NSPwife and I welcomed NSPpeanut into the world on July 14, 2015. As one can expect, she quickly earned her first set of “wings” on United, traveling from Washington Dulles to San Francisco when she was three months old. We decided to fly in economy, but purchase a seat for NSPpeanut. It turned out that she didn’t mind any part of the flight, napping for most of it, and being genuinely well behaved when she was awake. A guy sitting directly behind her gave me a high-five when we were getting off the plane and loudly declared: “best baby ever.” Although biased, we agree.
A couple weeks later she learned what it was like to fly as a “lap-baby” on her way from Baltimore to St. Louis, and then a month later did the same from Baltimore to Detroit. We decided to “lap-baby-it” from Baltimore to Aruba a couple days after New Years (a 3-for-1 flight, given we have a companion pass). The plane was 100% full on the way down, and 4 hours was a little much for NSPwife. On the way back there were extra seats, and the nice flight attendants didn’t take issue that we kept the baby in a car-seat in her own seat next to us. I luv Southwest.
During these fall travels, it became clear that if we were going to take our annual “big trip” in 2016, NSPpeanut would have to tag along. As we discussed places and options, we decided to take Asia out of the mix (we are still set on returning to Thailand, and visiting Malaysia and Japan in the near future). We wanted a mix of relaxation and adventure, all that would be baby-appropriate. As we had hundreds of thousands of Alaskan Airlines miles burning holes in our accounts, that left the best use of those miles for Australia or a trip on Emirates (taking out Cathay Pacific). Both NSPwife and I have been to Australia, so we started to look into maximizing our trips should we take Emirates. In first class.
The flight from Dallas to Dubai is 8,040 miles (just shy of 15 hours in the air). While nice, when you are on an A380 decked out with a shower and bar, you want to maximize that time. We decided to head down to Cape Town, adding Dubai as just a stopover. Unfortunately, we could not find a single flight with award ticket availability from Dubai to Cape Town! After some additional research, we found that we could fly from Dubai to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar – another 3,000 miles and seven hours with the ability to drink Dom and shower at 38,000 feet. The beauty of this ticket is that by using Alaskan Airlines miles, the ticket in first class cost 100,000 miles from the US to Mauritius – and the 2-day stopover in Dubai cost no extra miles.
On our honeymoon, NSPwife and I stayed a night at Al Maha. It was by far the nicest place we’ve ever stayed, and at the time made a commitment to each other that we had to return within five years. 18-months later and we’d be back watching the sun set over an endless sea of sand in a remote desert near Oman. Pure euphoria. At 60,000 points per night, this is not a cheap award; however, for the past two years SPG held a “fall promo” that discounted the rooms to 39,000 points. We speculatively booked at 60,000 and hoped for the best. A month before our stay, I received the much anticipated email. 15 minutes later, we were booked for 39,000 points per night.
There was, however, an extraneous factor at play on this trip. NSPpeanut, our 15-month old baby. And when researching “lap-babies” on the Google machine, we found out that on most international itineraries, an infant fare is charged at 10% of the adult fare. At $22,000, a lap-baby would still cost over $2,000 to sit with us in First Class!
In addition, Al Maha does not allow in anyone under 21 years old. So, we had to make a decision (and remember, NSPwife was clear that NSPpeanut was NOT staying in the U.S.). Ultimately, we decided to bring along one of NSPpeanut’s babysitters. So were all four of us going to be in First Class on Emirates? 100,000 miles for a 15-month old? No thanks. The babysitter and NSPpeanut were riding in the back, but we did get each of them their own seat, and made sure to book a bassinet seat. In Dubai, we booked a room at the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates. We did this for a couple reasons. First, using the Starwood Business Card for the reservation, it gives access to the lounge, which is nice in the morning and during happy hour for the babysitter to get a much needed glass of wine. Second, the mall can certainly entertain a 15-month toddler for 2 days. There are plenty of stores, entertainment and, of course, penguins! Most importantly though is McDonald’s. NSPpeanut lives on chicken nuggets, and we knew she would be happy as a clam strolling around a mall watching penguins and people, while munching on her chicken nuggets.
So queue up our next stop. The original goal was to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, on the same ticket. So on to Plan B. I didn’t know much about Mauritius at the time; however, after researching the island, it was immediately clear that it was a place we wanted to visit. 18 months ago we visited the Maldives, and adding a trip to a 2nd island in the Indian Ocean seemed like a pretty great idea. And boy did the research of the island back it up. Amazing beaches. Great tourist sites. Great infrastructure. It was a no-brainer. Throw in the fact that the Hilton Resort & Spa was only 40,000 points/night, and accommodations would be easy (particularly given one room could have a Gold guest and the 2nd room a Diamond guest…maybe there would be a chance for an upgrade?!?!).
The interesting thing about Mauritius is the complete lack of daily airplane service to/from the island. So at that point our hands were essentially dealt. Arrive on a Wednesday and depart on a Saturday. We opted for a late flight on Saturday to arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa. Given the current safety concerns with J-burg, we decided to stay at the Intercontinental Airport Hotel. 2 annual certificates from the IHG credit card made this $75/night (due to annual fee) a fairly worthwhile redemption. And the following morning we would make our way to Cape Town via South African Airways. Given this last flight would be a “domestic flight” – NSPpeanut could lap-baby it up. A few days in Cape Town, followed by the craziest of all return flight plans, and we would finalize our trip.
What is this crazy return flight? Cape Town > Doha > JFK > DCA. Ouch. Given the painfulness of 11,000 miles in just over 24 hours, we splurged and got NSPpeanut her own Business Class seat. Here’s to hoping we get a little bit of sleep…
Wrapping up, planning was fairly straight-forward:
1) Emirates A380 required
2) Maximize #1 by adding a segment…Mauritius it was!
3) British Airways Avios to get to Johannesburg
4) South African Airways ($70/ticket) to get to Cape Town
5) Qatar Airways, via American Airlines miles, to get home
Overall, airline costs for 4 people wound up costing $646.24 in total, hotels $650.50, and other costs – mostly food & drink, and good food & drink at that, $1,210.00.
An 11-day vacation, showering on planes, drinking 2006 Dom Perignon, 1986 Ducru Beaucaillou Bordeaux, 5-star private villas with private pools, spanning three continents and ALL IN costs for FOUR people: $2,500. Not bad.
Only one minor hiccup. About 7 months after booking the trip, Emirates pulled the A380 out of Dallas. WHAT?! NO SHOWER ON A PLANE?? THE HORROR. Luckily, Alaska Airlines allows one free change to award tickets, and there just happened to be availability on the new Washington D.C. > Dubai route, ON AN A380. While this cut almost two hours of flight time, it also saved us from having to make our way to Dallas, saving both time and money. In the end, a great – and lucky – change.
Let the games begin…