This is a prelude to my upcoming trip on Etihad Airways. While I have already flown three times already with them, I will try to cover in less detail and do a kind of video trip report instead.
However i just wanted to share what caused me to fly with them again and the ordeal it has been trying to plan a trip via Dubai on two seperate tickets while trying not to obtain any transit visas.
I had points expiring with Emirates Skywards in April this year. Since I had to fly out in Jan/Feb this year to Karachi, I was looking to get to Dubai using my Aeroplan points (which do not expire unless they remain inactive for seven years, I believe) and then use my Emirates Skywards points to fly Dubai to Karachi.
Since the past two years or so, Canadian nationals are required to obtain visas on arrival in Dubai. The facility of 96 hours transit visas is made possible only on arrival through Marhaba services but must be booked with a hotel accomodation at a cost of ( AED 450 for every 24 hours in transit, and additional AED 190 for processing of the visa on arrival) Booking in advance can be also be made by using Marhaba's online services www.marhabaservices.com.
At the same time Marhaba also provides baggage assitance service for those who are unable to leave the airport and unable to clear immigration while having to transfer in transit from one terminal to the other as I believe T1 and T3 are connected (AED 300 I believe)
I had been checking with Aeroplan for flights to Dubai and some very interesting options came up including ET's 787 service from YYZ to ADD and onwards to DXB. Other inbound flights included UA the cheapest and other Star Alliance carriers like LH, AU to DXB.
On the other hand with Emirates 5 times daily flight to KHI from DXB getting a seat on those sectors seemed like a no brainer hopefully by using Skywards points and cash to buy a fare (or so I thought)
YYZ-DXB-YYZ with Air Canada's Aeroplan
Aeroplan had flights to DXB for 80K, whereas my account had only 68K which meant buying miles for another $480 something and then paying the balance of taxes, fees etc which still made my flights on ET and UA very affordable. Flights on LH, AC were super expensive and a clear difference of some hundreds of $$$. I had read on FT that these carriers scoop a lot of dough out of you when booking with AC points. The cost of flying ET and UA to and from YYZ to DXB was working out to a mere hundreds of dollars, excluding the cost to buy the additonal points. I know I was boasting to my friend I could go to Dubai and back in less than CAD 200!!
DXB-KHI-DXB with Emirates Skywards
Emirates Skywards of 16K were not enough to go to KHI and when buying points to get to the required 24K or more, I would actually have landed up paying more for the points than actually buying a full fare ticket for around $260 compared to the overall cost of buying points for a total of $380-420 or something close to it. So it was decided to buy a full fare ticket DXB-KHI-DXB and then upgrade one way with the 16K points to J class. Again J class is not guranteed until the very last minute which could even be 24 hours before departure.
Flying with Ethiopian though the fact they have just two flights a week ex-YYZ made it quite a risk factor considering should the flight go tech or delayed (common with ET), I would lose a number of days between the flights. So that was in the bin, though flying on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would have been incredible.
Also up for grabs were flights with TK which would have allowed me a new carrier, not forgetting the incredible 777!! Also flying with UA DXB-IAD would have allowed me to compare the service on an American carrier after having flown with the middle eastern carriers on this route quite a bit.
PS: I could have gone directly to KHI with Aeroplan but that required 100K, but the flights were just awesome with a round the world route such as TK (YYZ-IST-KHI), TG (KHI-BKK-NRT), NH (NRT-SFO or CHI or JFK) and AC (SFO or CHI or JFK to YYZ) Woo hoo!! But I will leave that for another time. There was also the SQ A380 option on the (NRT-SFO) route but that disappeared as the months got closer. TG's BKK-NRT or BKK-HKG were on the A380!!!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I LAND IN DUBAI
With the carriers set into place, I decided to look around the options of transitting through Dubai without a visa. (However to obtain a 96 hour transit visa one needs to be have a transit time of at least 8 hours to a maximum of 96 hours).
1) First a call was made to Emirates who very kindly told me that since I was travelling on two seperate tickets I would need a visa to travel to Dubai. and they would not be able to do it as I was on two seperate tickets. (Emirates arranges transit visas when travelling on EK via Dubai, all the flights need to be on EK to avail their transit visa booking facilities).
2) I decided to email Marhaba who very promptly replied to my query by offering details on their 96 hour transit visa package. AED 450/- (24hrs with 03star single room with complimentary hotel pickup/drop-off, subject to availability). Please bear in mind the AED 450 is for every 24 hours, so should you decide to stay the entire 96 hours it is four times the AED 450/-...Insane!!!
I sent them another email asking about the transfer of bags between terminals and if they would do it (that is when I was informed they do it for a fee). However I broached the subject of not arriving without a visa and I got no response, so I decided to call them directly and when I mentioned the fact the flights out of and into Dubai were with Emirates they said the airline would do it for free!! So then I do not need a visa for Dubai...YAAY!! How nice Emirates would take care of my bags when I land in Dubai and put it on the Emirates flight to Karachi and when I arrive back from Karachi , Emirates will put my bags onto my Star Alliance flight....Finally I was getting somewhere!!
3) I called Emirates to confirm and let them know that Marhaba had informed me of the fact they would assist with my bags between terminals, while I continue to remain in transit and I was told that Emirates will only transfer bags on the outward journey, but when I land back in Dubai with the inbound flight from KHI to connect to my Star Alliance carrier, I would need to get my own bags... WHAT!! So then that meant I would need to apply for a visa to get to my bags, and even pay for a hotel booking just so that I can get to my bags. This meant with neither Emirates nor Marhaba handling my bags when I get back to Dubai on the return to Toronto I would need to fend for myself.
4) Left completely confused with the feedback received, that is Marhaba would not touch the bags since they were EK's and that EK would not touch my bags when I flew back to Dubai I scrapped the entire idea to fly with Aeroplan points to get to Dubai and decided to look into getting there with EK directly while still keeping the upgrade on one sector. While the flights on Aeroplan and Skywards seemed reasonably priced, the cost of hotel accomodation and visa only increased things and made it not worth the while to pay that much when I could just go with Emirates directly via Dubai, and save my 68K Aeroplan points for another time.
5) In a futile attempt to really find out about the travel to Dubai on two seperate tickets via Dubai, I called up the Canadian Foreign service hotline (I think that is what they are called) and even the person at the other end had no clue about travelling to Dubai and staying in Transit without a visa. He suggested I call the UAE consulate in Ottawa. Calling them lead to calling extensions where nobody picked up. A frantic call by hitting the 0 button to reach reception only gave a message the recepients mailbox was full....that was the last straw...I decided to just drop the whole idea of trying to travel on points. Aghh!!
Yes I know booking the transit visa would have helped but my main purpose was to travel to Dubai without doing so and just going "cheaply" with my Aeroplan and Skywards points. It is just amazing how much conflicting information was provided by all parties, that even they don't have a clue....
And that is not all....even when you get there the visa is upon the discretion of the Immigration officer....Go figure!!!
NOW THAT I HAVE FIGURED OUT TWO SEPERATE TICKETS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA
1) So I searched and searched for days and jumped at the idea of a CAD 1575 YYZ-DXB-KHI-DXB-KHI which would take me on the might A380 to and from Toronto, while I would enjoy the upgrade on preferably the outbound flight so I could relax in the Business class lounge in Dubai.
2) Before booking the trip I decided to call Emirates and find out about J class availability on the DXB-KHI sector. No point booking the trip if J was not available at all. Only one flight the third EK flight of the day out of Dubai for Karachi at 0940 had seats, which meant I would have at least a 14 hours stopover in DXB as opposed to the 6 hours had I to get a J class seat on the flight on the red eye at 0130 after arriving into Dubai from Toronto at 1920. Bummer!
3) I decided to check Etihad at the same time and a fare of CAD 1390 showed up...wow!! Having already flown with EY three times already I was a bit more inclined to go with EK due to the A380 and of course the J class upgrade, but the dreaded 14 hour stopover was just too much. I took a day to think about what I wanted to do.
WHICH ITINARARY GAVE ME MORE DAYS IN KARACHI
I had to work within a tight two week time frame due to personal reasons. This meant I had to leave Toronto on a Sat/Sun and arrive back on a Sat/Sun two weeks later.
Emirates flies out of YYZ on Mon, Wed, & Fri. This meant the first option out was on a Monday night which meant arriving into KHI on a Wed early morning. And then leaving the following week on a Friday to get back the same day while still being away for just two weeks. Flights back to Toronto leave on Mon, Wed and Fri at 0520. Total days in Karachi would be 9 days. Besides the upgrade was never guaranteed and which was one of the main reasons to fly with Emirates.
Etihad flies out Sat, Tue, Thus. Excellent as departing on a Sat night works out just right for me. The return journeys out of Karachi are on Sat, Tue and Thus as well, at 0530 arriving the same day into YYZ. Total days in Karachi would be 12 days and for around CAD 160 less than Emirates (not taking into account the upgrade)
So it was a no brainer than EY was the clear winner here!! Yes I have missed out flying on the A380 but EY's 77Ws are a joy to ride on!!And so it is that I depart with EY in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for a trip report with them. I will try to do a video trip report as so many are doing it on here.
I've just come to understand that the new EK A380 terminal is going to open soon in Dubai....oh well, it is the extra days I need back home which of priority now, I can always fly EK and the A380 some other time.
So have I lost my Skywards points...No I haven't. I've ordered something for my mum from the Emirates High Street online store!! I am sure the sacrifice of the J class upgrade would be over in an hour and a half but my mum will wear her earrings and pendants happily !!