  Were given a free upgrade to a suite, on a high floor with a great view and a late check out.  We were only here for a nap instead of wasting a day at a beach resort.  Breakfast was included because of Diamond status and we were on our way after a leisurely check out later that afternoon.  
One of the great features of traveling off peak the availability of great rooms for free upgrades and cheap flights and cars.  We scored big time on this day.  We received two free nights with Hilton for having the Hilton Citi card.  I choose the most expensive option I could find and called, in fact the entire trip was built around this find along with the great airfare $750 round trip from Chicago to Dubai.  Two free nights at the Waldorf Astoria on the newly built Palm Island.  The hotel was less than a year old, we were upgraded to one of the best rooms they have at the property, normally $800-$1200 a night for FREE.  We were also invited to the Executive Lounge for FREE drinks from 5 to 8 PM.  We took full advantage of that perk (we may have over beverage- no we did over beverage) – the staff in the lounge was the best.  We sat at the little bar area so we could converse with the staff about Dubai and could get our wine topped off as they were pouring others.  
We heading to dinner for an OK buffet and a bottle of wine, and then joined the wedding party that was going on pool side.  They seemed like a very nice couple.  There were about 500 guest, nice entertainment and open bar.  We helped them celebrate their new union on the dance floor and released balloons of love into the sky.  Hopefully no wildlife with be damaged by our actions.  We then headed up to our balcony suite where we could watch the fireworks from the wedding being set off.  Unfortunately we had failed to plan for all this activity when we booked a 7:30 AM breakfast tour that was on the other side of Dubai (50 minutes away).  I was fine but my partner in crime was having a rough time recovering for the day.   We got some pool time later that afternoon and the next day and then were off to our final hotel.
Note to self.  Look at map of where hotel is in relation to where you are going.  Thirty Eight miles is a long way when it is on the other side of the airport from the city you are staying in.  It turned out to be OK after all.  Once we learned our way around.  It took about an hour to get anywhere in Dubai anyhow with traffic so staying out in the middle of the desert away from the developments on the beach turned out better than we first though upon arrival.  
We stayed at the Doubletree in Marjan Island near Ras Al Khaimah.  Another newly built island development reclaimed from the sea.  The hotel was about a year old and though the rooms were not as nice we did get the VIP treatment.  We were recognized by everyone without us telling them who we were as we walked in to restaurants or even down the hall.  We had some minor issues that they went above and beyond in most cases to fix.  They gave us a super late check out at no charge, free breakfast, and passes to the spa when we had some minor issues with our room.  The level of polish on the staff was noticeably different between the Waldorf and the Doubletree but the effort was there.  Using points and cash to stay here it was $80 and 64000 points for 4 days.  We will get into the value of points and shopping value in another post.  There is no wrong way but sometimes better way to get the most value for points.  But it is totally subjective and relative to your situation.
We did tours but I will let Angie do the post on those, we did however make a rookie mistake, partially because we were having a good time and that we split duties.  I booked all the travel she booked all the tours.  We had some internet issues the day before we left so email was spotty and I think I ignored a check-in pop up on my phone and Angie does not grasp the concept of 2:30AM is the next day.  Long story short we missed our flight because when we woke up I realized it was the day we were supposed to leave.  It was an expensive mistake, not sure if status helped but we were given a $500 voucher by AA rep when he had to rebook our flight making it a lot less painful for missing our flight.   We hung out at the Doubletree till about 9:30 PM.  Luckily we left early, I hit a piece of debris in the road and got a flat tire in the middle of a desert.  There was not enough light see we limped 10 KM to the next exit that was better lit and off the highway.  No one stopped to help till I was done changing it but we made it to the airport on time.  FYI Dubai is now the world’s busiest airport.  It is also fairly small.  So get there early even for a 2:30AM flight because it is packed all the time with people that don’t know where they are going.  British Airways line was short and Status with AA carries over but Platinum is needed for real perks.  
Overall we found British Airways to be better than American for friendly service and in-flight entertainment, cleaner bathrooms and more of them and better headrests. Plus the plane was in better condition on their 747 compared to the had AA flight from London to Chicago, , (broken armrest and other minor issues, very few movie options but better ventilation on American Flight.
Moral of the story – if you want to travel like a Saudi Prince on a peasant’s budget pick your brand, be loyal and get status.   This trip was to get status, in the near future we will show you how to use those points and miles for first class trips.  Until the change the rules.  Travel in style, travel young and travel often.