Two savvy football fans who saved up thousands of air miles to pay for flights and hotels are counting down the days until making their trip of a lifetime to follow Mexico at the Qatar World Cup.
Danny and Laurie Navarro, who live in Washington DC, will live in the UAE for two weeks and travel to Doha to catch the Canada against Morocco match on December 1 at the Thumama Stadium, 12 kilometres outside the city.
During their stay, the couple hope to take in a Mexico game if they can buy tickets.
They are among tens of thousands of fans planning to travel to the Gulf, many for the first time, to be part of the largest sporting event held in the Middle East.
However, attending the tournament can come with a high price tag, with record demand for tickets, flights and limited accommodation.
Thanks to months of planning, the trip will cost Colombia fan Danny and his Mexican wife Laurie hardly anything thanks to air miles accumulated over the past 12 months.
“We put all our wedding expenses on to our credit cards, and all other everyday spending, and did the responsible thing by paying off the balance each month,” said Mr Navarro, a Tottenham Hotspur fan.
“We did some research, and it was clear early on that with the numbers hoping to travel, it could be an issue securing accommodation in Doha so we decided to stay in the UAE.
“There are plenty of hotels, so it is practical and there are ways to use air miles to travel from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Doha, without breaking the bank.
“The prices of flights have been pretty crazy. It will be our first World Cup so we are very excited.”
The couple have visited Dubai before, when they stopped over on the way to Bali for their honeymoon in 2019.
It was after this trip that they realised they could use travel credit cards to fund future holidays using air miles.
Their Instagram page LatinosWithPassports offers cash-saving tips to travellers and includes a World Cup travel guide.
Mexico launch their World Cup campaign against Poland on November 22, followed by games against Argentina four days later and Saudi Arabia on November 30.
“We are trying to get tickets for a Mexico game, and take advantage of the single match-day visit, which grants a 24-hour visa,” Mr Navarro said.
“That will allow us to fly into Doha for the game, and fly back to the UAE that day.
“We have hotel points and miles that will let us stay in the UAE.
“Logistically, a lot of people have been put off travelling to Qatar, but they haven’t given much thought to flying elsewhere in the region, like the UAE, Saudi, Oman or Bahrain.”
The couple plan to fly from Abu Dhabi to Doha with Etihad.
The flight would have cost about $3,000 to $4,000 (Dh11,000 to Dh14,500), but thanks to the 30,000 air miles accumulated with Etihad's affiliated partner, Air Canada, it is on the house.
Miles were gathered over a year of everyday spending, with a monthly budget of $6,000 to $7,000 to pay for bills, groceries and other spending on the couple’s American Express Gold and Capital One Venture X credit cards.
They also picked up referral bonuses from banks offering incentives of up to 30,000 miles for introducing customers.
Hotel rooms are booked at the Four Point Sheraton in Dubai and the Aloft Palm Jumeirah and the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi, using a combination of cash and points.
“It’s been about finding the right credit cards that match our spends with rewards,” Mr Navarro said.
“Some Qatar hotels look a long way out of Doha, and more like Airbnb than a luxury hotel that you would find in the UAE.
Extra flights laid on for fans
From November 20, more than 160 daily shuttle flights will carry supporters into Doha from around the region for day trips to watch matches.
Huge demand for tickets has been recorded in Saudi Arabia, although some reported issues with applying for tickets through Fifa as opposed to the usual practice of buying direct from the stadium.
Saudia will operate a minimum of 30 return flights daily from Riyadh and Jeddah, with further extra flights laid on by flydubai, Kuwait Airways and Oman Air.
Qatar Tourism recently announced it would prioritise hotel rooms during the four-week tournament for match ticket holders.
In total, 130,000 rooms were promised to be made available by the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
Of those, 48,000 will be hotel rooms, 60,000 apartments and villas through Airbnb or similar providers and a further 4,000 or so rooms on two cruise ships docked in Doha’s Grand Terminal. There are also temporary fan villages on the outskirts of Qatar.
Residents can also host up to 10 visitors during the tournament, once hosts and guests are registered on Qatar’s Hayya digital platform.
Wael Jabir, a football writer from Saudi Arabia, will be covering the World Cup for Fifa and has been speaking to friends in Europe planning to travel to Qatar.
“Most of those I’ve spoken to who have already got tickets are planning to stay with friends in Qatar," he said.
“They are coming from Holland and Germany and have friends they can crash with, others are looking to stay in the UAE.
“Shuttle flights from the UAE to Doha will help more people stay in the UAE and travel into Qatar for the day to watch a game."