For the infrequent flyer, Emirates seems like the pinnacle of flying. You’ve probably seen that Jennifer Aniston commercial with the onboard shower and bar, and figured that kind of luxury travel was only for the rich and famous.
That’s what I thought, too. Until I found a way to fly in Emirates business class using credit card points. Read all about how we did it in How We Made It Happen.
At first, I thought it was too good to be true. I was convinced someone was playing a prank on me. There was no way we could book a flight that normally costs $8,000 each just by compiling credit card points. The fact that I made the reservation on April Fools’ Day didn’t help my anxiety.
It wasn’t until we received our boarding passes at Washington-Dulles International Airport that I realized this long journey with credit card points was just beginning.
Before the Flight
Our flight left Washington-Dulles airport at 10:25am and had a scheduled arrival time into Dubai of 8:10am the next day. The total flight time was slated for 12 hours and 45 minutes, and Dubai was eight hours ahead of DC time. That’s a great time to arrive in order to make transfer connections at the Dubai airport, but an “overnight” flight at 10:25am isn’t exactly conducive to catching Zs on the plane. So to help us A) get tired, and B) ease into “Dubai time,” we woke up at 3:00am that morning. I was obviously too giddy to sleep much anyway, so that 3:00am wake up was perfectly fine.
We double and triple checked that we packed everything, and arrived at the airport at 8:00am. We bypassed the line at check-in, the agent verified our passports, and handed us our boarding passes. Smooth sailing.
We typically try to spend as little time at the airport as possible, but flying in business class also means complimentary entry to airport lounges. While Emirates does not have its own lounge at Dulles, it partners with Air France to allow Emirates business and first class passengers to use the Air France lounge as they waiting for the morning flight. Air France flights didn’t leave until the evening, so the lounge wasn’t too crowded. We each had a macchiato and some light bites in the lounge, since we were really looking forward to the meals on our flight.
We had roughly two hours before our flight, and surprisingly our boarding passes said that we wouldn’t board until 9:55am, only 30 minute prior to departure. The Airbus A380 is a HUGE plane (literally the largest passenger airplane in the world), but I knew it had a couple of different entrances, which probably is how they could board 600+ passengers in 30 minutes.
After flipping through the newspapers in the lounge and telling Taryn “I can’t believe this is actually happening” a dozen times, we headed out of the lounge around 9:45am. Then we realized that all of the economy passengers were actively boarding the plane. Business and first class passengers had a completely separate entrance gate, which is conveniently directly across from the Air France lounge.
While the line for economy class was 50+ people deep, our special entrance only had about a dozen passengers. Business and first class passengers also had a separate jetway to the upper deck of the airplane. We were completely separated from those flying in economy, which is exactly how Emirates wants its premium class experience to be.
After an exciting hike up the jetway, we were greeted by the cabin crew and led to our seats.
For most of our travel, I’m stuck in the middle seat since I give the window seat to Taryn. This was our first flight in international business class, and I can safely say that it’s a more enjoyable experience than the middle seat in economy.
Our flight attendant, Katrina, stopped by to introduce herself and asked if we wanted a pre-departure glass of champagne. The answer was obviously yes. I’m the kind of guy who has to flip through all of the magazines in the seat-back pocket, so I started exploring the seat right away.
We didn’t have to wait long for Katrina to bring us our glasses of Veuve Clicquot champagne as we waited for the rest of the passengers to board.
I proceeded to explore the rest of my seat. As soon as you sit down, you’ll notice the 23 inch-wide screen.
I was perfectly fine using the touchscreen on the TV, but the seat also offered a detachable tablet that you could use to control the TV as well.
And if that wasn’t enough, the seat also had a corded remote control located within easy reach.
To my right was the seat’s mini-bar pre-stocked with water and juice. There were also two USB ports, a power outlet, the charging stand for the tablet, and a sizable side table.
Near the side table are the buttons that control the seat itself. The seating position to the far right was for takeoff and landing, the middle position was for meals and watching TV, then the seating position to the left was to turn the seat into a fully-flat bed.
Each business class seat also came with noise canceling headphones.
Each seat also comes with a complimentary amenity kit. Men and women receive different kits, and both kits come with Bulgari toiletry items.
Men’s amenity kit:
Women’s amenity kit:
Lastly, here’s a quick pano of a view from the business class seat prior to departure.
Both of us were really looking forward to our first business class meal. We skimped on the French croissants in the Air France lounge to save room for what was in store.
Katrina gave us menus for the dining options onboard when she first greeted us. I’ve received menu notecards before in economy, but this Emirates menu was legit. One menu featured six pages of food and beverage options, and a separate menu featured the wines.
As you can see, there were A LOT of different drinks. Three full pages worth along with a dozen different cocktails, though I’m sure they would make any drink you wanted. I thought it was interesting that they also had a number of mocktails, likely to cater to those in the Gulf states who do not drink alcohol.
The food menu is unique to each route, and the options change each month. Lunch included a choice of three different appetizers, three different main courses, and four different desserts. I was tempted by the asparagus soup, but I’m a sucker for anything with scallops, so I went with the seafood duo as my first course. I figured I could sneak a spoonful of Taryn’s soup, anyway. I picked the Atlantic striped bass for my main course, and then the vanilla bean cheesecake for my dessert. Taryn went with the grilled chicken and the cheesecake as well.
After the lunch menu, there’s also a light bites menu. These dishes can be ordered at any time after the first meal, since they don’t want to disturb the whole cabin with a separate meal service while many people would likely be sleeping. The Maryland crab cakes immediately jumped out at me. Challenge accepted, Emirates.
Last is the breakfast menu, which would be offered roughly 1-2 hours before landing in Dubai. Nothing too out of the ordinary as far as choices, so I picked the scrambled eggs and chives. The cabin crew also asked while taking lunch menu orders if passengers instead wanted to skip breakfast altogether and catch a few more Zs. A nice option for actual business travelers who do this all the time, but we obviously wanted to try the food.
Separate from the food menu was the wine menu. Business class passengers can enjoy Veuve Clicquot champagne (first class passengers can have Dom Perignon), two different red wines, two different white wines, and a port. I’m sure these were fantastic wines, but they didn’t really mean anything to us. We pretend like we know wine when we’re at vineyard and say things like “this cabernet has great legs” and “nice tannins,” but that’s about the extent of our fake wine wisdom.
While Katrina took our meal requests, she also delivered our pre-dinner drinks. I went with an Old Fashioned, which also came with a bowl of warmed nuts.
Since there’s so much room between the seat and the TV (nice problem to have), it would be difficult for the tray table to flip down from the seat in front. Instead, the tray table swung out from underneath the side table. I’m still the person who rushes to push the button in the elevator, so naturally the tray table kept me amused for a good 10 minutes.
Katrina caught me playing with the tray table as she brought out the first course. She placed a white tablecloth over the tray table itself, then placed a table-clothed tray on top.
My first course included the seafood duo appetizer with scallops and prawns, a small side salad, and a hearty bread roll. I was impressed with the small details, including individual mini salt and pepper shakers, a ramekin of butter, and the napkin ring. The scallops and prawns came with a papaya salad and both were dressed in a ginger soy sauce. I didn’t know what to expect with shellfish on a plane, but both the scallops and prawns were fine and the sauce was fantastic. The salad was a nice departure from the usual carb-heavy airplane food, and the bread roll was also an upgrade. Taryn was content with her asparagus soup, but wanted it to be more asparagus-y. Sadly, I forgot to sneak a spoonful. We tend to be asparagus snobs since nothing is as good as Oceana County asparagus.
After we finished the first course, Katrina picked up our dishes and returned with the main course. My Atlantic striped bass was well-cooked and the pesto kept the fish from becoming dry. The vegetables were a nice complement, too. Taryn enjoyed her grilled chicken and was apparently hungry since she forgot to take a picture of her dish.
Once we finished the main course, Katrina again cleared our plates and came back with the vanilla bean cheesecake. It was easily the best part of the meal.
Overall, we enjoyed the meal… but we had higher expectations. Maybe it’s because there were over 75 other business class passengers to serve. Maybe it’s because they’re having to cook (or heat up?) from 30,000+ feet in the air. I guess at the end of the day, it’s still airplane food. It was easily the best airplane food we had ever had, but not quite as good as we hoped.
The Onboard Bar
It was time for the experience we had been waiting for!
The Emirates A380 onboard bar/lounge is located at the rear of the business class cabin. Since we entered from the front, I didn’t have the chance to scope out the bar, so I figured we’d wait a reasonable amount of time after the meal before heading over. Taryn and I walked all the way back, and we were greeted by the enthusiastic crew who were setting up the lounge area.
We were the first ones to the bar (go figure), but soon a few more passengers followed our lead and came back to join us in the lounge. The lounge area is a good size, and there are two seating areas on either side of the bar. There are also small cocktail tables near the emergency exits where passengers can place their drinks while they socialize.
THE BAR. IS. AMAZING. After ordering a round of drinks, we grabbed seats on one of the couches in the lounge.
After sipping our drinks and grabbing a few hors d’œuvres from the bar, the plane hit a bit of turbulence so the pilot turned on the seatbelt light. The couch was equipped with seatbelts, so we were able to stay in the lounge along with a handful of other passengers.
We flipped through the lounge’s magazines, and then I discovered that the window shades were even more fun than tray table. Seriously, Taryn can’t bring me anywhere.
While we waited for the turbulence to subside, Katrina stopped by to casually chat. We learned that Katrina was our age and hailed from Edinburgh, Scotland. She was genuinely friendly, and it was fun to hear about her experience working for Emirates. She learned it was our first time in Dubai, so she wanted to provide us a few of her recommendations. Fifteen minutes later, she came back with handwritten notes for where we should go in Dubai. Incredibly nice.
After about 45 minutes, the pilot turned off the seatbelt light and we ordered another round at the bar.
The place started to get a little livelier at this point, and we chatted up a few other passengers. EVERYONE was flying for work. In other words, they didn’t pay $8,000 out of pocket to fly in Emirates business class. When we said that we were flying for vacation to the Maldives, we received a few inquisitive looks. They probably thought we were heirs to the Vanderbilt fortune or something. I almost told them about our journey with credit card points, but I figured that would sound too crazy.
Our Serbian bartender, Marko, was quite the character. He entertained the group with his own Emirates stories, and then offered Taryn and me the chance to take pictures behind the bar. Don’t mind if I do…
After taking pictures behind the bar, Marko brought out on an old school Polaroid camera. “We want to give you a keepsake,” he said. He snapped a photo, and placed the Polaroid in an Emirates picture frame and wrote a short message. It was a simple gift, but a very nice touch.
I can’t imagine a cooler flight amenity than an onboard bar/lounge. Marko kept us around the bar for awhile, and before we knew it, two hours had passed. The cabin lights had dimmed, so we figured it was time to test out those fully flat seats.
The Lie-Flat Seat
After two (or three) drinks at the bar, it was about 3:00pm DC time but we were already tired. That’s what waking up at 3:00am will do to you.
But first, a midnight snack. I saw those Maryland crab cakes on the menu, so I pressed the call button and asked Katrina for an order.
Again, Katrina brought out the tablecloth and napkin ring. The crab cakes were good, but not great. “A” for presentation. “B” for the crab cakes themselves.
But seriously… bed time. Taryn was apparently more tired than I was, since she was already sleeping.
The rest of the cabin was already sleeping.
I pushed the lie-flat button for my seat, and it slowly transformed into a nice sized bed.
I took out the provided mattress pad and bedding, and created my own little cocoon.
I quickly fell asleep. Having all of that extra space made for a MUCH more comfortable flight, and the mattress pad was a nice touch, too. Foot traffic was nonexistent, so passengers were left to sleep in peace.
After about four hours, I woke up to use the restroom. All of the business seats have direct aisle access, so we were able to go into the aisle without having to climb over anybody else. I was curious how fancy the onboard restroom would be, though it wasn’t anything too special.
It was clean and serviceable. Maybe it was a tad bigger. But otherwise, nothing to write home about.
We had a few more hours until breakfast, so I headed back to my seat for some more shut eye.
I slept for a few more hours, and then the cabin lights came on and the cabin crew started the breakfast service.
Like the lunch service, out came the tablecloths, salt and pepper shakers, and napkin rings. Taryn and I both chose the scrambled eggs with chives, and since it was all one course, the crew was able to quickly serve the whole cabin.
This breakfast hit the spot. It was a hearty meat-and-potatoes kind of meal, and it actually outshined my main course from lunch. The pastry was a little dry, though. Maybe I should have had that croissant at the Air France lounge after all.
I threw back a few cups of coffee, as our goal was to acclimate to our new time zone as quickly as possible. I was able to get some sleep… though the combination of the time change, excitement, and dehydration meant that I was still pretty groggy.
As we approached Dubai International Airport, I was able to catch my first glimpse of the Dubai skyline.
I turned on the tail camera to watch as the massive A380 nailed the landing.
After we touched down in Dubai, Taryn and I gathered our belongings and said one last goodbye to the cabin crew. Before we left the plane, I had to snap one more picture to savor the moment.
After we landed, Emirates yet again impressed. Business class passengers were shuttled in their own separate fancy buses to the main terminal, where we were able to bypass the main customs line. We waited at most five minutes for our bags to arrive, and before we knew it, we were in a taxi to our hotel.
What an experience! It was our first business class flight of the trip, but it was definitely the best. The novelty of an onboard bar was obviously nice, but the service was what really made the flight so enjoyable. Props to Katrina and Marko for treating us like friends.
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