One of the things we like to do in our Trip Reports is to provide our thought processes and strategies with respect to all of our bookings. In a very limited sense, our readers may be able to replicate our booking strategies exactly to get great deals. But every trip for every person is different. So, more importantly, we hope that walking you through our thought processes and strategies will give you ideas and concepts that you can use to help with your own travel planning.
In this article, we’ll walk through each of the major booking components of our recent 10-day trip to Cyprus & Jordan, including air travel, hotels, ground transportation and tours. If you’d like to review our full itinerary for the trip before you dive into the booking strategies, please check out our earlier article:
- Middle Age Miles: Cyprus & Jordan Trip Report – Our 10-Day Itinerary (December 10, 2019)
At the outset, one thing that helped us get great value on this trip was the fact that we traveled in November, during the shoulder/low season for our destinations. For those Middle Age Miles readers who have the flexibility to travel off-season, this may be the best piece of “value” travel advice of all. And, it’s worth noting – even though it wasn’t tourist season at all, the weather was great for our trip. In Cyprus, highs on the Mediterranean coast were in the mid-70’s, and it only rained a little bit, during our first night there. In Jordan, the temperatures vary a lot depending on where you are within the country – much warmer below sea level at the Dead Sea, and cooler in the higher elevations near Petra. It was chilly at night and in the early morning at Petra, but overall it was quite temperate throughout Jordan and we didn’t see a drop of rain there.
In this article, we’ll walk through each component of our trip, in the order in which we did them on the trip:
Air Travel from DFW to Cyprus
Our flight from DFW to Cyprus (Larnaca/LCA) was the “return” leg of a ticket that originated in Paris (CDG) back in July. We flew CDG-DFW in July, to get home at the end of our Switzerland-France summer holiday. Then, we used the “return” leg of that “round-trip” ticket to get us from DFW to Cyprus, via London Heathrow (LHR).
We’ve previously written about this strategy of originating “round trip” flight tickets in Europe to save money. For whatever reason (presumably, due to higher demand and less competition on the US side), transatlantic tickets originating in Europe are often significantly cheaper than those originating in the US. So, if your travel plans allow you to originate in Europe, this can provide you with a winning, money-saving strategy. Here are a couple of our previous articles about this strategy:
- Middle Age Miles: How to Use Flight Tickets Originating in Europe to Save Money on Your Travels (January 21, 2019)
- Middle Age Miles: Combining 2 Tricks for Massive Savings and AA Elite Qualification Miles/Dollars – Originate in Europe & Buy Biz Class Partner Tickets (February 8, 2019)
On our flights to Cyprus, our DFW-LHR leg would be on AA, then we’d connect to a British Airways flight for the LHR-LCA leg. Our strategy on this flight was to book into Premium Economy and waitlist to apply AA systemwide upgrades (SWUs), which hopefully would get us into business class for the transatlantic, overnight DFW-LHR leg. Also, the price for Premium Economy (PE) was only about $300 round-trip higher than a Main Cabin economy ticket; booking PE would provide for an “insurance policy” for a more comfortable flight if our SWUs didn’t clear, plus by booking PE we’d earn more Elite Qualifying Miles and Dollars (EQMs and EQDs) on AA, which would help us re-qualify for Executive Platinum status.
We had SWUs available to us as a result of having Executive Platinum elite status with AA (see our earlier article, The Value We Get from AA Executive Platinum Status (February 6, 2019)). However, there are a couple of alternative strategies available to people who aren’t Executive Platinums. The most accessible option would be to use an AA Cash + Points upgrade, which would cost 25,000 AA miles + $350 each (and we’ve seen data points that the cash portion can be reimbursed using Amex airline fee credits). Another possibility, for those with AA Business Extra accounts, would be to use 3,100 Business Extra points each (you can see the Business Extra redemption at this page, under the “Upgrades” tab).
The upgrades couldn’t be confirmed when we booked, so we chose our transatlantic flight in a way that would maximize our chances of the upgrades eventually clearing. AA has several direct DFW-LHR flights each day, and we chose the one scheduled for a 777-300 (as opposed to a 777-200), which has AA’s largest business-class cabin. (And fortunately, the 777-300 flight also gave us the best connection time in LHR!)
We had to sweat this one out, but our SWUs cleared a few days ahead of our flight, and we were able to choose adjoining seats in the center section of the 777-300.
Finally, we “paid” for our tickets using Citi ThankYou Points (TYPs). We used a total of 316,676 TYPs for our 2 “round trip” tickets, at 1.25 cents each (that is, the total cost of our flights was about $3,958, or $1,979 each). As we mentioned, by paying with TYPs, we earned EQMs and EQDs on these flights, which was crucial to us being able to re-qualify for Executive Platinum status during 2019. And importantly, using TYPs for these tickets meant that we spent absolutely no cash out-of-pocket!
Hotel in Cyprus
For our hotel in Cyprus, we chose the Parklane, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa in Limassol, Cyprus. The Parklane recently opened in March 2019, having undergone a 4-year top-to-bottom renovation after previously being a Le Meridien property. It’s right on the Mediterranean Sea, on Cyprus’ southern coast. We got a ridiculously good rate of 179 Euros/night, given that we were staying during low season (and in fact, the hotel was largely empty when we were there). The rate we booked was actually a corporate rate available to us, but a normal Marriott Bonvoy Member Rate would have been only slightly higher at 199 Euros/night.
The Parklane is a top-tier Category 8 hotel in the Marriott Bonvoy world, available for 70,000/85,000/100,000 points in Marriott’s Off-Peak/Standard/Peak system. At these points redemption rates, the Parklane would almost never be a high-value (or even reasonable-value) points redemption. Even on the highest-demand summer days, rates for a base room available on Bonvoy points rarely exceed 350 Euros (about $392 as of today). At a standard redemption rate of 85,000 Bonvoy points (available now for any day during Summer 2020), that would result in a redemption value of just 0.46 cents per Bonvoy point, far less than our baseline value of 0.7 cents per point.
Besides booking a remarkably low paid rate during low-tourist season, our other strategy for the Parklane was to save our 5 Bonvoy Suite Night Upgrades (SNUs) all year to use on this stay. We hoped that this would be a lower-occupancy time where the SNUs would clear – and we guessed right! Our SNUs cleared into a beautiful 1,000+ sq ft “Lifestyle Suite” with sea view (you can take a look here if you’re interested). We’ll have more on the Parklane and our Lifestyle Suite later in our hotel review, but we’ll say now – it was fabulous.
The optimal strategy for the Parklane is clear – visit in low season, and save your SNUs to use them here. We’ll say that you’ll almost never get a better value for your SNUs than at the Parklane.
We considered a few other options in Cyprus, but with our Marriott status and the hope of getting an upgrade, the Parklane was a standout. There is one other Marriott-affiliated hotel in Cyprus, the Almyra, which is a Design Hotels property in Paphos. It’s a Category 5, which means that it will often be eligible for 35,000-point certificate redemptions. The Almyra also looks like a nice property, and if you need to redeem Bonvoy points or certificates, it may be a much better choice than the Parklane.
We also considered several other properties, but for us, there was no way any other property could beat the guaranteed included breakfast and potential upgrade that our Marriott Bonvoy Titanium status would get us at the Parklane. We considered the Four Seasons in Limassol, and a couple of boutiques in the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) portfolio, including the spectacular-looking Anassa resort. The Four Seasons was actually reasonably-priced for our low-season visit. On the other end, we don’t believe the Anassa will ever be the choice for “value” shoppers. Finally, over the past year, two Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) properties have come online with World of Hyatt and are available for Hyatt point redemptions – the Londa Beach Hotel, which is a Hyatt Category 5 (20,000 points/night), and the all-suites Columbia Beach Resort, which is a Hyatt Category 7 (30,000 points/night).
Ground Transportation in Cyprus
In Cyprus, we took our traditional route of renting a car and driving to the places we wanted to visit. We rented from Hertz, with the Amex Platinum rate providing the best price we could find. In another joy of traveling during low season, the daily base rate for our Compact vehicle was a mere 12.92 Euros per day, even though we made the reservation less than a week before our trip. With taxes, the all-in cost for our 3-day rental was a mere 46.16 Euros (about $51.70).
One oddity of renting in Cyprus was the fuel policy. We had to pre-pay for a full tank of fuel (about $82), and then Hertz refunded that amount back to our card within a couple of days after we returned the car with a full tank.
As usual, we paid for the rental car with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card, to get the primary rental car damage coverage. Fortunately, we didn’t need to make a claim under the coverage this time.
Air Travel from Cyprus to Jordan
There’s only one airline with direct flights from Cyprus (LCA) to Jordan (AMM), and that’s Royal Jordanian. We really wanted to spend 4 days in Cyprus and then 4 in Jordan, but the direct flight LCA-AMM flight didn’t operate on the exact middle day of our trip (it operates either 5 or 6 days a week). And we couldn’t find any attractive one-stop options. We decided to break up the trip with 3 days in Cyprus and 5 in Jordan.
Given the Royal Jordanian’s monopoly on direct LCA-AMM flights, fares are relatively high. But Royal Jordanian is a member of the OneWorld alliance, and award space was plentiful. This short-haul flight (257 miles according to MileCalc) presented a perfect opportunity to use British Airways Avios. By using Avios, we were able to book economy tickets at a per-person rate of 6,000 Avios plus $55.62 in taxes and fees – a terrific deal compared to a paid fare that was more than $200 each.
We made our award reservation in mid-July, about 4 months ahead of our trip; however, we could have waited as there was award availability on the flight for a long time after we made our reservations, and our plane was less than half-full.
Ground Transportation & Activites in Jordan
We usually travel pretty independently, but we used a local travel agency called Petra Nights Tours to help us in Jordan, as the region was entirely unfamiliar to us and we didn’t have complete comfort in getting ourselves around and arranging for local tour guides. This turned out to be a spectacularly good decision.
Petra Nights Tours was outstanding from start to finish. From first contact, their communication was excellent. They were responsive to our wishes and created a custom tour based on my requests – including airport transfers (the first one being a long one from AMM to Petra), tour guides, assistance with on-arrival visa, tour guides, and a driver for each ground transfer and tour day. We’re very grateful to Cristina of Petra Nights Tours for providing such great service.
The price from Petra Nights Tours was also very reasonable, we thought. And the price we paid them was indeed comprehensive, covering entrance fees for every attraction we visited, our on-arrival visa (which would have been 40 Jordanian Dinar each (about $56)), local tour guide fees – everything aside from tips we chose to give and food we chose to purchase. There were no surprise charges.
We had the same driver assigned to us for our entire stay in Jordan (aside from one day in Petra where he had a previous commitment related to a huge cruise ship docked in Aqaba that day). Our driver’s name was Oqba, and he was also excellent – unfailingly polite and friendly, going out of his way to show us interesting things and take pictures for us, responsive when we made requests along the way, and crisply on time each day.
One other terrific and unexpected benefit from Petra Nights Tours is that they provided us with a local Jordan mobile phone to use during our stay. That was incredibly convenient, to be able to call to coordinate and confirm meeting places and times with our drivers.
We highly recommend Petra Nights Tours if you’re traveling to Jordan.
As an aside, I also spent time working with the Amex and Chase premium concierge services to see if they could help us in Jordan. Both services put a fair bit of effort into our request, but they didn’t hold a candle to Petra Nights Tours. The concierge services didn’t respond as quickly, they could only come up with piecemeal services as opposed to a comprehensive itinerary, and they couldn’t fulfill all of our requests, which would have left us with transportation and/or tour gaps.
Hotel in Petra, Jordan
For our first night in Jordan, we decided to stay in Petra. The idea was that we would get an early start visiting the Petra site, to try to beat the crowds. This turned out to be an excellent decision. Unbeknownst to us, a huge cruise ship docked at Aqaba, Jordan, for the day, and many hundreds (thousands?) of cruise passengers made day trips to Petra. Thank goodness we had a head start – it made all the difference in the world!
Anyway, there wasn’t a huge selection of hotels in Petra, and none available on US chain points other than the Petra Marriott. The Petra Marriott is a Category 4 hotel, available for 20,000/25,000/30,000 points in Marriott’s Off-Peak/Standard/Peak pricing scheme. Paid rates for our night were high – more than $400 for a standard room – which we believe isn’t particularly unusual.
The Petra Marriott turned out to be the perfect opportunity for us to use a Marriott 35,000-point free night certificate. Even better, the certificate was only a few days short of expiration on the day we redeemed it. We were thrilled to get a free night that saved us more than $400 from this certificate!
We also used 1 Suite Night Upgrade at the Petra Marriott. The SNU cleared; however, we were only upgraded to a “mountain valley view room,” not a suite. To the hotel’s credit, an Agent from the Petra Marriott pro-actively emailed us in advance of our stay to let us know that they only have 1 suite in the hotel, and it was booked on the night of our stay.
Hotel at the Dead Sea in Jordan
We spent our last 4 nights in Jordan at the Marriott Dead Sea Resort & Spa. As with the Parklane, we scored a good paid rate. The base rate for our first 2 nights was 84 Jordanian Dinar (JOD). After application of a mandatory 10% service charge and 7% sales tax, those nights came to 98.868 JOD each, all-in ($139.40), Our second two nights had a higher based rate of 127 JOD, which came to 149.479 JOD all-in ($210.76). Our total room cost, all-in for our 4 night stay, was $700.
With that rate, we paired the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free (4NF) benefit. Sadly, this reservation was our last-ever 4NF booking made through the Aspire Concierge service, where we could use our best rate discount plus receive all of our Marriott Bonvoy elite points and benefits. (As most readers will know, 4NF reservations must now be made through the ThankYou portal. Those bookings do not qualify for elite points or benefits, and you can only use the portal rate, not any other discounts that might otherwise be available to you.) With the 4NF benefit, we will get a statement credit for the average room rate during our stay (exclusive of service fee and taxes), which was 105.50 JOD ($148.80). Net of the 4NF credit, our all-in room cost for our 4 nights at the Marriott Dead Sea Resort was only about $550 – $138 per night!
The Marriott Dead Sea Resort is a Category 4 hotel, but it far out-kicks its coverage. Without the 4NF benefit, it would have been a toss-up as to whether to use points for the stay at a Standard rate of 25,000 points per night or go with the paid rate. At our baseline value of 0.7 cents per Marriott point, 100,000 points for 4 nights would have “cost” about $700 – exactly the same as our paid rate. (Note that we also could have gotten a 5th night for free on an award reservation.) If it were had truly been a toss-up like that, we would have spent the points. But the 4NF benefit reduced the cost of the stay by almost $150, making the paid rate a better deal for us.
The Marriott Dead Sea Resort was far nicer than its Category 4 classification or its paid rate would have indicated. It was a great deal at the rate we paid, and it would have been a good points redemption as well. We plan to post a review article of the Marriott Dead Sea Resort later, or at least a robust set of pictures.
We didn’t have enough Suite Night Upgrades left to apply to our full stay at the Marriott Dead Sea Resort. Instead, we called the Marriott Titanium line in advance to explain the situation and see if they could help us with an upgrade. The phone agent was very nice and said that he’d speak with the hotel to try to get us upgraded. We have no idea whether that ever happened; we suspect not. At check-in, we were upgraded to a “pool view room” with a balcony, which also had a partial Dead Sea view. We asked about a suite upgrade, but we were unsuccessful. There was a convention on-property for the first 2 nights of our stay that caused the hotel to be fully booked, so we understood. The “pool view room with balcony” generally runs about $30 more per night than the base room we booked, so it was a decent upgrade. We found our “pool view room” to be quite fine for our purposes, and the balcony and views of the pools and Dead Sea were quite enjoyable.
For this stay, we also considered a couple of other properties very nearby in the same area on the shore of the Dead Sea. There’s a nice-looking Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa slightly to the north, where we could have received Diamond benefits, but it didn’t look quite as nice as the Marriott. There is also the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea resort just to the south that looked even nicer than the Marriott. We thought very seriously about booking the Kempinski. But, its rates were a bit higher than the Marriott, and we were swayed by the fact that we’d receive free breakfast as Marriott Titanium members and have the chance for a suite upgrade at the Marriott.
It’s also worth mentioning that we considered staying in Amman. There are some great-looking hotels in Amman, including a St. Regis, a Four Seasons, a Ritz-Carlton and a Grand Hyatt. And, they’re often available at quite reasonable rates. Based on our experience at the Marriott Dead Sea and our brief driving tour of Amman, though, we are extremely glad we stayed at a Dead Sea resort rather than in the big city.
Air Travel from Jordan back to DFW
Finally, for our flight home, we flew an Amman (AMM)-to-Chicago O’Hare (ORD)-to-DFW routing, in business class. Flights were booked using AA miles, at the Saver level of 70,000 AA miles per person. The overseas leg was a 13-hour flight from AMM to ORD on a Royal Jordanian 787-8. After a 2.5-hour layover, we finished our journey with the relatively short ORD-DFW flight. For this flight, we were lucky to get an AA 787-8 operating domestically, so we had AA’s nice international lie-flat business class seats for this last leg of our trip!
We made the award reservations for this flight about 9 months in advance, back in February 2019. This booking illustrated one of the great benefits of having Executive Platinum status with AA – the ability to cancel and change award reservations with no penalty. 9 months ahead of time, this trip was on our radar screen, but it was truly a best-guess booking with the hope that our schedule would work out. We found the partner award with 2 business class Saver-level seats on the RJ long-haul flight on exactly the day we wanted (the Saturday before Thanksgiving), and we locked them in.
If you’re planning to travel to Jordan and you have AA miles, we highly recommend looking for partner availability on the Royal Jordanian AMM-ORD flight. At least when booked in advance, there seemed to be good availability at the Saver level in business class, with 2 seats showing for most days. Currently, availability is sparse for January through June, but there’s pretty good availability from July through the end of the calendar in November. Here’s the calendar view of a search for 2 business class award tickets on the non-stop AMM-ORD flight for October 2020:
We were extremely happy with our planning and strategies for this trip. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine what we would have done differently in terms of the major planning and booking pieces, given our time constraints. If we’d had longer to spend on this trip, it would have been really nice to add a couple of days of relaxation at the Parklane, though, especially in a Lifestyle Suite at the incredibly low rates we found during mid-November.
We’d also emphasize a decision we made that turned out to be absolutely on-point – transiting to Petra upon arrival into Jordan and spending a night there, to get an early start on visiting that spectacular site. It made all the difference in the world for us to get there ahead of the crowds. Compare these next 2 pictures to get an idea of the difference between early morning and afternoon (granted, on our afternoon it was especially busy because of the cruise ship tours):
In addition, visiting Petra makes for a long day (we had about 30,000 steps on that day, including 95 flights of steps climbed). Adding an additional 3.5-hour drive (or more) onto the beginning of the day would have made it really, really tough.
And finally, you’d think we were paid spokespeople or sponsored by Petra Nights Tours, but we’re not. We simply thought they did a phenomenal job with our transit and tours in Jordan, for a very fair price. We could not recommend them more highly.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our travel planning and strategy article for our Cyprus & Jordan trip, and we hope it helps you in your own travel planning!
Do you have additional thoughts on travel planning for Cyprus and/or Jordan, or tips we haven’t mentioned here? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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