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I'm a budget traveler who flew first class using airline miles. It was amazing but I wouldn't spend money on it.

Lauren Poffenbarger   

I'm a budget traveler who flew first class using airline miles. It was amazing but I wouldn't spend money on it.
  • I used points from credit-card bonuses to travel first class on Emirates and had a luxurious flight.
  • I drank champagne and ate salmon in a spacious suite with a full-fledged entertainment center.

After years of low-budget traveling, my fiancé and I decided to use airline points and flew in Emirates first class from the Maldives to Dubai.

Without miles, this first-class flight is usually about $3,000.

As a traveler who frequents economy and has never flown first class, the seat upgrade was a highlight of the entire trip.

I used to think flying first class was reserved for the wealthy

Though we used to think that only frequent fliers who are loyal to an airline can accumulate loads of miles, we earned the bulk of our points through sign-on bonuses with credits we patiently accumulated points with over the years.

We used a combination of Citi ThankYou and American Express points, both of which offer partnered programs with Emirates Skywards at a 1:1 transfer ratio.

Originally, we purchased our multi-city return flights in business class for 127,000 miles combined. At first, only one of our seats could be upgraded for 24,000 miles. However, the day before our flight, thanks to a bit of luck and persistence, another upgrade opened up for the same amount.

The luxury I experienced during the 4 hours on the plane was completely foreign to me

Upon boarding, we were greeted by our assigned flight attendant, guided to our seats, and offered water and a hot towel to freshen up.

The flight attendant soon returned with Arabic dates and coffee poured from a traditional pot called a dallah.

The first-class cabin held eight seats in a 1-2-1 arrangement and was not fully booked during our flight.

The suite had plenty of storage and outlets, and though I'm only 5-foot-3, I'm confident someone tall would have enough legroom and find it comfortable.

Each suite contains a large, fully-adjustable leather seat, added privacy from a sliding door, and a small closet that opens from the aisle and contains hangers for your coat.

Once the plane doors closed for boarding, we were served 2003 Dom Pérignon champagne — and the flight attendant ensured my glass remained full.

The amenities within the personal suite oozed with opulence

Each suite features a 32-inch screen for the entertainment system that can be controlled either by a remote in the armrest or a tablet next to the seat.

With so much leg space, it was physically impossible for me to touch the screen while seated like you can in economy.

From the tablet, you can also control your seat settings, the blinds for the windows within your suite, or request service from the flight attendants.

We were also given Byredo skin-care products and an Emirates-embossed leather notebook and pen, which were placed in a pop-up vanity mirror.

Bulgari cologne and perfume, dental kits, and even hand cream were also available to passengers.

Emirates made sure no space was wasted in the suite and paid attention to the little details — there was even a fresh orchid in a vase and a small table lamp in the corner.

First-class passengers receive complimentary WiFi for the entire flight, which I found to work quite well. We were also given Bowers & Wilkins noise-canceling headphones, though I wasn't impressed with their sound quality.

We also had our own personal mini-bar, which lifted with a click of a button.

The first-class bathroom wasn't anything special, though it was cleaner than the ones I've usually seen in economy or business because it had less foot traffic.

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I was excited to indulge in fine dining in the sky

During meals, each suite is set with a white tablecloth, glassware, and silverware. Unlike in economy, travelers are not locked into an in-flight meal schedule and get to decide when and how much they want to eat or drink from the menu.

The extensive menu contained a variety of upscale dishes and spirits, including a bottle of Hennessy Paradis that retails for over $1,000.

For my first course, I ordered the traditional Arabic mezze. The portion was so generous I felt like I could have shared with other people.

For my main course, I ordered the pan-fried salmon, which was cooked perfectly with a pesto sauce and paired wonderfully with the champagne.

I'm still baffled by how they managed to prepare fish so well on a plane.

I managed to make room for dessert, which was light and refreshing coconut panna cotta.

Before landing, the flight attendant came back for any last-minute requests and to gift us a small box of chocolates.

The first-class treatment continued after we got off the plane

Emirates also provides transportation to and from the airport for business or first-class passengers.

After saying our goodbyes to the in-flight service team, we took advantage of the complimentary chauffeur service.

We easily found the chauffeur pick-up location at the Dubai International Airport. There was no wait time at the desk and a seamless check-in process.

From the desk, were quickly escorted to our driver and the BMW we'd ride in to our Dubai hotel.

After all this luxury, I wish that I could fly first class again

Four hours on the plane didn't feel long enough — I wanted more time to enjoy the full range of food and amenities.

From the amazing service to the added benefits that come with flying first class, the experience set itself apart from economy.

I wouldn't spend actual money on it, but redeeming our miles for this luxurious first-class experience felt like the best use of our points.



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