Bling it on: Introduction

I made the decision to move to Seattle at the very beginning of October, right as a beautiful Seattle summer was coming to an end. Everyone raves about Seattle summers, and justifiably so. Maybe my decision to move there was a bit rash, given that the weather has been dreadful ever since I’ve moved here. Don’t get me wrong, I love almost everything else about the city, so don’t for a second regret the move.

A friend had their winter break and I knew I wanted to go somewhere warm, so it was just a function of figuring out where we could go. The major challenge, of course, is that everyone wants to go somewhere warm over the holidays, so that’s not an especially easy task. That’s why I planned the trip only a couple of days before departure, as the airlines began to open up their unsold premium cabin seats for awards.

Anyway, one thing at play in my decision making process was that I had a British Airways companion certificate expiring (from spending $30,000 on the Chase British Airways Visa a couple of years ago) early next year, and I wanted to redeem it rather than letting it expire. The catch with those certificates is that they’re only valid for travel on British Airways, and British Airways imposes massive fuel surcharges on award redemptions. So while I didn’t want the certificate to expire, I also wasn’t looking forward to paying over $1,000 per person in taxes, fees, fuel surcharges.

After carefully considering destinations I narrowed it down to South Africa and the UAE. I had found good outbound options to South Africa, though nothing good on the return, and that was too risky for me, since it’s peak season in South Africa.

Meanwhile I could find availability in both directions in British Airways first class to the UAE, so I decided that might be a good idea. I was fascinated by Dubai when I was there last year (despite being sick), and was eager to check out Saadiyat Island, a brand new part of Abu Dhabi with great beaches and some new luxury hotels (including a Park Hyatt and St. Regis). So I booked that itinerary, which looked as follows:

On one hand I felt good about using the companion certificate given that I managed to book a longhaul roundtrip using a British Airways companion certificate, but then it kind of dawned on me that paying 135,000 Avios plus ~$1,550 per person isn’t much of a “deal.”

After giving it some thought I decided I’d rather just use the companion certificate for the outbound, which wouldn’t make me feel as if the certificate was totally “wasted,” and also would cut the mileage and fuel surcharges in half. Furthermore after trying to plan an itinerary I decided four days just wasn’t enough in the UAE, so pursued alternate returns using other miles.

Unfortunately canceling the return wasn’t easy, given that British Airways technically requires companion certificates to be used for roundtrip itineraries (even though the website will let you use them for one-ways). Fortunately I found an agent willing to make a “one time exception.”

Surprisingly enough, Etihad Airways had first class award space from Abu Dhabi to New York for the 20th in first class, with a connection to Vancouver in Cathay Pacific first class. It cost 90,000 American AAdvantage miles per person, plus only about $40 per person in taxes.

So in the end our ticketed itinerary looked as follows:

12/11 British Airways 48 Seattle to London departing at 6:10PM and arriving at 11:20AM (+1 day)
12/12 British Airways 105 London to Dubai departing at 8:35PM and arriving at 7:45AM (+1 day)
12/20 Etihad 101 Abu Dhabi to New York departing at 10:30AM and arriving at 4:30PM
12/20 Cathay Pacific 889 New York to Vancouver departing at 10:00PM and arriving at 12:55AM (+1 day)

That would allow us to experience three longhaul first class products, and we even accidentally snuck in a fourth product — Emirates first class — as I’ll cover during the trip report.

As far as the hotels go, we decided to spend the first two nights in Dubai. Last time I was in Dubai I stayed at the Park Hyatt, which I loved, though for the sake of reviewing new properties I decided to stay somewhere else. I had heard good things about the Grosvenor House, which is considered to be the best Starwood property in Dubai. Best of all it was downgraded from a category six to category five Starwood property this year, so at just 4,800 Starpoints plus $90 through the “cash & points” program it was a great deal.

Then I figured we’d spend three nights on Saadiyat Island, since I wanted to try both the Park Hyatt and St. Regis. I planned on spending two nights at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, which I toured last year, and it was available for either 18,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points or 1,000AED (~$270USD) per night. Usually I don’t like spending that much on hotels, though I had an expiring Diamond suite upgrade (which can only be used on paid stays) and could book through Virtuoso, which got us a free lunch for two. Therefore it seemed like the better option to book a paid stay.

The St. Regis Abu Dhabi was available on “cash & points” for just 4,800 Starpoints plus $90 per night, so that seemed like a no brainer compared to the paid rate of $300USD+ per night.

I had some expiring Jetsetter credit (some of y’all may recall the fiasco from earlier in the year), so looked at which properties they had in the UAE. As it turned out they had the Qasr Al Sarab, a desert resort which looked pretty awesome. We decided to book that for our last two nights.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I’ll try to post the installments of this trip report pretty quickly. If you’re impatient and dying for more (all one of you), feel free to check out these posts that were written “live” during the planning process and trip:

To companion certificate or not to companion certificate, that is the question…
Tickets booked using British Airways companion certificate, and I ignore everything I learned in my college economics class
Is British Airways first class the world’s best business class product?
The story behind how I ended up in Emirates Airbus 380 first class…
The most, gaudy, obnoxious, and awesome f*&^$&# flight of my life!
Bling it on, Burj Al Arab!
Hello from the Park Hyatt Saadiyat Island!
Is the UAE the most depressing place in the world?
Where am I?
Sunset in the desert — doesn’t get much better than this!
One of the funnest things I’ve ever done!
My impressions after 15 hours of Etihad…
The (mis)adventures of a 90 minute hotel stay…

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the report! As always, feel free to share your comments or questions below.

Filed Under: American, Awards
  1. For as much as you complain about seattle for only being there for a short time I really think you should leave. Being from there and now living in a number of other places I’ve never heard anyone complain so much about the weather. If it so bad pack your bags and move on

  2. Didn’t know you could do etihad and Cathay in the same ticket! I thought after North American gateway it had to be AA.

  3. @ Romsdeals — Yep, as long as the overwater carrier publishes a fare between the city pairs (in this case Abu Dhabi and Vancouver), you can fly any partner airlines on the itinerary.

  4. @ Bob — Wrote the report about all the portions of the India trip except the Maldives. Not sure if it would even be interesting to read at this point, given that it has been 13 months. If it is would be happy to write a report to the best of my recollection once this report is done.

  5. @ Russ — You can hate the weather and still love a city. I love Seattle and the area and don’t regret moving, but I don’t think that means I have to love the weather 24/7. Please keep in mind I moved from Florida where it’s almost always warm and sunny, so it’s quite an adjustment. I’m sure I’ll be raving about the Seattle summers when the time comes too.

  6. Stick around Seattle, it’ll grow on you, kinda like moss. Well, it might actually be moss, but you’ll get used to that too. Uh, but seriously, coming from Florida to Seattle – you’ll need to suppliment with a high dose of Vitamin D.

  7. just curious (without meaning anything by this comment):

    how many days have you spent in seattle vs. outside since you moved there?

  8. i’d like to see your impressions from the maldives as well

    and while ti is your blog and you can write what you want, you do spend a lot of time complaining about the seattle weather

  9. I would definitely book a South Africa trip soon….I think you’d find it infinitely more interesting than UAE.

  10. And people still say Avios isn’t worthless… you can literally half the price of an award and it still wouldn’t be a great deal. if you’re looking for interesting routings you’re even more SOL.

  11. @ steve — I’ve been here about nine weeks, and have spent six of those here.

    @ John — Visited South Africa when I was younger and definitely want to return. But it’s also a trip I’d like to plan in advance as it’s not quite as easy to throw together last minute, in my opinion.

  12. Seattle is amazing, and it appears you know that already. Give it another sunny, warm summer and enjoy the hell outta it. That, and give it a rest on, for fear your crankier readers respond in the same way they did today.

    Aber ya – Maldives TR, bitte

  13. May I ask how to draw an itinerary map like you did on this post with departure from Seattle to JFK and then Middle East? It looks so concise and I would love to use on my next travel too.Thanks.

  14. You have a very lucky friend who got to enjoy this trip on their winter break!!

    About Seattle… I live in San Franciso area and love to take weekend trips to Seattle year round. They know I’m an out of towner when I use an umbrella in the rain when all the residents just pull up their hoodie. I still love my visits when it’s raining. Make sure to start visiting the restaurants by Tom Douglas and Ethan S.

  15. @ alan — Well my trip would be originating in the US, so I don’t think any limitation on fuel surcharges would apply. In doing a search fuel surcharges to Hong Kong seem just as high as any other destination.

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