The World Professional Jiu Jitsu competition is held annually, with the finals in Abu Dhabi. Each year leading up to the final satellite competitions are held around the world, with the winners of each category gaining entrance to the main event. At Black Belt, the winners of each weight category gain a cash prize and travel package to the finals, but below that they only give the travel package to 2 people per belt, the winners of the Absolute.
The absolute here is divided into two categories: Light and Heavy, meaning all the people at Brown belt and below who weigh less than 180lbs compete for the Absolute (Light) title, as do all those above 180lbs (Heavy). As you can see from the weight categories shown for Black Belts that means 4 weight categories in each, or 4 people who have already won gold at their own weight now have to fight again for the prize package.
It means, unless you have your own means to get to Abu Dhabi that you win a gold medal, and entry to your weight class but not the travel package, making it out of reach to many people. I wanted to share some of our travel tips to help rebalance that issue.
First, a warning
Later on in this post I will explain how to squeeze massive value out of Credit Card rewards in order to travel for pennies on the dollar. But if you plan to attempt this please remember that Credit Cards are like playing with fire, please do not attempt to do this if you think that you cannot pay off the balance in full each month. Credit Card debt is the worst thing that can happen to a person.
Cost of trip to Abu Dhabi
I’ll look at travel from both the West Coast and the East Coast for this, typically the most expensive cost is airfare, but hotels can add up quickly too. The finals are scheduled for April 2014, so I will use that month for prices.
Tip – if you plan to buy a ticket rather than use miles make sure you look at nearby airports, on both sides of the journey to find the lowest price. EG if you are in New York look at flying from JFK, LGA or EWR (Newark, NJ) and on the other side consider flying into DXB (Dubai) as well as AUH (Abu Dhabi) you can get a bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi very easily and it might be worth the savings.
I use Kayak.com and compare the price with Travelocity for flights, and the current price for April is:
- JFK-AUH on Royal Jordanian Airlines is $875 Round Trip (around 25hrs each way one stop)
- LAX-AUH on Gulf Air is $1026 Round Trip (around 40hrs each way, two stops)
If you wanted to fly Non-Stop it would cost a lot more:
- JFK-AUH on Etihad would cost $1912
- LAX-AUH doesn’t have a non-stop service, sorry guys
If you consider flying into DXB and getting a bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi instead then the journey is a lot better:
- LAX-DXB on Delta $1121 Roundtrip (19hrs each way, one stop) or, even nicer is a non stop from LAX-DXB on Emirates for just $1172, which gets you there in a little under 16hrs.
- JFK-DXB on Emirates nonstop for $1187
I took the bus earlier this year, it takes about 90 minutes and the conditions were fine. You can also take a cab, which would be worth it if you were traveling in a group of say 3 people for about $75.
Checking hotel prices is difficult for this planning process. If you are on a budget others are too, and once the dates for the finals are released you can believe that all of the cheaper hotels will fill up fast, making prices surge. If you are planning to book a hotel, get it booked ASAP. The good news is that many sites like Hotels.com allow a free cancellation, but be careful because often the cheapest priced room has a no refund policy.
Also, you need to factor in the impact of the flight on the duration of your stay. If you try for super cheap on the flight and end up traveling 40-60hrs to get to Abu Dhabi from the West Coast you are going to need to arrive a little earlier so you body can recover from the journey.
I personally like Hotels.com to check prices, right now for April there are rooms available for $60 per night, which you can split with another person as they have twin bed options. These prices jump when you add on taxes and fees, and could be closer to $80.
Get Extra Cash Back for your Hotel and Flight
If you decide to pay real money for your flights and hotels you can get cashback on what you spend. Check out a site called evreward.com and punch in the URL of the site you are buying from, it will give you portal options that give you more money back. Hotels.com averages about 5%. If you want straight cash then I suggest Bigcrumbs at 4.5% for Hotels.com and 4.2% for Travelocity. If you think of spending around $2000 or more on flights plus hotels that Cashback is worth about $85, which will be sent to you via paypal. I have a signed up link here for Bigcrumbs that explains how it works (it also pays me a small commission if you decide to use it).
Reducing Costs Further
Using the above methods you will get some of the cheapest ways to pay for your flight and hotel. However, if these costs are still too prohibitive you could look at reducing the hotel cost by exploring AirBNB, which involves renting a room in someones home. If you do go this route make sure you get a place that has a number of positive reviews from past guests. Rates can start from about $40 per night in Abu Dhabi.
Reducing the Cost of your Flight – Massively
If you redeem airmiles (the right way) you can reduce the cost of your trip massively. I’ll start with a basic redemption, then I will make it even better.
American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
These miles are amazing value for the route I am going to build for you. If you fly from anywhere in the US to Abu Dhabi the mileage required (in Coach) is 45,000 Airmiles each way – 90,000 Total. If you have these available then you could book on AA.com and pay the 90,000 AAdvantage Miles plus the Fee of $83.40 and you just saved over $800 on your NYC-Abu Dhabi flights.
The cool thing is, that if you fly from the West Coast, you would pay the same Miles and Fees as from the East Coast, so nothing extra for that journey across the US. Even cooler…. check this out: You could fly from LA or San Francisco and stopover in NYC on your way to Abu Dhabi for the same price. Which is great if you want to visit one of the big East Coast schools in New York. East Coasters also could get a free ticket to LA later on in the year by using the same free stopover rule, here is how to do that for either one of you: Getting the Magic Dashes On American Airline Awards
American Airlines, British Airways, Air Berlin or Royal Jordanian?
You will notice that I talk about using American Airlines miles, but the flight I showed above was on Air Berlin, that is because it is a Partner Airline of American, you can fly on any of these flights using your AA miles. The thing to avoid though, is any British Airways plane that flies into, or out of London on the way to Abu Dhabi – British Airways adds on a large penalty tax for this route, and this route only.
Reducing 90,000 Miles down to 40,000 and 25,000, for a total of 65,000
Credit for this crazy idea goes to TheMilesProfessor where she outlined the deal in this post
The general idea is that instead of booking North America-Middle East using AA miles you book a round-trip award from North America to Europe – you actually pick the same flights as you see above, and go from your US City to Berlin, Germany flying on Air Berlin. The cost of a one way ticket using American Airlines to Berlin is only 20,000 miles each way. So you can fly from LA, stop in New York for a week, fly onto Germany all for just 20,000 Miles!
Once in Berlin, in order to get to Abu Dhabi you need another round-trip ticket, if you use British Airways (and since you aren’t going through London then British Airways is amazing value for this route), you can get from Berlin to Abu Dhabi for just 12,500 BA Miles each way.
What you are doing here is leveraging the sweet-spot on two distinct mileage programs to reduce your overall cost (in miles) though you do get hit with a bit more in terms of fees, the pricing for this would be as follows:
- USA-Germany 20,000 AA Miles plus $2.50 in fees (pretty sweet!)
- Germany-Abu Dhabi 12,500 BA Miles plus $60.03 in fees…
- Abu Dhabi- Germany 12,500 BA Miles plus $21.78 in fees
- Germany-USA 20,000 AA Miles plus $105 in fees (ouch!)
Conclusion on Miles Choices
Therefore – you can fly using AA for 90,000 AAdvantage Miles plus $83 for the entire journey from USA to Abu Dhabi or you could reduce the number of AAdvantage Miles used and mix in some British Airways miles too, making it 40,000 plus 25,000 miles needed, but your fee costs would increase to a little under $200.
Also, you don’t need to go straight home from Abu Dhabi, if you do this you could decide to stay in Europe for sometime before heading back to the US, makes for a nice free trip!
Don’t have any miles?
In the USA Credit Card companies give miles out with new card signups. The best deal you can typically find is about 50,000 miles. In order to get that 50,000 you need to put minimum spend on the card, of around $3,000. Now, I understand you might think that one way to put $3,000 on the card quickly is to book up the flights and hotels to Abu Dhabi using the cash method, and indeed that is not a bad idea, as you would have the miles ready for your next journey.
However, there is also something called ‘manufactured spending’ where you increase your monthly spend simply to gain the card bonuses, and then cash in the money. It is a little risky to do if you aren’t comfortable with money management, but if you think you have the mental strength to be disciplined with your spending then maximizing this can make travel almost free for you, which allows opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to become in your grasp, such as being able to attend the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Competition in Abu Dhabi when you don’t have the Travel package from the Absolutes.
For further reading:
App-O-Rama, how to apply for your credit cards (includes a link to a 50,000 signup bonus on the AAdvantage card that is not publicly available.
Dubai Trip Report, i got to train at Team Nog there, in their fantastic new facility, but if you have only one day there, this is the only way to spend it.
Chase British Airways Credit Card link – 50,000 BA Miles with $2,000 spend
TAKE CREDIT CARDS SERIOUSLY – THEY CAN OFFER GREAT VALUE, BUT ARE VERY DANGEROUS TOOLS WHEN MISUSED.
You can similarly reduce the cost of your hotel, but the best way to do that is consider sharing a room with a team mate and splitting the cost. If you have a bunch of airmiles already and want to use the time between now and April to build up Hotel points for your stay in Abu Dhabi, making that free also you could focus on Hilton, Hyatt or Starwood programs.
Have questions? Leave me a comment below and I will help explain this further.