We were able to spend 23 hours in gorgeous Doha, Qatar at the Marriott Marquis City Center Hotel thanks to credit card points.
We booked our flight from Chicago O’Hare to New Delhi, India with intentional layovers in Doha, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. You are allowed a maximum of 23 hours and 59 minutes on a layover and you can really maximize that when booking with credit card points. I was able to find award space on flights arriving in Doha at 5pm and departing the next day at 4pm to Abu Dhabi.
Our last day of school was a half day on Friday, June 10 and our flight was leaving that same day. As soon as school got out, I grabbed a quick bite to eat with the teachers to say my good-byes and then grabbed a ride from a fellow teacher to my in-laws in Dansville (where we crashed for two days because we just sold our house.) We had most everything together so it was just putting the finishing touches on our bags for the upcoming 7 week trip. Then, we were very thankful to have my mom and sister drive us the four hours to Chicago O’Hare from Lansing.
We hopped on the plane at 7:45 cst bound for the Middle East. Our flight was full of food, movies, and not as much sleep as we would have hoped. When we arrived at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, we were delighted to find great A/C as well as fast and free wifi throughout the airport. We paid our 100 QAR ($27.47) each for a visa on arrival and immigration/customs was a breeze. We exchanged money at the airport at a rate of 3.225. This was well below the 3.64 rate thanks in large part to only exchanging $40 and a commission fee.
The bus system is phenomenal in Doha… or at least our experience with it. The buses never seemed to be overcrowded, were equipped with A/C, and ran frequent enough. It is bus 777 or “Triple 7” as our bus driver called it that takes you to and from the airport. We were the only ones on our bus from the airport and our driver gave us a little tour on our way pointing out the Museum of Islamic Art, Souq Waqif, and the Corniche, all of which we would visit during our time in Doha. We each bought a Karwa Smartcard 24 Unlimited that allows for unlimited trips for 24 hours. The cost was 30 Qatari Rials each, but I think our lovely bus driver overcharged us by 10 QAR each for a little tip for his guide services. After departing, there were signs at the bus stop that these are supposed to cost 20 QAR. It wasn’t the first time we gave a tip unknowingly and it definitely won’t be the last. This converts to $9.30 for the card and we still came out ahead compared to the taxis. The starting taxi fare from Hamad International Airport is 25 QAR.
The bus dropped us off at the City Center, which is a huge mall with two sets of towers at each end. The Marriott Marquis City Center is at one end and is where we would lay our heads for the night. We tried to make our way through the mall, but were turned away at several points after trying to go through a fire escape that had no signs and the most dank elevator I’ve ever ridden on. Eventually, we exited out through the car park below the mall and found our hotel.
The Marriott Marquis was phenomenal and an absolute steal for only 10,000 Marriott Rewards points. It’s normally 15,000 points, but it was discounted with their PointSavers promotion. We accumulated 89,500 points through a signup bonus with their co-branded card with Chase. It was 80,000 points to spend $2,000 (1 point/dollar too) in the first three months and a 7,500 bonus to add an authorized user. We also received an upgrade, had a great view on the 37th floor, and the most amazing breakfast buffet imaginable complete with a fresh juice bar and chocolate fountain.
We arrived during the holy month of Ramadan, a most interesting “holiday” celebrated by Muslims around the world. The hotel informed us that most everything is closed during the day so we would be better off exploring that night. We took our stuff upstairs, showered, and walked to the bus stop.
We hopped on the same 777 bus with the same driver, swiped our card, and took off for the Museum of Islamic Art. We had a short walk from the bus stop, got lost trying to find an underground walkway to cross the street, and finally played frogger to get across the street. The traffic had picked up from earlier in the day when people were avoiding the heat and, from what we heard, mostly staying at home for Ramadan.
We toured the MIA at a leisurely pace and tried to take in the different artifacts and as much information about the history of the pieces as possible. One of the most interesting pieces of art was the building itself, which looked like a pyramid made from huge blocks that sat right on the water overlooking the bay with the city skyline in the background. However, the amount of dust in the air disrupts the view across the bay. It was definitely worth the trip and is free to enter.
We played another game of frogger to get across the busy street and found our way to Souq Waqif. I was expecting an outdoor market, but it was more of a modern outdoor mall. We walked around to take in the sights of the many shopkeepers and Muslim women in burqas, sounds of languages we do not understand, and smell of houka from the outdoor bars. It is definitely worth a stroll if you find yourself in Doha.
We stopped to eat at a nice Lebanese place called Zaatar w Zeit. We would later find out that this is a chain restaurant across the Middle East. We ordered a falafel wrap and another traditional Lebanese dish called Manakeesh. We split both of them to maximize our taste buds. It was 37 QAR (approximately $11.50) for the meal.
We walked all the way through Souq Waqif and then navigated our way back to the road that followed the bay and the Corniche to pick up the bus. We found a bus stop sign on the ground next to a pole and hoped it was still in use. The bus came shortly after and we returned to our hotel. We went up to the pool that sat on the seventh floor of the main building with both towers reaching for the sky on either side.
We weren’t entirely certain that our stay came with breakfast because the normal breakfast place was closed in recognition of Ramadan so breakfast was moved to another restaurant and we never exactly understood what the hotel staff told us. Anyways, I woke up and went straight to the restaurant to determine if it was free. The staff said yes and I got a glimpse of the most beautiful breakfast buffet my eyes and nose have ever experienced.
I went back up to tell Skye the good news and we proceeded to gorge ourselves on as many tastes as our stomaches could handle. I got a glimpse of the price and it would have been a $75 breakfast for the two of us. Good thing it was included. And quite honestly, it might be worth that much. It was amazing.
I wanted to get a view of the skyline from the Corniche, but Skye wasn’t feeling the heat and wanted to blog so she stayed behind. I had planned on hopping on the bus to the Corniche, but en route to the bus stop, I decided to just walk and take in the sights and sounds. It was definitely hot, but the stroll was worth it. There are a number of very unique skyscrapers throughout the city and it was nice to get to see them up close. I took a different path home and discovered our hotel was much closer to the water than we thought.
We packed up, checked out, and grabbed the 76 bus back to the MIA and Souq Waqif bus stop. We wanted to grab a few pictures here in the daytime. After taking a break in the shade under a tree on the Corniche, we made it to the MIA. I spent as much time there as Skye’s heat tolerance would allow and then we grabbed the 777 bus back to the airport.
Good bye, Doha. Next stop, Abu Dhabi.
- 45,000 points/person for Chicago to New Delhi flight
- 0 extra points to stop in Doha
- 10,000 Marriott Rewards Points for hotel and amazing breakfast
- $27.47 VOA
- $27.47 VOA
- $9.30 Karwa Smartcard 24 Unlimited
- $9.30 Karwa Smartcard 24 Unlimited
- $11.47 Dinner at Zaatar w Zeit
- $85.01 for 23 hours in Doha
- 10,000 points for hotel
- 0 extra points for flight