Istanbul, Riyadh, Doha: History, Electronic Music and Football World Cup | Milesopedia
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Coupe du Monde de Football

Istanbul, Riyadh, Doha: History, Electronic Music and Football World Cup

To the point This is the introduction to my trip to Istanbul, Riyadh and Doha in December 2022. History, Electronic Music and Football World Cup.

It had been a while since I had left without Audrey and/or the kids! At the end of November 2022, I received an invitation to participate in a new Electronic Music Festival in Saudi Arabia (MDL Beast SoundStorm) and decided to combine this with a stop in Qatar for the Football World Cup.

And to accompany me on part of this trip, one of my oldest friends, Jerome, – we’ve known each other since we were 3 years old – jumped at the chance. He too is a fan of electronic music.

Soudstorm 41
Soudstorm 41

Istanbul, Riyadh and Doha

For this Middle East tour, we left from Nice (NCE) to Riyadh (RUH), choosing our flights appropriately to offer us a free 23:30 stopover in Istanbul (IST). To (re)-discover this beautiful city and try a new hotel.

Orientbank Istanbul-38
Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, Autograph Collection

After 6 nights in Riyadh, I went alone to Doha (DOH) in Qatar to attend a World Cup match between Portugal and Switzerland (and what a match!). And take the opportunity to discover Doha and the Qatar Airways QSuite experience twice: between Riyadh and Doha on Airbus A350 and between Doha and Montreal on Boeing 777.

qatar airways a350 qsuite

Back in Montreal, it was time for the company Christmas party with all my colleagues from Milesopedia (only Marie-Claude and Audrey were missing, both in France):

Party Noel 2022
Party Noel 2022 - Équipe Milesopedia

Then it was time to launch our new partnership with Opération Enfant Soleil! I then returned to Nice in order to be in time to celebrate the end of year holidays with my family.

Logistics

The power of points

On this trip, I paid almost nothing in cash thanks to reward points. To tell the truth, the points turned out to be CRUCIAL especially during my stay in Riyadh and Doha.

Indeed, during my stay in Riyadh, the city’s hotels seemed particularly busy considering the rates charged: over $250-300 per night for any quality hotel. In addition to the Electronic Music Festival, many business conventions were held in town.

And what about Doha in the middle of the World Cup? As much as $500 per night for an entry-level hotel and over $1,000 per night for high-end hotels.

Except that at the last minute, hotels decide to open up availability for reservations with points. And although dynamic pricing was recently introduced, it was obviously not in effect everywhere!

Just see for yourself: 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for the Royal Meridien Doha instead of $915 a night?

hotels qatar coupe du monde

Flights

To book the various airline tickets, I used a combination of Aeroplan points and Avios points. While already preparing a next trip:

Itinerary Airline Cabin Points used Taxes Review
Nice – Istanbul – Riyadh Turkish Airlines Economy 25,000 Aeroplan points $60
Riyadh – Doha Qatar Airways Business 21,000 Avios points $139 Review
Doha – Montreal Qatar Airways Business 70,000 Avios $143 Coming soon
Montreal – Munich – Nice Lufthansa Business 92,500 Aeroplan* points $210 Already done
Nice – Dubai – Singapore Emirates Business Coming soon
itineraire doha arabie saoudite

With the arrival of Emirates as an Aeroplan partner, I decided to take advantage of the Aeroplan sweetspot between North America and the Pacific zone (87,500 Aeroplan points for a flight of up to 11,000 miles). So I booked this itinerary and added an Aeroplan stop for 5,000 points in Nice (less than 45 days), for a total of 92,500 Aeroplan points. While booking a flight from Montreal to Nice would have cost me 70,000 points.

In other words, I will be able to travel on Emirates between Nice and Dubai (Boeing 777) and between Dubai and Singapore (Airbus A380) for an additional cost of only 27,500 points, including the stopover in Nice!

CDG-DXB – Emirates J – JM-30

Hotels

For hotels, it was a mix of cash, Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors points:

Hotel City Night(s) Payment Review
Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, Autograph Collection Istanbul 1 149 euros Review
Riyadh Airport Marriott Hotel Riyadh 1 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points Review
Le Méridien Riyadh Riyadh 3 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points Review
JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh Riyadh 1 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points Review
Courtyard Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter Riyadh 1 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points Review
Hilton Doha The Pearl Hotel & Residences Doha 1 60,000 Hilton Honors points Review
Agora, Doha, Autograph Collection Doha 1 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points Review
Le Royal Méridien Doha Doha 1 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points Review

In summary: 149 euros, 180,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and 60,000 Hilton Honors points for 10 nights in a hotel.

Le Meridien Riyadh 02
Le Meridien Riyadh 02

Rental car

I rented a car at Riyadh airport to easily get to the MDLBEAST Music Festival away from the city and explore the surrounding area.

Although I usually prefer to rent with Hertz or National, here I opted for Sixt because of the rate offered (much cheaper than the others thanks to a Diamond status). Anyway, I have the highest status with all car rental companies thanks to this trick.

I was lucky: despite a prepaid rate via the Sixt website, the agency at the Riyadh airport insisted that I pay my rental again when I returned the vehicle. And I’ll skip the story of their failed attempt to charge me for damage to the vehicle.

So I am in dispute with Sixt and will not hesitate to initiate a chargeback process via my American Express® Aeroplan®* Business Reserve Card. I chose this card because of the 2 Aeroplan points per dollar and its high insurance coverage.

I can only advise you to choose another car rental agency in Riyadh.

Edge Of The World 1
Edge Of The World 1

The visits

Istanbul : the classics

I will come back in detail on an article presenting Istanbul and the various possible visits during a 24 hours stopover there. I must say that the hotel we chose, the Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, Autograph Collection, is particularly suitable since it is located in the heart of the historic district of the city.

Here are the classics we have done:

  • Grand Bazaar
  • Spice Bazaar
  • Saint Sophia
  • Blue Mosque
  • Topkapi Palace Gardens
  • Gülhane Park
Istanbul 2022 Jean Maximilien 1
Istanbul 2022 Jean Maximilien 1

Riyadh: Desert and electronic music

As I mentioned in the introduction, the starting point of this trip was an invitation to the MDL Beast Soundstorm Electronic Music Festival. This festival was launched in 2019 with the goal of being the largest festival of its kind in the Middle East to compete with big names like EDC Las Vegas or Tomorrowland.

Over the 3 nights of the Festival (taking place from 4pm to 3am), more than 600,000 participants danced on 7 stages while listening to the intoxicating music of David Guetta, Tiesto or Hardwell. I will of course give a detailed report of my experience on the spot.

Soudstorm 24
Soudstorm 24

Apart from the Festival, it was an opportunity to discover Riyadh and its surroundings, with points of interest such as:

  • Edge of the World
  • Kingdom Tower
  • King Abdulah Park
  • Al Masmak Palace
  • Dariya
  • Red Sand Dunes (Quad)

This made me want to come back to explore other places in the country with my family (I must say that Saudi Arabia was already in my travel plans after visiting the Saudi Arabia Pavilion at the Expo2020 in Dubai).

Edge Of The World 3
Edge Of The World 3

Doha: Culture and the Football World Cup

When I was organizing this trip at the last minute, I had already booked my flight from Doha to Montreal, having found a flight for 70,000 Avios points (which tends to be rare if you don’t plan 10-11 months in advance). Especially in the middle of the World Cup.

Moreover, during this World Cup, there was a requirement to enter Qatar: to have the Hayya card. The card was originally issued only to holders of World Cup tickets and/or accommodation booked through the official FIFA website.

After that, the rules were opened up a bit to allow more people to enter the territory as of December 1 (and the end of the group matches). For example, it was possible to provide proof of accommodation booked via other platforms (including bookings with points) and to visit Qatar without being a match ticket holder.

But this was the theory. In practice, it was much more complicated and many supporters learned this the hard way. I will explain my “obstacle course” in a dedicated article about my 2022 World Cup experience.

portugal suisse
Portugal Suisse - Coupe du Monde de Football 2022

It was my first time in Qatar. During this 3-night stopover, I could only visit the city on one day (the other one being particularly busy with work). I still got a great overview of Doha including :

  • Qatar National Museum
  • Museum of Islamic Art
  • Corniche
  • Souq Waqif
  • The Pearl
  • Katara : Beach and cultural village
  • Lusail and Place Vendôme

I will also share my experience with you in a dedicated article.

musée national qatar
Musee National du Qatar

Credit cards used

Here are the credit cards I had in my wallet during this trip to the Middle East (and its preparation).

Of course, you don’t need to have all these credit cards to take a trip like this! But this shows you the ideal optimization of point accumulation and benefit use.

Aeroplan tax payment

As part of the preparation of this trip, to pay the taxes on my airline tickets booked with AeroplanI used my American Express®* Aeroplan® Reserve Card : it is the only Aeroplan credit card for individuals to offer 3 points per dollar for reservations made with Air Canada (including Aeroplan award tickets) or Air Canada Vacations.

And by using an Aeroplan credit card, I am covered by insurance in case of flight or baggage delays.

Note that the American Express® Aeroplan®* Business Reserve Card also offers 3 points per dollar for purchases made with Air Canada.

No Foreign Transaction Fee

One of my favorite credit cards in my wallet is the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®, and this is for several reasons:

  • No FX fee
  • 6 points per dollar for travel purchases
  • 3 points per dollar for all other purchases
  • $100 in annual travel credit
  • Premium insurance

And since it is a Mastercard, it is accepted everywhere. Well… almost everywhere! Indeed, in the stadiums of the World Cup, the major sponsor is Visa. For example, to buy food on site, it was impossible to use an American Express or Mastercard credit card!

Only Visa
Visa - Coupe du Monde de Football 2022

Fortunately, I had signed up for the Scotiabank Passport™ Visa Infinite* Card shortly before this trip to take advantage of the current welcome offer to earn Scene+ points and 6 free airport lounge passes. This allowed me to pay on the spot (without foreign currency conversion fees there too)!

5X points in hotels and restaurants

When traveling, even outside of Canada, I also use credit cards that have foreign currency conversion fees. In fact, when the point accumulation rate exceeds the 2.5% fee, I consider myself a winner!

So, for expenses at Marriott Bonvoy hotels (paid hotel nights, meals and bar drinks, etc.), I use my Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card.

And sometimes you can be lucky as it was the case at my hotel in Istanbul: the cab driver’s credit card machine was – strangely – not working when we arrived at the hotel. The receptionist then told me that he could give me the money in cash by charging it to my room! So I could get 5 times the Marriott Bonvoy points on this cash “withdrawal”. Of course I asked him to do the same for my return to the airport… just in case 😉

bonvoy companycard featured image
The Marriott BonvoyTM Business American Express® Card

I hold both the Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card Card and the small business version, the Marriott Bonvoy® Business American Express®* Card. This allows me to:

This will more than pay for the $120 and $150 annual fees.

For spending in restaurants and bars, I naturally used my American Express Cobalt® Card Card, which offers 5 times the points (even when abroad).

This has been well accepted, whether in Istanbul, Riyadh or Doha. On a couple of occasions, I still had to use my HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®.

Access to airport lounges

On most of my trips, I traveled in business class and therefore had access to airport lounges.

However, when I left Nice, I was traveling with Turkish Airlines in economy class. For example, I used my American ExpressPlatinum Card® Priority Pass to access the Terminal 1 Lounge at Nice Airport.

The Platinum Card® from American Express is the only credit card in Canada for individuals that offers unlimited access for the Cardmember and one guest to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide (along with many other benefits). Enough to make my French friend discover the comfort of airport lounges!

Note that the Business Platinum Card® from American Express Card also offers the same access to airport lounges.

Travel insurance and travel credits

Finally, to be well covered during this trip, I paid the taxes for one of my flights with Qatar Airways with the National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard®. In fact, it is one of the only credit cards in Canada that offers coverage even though we only paid part of our trip on it.

The coverage will reimburse expenses…if at least a portion of the cost of the trip has been charged to the account.

Banque Nationale du Canada

And actually, the insurance that mattered most to me, the Emergency Medical Insurance, doesn’t even require you to pay for your trip with it! All you need is the National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard®.

This is a credit card that I keep year after year as it offers up to $150 in annual travel credit for these types of expenses:

  • Airport parking
  • Baggage fees
  • Seat selection
  • Access to airport lounges
  • Flight upgrades

This way, you can use your annual travel credit, whether it’s a parking expense or any purchase made with an airline. 😉

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!

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