Trip Introduction: The United Arab Emirates Empty Quarter, Doha, Qatar and Huvadhoo Atoll Maldives via United and Etihad Airlines

Trip Introduction: The United Arab Emirates Empty Quarter, Doha Qatar and Huvadhoo Atoll, Maldives via United Airlines and Etihad Airways

Trip Planning:

In the summer of 2012, it came time to plan the next adventure. Our Star Alliance Around the World in First Class was a terrific, but a busy experience. We were looking for something a little more relaxing. In doing so, we ended up finding some pretty neat spots.

Ever since Ms WorldTraveller73 saw the Hollywood Movie: “Sex in the City 2”, it was decided that for this indulgent experience, we would be headed to Abu Dhabi. For those not familiar with the plot line of this sequel, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) takes her girlfriends to Abu Dhabi on a free “first class” public relations trip. In the movie, the girls experienced the best of what the materialistic Middle East has to offer; champagne, complimentary massages and sunset camel rides. The trip promised glamour and excitement, if it was to be experienced anything like the Hollywood adaptation. With that, we decided on the United Arab Emirates, with a side trip to a beach-y destination. 

Unfortunately, this simple goal created a world of problems. 

As Canadian Passport holders, at the time we travelled, the UAE was not friendly to us as a result of an government relationship between the UAE and Canada that had gone wrong; primarily as a result of poor handling of fifth freedom rights resulting from Emirates desire to fly their flag carrier aircraft between Toronto, the United Arab Emirates and other parts of Canada. These relations led, in part, to the expulsion of the Canadian Forces presence at Camp Mirage, a military base in the UAE in the Canadian efforts of staging toward Afghanistan. It also led to a single entry UAE Visa Fee of an outrageous $250 per single entry through the Ottawa UAE Embassy. This meant that a side trip from the UAE would have cost us 4 X $250 = $1,000 in visa fees. If we flew in and out on Emirates or Ethiad carriers, we would be eligible for a subsidized visa fee of between $80 – $100 per entry. Although there were some hotels that were willing to sponsor guests, a large ($1,200 USD per person) credit card deposit would have to be left with them, to be refunded after faxing in a UAE exit stamp. The whole process sounded unnecessarily complicated and stressful waiting for refunds.

We decided that the work around was to travel to the UAE on United for the 100% Redeemable and Elite Qualifying Miles and the 50% Aeroplan tier bonus (since status miles have to come from somewhere), and land 1 hr away from the UAE in Doha, Qatar. We would then purchase a ticket to the Maldives on Ethiad / Emirates, with a stopover in the UAE, making us eligible for the subsidized visa. This way, we kept $850 of the $1,000 we would have needed and saved it toward accommodation later in the trip.  Etihad Airways offered a free stopover in the United Arab Emirates which made this a mostly easy work around.

I know many can suggest that there is no good reason to fly United Airlines to the Middle East when there are several fantastic and world renowned carriers that fly there; Qatar, Emirates, Ethiad. Regretfully, status miles for the year and a 50% EQM bonus had to come from somewhere, so we ended up sucking it up on one of United’s longest flights in it’s network. The flight fare was super competitive as there was heavy competition on this route. It’s a good thing we did as the flight occupied by many government contractors was discontinued a few years later, surrendering these skies to the Middle Eastern Three.

I’ve gone for lots of photos and details in this report, so you’ll need to settle in for a good read to make it to the end (27 posts). I found it hard to pick resorts in the Maldives since the hotel websites aren’t always truthful, and those that put up their own photos really helped with the decision making process.

The Routing:

The routing ended up looking like this. I pieced together reward availability by checking each segment individually and phoning in to give the call centre the exact flights I wanted. There were no issues with this when I booked and we were confirmed after some manual ticketing labour.

The routing was travelling westward and looked like

  • YVR-SFO-IAD-DXB-DOH (United Airlines ticket – paid)
  • DOH-AUH (Etihad Airlines – paid)
  • AUH-MLE (Etihad Airlines – paid)
  • MLE-KDM-GKK-MLE (Maldivian Airlines – arranged by hotel)
  • MLE-AUH-DOH (Etihad Airlines – paid)
  • DOH-DXB-IAD-LAX-YVR (United Airlines – paid)
Our three round trips combined into one map

I hope you’ll join us on another adventure on one of my more favourite trips that I’ve ever done!

This post is one chapter in our trip to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the Maldives on United Airlines and Etihad Airways. This trip was booked and credited to Aeroplan and Etihad Preferred Guest. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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