22 Hours in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

We arrived in Abu Dhabi from Doha at 6:00 pm. Immigration was a breeze and we were out of the airport in no time. The United Arab Emirates has a Visa-on-Arrival free of charge for citizens of the United States. We exchanged $20 at the airport money exchange so we could buy our bus tickets. We usually try to exchange just enough at the airport to get us to our destination and then exchange more once we’re there. Typically, the airport offers the worst exchange rates and charge a commission because people have to get some out there.

As easy as the Doha bus system was, the Abu Dhabi one was equally as difficult. We had a tough time figuring out exactly what we were supposed to do after the first bus declined our entry with cash. We talked to a guy that told us to get a ticket inside. Then we talked to the information inside to see where to get a bus ticket and she sent us back outside and around and around we went. Finally, thanks to great wifi at the airport, we figured out that we needed to get a prepaid bus ticket with a fixed amount of United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) on it.

We bought the tickets for 20 AED each and then had to wait for the next bus. It said they come every 20 minutes, but that was not to be the case. We were looking for the A1 bus that takes us into town. One drove by and we tried to wave it down, but it just kept on going. A random guy told us it would be back. So we waited. And waited. Luckily, there were AC bus stands there. Finally, we hopped on the bus and we were on our way.

We didn’t know exactly what bus stop to get off at (which would be a problem the next day), but we did know the bus would take us close to the Holiday Inn that we were staying at.

We overhead a young guy speaking English we could understand so I struck up a conversation with him and showed him my map on my phone. He explained where to get off and we were fairly confident we were going to be good to go at this point. The bus stop ended up being only about 100 yards from our hotel and we quickly checked in, received an upgrade into a massive room with a decent view thanks to our IHG status, and got ready to explore.

We headed out of our hotel into the direction of the Corniche along the bay in search of food. We were really hoping to find some kind of local food, but were unable to track any down. Our choices ended up being KFC, McDonalds, and a pizza place. We decided on Donalds. We got a few things off the value menu and each got an ice cream cone for $9.92.

After dinner, we continued walking towards the Corniche. Once we got there, a divided four lane stood in our way. We looked both ways and couldn’t find anywhere to cross. We ended up finding a break  in the fence that separated the road and, once again, participated in a friendly game of Frogger to cross the road.

The Corniche provided us with a view of the skyline and a decent breeze to help cool us off. It was late at this point, but still 1,000 degrees.

The skyline wasn’t nearly as impressive as we had hoped and the same could be said about the city in general. We didn’t make it down to the Emirates though, which is probably the most intriguing set of skyscrapers that make up the skyline.

We found an underground crosswalk on our walk and headed back for the hotel. Since breakfast was not included, a huge bummer after our amazing breakfast in Doha, we decided to stop at a fruit shop to pick up a few things for breakfast. We got bananas and apples for $2.14 and then headed back for the night.

The next day was interesting. We didn’t have that much time because our flight left at 2:00 pm and the airport was a decent ways away and we were planning to take the bus again.

Our one sight for the day was to be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I looked up the buses that would take us in that direction and we headed out. We walked to the nearest cross street to have a better selection of buses to take. We waited for a few minutes and one of the buses showed up, but it was full. Or so we thought. People began piling in and we followed suit. There was a pretty obvious division of women in the front and men in the back. We stood right at the cutoff point so Skye was with the women, I was with the men, but we were still right next to eachother. We weren’t sure if it would have been rude otherwise.

The bus was a far cry from Doha. We never had more than a few people on the bus with us there, but this was packed and continued to get even tighter with every stop. As we started to get further from the city center and closer to the Grand Mosque, it started to thin out a bit.

This is when things went terribly wrong. I read online that we should get off a decent walk before the mosque, but I wasn’t sure of the name of the bus stop. There was a screen at the front of the bus with the names of the stops and eventually Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque appeared. It said it was the next one and we could see the mosque so we felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the bus drove straight by the mosque and kept going and going and going right on to the highway. Now we were nervous. The next bus stop was literally on the highway and we had to hop off there.

After a quick argument brought on by not knowing what to do while stranded on the highway a solid mile and a half from our destination in 110 degree weather with our flight leaving relatively soon, a cab drove by and we flagged him down. The fare ended up being about 20 AED and the fare from our hotel would have been about 30 AED. We probably should have just taken a cab to begin with, but this sure was an eventful experience.

We toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque free of charge and it was absolutely stunning. It made the hassle of getting there completely worth it. Skye had to put on a traditional black burka to make sure she was covered from head to toe, as is their culture, and she brought a scarf to put over her head.

After touring the mosque, we decided to not play around with the bus as we were short on time and hopped in a cab back to the hotel for 30 AED. We had a woman driver and apparently I wouldn’t have been allowed to take the cab by myself, but since Skye was with me, it was allowed.

I exchanged a little more money at the hotel so I could pay the fare and Skye went upstairs to pack. I called an Uber on my phone and was lucky to find a promotional code from Google Maps that covered the entire fare to the airport.

We got to the airport in plenty of time, got through security quickly, and waited at our gate while texting Emily to prepare for our meetup in Delhi. Little did we know, the next 24 hours would be one of our craziest travel experiences to date.

23 Hours in Doha, Qatar

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.

Points Recap:

  • 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

Price Recap:

  • $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

Total:

  • $85.01 for 23 hours in Doha
  • 10,000 points for hotel
  • 0 extra points for flight


  
  
  
  

Top Credit Card Bonuses

There are some phenomenal credit card signup bonuses right now. If you’re waiting to get in on the credit card game, now just might be the time. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, keep reading and ask some questions. I’d love to help you experience the joy of frugal travel just like us.

Top Current Bonuses

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) bonus offer is at 50,000 (normally 40,000) Chase Ultimate Rewards for signing up and spending $4,000 in the first 3 months and an additional 5,000 CUR when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase. That’s at least 59,000 CUR points after you meet the minimum spend. CSP offers 2x points on travel and dining, zero foreign transaction fees, and transfers to a number of airlines such as United, Southwest, and British Airways and hotels such as Hyatt and Marriott.

We transferred CUR to United MileagePlus and spent 47,500 points per round trip ticket that included a free stopover in the Dominican and free layovers in Panama City and San Salvador on our way to Costa Rica over winter break.

There’s also a great refer-a-friend bonus right now so I can receive 10,000 bonus CUR if you allow me to refer you. You win! I win! Contact me about this deal now!

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card

The Marriott Rewards bonus offer is at 80,000 points (normally 50,000) for signing up and spending $3,000 in the first 3 months and an additional 7,500 bonus points after you add an authorized user and make a purchase. That’s 90,500 points after you meet the minimum spend. They also offer one free night stay every year on your account anniversary.

This is the bonus we are working on right now. We will be using 10,000 (only 1/9 of our bonus) on a stay at the Marriott Marquis City Center Doha Hotel in Qatar on our way to India this summer. That’s a $220 room for free and only using a fraction of the points we’ll earn from this.

The refer-a-friend bonus is teeny tiny at this point, but every little bit counts. If you’re interested, let’s talk.

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Marriott Marquis City Center Doha Hotel

British Airways Visa Signature Card

The British Airways (BA) bonus is at 50,000, 75,000, or 100,000 Avios. The standard bonus is 50,000 Avios for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. That’s the current 50,000 bonus right now. However, there are two additional bonuses at this time. If you spend another $8,000 in the first year ($10,000 total), you’ll earn 25,000 more bonus Avios. If you are able to put $20,000 total on the card in the first year, you’ll earn another 25,000 bonus Avios. That’s a total of 52,000 Avios for $2,000 in spend, 85,000 Avios for $10,000 in spend, and 120,000 Avios for $20,000 in spend. Even if you only reach the $2,000 in spend, it’s completely worth it right now.

My sister is planning on opening this card for our trip this summer. We’ll be using 9,500 British Avios (BA)/per person to get from India to the Maldives and another 4,500 BA to get from the Maldives to Sri Lanka. We’ll be paying her back with some nice hotel stays using our Marriott Rewards from above.

BA is well known for incredible short-haul flights in the United States for only 7,500 Avios. You can also get across the pond, from Boston to London for example, for as little as 13,000 Avios.

I can’t find any refer-a-friend for the BA Visa Signature Card, but would still love to chat about the benefits if you’re interested.

CITI / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard

The current offer is 50,000 AAdvantage points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. AAdvantage points are good for flights on American Airlines and their OneWorld partners such as British Airways, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Cathay Pacific as well as other partners such as Etihad Airways, Alaska Airlines, and Jet Airways.

I opened this card last year and Skye recently opened it as well. We will be traveling to India with free 23 hour layovers in Doha and Abu Dhabi with AAdvantage points on Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Cards To Keep An Eye On

IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

The current signup bonus is 60,000 points. That’s enough for 12 free nights with their amazing PointBreaks promotion. However, it’ll probably be more like 3-6 free nights at one of their standard rates depending on location and property. There’s a $0 intro annual fee and $49 a year after that. The annual fee is offset with an annual free night every year. For the $49 annual fee, you could stay at some amazing InterContinental or Crowne Plaza locations such as Washington DC, Times Square NYC, Paris, and Hong Kong.

The 60,000 bonus points is well worth it, but the offer can get up to 80,000 points. As soon as the offer climbs to 80,000 points, we’ll be opening up at least one of these.

Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom has a ton of value. It’s the little brother to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The current bonus is 15,000 CUR + 2,500 CUR for adding an authorized user for only $500 in spend in the first three months. The top bonus I’ve seen, and the one we took advantage of last year, is 20,000 CUR + 5,000 CUR. When this offer shows up again, hop on it right away.

The Chase Freedom has no annual fee (ever), which makes it a great card to keep for years to build up your “Average Age of Credit” to improve your credit score. It’s important to pair this with the CSP because you can’t transfer CUR to their partners with only the Freedom. You will need a CSP to do that.

Please feel free to ask any questions. Which card interests you the most? Chase Freedom or Sapphire Preferred? British Airways? AAdvantage? IHG? Marriott?

IHG Rewards Club and MasterCard Priceless Surprises

This is an incredible offer to earn at least 47,000 points for a few hours of work and $49 for stamps and supplies. IHG and MasterCard have come together to offer this Priceless Surprises promotion with various prizes from a simple 500 bonus points to the trip of a lifetime in Paris, complete with airfare, hotel & car service. I have earned 500 points 79 times, 1K points 3 times, 2K points 1 time, and 5K points 1 time for 49,500 total points through 84 plays. Keep reading for step by step instructions on how to do this.

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What can 49,500 points get you? If you’re looking for luxury, a stay at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square is 50K points. However, a stay at a Candlewood Suites in Indianapolis or Holiday Inn Express in London, Ohio is only 10K points. If you combine this promotion with IHG PointBreaks, you can earn nearly 10 hotel stays. We are taking a road trip to Denver over Spring Break in April and are planning on utilizing this. There are a few possibilities for us to stay halfway such as the Holiday Inn Express in Vermillion, South Dakota for only 5K points. This hotel carries a $145 nightly price tag. For only 5,000 points of 49,500, I am already saving $96 ($145-$49) and could possibly get 9 more hotel stays for free!

I am also hopeful that the Summer 2016 PointBreaks will include properties in Doha, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, or Tokyo as we will have overnights in those four cities as we transit and explore the cities for 23 hours (reward miles trick) en route to other places. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get a stay at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi ($150/night or 35K points) or the famous InterContinental Hong Kong ($360/night or 50K points) for only 5,000 points.

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View from the Pool of the InterContinental Abu Dhabi
The main way to enter is to complete a qualifying stay at an IHG location, but once you look into the CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL RULES, you can enter without paying for anything except a postage stamp. In section 6. The Game: How to Enter part b. Mail in Alternate Method of Entry, it states that you can mail in up to 94 handwritten entries. That’s right, instead of paying ~$100 for a hotel stay, you can simply take 2-3 minutes of time to write in an entry to receive a promotional entry. And you can do this 94 times! The entries must be HANDWRITTEN, postmarked by February 15th, and received by February 22nd.

Step 1. You must have a MasterCard. This does NOT have to be an IHG branded MasterCard. I used my CITI AAdvantage MasterCard.

Step 2. Open up a FREE IHG Rewards Club account. If you ever stay at Holiday Inns or any other IHG hotel, you should have one of these anyway. Simply go to IHG.com and click on “Join” in the upper right hand corner by the IHG Rewards Club icon.

Step 3. Enter the IHG Rewards Club and MasterCard Priceless Surprises promotion. To do this, go to IHG Rewards Club Offers and click on Priceless Surprises Begin Here. Then, sign in using your IHG account. Now you’re ready!

Step 4. Fill out the entries. The entries must be handwritten on a 3×5 piece of paper and include a few pieces of information. I picked up 100 3×5 index cards at the Family Dollar for $0.65. I filled out 94 of them to get the maximum number of entries. The entries must include the following:

  • Full name
  • Complete mailing address
  • Day phone number
  • Night phone number
  • Valid email address
  • IHG member number
  • The first eight (8) digits of your MasterCard
  • Date of birth

Step 5. Fill out the envelopes. I bought two packs of 80 envelopes for $1 each. The entries must be handwritten, but the envelopes can be printed. I printed labels with our return address and addressed the envelopes to “IHG and MasterCard® Priceless Surprises® Promotion,” c/o HelloWorld, Inc., P.O. Box 5996, Kalamazoo, MI 49003-5996.

Step 6. Stamps! A roll of 100 stamps at Meijer cost $49. I considered buying stamps off eBay to save a few bucks, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to wait a few days for them to come in.

Step 7. Mail them in and wait. Within a week, I began receiving emails from IHG Rewards Club ePrize Promotions. I only received 1 to begin with, but the next day I received 83 more. I’m hopeful that I will still receive 10 more, but even if I don’t, I’m happy about my winnings and will be filling out 94 more entries for Skye later today.

Step 8. Click on the link in the email. Press play. Choose a floor on the elevator (1-6) and watch the elevator door open with your prize.

Note: You only have one unique link per account so you can continue clicking on the same link until all of your plays are up. You don’t need to click through each email. Also, some people have stated that they only receive one email, but can play multiple entries through the one email. This means continue playing until you get this picture…

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Do you plan on entering Priceless Surprises? How would you use ~50,000 points? What is the top IHG location that you’d like to see added to PointBreaks?