Saturday, November 14, 2015

Making Dubai and Oman Cheap

We just returned from an awesome trip where we flew from Chicago and drove around the UAE and Oman for 11 days.  The people were friendly, the food was great, and the attractions were top-notch.  We loved our trip!

Lonely Planet recommends setting an absolute minimum of $200 aside, per day, for a two person trip to the UAE and Oman.  That would get most people a shared room in a guesthouse and self-catered food from the supermarket.

Mrs. TIL and I stayed in 5 star hotel suites, drank for free at open bars, ate gourmet meals, purchased souvenirs, and rode camels through the desert.  In the end, we did everything we wanted to do, in style, for $92 out of pocket per day -- all in.  Even with paid round trip flights from Chicago, we came in at a mere $129 per day for two people.

While a lot of this was made possible through points, we also took advantage of an ultra low airfare special and a number of deals at hotels.

  • We got an overnight hotel at O'Hare for just 5000 IHG points thanks to the IHG PointsBreaks promotion, and the hotel even provided us with an upgrade to a two room suite and snacks in the evening!  The hotel shuttle was quick and easy, and -- of course -- also provided as part of the room rate.
  • We booked two nights at the Radisson Blu Deira Creek in Dubai for 50,000 total Club Carlson points using the buy-one-get-one promotion that used to be attached to their credit card.  We were upgraded to a large room with a great view of the creek.  Now, a booking at the same hotel would be 70,000 points per night.  :(
  • We used 2000 Accor points, earned through an online promotion, to bring the price of a room at the Mercure Grand in Al Ain down to just $46/nt.
  • We used two Hyatt free night certificates, earned through credit card renewals, to book the super-expensive and super-fancy Grand Hyatt in Muscat.  For paying two $75 annual fees, we got a room for two nights worth almost $400 per night.
  • We used 30,000 IHG points for a night at the Crown Plaza Sohar.  This was a lot of points given the typical rates at this hotel, but we weren't disappointed -- they upgraded us to a massive two room suite on account of our Platinum Status (provided by the IHG credit card), and the service and amenities were top-notch!
  • We spent 39,000 SPG points for a night at the Al Maha (Luxury Collection), a hotel that was going for $2000+ per night.  The hotel was booked full the night of our stay, so we were lucky to get a room on points.  The experience was incredible, with activities and gourmet meals provided for our entire stay!
  • We got almost-free access (worth $100 per person) to airport lounges in Chicago and Abu Dhabi through the SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club.  After 14 hours of flying, a shower at the Admirals Club in Chicago was awesome!
  • We paid about $200 per person for round trip Etihad flights from Chicago to Abu Dhabi.  What a fare!
  • We paid about $90 per night for access to the club at the Radisson Blu in Dubai, which provided us with an extensive breakfast buffet each morning and a happy hour each evening.  Although they can be expensive, paid club room upgrades are becoming one of our favorite ways to save money on meals and drinks!
  • We paid $100 for a club room upgrade at the Grand Hyatt in Muscat, which provided us with a continental breakfast each morning and an extensive buffet and drinks each evening.  We saved ourselves the cost of breakfast and dinner for three days!  Plus, due to the kindness of the person who checked us in (and recovery from a minor service flaw), we also ended up in a two room suite with a guest bath, two balconies over the pool area, and a great view of the sea!
  • We got a third bed in the room free, almost every night, just by asking.  This allowed a friend to join us and take advantage of all the other amenities (club, buffets, etc.).
In addition, we utilized public transportation, ate at truck stops and small local restaurants, and kept admission and tour fees low by visiting inexpensive attractions.  Of course, we also splurged at Ski Dubai and bought a Gold Cappuccino at Emirates Palace, but the savings elsewhere allowed us to spend some money on these only-in-the-UAE experiences.

Hope this helps give some inspiration for your next trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed planning, and we had a blast on our trip!


  1. 39,000 Starwood points for one night. How are you accumulating enough Starwood points to make that spend worthwhile? (Just did a similar trip - Rad Blue Deira, Hyatt Muscat, etc, but chose the Ajman Saray, a Luxury Collection Resort, for 10,000 points rather than the Maha).

    1. We do not churn Starwood cards, but we do put all of our unbonused spend on our SPG Amex. We also take advantage of "refer a friend" bonuses when they're available, and most of our friends and family use the same card.

      In summary, the 39k was not easy to accumulate, but there are ways.