The Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise draw was introduced in December 1989 to coincide with DDF’s first major expansion of its retail operations, which doubled its floor space. Image Credit: DDF

Dubai: Talk about flying through Dubai International Airport, and the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind is Dubai Duty Free (DDF)’s Finest Surprise draw and its attractive prizes that include millions of dollars, luxury cars and fancy motorbikes.

Few, however, know how the hugely popular raffle first came about.

2008: Dubai-based Piya Bahirwani with Colm McLoughlin after bagging the one-off $5 million Multi-Millionaire prize. Image Credit: Gulf News

Believe it or not, the idea actually originated with a plane that didn’t quite take off.

Millionaires of 2018

Revealing this to Gulf News in an exclusive interview ahead of DDF’s 35th anniversary on December 20, Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman and CEO, said: “The Finest Surprise draw was introduced in December 1989 to coincide with our first major expansion which doubled our floor space at the time. We needed a promotion for the expansion and it had to be something that would have a big impact. It was first suggested to have a private plane as a prize, until the logistical aspects were examined and it was decided that a luxury car would be much easier and the price point for the tickets would be affordable.”


people have won Millennium Millionaire raffle twice

McLoughlin said the first car, a Bentley Mulsanne built by the original Rolls-Royce Company, was won by Simon Simonian from Lebanon. “The concept was to be a one-off, but once we had the draw for the first car, there was a lot of demand for another and another, so it was decided to continue with the promotion. Now, 1,704 cars later, the tickets are still very much in demand.”

He said the Millennium Millionaire draw, which offers 5,000 ticket holders the chance to win $1 million (Dh3.67 million), was added as a sister promotion to the Finest Surprise, to mark the start of the new millennium.

“In November 1999, the first Millennium Millionaire draw took place and we have now created 287 dollar millionaires.” Significantly, seven people have won the Millennium Millionaire draw twice.

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“We also have one person who won $1 million twice in the same year (2013). He won his first million in February and then again in December. More recently, a couple — regular participants in our promotions who won $1 million — had purchased 18 tickets online for Series 285. The husband said he felt they would definitely win this time, and they actually did.”

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McLoughlin said of the 1,704 car winners since 1989, 15 have been twice lucky.

“The range of luxury cars we have offered includes Audi, Porsche, Bentley, BMW, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. In 2002, DDF decided to vary its Finest Surprises offering and introduced brand-name motorcycles such as Harley Davidson, Ducati, BMW and recently, Indian motorbikes. We have so far given away 352 motorbikes.”

NAT 1st car_rolls royce
1989: Simon Simonian from Lebanon drove away with the first Finest Surprise car, a Bentley Mulsanne, built by the original Rolls-Royce Company.

The CEO said although the Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire draw prize remains $1 million, other promotions are regularly reviewed “to appeal to all travellers and regular ticket buyers”.

“In 2008, we introduced the one-off $5 million Multi-Millionaire promotion to coincide with our 25th anniversary and the opening of Terminal 3. That was very successful and was won by Dubai-based businesswoman Piya Bahirwani.”

On the cost of the tickets, she said the Finest Surprise ticket comes for Dh500. “Tickets are limited to 1,300 and 2,300 tickets for luxury and super luxury cars respectively. Tickets for the Millennium Millionaire are priced at Dh1,000 and is limited to 5,000 tickets.”

Tickets to both promotions are available to all passengers arriving, departing or in transit across Dubai International and Al Maktoum Airports as well as in Craft Shop at Irish Village, Sport shop of The Aviation Club, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, DDF shop in Riverland at Dubai Parks & Resorts, and in the Hatta-Oman Border shop, he added.

The big wins

• Simon Simonian from Lebanon drove away with the first Finest Surprise car, a Bentley Mulsanne, built by the original Rolls-Royce Company, in 1989

• Seven people have won the Millennium Millionaire draw twice so far

• One person took home $1 million twice in 2013 — first in February and again in December

• Dubai-based Piya Bahirwani bagged the one-off $5 million Multi-Millionaire prize in 2008

• Couple won $1 million in 2017 after purchasing 18 tickets online for Series 285

• 15 people have won cars twice since 1989