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Four Seasons, Taj Hotels, The Oberoi Group, Anantara. What’s common among these brands? They are what I like to call proper luxury hotel brands. Step aside Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton; you are not in the same league (except maybe a few properties). Singapore Airlines Suites. Emirates First Class. Again, proper airline products. Air Canada..who..what’s that? 😊
At this time last year, we went to the Maldives and UAE and stayed at some fantastic hotels and resorts. Taking advantage of covid availability at the time, the three of us flew Emirates First Class, Qatar QSuites, and relaxed at the St. Regis Maldives and Al Maha Resort, both now on my list of top global hotel properties.
This year is a little different; we kick it up a notch with four luxury hotels to stay at in Asia with an added touch of 2 first-flight class flights. We are headed to India and have stops in Singapore, Bangkok, and UAE. All flight and hotel redemptions using not only frequent flyer points but also Scotiabank points total well over one million.
If you want to follow my journey, follow my Stories on Instagram.
Here are the routings:
Let’s forget the JWs and Conrads that I booked and focus on the four aspirational properties I’m most excited about.
First, let me preface by stating that the total cost of all four luxury hotels will be offset using my Scotiabank Scene Points. Like my 1.1 million points splurge at the Four Seasons Lanai in Hawaii in 2021 that included a private plane transfer, I believe in using Scene or any cashback for aspirational properties only for the most gratification.
1. Qasr Al Sarab, United Arab Emirates
Have you heard of the Empty Quarter? It’s the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world in the legendary Liwa Desert. Now imagine a hotel there.
Growing up in Canada, I’ve seen enough pine trees and snow to last a lifetime. The desert, however, has always been a mysterious place to me. I remember the reading adventures of Tintin as a kid being part of his journey through the Arab worlds, including trekking through the barren Sahara landscape in search of an oasis.
I’ve been in search of this oasis as well since then. The point and miles journey has taken me to some fantastic luxury hotels in the desert, including Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa outside of Dubai and the Ritz Carlton Al Wadi in Ras Al Khaimah. Still, it didn’t hit the spot in terms of location. Both properties, while fantastic, were not remote enough and felt too close to civilization.
In 2020 as we were all locked down, I was researching luxury hotels and came across this mythical-looking property surrounded by dunes as far as the eye can see. After checking the satellite image from Google maps, I realized this place is in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to Qasr Al Sarab, an Anantara property in the United Arab Emirates. Located 200km from Abu Dhabi, it’s a mirage that pops up out of nowhere.
This secluded desert castle offers the best immersive desert experience that one would ask for. I have high expectations for this property, and let’s see if I can give it Tintin’s seal of approval. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
I booked a one-bedroom villa directly through an Anantara offer; I am offered the following:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Half-board meals
- 2 daily activities included.
- Guaranteed early check-in/late check-out.
- Complimentary wifi
Cost: USD 1099/night
2. Four Seasons Hotel at Chao Phraya River, Bangkok
I rarely get excited about luxury hotels in a city, but this one is an exception. Situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, this new Four Seasons hotel is a tranquil sanctuary in the heart of Bangkok’s chaos. A beautifully architected property with serious design credentials, it’s a modern art museum infused with signature four seasons service at every corner. I look forward to their fantastic breakfast spread, retreating to the pool after sightseeing, and sampling cocktails made by leading mixologists at their Social Club bar.
I booked the hotel at the Four Seasons Preferred Partner (FSPP), which includes the following amenities:
- Upgrade of one room category based on availability at check-in time.
- Full breakfast for up to two in-room guests. Either at the restaurant or via in-room dining.
- $100 Hotel Credit.
- Early check-in/late check-out
Cost: USD 593/night
3. Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur
Have you ever seen a hotel so mesmerizing as a child that you fantasized one day visiting it, let alone staying there? That is Taj Lake Palace for me. Seeing pictures in countless magazines (pre-Internet days) and in many Hollywood and Bollywood films, I couldn’t fathom that this palace in the middle of a lake was a hotel you could stay at. However, given its astronomical price tag, it faded into distance memory over three decades until the points and miles game brought it back on my radar.
Situated in the middle of Lake Pichola, it’s a marble palace built in 1746 and converted to a hotel in 1963 and bought by The Taj Group of Hotels in 1971. The Taj Hotel Resorts and Palaces are one of Asia’s most prominent and finest hotels. The Taj Lake Palace is enriched with history, location, architecture, and Indian hospitality. Words cannot relate to my excitement to experience this property.
I booked this luxury hotel through a Virtuoso rate that provides the following benefits:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Daily Continental Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom per stay
- Complimentary lunch or dinner for up to two guests per bedroom, once during the stay, excluding alcohol, taxes, and gratuities (minimum 3-courses & value of $100USD)
- Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Cost: USD 872/night
4. The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra
A trip to India for a first-timer is only complete with a visit to the Taj Mahal. After learning about it in school, my daughter is excited to see this one of the world’s modern seven wonders. Situated in Agra, and standing out amongst the crowd of hotels, sits a palace that could be a wonder in itself: The Oberoi Amarvilas.This hotel was not initially on my radar, but after reading about the property and the overwhelmingly positive reviews, I decided it was worth the splurge.
The Oberoi luxury hotel group based out of India owns and operates 32 luxury hotels. The Amarvilas is their flagship property, with each room offering views of the Taj Mahal. The hotel provides complimentary private access to the Taj Mahal via golf carts and makes all the necessary ticket arrangements. But let’s forget all these little extras. The hotel’s architecture is what caught my attention, as you can see in the pictures. A truly remarkable property that will undoubtedly have the best Indian hospitality from arrival to departure.
The property no longer actively participates with Virtuoso. However, some travel agents have an established relationship with the property and can offer the benefits, precisely what I did. The following benefits are provided:
- Premier room upgrade to Premier room with balcony.
- Complimentary breakfast.
- One complimentary lunch once during the stay (Food & Soft Beverage) for up to 2 guests.
- Daily Fruits once during the day.
- Early check-in by 1000 hours and late check-out by 1600 hours, subject to availability of the rooms.
Cost: USD 753/night
Touring luxury hotels can’t be complete without a touch of First Class flights to transport us. I look forward to returning to 2 of my favorites for this trip, both booked using their frequent flier program: Emirates Skywards & Singapore Airlines Krisflyer.
1. Singapore Airlines Suites, Singapore-Mumbai
This same route was my first experience with the Singapore Airlines Suites product in December 2019. After that short tease of a flight, I flew the longest Suites route in May 2021 from New York-JFK to Singapore as part of my 8 days, 7 countries, 4 First Class flights, the no-jet-lag experience
I’ve come full circle to fly the Singapore-Mumbai route again as it’s a fantastic, sweet spot redemption opportunity. I cannot get enough of Singapore Airlines’ hospitality. I look forward to returning to The Private Room and indulging in the Wagyu Satay, Taittinger Comtes champagne, and lobster laksa before boarding into a double suite again for the 6-hour trek to Mumbai.
Cost: 56,000 Krisflyer points + USD 44 taxes
2. Emirates First Class, Dubai-Toronto
I’ve officially stamped Emirates First Class (A380) as The Best Overall First Class product. While I have yet to write reviews about Emirates First (coming soon!), it’s such a fantastic product that wins my heart every time. Others have come close, like Singapore Suites, but there is something special about Emirates. I find it strikes perfection in its hard and soft product marriage. It will have been exactly a year since I last flew Emirates First on this exact route, and I look forward to the experience once again.
Cost: 138,000 Skywards + USD 756 taxes
Other Notable Mentions:
This trip also includes a few other exciting products I’m looking forward to trying.
1. Singapore Airlines Business Class, Newark-Singapore
This flight was chosen intentionally to check off the Longest Flight in the World off my bucket list. As I write this article on this flight, I would fly it again without a doubt; it has surpassed my expectations. The route takes 19 hours non-stop on the A350-900ULR aircraft designed for this ultra-long-haul journey.
2. JW Marriott Juhu, Mumbai
I treated my relatives to this property in 2019 and was so impressed that I decided to make it my home in Mumbai during this trip. What I loved about the hotel at the time was the sanctum it provided from the bustling Mumbai metropolis outside the front gates. It’s also located at the famed Juhu beach. I applied for a Suite Night Award, and it has already cleared weeks in advance into the Royal Beach Suite.
3. Gulf Air Business Class, Bangkok-Singapore
This is a fifth freedom route on Gulf Air’s 787 aircraft offering Apex business class seats. I have yet to fly Gulf Air, and I will get a taste of what it’s like on this short route to Singapore.
4. Scoot Economy Class, Singapore-Bangkok
A last-minute decision to spend more time in Bangkok instead of Singapore due to the monsoon weather in Singapore meant low award availability on flights to Bangkok. We are on a tight schedule, and the only flight that worked was on booked Scoot, a low-cost airline wholly owned subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. This means I’ll be able to leverage my Silver status with Singapore Airlines to take advantage of priority services. It will be interesting to mix in a low-cost economy flight with First and Business Class flights.
The points and miles journey is a marathon and not a sprint. The slow and steady accumulation of diverse points enables us to travel to our dream destinations and stay at luxury hotels we once thought were reserved only for the rich. Scene+ points are a powerful award currency in Canada with high earn rates and flexible redemption opportunities.
In a world of Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt wherein we continuously chase status like a hamster on a wheel, I’m eager to take a break from it and try new luxury hotel brands while still receiving those same “elite” benefits that I am accustomed to through Virtuoso and Four Seasons Preferred Partner.
Fulfilling childhood dreams is what we all envision doing one day, but taking your child to your birth country is the icing on the cake. I can’t wait to see her priceless reactions during her first trip to India as she gets fully enveloped in the sights and sounds of this great country.
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