The one expense that's hard to beat is airfare; Dubai's Emirates Airlines, one of the world's most posh, tends to be the most pricey. But even their prices are looking good, at $530 round trip to Dubai from New York's JFK airport when you book online to travel in August. Other times it can be cheaper to fly Qatar Airways and connect in Doha, or fly Etihad and make the two hour drive from Abu Dhabi, Dubai's sister emirate and the capital of the UAE.
Once in Dubai, there are infinite ways to part with your money. If you're aiming to hold onto as much as you can and still have a great vacation, there are some cheap or free forms of entertainment. Foremost, beach access is free in certain public areas, namely the beach next to the iconic Burj Al Arab, and another stretch of sand near the Jumeirah Beach Residences. Otherwise, you can pay roughly $60 a head for beach access through most seaside hotels. If you're in Dubai for more several days, or travelling with a family, it could be worth picking up The Entertainer, a massive book of coupons available at most Dubai bookstores. For roughly $70, you can purchase the Family, Fine Dining, or Kids editions and easily make up your money's worth with two-for-one meals and entertainment discounts.
As for nightlife, Tuesday is ladies' night, when women can expect free drinks at most of the city's bars (beware that all of them shut down during Ramadan, replaced by tented cafes and buffets). Walking the malls can be entertaining, without spending a dirham. At the Dubai Mall, head-on views of the giant aquarium, the world's tallest building, and the world's largest dancing fountain are gratis. At the Mall of the Emirates you can gaze on the indoor ski slope at skiers whose every slip and fall is on display through the glass-plated panorama.
If you must shop, Dubai hosts two special seasons each year when malls host killer sales. The Dubai Shopping Festival, usually held between January and February, is a month-long discount season, when prices of clothing and accessories from major brands – generally marked up from what you'd find in the US – can get so low that you'd guess the city is one big outlet mall. A second stretch, the Dubai Summer Surprises, is less of a sale and more a range of activities, discounted or free, that can entertain you in the air conditioned indoors. This year's Summer Surprises run from June 17-August 7, with an events calendar at www.mydsf.ae.
If you're looking for the soul of the city, or just want to balance the glitz with the grit, head to the working class areas of Satwa and Karama. You'll find the best cheap eats at Al Mallah (Middle Eastern, +971 4 398 4723) and Ravi Restaurant (Indian, +971 4 331 5353). Curry restaurants line World Trade Center Road, near the President Hotel. Small shops and local tailors stud the neighborhood, and can have surprisingly lush fabrics. They'll custom design dresses or men's suits to your taste, or sell you a formal arabesque evening gown for as low as $60. Walk along Dubai Creek, the historic area that predates the glass and chrome towers of the past 10 years, or take an abra (water taxi) along the water.