"A night in Dubai" sounds about as economical as paying your 2011 income taxes, or full tuition at USC. In a city where basically every hotel room comes with a gold-plated TV remote, even taking advantage of an overnight layover seems like a terrifyingly expensive proposition. "Night in Dubai," you say. "I'll do that right after I look into the lease on a Maserati."
Oh, fair budget traveler, you are gravely mistaken. In its efforts to make Dubai the world's busiest international travel hub -- and get people to spend money there along the way -- Emirates airline is giving out free hotel rooms in Dubai to anyone with a layover between eight and 24 hours. That's right, even if you drop $135 for a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa, you won't pay a cent for the hotel.
Emirates has developed a hub-and-spoke system that effectively connects the entire world through Dubai. Sometimes those connections require spending up to a full day in the city, and if your itinerary has a layover of over eight hours (six hours if you fly first or business class) and fewer than 24, Emirates will put you up in a hotel for the night.
But wait! That's not all! The airline also covers ground transportation to said hotel and provides a meal there too, so your night in Dubai just got even cheaper.
How it works
When you book online through the airline, the Emirates site will notify you if you qualify for "Dubai Connect." After your reservation is confirmed, go back into "Manage a Booking" and book the Dubai Connect service. The site might prompt you and offer a shorter connection -- if one's available, you won't qualify. But assuming your only available option is a flight that's a day after you land in Dubai, you're golden.
When you hit the check-in counter at your airport of departure, make sure you ask for your voucher for Dubai Connect. Then, upon arrival in Dubai, Emirates airline personnel will guide you to your ground transfers, and away you go. Once at the hotel, present your voucher for your free night. When booking your stay, double-check that a meal at the hotel is also included.
You can book the Dubai Connect option up to 24 hours in advance of your trip. But it is, of course, subject to availability.
Now, about that hotel...
Don't get too carried away there, buddy -- you're not getting a free night at the Burj al Arab. The hotels are along the lines of ones US airlines use to put passengers up when flights are cancelled. That is, reasonable, comfortable hotels within a short drive from the airport.
But, hey, free is free, and you can still take full advantage of your quick trip. Many of the hotels offer late-night tours of the city. Also, Dubai has a fantastic Metro system that can get you from the airport to pretty much any attraction. Cabs are surprisingly affordable, so heading to an indoor ski slope or the Palm Islands won't demolish your bank account. Past that, if you opt to eat $20 hamburgers on Jumeirah Beach, that's on you.
So if you're planning a big, round-the-world flight this year, and you see an option for an Emirates flight with a day-long layover, don't immediately assume it's adding $400 to the cost of your trip. Look at it as a chance to explore one of the most dynamic cities in the world on your airline's dime.
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