What did you book? Qatar First, Turkiye, Choice Hotel and a Fjord Cruise in Norway

Aeroplan, Choice Privileges, Marriott, TD Travel, Avios and Capital One to the rescue.

by Sash & Mohammad
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a collage of a city and a body of water

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Welcome to May’s instalment of What Did You Book, where Sash and Mohammad discuss what they have been up to in April, detailing their most noteworthy bookings which this month include Qatar First Class and a Choice Hotels booking. Along the way we’ll be sharing any handy tips and tricks we used for our bookings.

While enjoying his weekly Air Canada flights to Toronto this past month, Sash has also been busy adjusting his upcoming travels, including a last-minute switch from Jordan to Turkiye for his May trip. He discusses this change and the strategy behind the bookings he made on Turkish Airlines, Qatar First, Qsuites, and some hotels in Istanbul and Cappadocia.

Mohammad, meanwhile, used Choice Privilege points for the very first time in order to unlock some high value redemptions in Bergen, Norway for a large family trip that he is organizing for the end of the May. The main goal of visiting Bergen ofcourse, is to catch a Fjord cruise. Leveraging a different and slightly lesser known booking strategy – Mohammad hopes to unlock some extra savings on that as well.

What did Sash Book? – Istanbul and Cappadocia

I had a trip to Jordan planned for this May; however, given the tensions in the region, including the recent closure of Amman (AMM) airport, I felt it was best to reschedule the trip to another time and instead go to Turkiye, specifically Istanbul and Cappadocia. I haven’t yet been to Cappadocia, and it has been on my bucket list since I was a child. And Istanbul, who doesn’t love Istanbul? I could visit that city over and over again and not be bored.

a city with many boats on water

Instabul, Turkiye, source: rodinstanbul.com

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Goreme, Cappadocia

Points Flexibility

The flexibility points and miles provide when trips need to be adjusted or cancelled is absolutely amazing! Points redemption bookings are rarely subject to non-refundable terms, and changes/cancellations are just subject to a nominal, if at all any. This flexibility was a godsend that allowed me to swap my trip from Jordan to Turkiye.  My hotels were still within the timeframe for free cancellations, and my airline tickets, booked through Air Canada Aeroplan, were flexible fares and could be cancelled or changed at no cost. If you’re not already aware, here are award programs that provide free cancellations and changes, along with some nuances to be aware of.

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Hotels – Turkish Airlines Business Class, Qatar First & Qsuites

I decided to leverage the Turkish Airlines Business Class flights I already had to Amman, Jordan, for my trip to Turkiye. This basically meant removing the (Istanbul -Amman) leg from my (Montreal – Istanbul – Amman) itinerary.  In addition, I would add a stopover in Istanbul and continue on to Nevsehir (NAV), the closest airport to the Cappadocia region. The change cost me an extra 5,000 Aeroplan points to add to the stopover.

Outbound Flight Cost: 90,000 Aeroplan + $89.80 (I do plan to lower the cost further before departure)

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Ourtbound Flights: Created using gcmap.com

I decided to splurge on Qatar Airways’ First Class 777 product and Qatar Qsuites for the return flights from Istanbul-Doha-Montreal. Because my booking was fairly close in, awards seats were priced at the Flexi level, or twice the Saver price.

Inbound Flight Cost: 140,000 Avios + $100.90 taxes

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Inbound Flights: Created using gcmap.com

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I’m sure many folks know the A380 First Class on Qatar Airways, but the 777, perhaps not too much.  The hard product is actually Cathay Pacific First Class (leased aircraft), and it has been deployed on select routes to/from Doha. If you have flown this product, you know how comfortable it is with the widest seat in the sky!

Qatar First Class on a 777-300ER

Qatar First Class on a 777-300ER

I’m looking forward to indulging in first-class dining and champagne, which Qatar Airways always excels at.

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Qatar Airways First Class Dining

I’ll also have access to the First Class Al Safwa Lounge in Doha, which is my all-time favourite lounge. We’ll have a solid 9-hour layover here.

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Al Safwa First Lounge in Doha

After the lounge, it will be Qatar Qsuites from Doha on a straight 13-hour shot to Montreal. I’ve flown this route countless times and call it my favourite mode of transportation when exiting or returning to Canada. I chose the middle seats as I’ll be travelling with my daughter. Not only does it convert into a double bet of sorts, but you have a larger enclosed cabin space to share, which is really nice. Fun fact: did you know that Qsuites on the 777 is slightly wider than on the A350s?

a bed with a monitor and a bed with a screen on it

Qatar Qsuites

Hotels – JW Marriott Istanbul & Nuvi Cave Hotel

I’ve booked only two hotels on the trip: the JW Marriott Instanbul and the Luvi Cave Hotel in Cappadocia. Both were chosen after an unnecessary extensive research.

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Luvi Cave Hotel & JW Marriott Instanbul Bosphorus

In Istanbul, I decided to go with the JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus.  I have heard nothing but positive feedback from the travel community about this property, including our own writer, Dalia, who recently wrote a review: Review: JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus is effortlessly elegant.  Another reason I chose this property was that I had a first-world problem with too many Marriott Bonvoy Free Night Certificates (FNC) that needed to be redeemed.  I booked this property using my 35K FNC + 15,000 Bonvoy points, which is a fantastic deal given that cash rates were around $400/night.  I also applied for a Nightly Upgrade Award (NUA) that I am hoping clears and grants a nice suite upgrade in combination with my Bonvoy Titanium status.

Istanbul Hotel Cost: 35,000FNC + 15,000 ponts

a screenshot of a hotel room

In Cappadocia, I booked the Luvi Cave Hotel in Goreme Village based on a recommendation from a friend in the travel community. Plus, it actually had availability ~2 weeks prior to departure while most other hotels were sold out. However, only a Superior Suite was available, costing a whopping $539.50/night! However, I paid using the TD Rewards points that I acquired from the TD First Class Travel Visa credit card. 144,800 TD points ($724) were used in addition to a $100 Expedia travel credit that is given once a year.

Cappadocia Hotel Cost: $1083.70 – $724 (144,800) TD Points – $100 Expedia Credit = $260.70!

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The property itself looks quite nice, with all the rooms in a cave-like setting.

a stone archway with a couch and a coffee table

Luvi Cave Hotel – Goreme, Cappadocia (source: Hotels.com)

a bed in a cave room

Superior Suite @ Luvi Cave Hotel – Goreme, Cappadocia (source: Hotels.com)

The property also offers gorgeous views at sunrise overlooking the “fairy chimneys.”

hot air balloons flying over a building

Luvi Cave Hotel – Goreme, Cappadocia (source: booking.com)

I’m really excited to experience this property and will report back with a thorough review.

What did Mohammad Book? – Hotel in Bergen and a Fjord Cruise

A fjord cruise has been on my mom’s bucket list for a very long time, so when planning a large family trip to Europe this Spring, this was one of the first things I wanted to see if we could check off. Bergen is oft referred to as “The Gateway to the Fjords” in Norway and so was a logical destination to look into.

Bergen also holds the distinction of being the rainiest city in Europe. Fortunately, our Spring timeframe for the trip worked out perfectly as (i) May seems to be the driest month of the year for Bergen and (ii) lodging rates don’t quite hit the seasonally high rates of the summer travel months this early.

The use of “dry” of course is a completely relative term for Bergen. Being surrounded by mountains, the natural phenomena of orographic lifting means that Bergen is on the receiving end of a lot of rain throughout the year – not dissimilar to Vancouver as an example. As such – there is only so much planning one can do – however after talking about it with several people who have been – the fjords are an experience regardless of rain or shine. I was therefore advised that this is not something I should get fixated on. Just come prepared for rain! Fun fact: Between October 2006 and Jan 2007, Bergen recorded constant rainfall for 86 consecutive days!

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Average monthly snow and rainfall in Bergen, Source: Weather-and-Climate.com

Hotel Booking

Hotel options in Bergen are limited if you’re looking to one of the major hotel chains. Unsurprisingly for those familiar with their footprint in Scandinavia, Choice has several hotel options situated in various parts of the city. Marriott has a very reasonably priced (in both cash and points) new Moxy hotel, though as you’ll see in the map below, it is located slightly away from the central city area’s. Aside from that – the Moxy brand is not something I think would jive with my traveling party – some which young infants in tow. While I appreciate the Moxy brand – it’s not a brand you think of when you want comfortable square footage in your room. As an FYI, the cash and points rates at the Moxy ranged between 18,000-22,000 Bonvoy points and USD $150 -$200 per night cash rates.

a map of a city with many points

Bergen Hotels, Source: Awayz.com

Hyatt was previously represented by the SLH property “Opus XVI” which will no longer be part of the program as of May 15th. Instead a Mr & Mrs Smith property is now available to book as of time of writing. The Bergen Børs Hotel ranges between 20,000 – 40,000 Hyatt points for the month of May reflecting the new dynamic nature of Mr & Mrs Smith properties. Full disclosure – as this property has just made it onto my radar, I do intend to look more closely into it. While the property looks nice, I suspect I will have an issue with the number of rooms I will be looking to book (6-7 rooms) as the Mr & Mrs Smith collection is often comprised of boutique properties, often with very limited number of rooms.

After spending time going through reviews and photo’s of several of the Choice options that had availability for 6-7 rooms for my dates, it eventually was a decision between the Clarion Hotel Admiral or the Hotel NO13, Ascend Hotel Collection. The respective cash rates for my nights were USD $284 & USD $188, however both properties were bookable for the same 16,000 Choice Privilege points per night.

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Choice Privileges Website – Point rates


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Choice Privileges Website – Cash rates

At the end I decided on the Clarion Hotel Admiral. It offered some additional room types (more on that below) and seemingly more spacious rooms than Hotel NO13.

As it was my first time using the Choice Privilege program, there were a couple of new learnings. For starters, for some reason Choice does not allow for award redemptions more than 100 days. Next up, on a more positive note, Choice makes multiple room types available for the same points price – including premium deluxe rooms and even suites at times. I used this to our advantage by ensuring that those of the travelling contingent with infants were able to secure the deluxe rooms during our stay.

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Choice 100 day calendar restriction

At 16,000 Choice points a night for 3 nights across 6-7 rooms meant that I needed a big stash of points. Choice is a transfer partner with American Express, Capital One and Citi. While transfers to the first two are 1:1, transfers from Citi are at 1:2 – making the use of Citi points an extremely valuable preposition. In my case, I still did not have enough – so I had to find a more creative way to generate the points. Ask and you shall receive – thankfully there was a 40% bonus on purchased points for Choice points right around the time I was considering this, just narrowly missing a 50% bonus sale on Choice just a few days prior to that. Overall I was able to buy the points at a rate of USD 0.74 cents per point, meaning an award night booked at 16,000 points cost me USD $118.40 – a great deal considering the revenue fare was $284 per night for these dates.

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Choice offering a 40% bonus promotion on purchased points

Fjord Cruise Booking

While I won’t be discussing the specifics of the excursion we will be booking – details of that will be on a future blog post – I did just want to share something that perhaps not many will know about or could benefit from a quick reminder. A couple of years ago, Capital One launched an online shopping portal called Capital One Shopping allowing even non-cardmembers to register and use the portal. While the portal mostly works in the same way any other cashback/rebate site works, what was a bit more unique was the over time a couple of bloggers had commented how they tended to get special targeted offers in their inboxes, often representing savings of upto 20-30% even on websites they had recently browsed. During that time I had heard the FrequentMiler team in particular receive some great discounts of 15%+ on websites like Saks 5th, GiftCards.com, Disney and Viator to name a few.

Since then I myself have used it often to try and trigger big discounts on sites such as Marriott Bonvoy, Avis and others and have mostly had moderate success. For this upcoming trip, I had been perusing Viator to try and decide on Fjord excursion and had found many good candidates ranging between $200-$400 per person. For an overall expected expense of $3,000-$5,000, I had figured it would be worth it to try and get a Viator offer again. Thankfully, all it took was to log in via the app 2-3 times over the course of a week and browse Viator via the in-app link and before long I had received the targeted offer I had been hoping to receive.

a screenshot of a phone

Targeted email from CapitalOne Shopping

It’s important to note the email from Capital One Shopping will often not even mention the offer you might be looking for, so you’ll need to make sure you read the full email as per the screenshot above. Another thing to note is that you might be targeted for the offer but not receive an email, so it’s worthwhile checking both the app and the website (as they can offer different discounts) to see what you are targeted for.

Last point to mention here is that Capital One Shopping is not a true cashback site, as you can only cash out the value of your awards towards pre-selected merchant gift cards – though for the most part it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a merchant you want, but nonetheless it would be a great idea to check out the options before committing to a large amount of spending with this portal.

Final Word

Another month of bookings comes to an end. We hope this month’s installment of “What did you book” made for a few minutes of interesting reading for you. As always, please feel free to leave your questions, comments and/or feedback below! Or perhaps some other ideas and recommendations that we were not aware of! Thanks for reading along and see you next month in another edition of What Did You Book.

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