The GUC stops here: Our incredible adventure


While I’m writing this post, Nick and I are on the final leg of our whirlwind GUC adventure.  As a reminder, “GUC” rhymes with “buck,” and stands for “Global Upgrade Certificate”.  These certificates can be used to upgrade from cheap economy flights to lie-flat business class on Delta or select Delta partners.  As a Delta Diamond Elite, each year I get to pick 4 GUCs as a Choice Benefit.  Usually my wife and I book a round-trip economy international flight for two and use these GUCs to upgrade to lie-flat luxury.  This year, I GUC’d instead with Nick.

two men swinging on a swing in the ocean
Nick and I swing above clear waters in the Maldives

Of course, I’m not as nice of a boss (and awful of a husband) as the above paragraph suggests.  This GUC “gift” to Nick had strings attached.  He had to plan the whole trip.  And, he had to meet a bunch of challenges: travel safely and without getting cancelled during COVID; travel far; earn elite status from the trip; get outsized point value when booking hotels and activities; etc.  We made this into a game: Nick’s goal was to earn 200,000 “bonus points” from these and other accomplishments.  As we went along, I awarded points based on my subjective view of how well he did in meeting those challenges.

Later in this post I’ll review the point bonuses to see if Nick succeeded in earning 200K points.  First, let’s look at the trip from my point of view…

Our Trip, in Review

To Dubai

I’ve never before been to Dubai… or actually anywhere in the Middle East… but I was definitely interested.  From that point of view, Dubai was a good destination.  On the other hand, early September in Dubai is deadly hot.  That was not so good.  My expectations for this particular destination were mixed.

Nick and I met up at Washington Dulles (IAD) airport to begin our adventure.  Those who followed along with our 40K to Far Away adventure in 2019 may think that sounds familiar.  After all, we began our 40K trips from IAD too.  At that time, we picked IAD because it was a convenient place to kick off our trips.  This time, we picked it only because Delta happened to be offering great prices for partner flights from IAD to Dubai.  We each paid $608 round-trip and we used my four GUCs to upgrade each of us in each direction.  Nick covered some of the details of applying our GUCs here: How we used our Delta Global Upgrade Certificates to fly business class on Air France.

a man sitting in a plane with a mask on his face
Greg and Nick fly Air France Business Class

We flew to Dubai on Air France, with a layover in Paris (CDG) along the way.  I’ve flown Air France business class once before, but it was long ago and before they offered lie flat seats.  On the GUC trip, I found Air France’s business class to be solid.  The lie-flat seats were comfortable.  Everything worked as expected.  Service was good, but not remarkable.  Food was better than average.

a hand holding a flyer

The Air France Lounge at CDG was crowded, but otherwise pretty good.  I especially liked that they offered free 20 minute facials.  I also took advantage of their complementary shower rooms where I showered and shaved.  Between the facial and the shower, I was refreshed and ready to go on.  Here’s our lounge review in video form:

The Prince Suite at Grand Hyatt Dubai

a living room with couches and chairs

When we arrived in Dubai, Nick picked up a rental car and then we checked into the Grand Hyatt Dubai’s Prince Suite.  As you can see above, the suite was enormous.  Hyatt makes it possible to book premium suites like this one with points.  In this case, Nick paid only $150 plus 9,000 points per night.  Nick covered the details here: Prince Suite at the Grand Hyatt Dubai: amazing use of Hyatt points.  Also, since Nick has Hyatt Globalist status, we were technically allowed lounge access, but the lounge was closed.  Instead, they offered us free restaurant breakfast and dinner daily.

Check out this video walk-through:

Flying something new

a selfie of a man in a hat and glasses with a desert landscape
Sunrise from our hot air balloon over the desert

Most of the activities we did on this trip were surprises to me.  Nick booked them and I just followed along.  For this particular adventure, I was completely in the dark.  Actually, I was literally in the dark for our 4am hotel departure.  I was a bit grumpy about this until I saw what was up… or, rather, what was soon going up:

two men standing in front of a hot air balloon

I’ve never flown in a hot air balloon before, but it’s been on my bucket list.  And… wow!  I loved it!  What an incredible experience!  I sometimes experience motion sickness (read this experience, for example: Learning Scuba and feeding fish), but standing in the balloon felt like standing on solid ground.  I never felt motion at all except when we landed.  You can see more of our experience in this brief video:

Or if you’d prefer to simply see the beautiful view, watch this one:

Camel Riding, Travel-Show Style

a man riding a camel on a beach

Our balloon ride package included a desert breakfast, along with optional camel rides and falcon holding (I skipped the latter).  The camel ride was fine, but I was more excited about putting my tech to good use than the ride itself…

For this trip, I brought along wireless microphones: Rode Wireless Go II.  Along with a special iPhone lightning connector, we were able to record video from my iPhone while capturing sound from these wireless microphones.  This worked pretty well on the airplane (click here to see an example), not so great in a car (click here), but incredibly well on camels!  It’s almost like we’re on a real travel show.  See for yourself below (make sure your sound is on!):

Driving Abu Dhabi

a race car on a track

After our balloon and camel adventure, and a nap or two, we drove to Abu Dhabi.  Nick had tickets for the Formula YAS 3000 driving experience.  Getting into Abu Dhabi was a nerve racking experience in itself (see COVID Notes near the bottom of this post), but the idea of driving a racecar also made me a bit nervous.  When we arrived at the racetrack, we were given our freak-out briefing which they misnamed “educational briefing” and I went from “a bit” nervous to “very.”  The actual racing experience was a blast though!  I had a ton of fun despite filling my entire car with sweat (it was about 500 degrees outside at the time).  Read more about the experience here: Formula 1 racetrack experience in Abu Dhabi.

Three Meals at the Four Seasons

two men sitting at a table with food on it
Friday brunch at the Four Seasons. Just the starters are pictured here.

Four Seasons is a very highly regarded luxury hotel chain, but unlike St. Regis, Ritz, Park Hyatt, etc., Four Seasons hotels cannot be booked with hotel points.  So, when we found a great deal for a one night stay at the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, we jumped on it and booked a separate room for each of us.  Amex Platinum cards now offer $200 rebates each year for Fine Hotel & Resort bookings.  By booking the Four Seasons through Fine Hotels & Resorts with our Platinum cards, we would get the following benefits:

  • $200 back from Amex
  • $100 food & beverage property credit
  • Early check-in at noon, if available (we didn’t need this)
  • Room upgrade (we were given “double upgrades” to water view deluxe rooms)
  • Daily breakfast for 2 people
  • Guaranteed 4 p.m. late check-out

The pre-tax rate for the Four Seasons for the night we booked was exactly $200 and so the Platinum rebate covered the entire stay except for taxes!  And the $100 food & beverage credit went really far in that it completely covered two meals each!

  • Dinner: On Thursday evening, we checked into the Four Seasons only an hour before we had to leave for the driving experience, and so we had to hurry up and eat.  We separately ordered room service for about $30 each.
  • Friday Brunch: Friday brunch is the thing to do around there and so Nick booked us a table for Friday at 1pm at the hotel’s steak restaurant: Butcher & Still.  They call their brunch “The Meat People Brunch.”  Without alcoholic drinks (which we didn’t want at 1pm anyway), this cost us $70 each.

On Friday morning, well before brunch, we each got breakfast in the hotel restaurant named Crust.  This was fully covered by the Fine Hotels & Resorts free breakfast perk.

a bed with pillows and a table in a room
Nick’s bedroom at the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi.  I think that my room was wider, but I didn’t get a good picture of it.

Mini review:

  • Room: My room was beautifully appointed.  It really did stand out as something special.  I was very surprised to find, though, that the bed was a bit lumpy and uncomfortable.  Fortunately I was so dead tired that I slept well anyway.
  • Food: My room-service dinner (meat lasagna) was disappointing, but I gobbled it down anyway because I was starving at the time (that would be the last time I could say that on this trip). At breakfast, I ordered the Eggs Benedict with turkey ham from the menu, and it was excellent.  The few things I tried from their truly beautiful buffet were just OK.  The brunch was very good.  Nothing stood out as amazing, but everything was tasty.
  • Service: Service was very good, but they didn’t wow me.  To be clear: there was nothing at all wrong with the service, but I expected to see some of that vaunted Four Seasons hospitality that I’ve previously read about.  Maybe they reserve that for guests who aren’t piling on so many freebies.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Invalid request error occurred.a large white building with domes and a tall tower with Sheikh Zayed Mosque in the background

After Friday brunch, we rushed over to the Grand Mosque after it opened at 3pm.  The Mosque is free, but you do need to get tickets online.  We arrived later than expected and so our tickets had timed out.  Nick got new tickets online via his phone and we were then good to go.  The Mosque is beautiful, of course, but we probably set an in and out time record because we had to rush back to Dubai in time for a food and walking tour…

Dubai Food & Walking Tour

a sign outside a restaurant

Nick had booked a private food and walking tour of Dubai.  He says that the tour advertised, among other things, a camel meat burger, saffron ice cream, and a coffee museum.  Of those, we only did the one we could have happily skipped: the camel meat burger.  Still, the tour included two boat rides across Dubai Creek and plenty of excellent food (the camel burger notwithstanding).  The restaurant shown above was one of my favorite stops.

two men sitting on a boat in the water
They call this a creek

Emirates First to the Maldives & Back

Emirates is the only airline that flies direct between Dubai and Malé in the Maldives.  Emirates charges 71,250 miles plus less than $100 in taxes to fly this route one-way in First Class.  It was perhaps a bit silly to spend so many miles to fly only four hours, but I’d never before experienced Emirates’ highly regarded first class bling (see the video above) and so we happily splurged.

In addition to the excellent in-cabin experience flying first class, we got ground perks too.  On our outbound flight to the Maldives, flying first class gave us access to the Emirates First Class Lounge before our flight.  We each took advantage of a free 15 minute massage and some high-end drinks.  Upon return to Dubai after the Maldives, we were greeted by Emirates employees who carried digital signs displaying our names.  They then escorted us through an exclusive immigration checkpoint.  We were through to baggage claim in no time!

Mini review: Compared to other international first class products I’ve flown (off the top of my head: Lufthansa, Thai, Singapore, Etihad, American Airlines), I thought that the in-flight experience compared favorably.  It wasn’t as amazing as Singapore or Etihad, but probably on par with Lufthansa, and much better than Thai or AA (so much better than AA that it’s almost silly to compare).  The ground experience when departing Dubai was surprisingly weak compared to the amazing services offered by Lufthansa and Thai out of their hubs, but the arrival experience was very good.

Le Meridien Maldives

a pool with chairs and umbrellas on the side

Our visit to Le Meridien Maldives blew me away.  Le Meridien Maldives is a brand new resort with its own island in the Maldives (as is true with most resorts there).  Since it was brand new (it opened less than 2 weeks before our arrival), I expected lots of problems.  After all, problems are standard with new hotels and resorts.  But not here.  The property’s general manager, Nilesh Singh, has previously worked at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis properties (two of Marriott’s most highly acclaimed luxury brands).  He told us that he expects the same level of service from his Le Meridien staff.  And it shows.  Seriously.  I can’t think of any time I’ve stayed anywhere with such consistently great service (except maybe Necker Island, but that’s a whole different thing…).  Plus, the property itself is drop-dead gorgeous.  It doesn’t remotely look like a work in progress as is usually the case with new resorts.  The snorkeling was fabulous too!  For more about the resort, see: Le Meridien Maldives first impressions: Wow!

a wooden deck with a railing and a body of water
We each booked our own overwater villa for only 30,000 Marriott points per night (actually I used 35K free night certificates).
a beach with chairs and a hut on the beach
Sunset from the beach. The pavilion in the background is part of their Japanese restaurant named Tabemasu. Diners can ask to be seated out on that pavilion (we did!)

Finally, check out these videos showing our experience at the resort:

KLM to Home

a room with a computer and a table
KLM 787 Business Class

We flew KLM business class from Dubai to Amsterdam and I’m finishing this post as we’re flying from Amsterdam to Washington Dulles.  I’ve never before flown KLM so I was excited to give it a try.  Our first of the two flights was on a 787 with modern new reverse-herringbone seats, as shown above.  That was excellent.  I’ve flown reverse-herringbone business class many times with other airlines and this was probably my favorite.  The seat was comfortable and very private thanks to a privacy guard by my head, a privacy screen between seats, and the fact that the seats across the aisle are staggered in such a way that you can never look directly at the person next to you.  That might not be so good when flying as a family, but for privacy it’s great.  I especially appreciated how the footwell was organized with a lower shelf under which I could store my shoes and an upper shelf with USB power for my phone.  These thoughtful but simple design decisions make a big difference in overall comfort, in my opinion.

a group of people in a plane
KLM A330-200 Business Class

Our current flight aboard an A330-200 (shown above) isn’t nearly as nice as the 787, but it actually works well for me and Nick to talk and work together during this daytime flight.  We’re both glad that we had the 787 for the overnight flight!

a small white house in a plastic bag

The main reason Nick chose KLM flights was that I had offered to award bonus points if we collected KLM Delft Blue Houses along the way.  KLM gives these gin-filled collector’s items to business class passengers on intercontinental routes.  The photo above is the house I was given on the flight from Dubai to Amsterdam.  I expect we’ll each get another at the end of our current flight.  The house is in a sealed bag so that it is allowed to be carried through airport security.

Nick’s Performance Review

As Nick’s boss it makes sense for me give him an occasional performance review.  In this case, I’ll make it public (and specific to this trip).

General Impressions

I’m not gonna lie… I was nervous about turning over the reigns of this trip entirely to Nick.  After all, in our 40K to Far Away Challenge he nearly missed his connection to Hawaii, he fell asleep on a bus and missed his stop, his overnight plans fell apart and he spent a night on a concrete slab, he wasn’t allowed out of the Bangkok airport and so spent an entire day there, he missed a ferry boat in New Zealand… should I go on?

Fortunately, this trip was not like that one!  Nick did a great job in the main task: getting great value from my GUCs.  I’ve never before applied GUCs to any flights other than Delta and so I expected it to be very difficult.  The fact that he found cheap flights all the way to Dubai on two different airlines (neither Delta) and that we were able to secure business class upgrades the whole way was phenomenal.

Nick also exceeded expectations in planning activities.  With the exception of a trip to the Dubai Mall (I’m not a mall guy), I liked everything we did and I loved (is there a stronger word I can use there?) the balloon flight!

Nick further hit it out of the park with respect to getting great value and great luxury for less.  The Grand Hyatt Prince Suite and the Four Seasons were terrific.  The Le Meridien Maldives was another level of awesomeness at an incredibly low cost.

Bonus Point Success!

Nick easily earned more than the target 200K points!  Here’s a list of bonus point opportunities and how many points Nick earned for each:

Bonus Point Opportunity Points Awarded Target Notes
Travel safely & don’t get cancelled 45K 50K This was a major achievement. I gave Nick slightly less than the full target amount due to us having to spend a significant time in Dubai trying to avoid having the Abu Dhabi side-trip cancelled.
Travel Far
(Circle the world)
20K 30K No doubt, the Maldives is “far”, but the GUCs took us “only” to Dubai and back.  That’s still far, but not crazy-far.
Airline elite status for Nick 15K 20K Between a spirited status challenge and the GUC flights, Nick has secured Delta Gold elite status through January 2023!  I would have given him the full 20K if he had somehow secured Platinum.
Free stopover perks 0K 20K Nick tried to get me to award stopover perk points for lounge benefits we used, but I had in mind things outside of airports like free tours, free hotel stays etc.
Destination points 40K 20K +20K Destination bonus for UAE
+20K Destination bonus for Maldives
Business class suite 0K 10K We didn’t fly in a business class suite. We did fly Emirates’ first class suite, but that wasn’t booked with GUCs.
Fly something new 25K 10K +5K Air France
+10K Hot Air Balloon
+10K KLM
KLM Delft Blue houses 15K 10K +10K for first house
+5K for second house
Airport lounge experiences 20K 10K +10K Air France Lounge
+10K KLM Lounge
Outsized hotel point value 40K 10K +10K Grand Hyatt Dubai
+10K Four Seasons Abu Dhabi
+20K Le Meridien Maldives
Outsized activity point value 25K 10K +10K Balloon & camel ride
+10K F1 racetrack
+5K Dubai Food Tour
A GUC for a duck 10K 5K +10K for two ducks
Spirit swag 5K 5K Nick brought his Spirit hand sanitizer and water bottle (which was used as a phone stand)
Luxury bonuses 30K 5K +5K Grand Hyatt Prince Suite
+5K Emirates Lounge Massage
+20K Le Meridien Maldives
+10K KLM lounge
Subtractions -30K -10K -10K for champagne debacle
-20K for lame layover planning


Other Stuff


Our latest episode of Frequent Miler on the Air was all about international travel during Covid.  International travel simply doesn’t happen these days without COVID being a front-and-center issue.  Every place in the world has different rules about whether you need to have been vaccinated or tested, and what types of vaccines and tests count, and how soon before travel those tests must happen.  To travel to Dubai we needed PCR tests completed no more than 72 hours before travel.  To the Maldives, tests needed to be completed no more than 96 hours before travel.  To return to the U.S., tests must be done no more than 3 calendar days in advance.  On this trip, Abu Dhabi was the most problematic…

a man wearing a face mask
Greg waits outside while Nick enters Abu Dhabi’s testing and quarantine center because the Al Hosn app didn’t believe that he was vaccinated.

Before our trip, Abu Dhabi put the U.S. on the unsafe list and so we had to abandon plans to visit.  But at the last minute they made an exception for vaccinated travelers.  We were back in!  To go there, though, we had to figure out how to register with their Al Hosn app.  After much trial and tribulation (including buying local sim cards in Dubai because the app requires a local phone number), I was all set.  Nick wasn’t.  At the border to Abu Dhabi, we were sent back a few miles to the above pictured testing & quarantine center.  It turned out fine in the end (he had to sign a form promising to self quarantine even though he was promised that it didn’t mean what it said), but only after lots of stress.

Ideas for our next adventure?

This adventure was inspired by an email from a reader.  Eventually, we’ll do something exciting like this or like our 40K to Far Away challenge again, but we won’t repeat either of the same challenges.  Do you have ideas that would be both interesting and informative?  Please comment below.

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Hi Greg, great review of a great trip. I would love if you did a grand total post that shows what you spent on flights, hotels, and activities and what you earned along the way (with a cash value using your RRVs).

For your next challenge, I would love to see stopovers and open jaws used to complete scavenger hunts. Like get a selfie under the Eiffel Tower, take a 10 hour train ride, and walk across a bridge that’s 500+ feet high. Just a couple ideas off the top of my head 🙂

Miles Ahead

Loved the content and trip. Nick’s planning, A+, especially hotel and flight,l/GUC choices. The side adventures were a great read to and your pleasure was contagious. For me, this is exactly the kind of trip and use of points that demonstrates clearly on why to collect points in the first place: to travel luxuriously to wonderful, interesting places that would otherwise break the bank, but are achievable with thoughtful and strategic use of points. Great job, Nick and Greg!


Regarding visiting Abu Dhabi you wrote:

” At the border to Abu Dhabi, we were sent back a few miles to the above pictured testing & quarantine center.  It turned out fine in the end (he had to sign a form promising to self quarantine even though he was promised that it didn’t mean what it said), but only after lots of stress.”

I also plan on entering Abu Dhabi from Dubai in a few weeks by land….

so i read you need another PCR test to enter Abu Dhabi and proof you are fully vaccinated. so were the paper copies of your vaccination good enough ? also the day after i get in Abu Dhabi i have my flight back to the USA…. so is that an issue with the whole “self quarantine thing”?? i too am trying to avoid “a lot of stress”.

lastly…. the link to book your hot air balloon ride please : )


THANK YOU Greg !!!

Though with step #1, I get an error message that says “no data found”

Any idea why ?

Is the fact that my country of nationality does NOT require a visa to enter the UAE be the issue ?


Awesome trip! I did enjoy the 40K trips better but I know that would be hard to accomplish right now. Love that Nick racked up some points from it! I think a challenge-type trip closer to home would be nice – Central American. It is close by but many destinations there are still not the easiest to reach. Beaches rain forests, Myan Ruins, Cenotes, water taxis, sailing trips, and places like the Blue Hole, there is a lot of adventure and a mixture of accommodations from OWB to shacks on almost deserted islands. It seems the possibilities would be endless.


I enjoyed every minute of this adventure. Fun and informative for the miles community.
I do have a question: Seems that Le Meridien was a great choice for the value and using the 35K certificates, but traveling this far and probably once in a lifetime, dont you think you would want to stay at “the best” hotel available with points? Can you compare the Le Meridien with the other ones?


So enjoyed following along and great to see you two on IG. You always provide really helpful, detailed information on the blog but I really appreciate how much fun this was.


Great to follow. Where did you do Covid Testing in Dubai?


If I remember correctly, they had the testing in the hotel.


I really enjoyed following along on this adventure and learned some new things. It even got me to use Instagram!


I like that you guys do these challenges–it makes for interesting reading. I’m going to repeat a suggestion I think I made prior to this trip. I’d love to see you guys do a trip where you really have to push yourselves way out of your comfort zone. I get that it’s easy to sink into luxury in middle age. But for me, travel often means trying new experiences, and sometimes those experiences are a little more out there than riding a camel. I would personally love reading about some wilder adventures you guys went on, and maybe it would inspire me to do the same. Perhaps a competition among Greg, Nick, and Stephen of who can book the wildest one week vacation using a set amount of dollars? Then you could also walk us through how you spent points intelligently to book the flights and hotels.

I’m thinking of activities like:

Running with the bulls in Pamplona

Orange throwing festival in Italy (

Sky diving in Fiji (

Snake village food tour in Vietnam (

Swim with sharks in Bora Bora (

Hike the Milford Track in New Zealand (

Orangutan river cruise in Borneo (

Stay in an ice hotel in Sweden (

I know other blogs focus on adventure travel and that’s not your sweet spot, but I think combining more adventurous activities with the points game for getting to and staying at these locations would make for an interesting contest, even if just as a one-off.


Maybe your next challenge could be some version of Around The World In 80 Days. ‘Round the world in 8 days? Or on 180,000 miles? Anyway, thanks for the fun and information. It was a helluva ride and nice that you took us along with you. Oh wait – for next time maybe each member of your crew sets up some volunteer reader on a blind trip using a certain quantity of the reader’s points and miles. I know I’d do it. Just a thought.


Great idea about the blind trip using a reader’s points/miles! My husband and I would TOTALLY do that!


I enjoyed the trip tremendously, including hilarious moments like zombie fish or when Greg wanted to pet a camel. Were you able book Emirates with Alaska miles? Or was it too late and you went with Emirates miles. Also, would you recommend international trips with families now? Or too much hassle to even try?


I have been following along with you a little bit on your trip (one eyeball on it). But I really love this post because there’s so much that I would love to do. And I’m going to watch and see if I can duplicate your deal on Four Seasons. Thank you so much. You two guys were hilarious during the trip. And thanks for the microphone tip on the camel ride. I award both of you 100K bonus points each. Great post.

Another reader

I like the fact that the activities were a surprise and I appreciate that Greg was a bit uncomfortable with parts (but willing to give anything a shot!). I found myself pulling up your instagram multiple times a day in hopes of an update. I hope to see you guys travel together again – It was exciting as a reader and it seems like you guys have a great (working/ friend) relationship going. You made a great hiring decision, Greg! Maybe you can plan the next trip and make Nick squirm! lol

Stew Podaso

Can’t wait to get back to normalize post instead of bragging you sick we are awesome post. Learned absolutely nothing that hasn’t been posted already. Hope you both get covid


I couldn’t disagree with you more. You can sit and learn about points in a vacuum all day, but until read about how people actually used points, certs, and credits for outsized value and the intricacies and challenges that go along with that in practice, you really learn nothing. I think everyone learned a whole lot more about Delta’s GUCs from these articles, as well as a real world example of the outsized value you can get through suit upgrades with points with Hyatt, and how incredible the Le Meridian Maldives actually is, especially for the points. If you’re envious, go read another travel blog. Greg and Nick are probably the most honest, nicest guys in the points blog game.


Thanks for replying to the prior post much more politely than I did mentally. I completely agree-Greg and Nick are so nice, open, honest and frankly transparent-they are the only blog I recommend to newbies. Keep up the great work, y’all.


great trip! Now I want to go to the maldives and stay at Le Meridien 🙂