By 10xTravel Reader Paul L

This summer, we went on safari in Tanzania (lions and zebra and warthogs, oh my!) and beached it on the extraordinary island of Zanzibar. We flew on 8 different planes, but we loved the flying ant — Zanair’s 5 passenger Cessna 207 — and the swift elephant — the Emirates Airbus A380 — the most.

Tanzania Family Safari

The Flying Ant: A Tiny Cessna Plane Zanair

Our 23-minute flight from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam (DAR) was on Zanair, a regional Tanzanian carrier. My family was surprised by the miniscule size of the Zanair prop plane which could only seat 5 passengers plus a pilot or two. Our single-engine, fixed landing gear Cessna, built in 1980 was TINY. Frankly, I’ve been in bumper cars that felt larger.


The ZanAir Experience

Bags were stored in the nose and in the tail of the plane. No hand luggage allowed.

The two pilots gave us very specific instructions on how to load, where to step, where to sit, how to buckle in…

Just four minutes after loading, we started taxiing. As it was over 90 degrees outside and hotter inside, the pilots opened their windows and held them ajar with their elbows — natural air conditioning.

Although I felt like we were in a 1962 VW bug aloft, it was exhilarating. The views were extraordinary. We saw gorgeous islands below, secluded beaches, and water as clear as one can imagine.

How We Booked Zanair

Zanair is not part of any of the major alliances so we paid using my faithful Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa card.  While earning 3x on the ticket cost (with no foreign transaction fees) didn’t garner too many points, I selected this card for the extraordinary trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance. In case of big travel issues, the combination of Chase Sapphire Reserve and our supplementary Allianz Global Assistance (travel insurance) would have helped us out.

The Swift Elephant: The Emirates Airbus A380

If you have not flown through Dubai (DXB), the world’s third-largest airport, let me just say it is a visual treat. It’s massive. By itself, Terminal 3 is the largest airport terminal in the world and the second-largest building in the world by floor space.

What’s so Special About the Airbus A380?

Our 5-year-old Emirates A380 seats 517 passengers. Over 510 tons, 4 million moving parts, 17 bathrooms and 238 feet long. Two stories with stairways in the fore and aft of the upper section. 4,000 hours of programming on their award-winning ICE In-Flight Entertainment system.

Dubai Airport Fountains

Emirates Lounge

The Lounge

How Is Emirates First Class on the A380 over the Top?

Through some good luck, I was able to upgrade from business class to Emirates’ legendary first class. I’ll talk about that in a minute, but first, let’s talk about why I loved Emirates first class:

  • Private Airport Security Screening for premium travelers. Security personnel graciously welcomed me and my business class companions. No lines. Three minutes for all four of us.
  • The First Class Lounge at Dubai was superb. Set above the main concourse, it is both lavish and huge with an eating area that features on-demand a la carte dining AND a huge buffet of traditional Western food and Arabic offerings. So many places to eat, sleep, beverage, work, relax, connect, shower.
  • Boarding Directly from the Lounge to the jetway via private elevators. We were on the plane in minutes.
  • Enclosed Suites. My private suite had doors that isolated me from the rest of the plane at the touch of a button. In fact, I could either press a hard-wired button or close the doors via the wireless touchpad that also controlled the Inflight Entertainment system.

Emirates Gate

Emirates Private First Class Cabins

Enclosed Suites

First Class Suite

Emirates Amenity Kit

Emirates Shower

Emirates Bar

Champagne-Dom Perignon

  • On-Demand Dining. Yes, truth be told, I devoured three sets of the same canapes. The Arabic apps were mesmerizing. I could have ordered all of the 6 delicious main courses at any time or the snacks — roast beef sandwich, ginger and carrot soup.
  • Champagne. The “before we take off” champagne was a 2008 Dom Perignon which retails for $150.  I won’t say I finished off the entire bottle, but…
  • The Bed. Because the first class cabin was only half full, I asked the flight attendant if she would make up a bed for me in another suite. Five minutes later I was ensconced in the adjoining suite, mattress pad below me, comfy down duvet above me, crisp white sheets in between and slept like a baby for three hours.
  • All of the Bling. If you like bling, Emirates has it in spades. Gold and faux wood everywhere from the tray table that could fit a laptop AND dinner to the border of the 27″ TV screen and all around the cabin. Insane and over the top.
  • Bars. Behind the long business class cabin, there is a magnificent bar with fresh foods, snacks and bartenders willing to make you any drink you could want. One can relax on sofas while gazing out the window or chatting with a companion sipping on champagne, a martini, or a margarita.
  • Showers. The Emirates A380 offers two shower suites exclusively to first-class passengers. You are allowed 30 minutes of time with  5 minutes of hot water. It’s beyond luxurious. Even the floors are heated!




Inflight Entertainment Control System

How I Booked Emirates First Class for My Family

For months last summer, I searched for the best points combination to get home from Tanzania in business class with no more than one stop. I transferred 380,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Emirates Skywards. While the redemption rate wasn’t the best, it allowed my family to fly business class during the 22-hour journey home.

My Original Booking

Originally, I booked a cash ticket for myself. The cash cost of the business class ticket from Dar es Salaam to Los Angeles was $3,000. Rather than pay this, I took advantage of the 35% Pay With Points rebate that comes with The Business Platinum Card from American Express.

To do this, I used 280,000 Membership Rewards points and $140 to book. Eight weeks after my flights, I received 98,000 Amex points as a rebate. Factoring in the rebate, I ended up using a total of 182,000 Membership Rewards points to book business class.

I credited these Emirates flights to Alaska Mileage Plan as I already have elite status with them and knew I’d earn a ton of redeemable miles for a future flight.

Using Emirates Skywards Miles to Upgrade

Last year, I opened the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business credit card. During a transfer bonus promo, I transferred Capital One miles to Emirates at a 1:1 ratio rather than the normal 2:1 ratio. I used 63,000 Emirates miles to upgrade from business to first class. A cash upgrade would have cost over $6,000!

16.5 hours in first-class for ~$700 worth of points? Yes, please.

Final Thoughts

One of the joys that sets my nerdy heart aflutter is flying in new aircraft, big and small. On this trip, I was able to experience the extremes with a tiny Zanair plane and a massive Emirates A380.

Is there an aircraft you’ve been dying to try? Let us know in the comments.