Good morning, or evening, from Qatar Airways Qsuites!
You know the drill when I’m writing from the sky – this time, I’m kicking off a trip to Dubai, Turkey, and Georgia for a month.
The Prince of Travel team is joining forces on a loaded revenge travel circuit. Our trips have a bit of cross-over, and I’ll be sampling some aspirational products that we’ve already reviewed on the blog.
Thankfully, I’ll have time to enjoy these experiences without being fully in “work mode” this time, while focusing my blog contributions on some new areas that Prince of Travel hasn’t covered.
Let’s start here, as it was a couple of opportune hotel bookings that kicked off my plans. I’ll paint a picture in the order that things came together – bear with me as it’s not in chronological travel order.
This trip has its origins in the speculative bookings made in the dying days of Marriott Bonvoy’s award chart. I identified a handful of properties that I might want to visit, and threw my entire Bonvoy points balance at some refundable redemptions.
I figured I’d rather lock in some unique experiences at never-again rates, and see if any trips would spring up around them. Shoot first, plan later.
I found a string of off-peak nights at Category 7 rates in shoulder season, for a total of 200,000 Bonvoy points for five nights.
(Sure enough, hours after I made the booking, the same dates were going for 80,000 points per night, up from 50,000 points. As we were forewarned, Bodrum EDITION was among the steepest price increases.)
After I’d zeroed my points balance into Bodrum EDITION and a few other hotels, I was only left with an 85,000-point Free Night Award certificate from my Amex US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card welcome bonus, and no clear idea of how I wanted to use it.
I was chatting with Rachel, our assistant at Prince of Travel. She suggested, “Hey, I’ll be at Al Maha for two nights before you’re in Bodrum. You should stop by on the way!”
Sure enough, both nights were going for the old Category 8 standard rate of 85,000 points! I nabbed one, a friend nabbed the other, and we’ll be couch-surfing with each other for a chaotic weekend of desert decadence.
For such a short stay, you’d better believe I’ll be maximizing my time, with the earliest check-in they’ll allow, and the latest check-out I can finagle without missing my outbound flight.
I’ve also arranged a night in Dubai before my Al Maha arrival. As a first-time visitor, I’ll be at the Four Points Sheikh Zayed Road, close to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall – key tourist attractions, and something to do to power through my jet-lag.
All of a sudden, a speculative booking was becoming an actual plan.
The old Category 5 hotel remains within the range of 30,000–40,000 points per night. I secured my booking after the elimination of the award chart. Prices actually dipped a bit here and there, but I eventually locked in my five-night block for 149,000 points in total.
Next, I’ll be in Cappadocia for four nights. I booked the Terra Cave Hotel on Expedia for TD, using 104,000 TD Rewards points, equivalent to CA$520.
After that, I’m off to Georgia for the rest of my trip. I’m currently booked at the Tbilisi Marriott for four nights.
Paying cash, a stay of four or more nights at any Marriott Bonvoy hotel in Tbilisi currently qualifies for a 20% discount. I was able to get a rate of US$181 per night, which is higher than I expected (I anticipate I’ll offset this with cheap food and day-to-day costs), but not that much more than the nearby Courtyard.
The remainder of my time in Georgia is open-ended as of this moment. Weather permitting, I’d like to explore some small towns for some mountain hiking and mineral baths.
Once Bodrum EDITION and Al Maha came together, it was paramount to find a way to get there in style. As I made these bookings on March 28, it was challenging to find desirable award availability six weeks out.
I’ve long been keen to try Qatar Airways Qsuites, with previous plans scuttled by the Omicron variant in South Africa. Travelling to the Middle East, this was the perfect opportunity to do so.
Searching long and hard, eventually I found a seat on Qatar Airways’s flight from Washington to Doha on a date that worked for my Al Maha arrival.
However, this plan was far from ideal: it required a lie-flat red-eye in Air Canada Signature Class with an upgraded Latitude fare, an overnight hotel stay in Toronto, and a separate Aeroplan ticket to Washington.
Luckily, I found some last-minute availability on the Seattle to Doha route. I wasted no time changing my ticket, as this saved me an excessive travel day. Plus, by taking a bus from Vancouver to Seattle rather than flying, I dodged the pesky requirement of a negative antigen test to enter the United States for a mere connection.
While I could’ve booked the flight with British Airways Avios via my Qatar Avios membership, instead I used 70,000 American AAdvantage miles + CA$54.10. Avios are easier to earn, but I’ve been sitting on a large balance of AAdvantage miles for a while, so I opted to keep the cash fees down.
I’ll be in the Doha terminal for an eight-hour layover before a short overnight flight to Dubai. Because my onward connection is in short-haul regional First Class, I’m entitled to visit the Al Safwa First Class Lounge, where I’ll certainly be spending the entirety of my layover. Also, by staying airside, I don’t need a negative PCR test to enter Qatar.
Once I wrap up at Al Maha, my Aeroplan ticket begins. First, I’m on an “outbound” leg on Etihad Airways, from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul.
Unfortunately I was unable to find a business class award seat on this flight, though I’ve been watching for one with a seat alert on ExpertFlyer. For now, I’m paying 12,500 Aeroplan points for this bound in economy.
From there, I’ve got a quick turnaround straight to Bodrum, on a round-trip cash fare with Turkish Airlines. I paid about CA$120 for the ticket.
After returning to Istanbul and seeing the city for five days, I’ve got a one-way cash fare with Turkish Airlines to Kayseri, the largest airport in Cappadocia. I paid about CA$70 for the ticket.
Next, I’m on a one-way cash fare with Pegasus Airlines, Turkey’s low-cost carrier, from Kayseri to Tbilisi, with a connection in Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW). I paid US$162.62 for the international ticket, which includes a checked bag.
Finally, I’ll pick up my Aeroplan ticket with a “return” leg from Tbilisi to Istanbul to Seattle on Turkish Airlines all in business class, ending with a quick Air Canada connection home to Vancouver.
This bound of the journey cost 81,900 Aeroplan points, with favourable dynamic pricing on the final hour in economy bringing the total price of the ticket down a smidge.
With no availability on the Turkish routes to Canada, I was lucky to grab a seat on the Istanbul to Seattle leg, a new route which launched the same day I was booking my flights. This puts me on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner instead of a Boeing 777, a better choice for a solo traveller due to the cabin configuration.
By booking both Aeroplan bounds on the same ticket as an open-jaw, I only had to pay the partner booking fee of CA$39 once. In total, the price of the booking came to 94,400 Aeroplan points + $152.50.
The Car Rentals & Activities
Digging deeper into what I wanted to see and do, I’ve decided to do a few car rentals.
For Al Maha, I’m doing a two-day rental, as a one-way from Dubai to Abu Dhabi International Airport. I’m renting with Hertz for $92.94 for two days, which I covered with 9,294 MBNA Rewards points.
This was cheaper than arranging a taxi for a short stay, and also more convenient as I’m on a tight schedule. (I do love my desert drives!)
I’m also renting a car for Cappadocia, where I’m looking forward to having the flexibility to explore the remarkable landscape at my own pace. I made a four-day booking for $251.79, which I covered with 50,400 TD Rewards points.
I’ll likely be doing the same thing in Georgia, for the same reasons as Cappadocia. Beginning partway through my time in the capital city of Tbilisi, I’ve currently got a 6-day rental on the books for $451.75, covered with 90,400 TD Rewards points.
As for activities, I booked my Cappadocia balloon ride early, with Butterfly Balloons at TJ’s recommendation. I was able to get a spot on my second of four mornings, with ample wiggle room in case my flight gets pushed back due to weather.
Otherwise, I’ve still got some stuff to figure out. I’ll probably commit to a Burj Khalifa visit in the coming hours. Beyond that, we’ll see where the road takes me!
My trip to Colombia earlier this year was my first major post-pandemic trip. It was my revenge as a traveller. It was a big step, something I needed.
This trip has a bit of a different flavour. As my first major aspirational travel experience on points, not to mention a rather complex puzzle with all the dominos falling in the right way, this is my revenge as a points collector. It’s a big step, something I wanted.
Before, I was very mindful to put myself where I felt I needed to be. This time, I’ve picked some things that I’d like to see, and I’m approaching the trip with a lighter, more open-ended and frivolous attitude. I’m very excited to be trying new things, just because I can, all thanks to the power of Miles & Points!