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I recently completed my dream trip where I used Aeroplan points (and Priority Reward) to book flights to FIFA World Cup in Qatar. For the award booking I had used an Aeroplan Worldwide Priority Reward to get 50% off on the points redemption. In the quest to maximize my discount, I also added a side trip to explore other countries in the region. Kuwait for a few days, and then on to Bahrain and Oman after the World Cup ended.
Aeroplan Booking – Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman
First, I successfully extended my existing World Cup booking (YYZ-DOH) to include Kuwait. A fully flexible business class ticket on Etihad, from Doha to Kuwait was 58,000 points plus $160 in taxes and fees. The highlight of this flight segment was that I got to fly with a live Falcon on the plane. (Visit my IG page to see a video on the Falcon, Reeman and his owner, Ahmed, on the plane with me). His owner was taking him to Abu Dhabi for a sporting competition. The Falcon had its own passport and gets seated before everyone else, even before business class passengers! A true VIP. Have you flown with an animal on board (that was not caged)?
My updated itinerary for the World Cup extravaganza was now YYZ-DOH-KWI-DOH, a combination of flights on Air Canada, and Etihad. One thing I learned while booking this multi segment trip is that I could not fly through the same destination multiple times. Unfortunately, Gulf Air has no direct flights to and from Doha, so for my post-WC flights I had to book a separate one way ticket to explore Bahrain and Oman: DOH-BAH-MCT. I flew on Etihad again from DOH-BAH and then Gulf Air from BAH-MCT. With a separate one-way ticket in the mix, the complete itinerary now looked like this;
The one-way trip DOH-BAH-MCT in business class priced at 40K points plus $128 in taxes and fees. I booked these flights during the Amex Reserve card offer of 25% rebate on reward tickets, which yielded substantial savings.
It was time to add one final extension to the existing ticket booked with Priority Reward attached, to get me back home. I booked MCT-FRA on Oman Air business class and connected onwards to YYZ on Air Canada. There was still R space available on FRA-YYZ segment so I booked an Economy Latitude fare and used E-Ups for an immediate business class upgrade. With the return segments now added, the final itinerary looked like this;
YYZ-DOH-AUH-KWI-AUH-DOH; (DOH-BAH-MCT); MCT-FRA-YYZ
Not including the separate one-way ticket, the Aeroplan Worldwide Priority Reward saved me 197,000 Aeroplan points, so I’d like to think I maxed it out.
Hotels in the Middle East – Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman
In Kuwait and Bahrain I stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott, while taking advantage of the 5th night free offer. The 5 nights in Kuwait cost 60K Bonvoy Points (15K a night).
At Residence Inn in Bahrain, I spent 6 nights for 85K Bonvoy points (17.5K a night). Their breakfast selection was good, though not as good as the one in Kuwait.
For my stay in Oman I spent 6 nights at the Sheraton Oman for 68,000 points. At 11.3k points a night it was a real bargain for a 5 Star Sheraton Hotel with the best buffet breakfast I had. The lounge access from 6pm-8pm with unlimited drinks and food, was a fantastic way to save even more during my stay.
Now in the case of these three countries (Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman) their currency is very strong vs the Canadian dollar. Kuwait has the strongest currency in the world and 1 Dinar is about $4.25 CDN while Oman and Bahrain were $3.4 and $3.5 CAD. Redeeming for free nights was a great way to use Bonvoy points as I got over 1.6 cents per point for each booking. So when you factor a Bonvoy point at about 0.7 cents, it’s a great redemption value. In total, the hotels for the side trip were “free” and if you are a budget traveller like me, take 2 lunch boxes to breakfast and pack yourself a lunch too.
The Foodie in me – Restaurants to check out
Everyone has their own ideas on what is good to eat but when I travel I look to the “San Pellegrino 50 Best restaurant’s guide”. They also publish a regional list for the Middle East and North Africa.
In Qatar I went to CUT by Wolfgang Puck, #36 on the list and the best restaurant in Qatar for 2022 by the list’s standards. If you enjoy a good steak this is a great restaurant. Though please don’t order your steak well done..that’s just wrong.
In Kuwait I went to White Robata, #43 on the list, a Japanese restaurant (and considered the best restaurant in Kuwait for 2022). Kuwait is a “dry country” so there is no alcohol on the menu. It was a bit hard to find after I was dropped off by Uber. The restaurant has seats where you can watch live Japanese Robata style cooking. If you do dine there, I recommend the Salmon Crispy Rice, Hamachi Micro Wonton Tacos, Pacific Roll, Grilled Tiger Shrimp, 48 hr Sous Vide Angus Rib and Waygu Burger. If you still have room try the Chocolate Fondant and the Peanut Butter Parfait for desert. I left very full.
In Bahrain I went to two restaurants. Fusions By Tala, #39, and also run by the current “Best Female Chef” in the Middle East for 2022, Tala Bashmi. Her kitchen is open concept so you can see her busy at work in the kitchen while seated at your table. Chef Tala is Bahraini and her dishes focus on Bahraini cuisine with her own spin on them. They had a Christmas Eve tasting menu that had a “Bahraini spin” on classic Christmas Dishes.
I also went to Mirai in Bahrain, a Japanese restaurant and #31 on the list, and given the distinction as the Best Restaurant in Bahrain in 2022 as per the list. The sushi chefs here also have live cooking and you can be seated in the front as they create their culinary masterpieses. If you are looking for recommendations I had the Seafood Miso soup, the Shrimp popcorn Bao Buns, the Chef’s Special Maki, Tuna Pizza and Tiramisu Tart for desert.
Again, tastes, palates and personal preferences are different for everyone but overall I was impressed by the food in all these restaurants. While most people may opt for more local less pricey restaurants, I believe you should try at least one fine dining meal in every country you visit. How do you decide where to eat “locally” when you visit a country ? Any websites you look to for recommendations ?
Oman sadly did not have any restaurants on the list for 2022 so dinners in Muscat were at the Sheraton Happy Hour lounge, which was quite good. I also tried Oman Street BBQ and for under 5 Riyals I had some amazing kebabs, hamburgers, BBQ calamari and shrimp. And no trip to Oman is complete without sampling the many variations of Halwa, the local sweet.
Sights in Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
Of these three countries Kuwait was the most disappointing as they don’t have a strong tourism economy. As I learned from people at my hotels and the flight to Kuwait, the country is more business oriented. Getting around with Uber is the way to go.
Day 1: I checked out the Souq and the Kuwaiti Towers the country’s most famous landmark. There are two restaurants on the top, however the windows were dirty so the views were not the best.
Day 2: I went to lunch at White Robata, a 3 hour experience, and then to the Grand Mosque.
Days 3 and 4: I went around exploring the Avenue’s mall, the Marina, and the museums which I must say were a disappointment. Luckily the Residence Inn had a sauna I took advantage of on a few nights. One site I did not get to was Failaka Island. It is a ferry ride from Kuwait City and has a lot of history and reminders of the Iraq / Kuwait War including buildings riddled with bullet holes and army tanks gathering dust.
There was a lot more to see in Bahrain and Oman and while everyone has their own unique preferences on what they would like to see I love history so focus on UNESCO World Heritage sites when I visit a new country.
Bahrain has three UNESCO sites, the Dilmun Burial Mounds, the Qalat al-Bahrain and the Pearling Trail. If you are a history buff like me you will definitely enjoy these sites that focuses on Bahrain’s history as far back as 2,000 BC. I used UBER to get from place to place and I use my Scotia Gold Amex card (PMB Affiliate link) to pay for Uber rides as it doesn’t charge a FX fee to use it. Plus my Scotia Amex points can be used to offset the Uber Rides as Uber is regarded a travel merchant so my Uber rides were also free. While hiring a local driver is also an option, they usually only take cash. So if you want “free taxi” rides Uber is the way to go. I did use a taxi to go to the “Tree of Life” an hour outside Manama in the middle of nowhere. Uber charges 20 dinars (or $70 CAD) for a return trip but I was able to get one of my Uber driver to drive me there and wait for half an hour for no extra charge while I took photos. Given it’s in an isolated place this was the best option as finding a return Uber ride back to Manama may have been difficult.
Oman has 5 UNESCO sites, The Bahia Fort, Archaeological Sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn, the Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman, The Land of Frankinsense (LOF), and the Ancient City of Qalhat. All but the last one, can be visited. Qalhat is currently under renovation.
The first three are a 2 hour drive from Muscat, however in opposite directions. I was able to get a private driver for 150 Oman Riyals (approximately $500 CAD) and was able to see all 3 in a day. Now why did I not just rent a car and see them myself, you ask? Well a 4X4 is needed to get to these sites as some are “off the beaten path” and a car rental is about 35-40 Riyals, plus a full tank of gas was about 5-10 riyals. Plus my guide also picked me up from the airport which in Muscat is pricey as only airport taxis and private drivers can pick up from the airport. Ride share apps cannot pick up at the airport. The Sheraton charges 30 Riyals for an airport pick up (TIP: You can bring down to 1 Riyal if you are willing to take public transit and walk 10 minutes to the Sheraton). So when factoring in these costs and the fact that my driver knew his way to the sites for the extra 70 riyals ($245 CAD) I got a 10 hour full day tour. I was getting an experienced guide / driver who would maximize my time at the sites. Also don’t forget to visit the “Tropic of Cancer sign” for your Instagram moment. This photo completed my trifecta from my previous ones at the Equator and Tropic of Capricorn.
The LOF is in Salalah which is a 1 hour flight from Muscat. A beach town and well worth the visit if you enjoy the sun and sand !! As Oman Air is an Aeroplan partner a return flight is 15K economy and 30K business. Again I booked during the 25% sale with my Amex Reserve card (PMB affiliate link) and was able to save a few points. The LOF is split into 4 separate sites: Archaeological site of Shisr; Archaeological site and natural environment of Khor Rori; Archaeological site of al-Balid; Frankencense Park of Wadi Dawkah. Getting to all four of them in a day is a task so again I booked a private driver though a local sightseeing company (https://beautifulsalalahtours.com/sightseeing-tours/ ) and for 110 Riyals got a great 10 hour full day tour. ( Hussain who runs the company also helped my get my Muscat guide as well. ) Again I used the same logic as my Muscat tour as the cost of a car rental, gas and airport pick up would have been 50 Riyals by itself… plus my driver knew exactly where he was going.
I stayed at the Hilton in Salalah (as there were no Marriotts in Salalah) for 35K Hilton points and again this was a great redemption getting my over 1 cent a point value as a Hotel on the beach like this one costs over $200 USD a night. Plus with my Diamond status I got free breakfast and I was able to get a 3pm check out.
I spent one day checking out Muscat on my own. There is no Uber so I used an app called Careem. One negative aspect of the app is that it doesn’t take Amex as a payment method. But it is reliable and very reasonably priced. I checked out of the Grand Mosque (the 2nd largest in the Middle East), the Corniche, the National Museum and the Presidential Palace.
This was an ideal side trip to my World Cup extravaganza, one that allowed me to explore the region and check off several to-do’s on my list. I love how points help unpack a whole new set of adventures, and Aeroplan points combined with Marriott Bonvoy helped subsidize the cost of my dream trip substantially.
Have you been to any of these countries? Feel free to add your own recommendations in comments below!