Hello from 36,000 feet in the air! I am currently enroute to Seychelles for a getaway with my husband to celebrate our birthdays. Even though we’re only four days into our trip, it’s been quite an adventure already.
This is our first trip flying Emirates. I’ve had my goal set on flying Emirates First Class with my husband since I joined the Miles & Points game in 2018 and learned that Alaska miles could be redeemed for their flights.
After almost two years of collecting Alaska miles in two-player mode, that dream finally became reality. In the weeks leading up to this trip, I had my doubts on whether it was going to happen, but it did! It has been an epic experience, but not without a minor setback along the way.
The Booking Process
I initially booked a one-way flight from Toronto to Seychelles with a short layover in Dubai on Emirates First Class for a whopping 180,000 Alaska miles per person for me and my husband.
It would be on Emirates’s flagship Airbus A380 aircraft with a bar and shower in the sky. Of course, Emirates also has their new fully-enclosed suites on some of their 777 routes, but I figure I’d leave that experience for another trip, since Alaska miles are not too hard to accumulate.
Then came the earth-shattering news late last year that Emirates was ending the ability to book First Class seats with Alaska miles, and then a few months later, that they were ending their relationship altogether.
At this point, I had two options: fly our itinerary as booked, or take an opportunity to fly both of Emirates’s best First Class products in one trip in what is known as the “Emirates First Class extravaganza” before the partnership ended.
If you’re not familiar with the “extravaganza”, be sure to check out Ricky’s post on it, as it’s a routing he had flown twice before the Alaska partnership ended. Essentially, you can fly three First Class flights for the price of one. And if you plan it correctly, you could possibly experience both the A380 and 777 First Class products all in one trip!
Next, the debate was whether to take up the precious time we had for our trip (as securing childcare for any period of time for an adults-only trip is hard to come by) with two extra flights amounting to an additional 16 hours of flying, versus having more time to spend exploring Dubai or Seychelles.
In the end, in the spirit of #YOLO, we changed it to the extravaganza – but booking this was not as simple as we had hoped, for the following reasons:
- Although Emirates usually releases two First Class award seats on the Airbus A380, they only release one award seat on the New 777, which meant that both my husband and I could not be booked on the same First Class flights for the second and third segments of the trip.
- Alaska was not allowing mixed cabin bookings for this itinerary, so I couldn’t place one of us in business for one segment.
- Because their partnership was ending shortly, Alaska would not be able to book or change this itinerary over the phone even if award availability changed later on.
Then came an idea: what if we booked our first flight from Toronto to Dubai together, and then “boomeranged” through two different cities and just met back in Dubai? Amazingly, the itineraries going to Brussels and Frankfurt matched up perfectly.
The cost was 150,000 Alaska miles per person (the same cost as flying just Toronto to Dubai). Then, I booked a separate flight in economy class from Dubai to Seychelles for 32,500 Emirates Skywards miles each person.
Not only was this an incredible return in value, but to be able to experience both First Class products was going to be awesome. It saved me from having to spend more miles to try out the new product later in the future.
We flew our first segment Toronto to Dubai together, and chose the “E” and “F” seats in the middle with a partition between them that can be lowered, making them the perfect option for couples.
I won’t go over the features of both First Class experiences (the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 new suites), as Ricky’s already written full reviews of both products. Suffice to say, it will be a very difficult experience to top, between the privacy, the service, the food, and the amenities.
I was quite excited to receive my first set of airline pyjamas and a polaroid photo from an airline. What I enjoyed the most was the novel experience of being able to shower and disembark a plane feeling and looking refreshed. Meanwhile, Jon very much enjoyed the bar at the back of the plane. 😉
When we got to Dubai, we spent a quick overnight in Old Dubai before checking in early next morning for the second segment. We enjoyed breakfast in the Emirates First Class Lounge in Concourse B.
Unfortunately, the lounge in Concourse A, which has the reputation of being the better (and much bigger) First Class Lounge, was closed because of COVID-19.
You can’t miss something you haven’t experienced, so it wasn’t a big deal here. We still got to have a 15-minute free massage, and Jon had sushi and tuna poke for breakfast.
When it came to boarding, our gates were in the same concourse, so we headed there together before parting ways to our respective gates. Jon was going to Frankfurt from Dubai, and I was going to Brussels from Dubai.
Thanks to Emirates offering free wifi for all Skywards members flying in First Class, Jon and I could stay connected for the entire flight through WhatsApp. We shared our thoughts about the First Class suites to each other, exchanged photos, and offered each other dining suggestions.
When we landed at our respective destinations, we reconnected again while we were in the lounges. The layover was only two hours, so it went by quickly. We texted our goodbyes and went to board for our last and final segment.
This is when we ran into our snag.
In Brussels, I didn’t have to clear customs on my layover, but I did have to fill out an arrival form prior to boarding. I went through security and to my departure gate.
When I tried to board though, my ticket gave an error – every passenger’s worst nightmare. Apparently, I was flagged because my travel documents, including my PCR test result, had not been checked by anyone.
No biggie, right? I handed the agent my negative PCR test result. She looked it over and said she had to call a supervisor to verify whether or not I was OK to fly.
It wasn’t a timing issue, as I was within 72 hours of taking the test, but an issue with the location of where my test was done. I had taken the test in Canada, but there was confusion over whether the test needed to be done in Brussels, my current departure point.
After verifying a second time with her supervisor, I was allowed to board. Phew.
Jon, unfortunately, wasn’t as lucky. He ran into the same issue in Frankfurt, except they wouldn’t let him board without a new negative PCR test result from Germany. So he paid €140 to have one done at the airport, which thankfully only had a one-hour turnaround time. After his test, he found out the lounge had already closed in the late afternoon, so he just hung out at the gate for several hours.
Emirates rebooked him onto the next flight for Dubai which was departing the same day, albeit six hours later, and it was back in the Airbus A380. Thanks again to Emirates’s free wifi, Jon was able to communicate all this to me beforehand, rather than having me arrive in Dubai wondering what happened to him.
All wasn’t lost, as he would’ve have needed to get a second PCR test done anyway, for entry into Seychelles (although PCR tests in Dubai are a lot cheaper). But at this point, we were just thankful he had a flight out and that it wasn’t going to interfere with our flight to Seychelles, which was booked for the next day.
Back in Dubai
There was no point waiting six hours in the airport for Jon, and I needed to take a pre-flight PCR test before the next day, so I took a cab to have it done. I was a little uneasy travelling as a single woman in Dubai, but thankfully Dubai has taxis driven by women just for women and children (they are the yellow taxis with pink roofs).
I had mapped out a drive-through testing centre, but my super-helpful taxi driver recommended a private hospital just several minutes from the airport, Al Garhoud Private Hospital.
The RT-PCR test cost 150 AED ($50). I was advised of a turnaround time of eight hours, although the test result eventually came back in six hours.
Note that they can only text a copy of the results to a local number, or you can physically pick up a copy on your way back to the airport. They cannot email them. But if you buy a SIM card that comes with a local number, SMS delivery shouldn’t be an issue.
Because I knew I’d be checking in past midnight, I booked one of the cheapest hotels I could find: the Courtyard Al Barsha near the Mall of the Emirates for 234 AED ($80) in the standard king room. As a Titanium Elite member, we were upgraded to an Executive Larger Guest Room.
This hotel was also in a good location for the various activities we had planned for the following day.
The hotel room was quite modern, and we got a decent complementary hot breakfast buffet as our elite benefit. It even had a made-to-order omelette, pancake, and waffle station.
Parents’ Day Out in Dubai
Jon didn’t get to the hotel until 8am the next morning. After he arrived, we headed down for breakfast. Thankfully, he did catch a few zzz’s on his flight.
Not initially factoring in Jon’s flight change, we had planned a whole day of activities we normally wouldn’t be able to do with the kids.
10am: Helicopter Tour
We booked a 17-minute helicopter tour of Dubai with HeliDubai through Expedia for TD using our TD Rewards points, which offset the cost of $282.87 per person by 70%.
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1pm: Lunch at the Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is an ultra-luxurious hotel that is part of the Jumeirah chain, where you can book rooms for no less than $2,000 a night.
Staying at the hotel is the only way to see the place, unless you have a dining reservation at one of their 10 restaurants and bars, which we specifically booked for the purpose of seeing this architectural masterpiece.
We booked at the Sal, as it was one of the more casual and less expensive options, and also took us around to the back so we could see their patio and infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
We initially tried emailing the hotel for a reservation, but didn’t get a response. Thanks to the American Express Platinum Card’s Concierge service, who were able to reach out and book it for us, we got our reservation without much of a hassle at all. Once again, Concierge proves to be a valuable yet often overlooked service for Platinum cardholders.
3pm: Afternoon Nap
Initially we were going to check out the Mall of the Emirates, but we both felt the jet lag, so we went back to the Courtyard for a nap.
We took advantage of a 4pm late checkout and headed to Dubai Mall to drop off luggage at their Luggage Concierge, located on the ground floor at the Fashion Lobby entrance. For a small fee, they held our luggage there until almost mall closing at 11pm. You can even pay extra and they will ship it directly to the airport for you.
5:30pm: Burj Khalifa VIP Bubbly Sundowner
This event costs 749 AED ($256) per person and brings you to The Lounge at the Burj, located on levels 152-154, to watch the sunset while being served an alcoholic beverage and canapés.
It was a splurge and we wouldn’t do it again, but it’s cool to have been to the highest lounge in the world, and the views were incredible.
After the Burj, we went for a light dinner at Wafi Gourmet in the Dubai Mall, an economical and casual dining venue which has outdoor seating directly in front of the nightly Fountain Show (every 30 minutes from 6pm onwards).
After the show, we strolled around the Dubai Mall to see the Aquarium and do a bit of window shopping.
Finally, we picked up our luggage and headed back to the airport for our 2am departure to Seychelles. And that concludes are crazy day in Dubai!
Booking Emirates Flights in the Future
Having flown Emirates First Class now, I can understand the hype and would be happy to fly them again if the opportunity arises.
Although Emirates can no longer be booked with Alaska miles, that doesn’t mean the First Class experience is now out of reach. Emirates has its own Skywards program, which can be used to book Emirates First Class. Luckily, there are still a few ways to transfer points into the Skywards program.
Marriott Bonvoy is probably the most accessible way for Canadians, although the transfer ratio isn’t optimal. And if you’re into the US credit card game, there are a few more options for transferring points into the Skywards program, including from American Express, Chase, Citi, and Capital One.
Our trip has been surreal and eye-opening in more ways than one so far, from flying Emirates First Class to running into border issues to our action-packed day in Dubai.
As much as we love our kids and travelling with them, there is something to be said about having just a little mommy and daddy alone time. I encourage all parents to take a getaway once in awhile if they can. With this pandemic, this may be needed more than ever with the high-stress environment some of you have found yourselves in (i.e., working from home, having to juggle online school this past year, etc.).
At the same time though, travelling nowadays presents some new challenges. Even if you’re diligent with checking the requirements, things still may not go as planned.
Luckily in our case, we had a long layover before Seychelles, so it did not impact the rest of our trip – but if our Seychelles flight was immediately after our Emirates First Class extravaganza, then Jon’s delay in Frankfurt would’ve had a greater impact.
Stay tuned for a post in the near future about our time in Seychelles and some of the nice properties that we’re planning to visit.