Sometimes, I get slightly obsessed about odd things. Well, maybe ‘obsessed’ is too strong of a word, but perhaps I do think about silly things a bit too much. Lately, my new fascination is on how some people in the UAE are willing to pay big bucks for a specialized phone number or license plate. And, the crazy part is that by ‘specialized’, I just mean numbers that are all the same or in a pattern. Let me explain…
A typical mobile phone number in the UAE would be something like this… 050 139 62xx (the xx symbolizing any random numbers). However, if you want to pay extra money, you can get a phone number with a slightly more unique pattern to it. For example, something like 050 7xx 1212. The fact that the 1212 are patterned, apparently makes this number unique enough to cost extra. Now, if you think that is a waste of money, consider this – Etisalat and Du (the two telecommunication companies in the UAE) hold auctions for the people who are stupid enough (err… ummm… sorry, I mean wealthy enough) to spend the really big bucks on a very special number. If you are interested, you can go to the Emirates Auction page and signup to join the online auction for mobile numbers. Here is an example of a current Etisalat auction taking place:
This beauty of a number is currently bidding at 10,000 aed ($2,732 US). Luckily, it does come with a package deal for a year. Then after a year, you can convert the number to a post-paid plan.
Here’s another example of a number number being auctioned. The current going price is 18,500 aed ($5054 US), but at least this one is a gold package, so it includes a few more benefits with purchase.
Now as ridiculous (err…umm.. I mean, exciting) as this is, it is nowhere near as mind-blowing as an auction that took place in April, 2015. During that Du auction, an Emirati businessman, Mohamed Hilal, purchased the number 052 222 2222 for a whopping 8,010,000 aed ($2,188,524 US). Yes, that’s right. Someone spent that much money for a mobile number just because it has a lot of the number 2 in it. I would be curious to know how often he gets prank calls, or people calling to ask him for some money.
In 2016, another auction was to take place including the number 052 111 1111, and it was anticipated that it could go for even more than the number in 2015. However, I can’t find any information about that sale, so either that buyer didn’t want it advertised (smart) or people are getting more conservative with how much they spend on mobile numbers, and it didn’t go for as much as anticipated (unlikely). I could try calling it and asking….
Du’s website says that 18.9million aed of the profits from the 2015 auction went to two different charity organizations. If this is the case, then perhaps the people spending vasts amounts of money for mobile numbers are in reality philanthropists. Or, well, kind of like philanthropists in the sense that they give large sums of money for the sick and needy, but at the same time benefit by getting a really cool mobile number.
At this point, you might be thinking that some people in the UAE don’t mind spending their money on frivolous things. And, well, you may very well be right. However, just wait. It gets better because license plate numbers are an even bigger deal around here.
Each emirate in the UAE has a different style/color of license plate, but all plates can contain a maximum of 5 digits.This is an example of how a license plate in the emirate of Abu Dhabi would look.
Now I remember, as a teenger in Oregon, I would have loved to have had a personalized license plate. I always wanted to get 2young2 for my license plate. It seemed fitting since I was constantly being told that I was too young to do what I wanted to do. However, the ~$50 it would cost to have a personalized plate seemed like too much of a splurge. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like that much money, especially considering it would have actually been personalized.
Forgive my slight tangent, I am just trying to show that what is considered as a personalized plate in the States, is not the same as here. There is no option to use letters. There is no option, that I am aware of, to choose your own numbers that carry a special meaning to you. Your only option is to bid on a plate that has been deemed special. As I have already mentioned, people here have a penchant for number patterns. As in the picture of the example plate, this would probably have a hefty price tag because it is a numerical pattern. Additionally, when it comes to license plates, they also like low numbers. Since the standard is 5 digits, it costs extra money to get something different than this. The lower the number, typically the higher the cost.
What does this mean? Well, it means that when you are driving down Sheikh Khalifa street and a car with a 3-digit plate starts flashing their lights and tailgating you, you quickly move out of the way. Or, if a car with a 2-digit plate is coming up behind you, you don’t even bother waiting for them to flash their lights, you just move over and let them be on their way. Clearly they are more important than you, and obviously they have more money.
The low numbered plates are a sign of status and in many ways a part of the culture. There are a few articles discussing this concept: A Low Number on your UAE License Plate Probably Means More Than you Thought, Understanding the License Plate Phenomenon in the UAE , and Judging a Man by his Number (this one I found especially cute).
Recently, two plate auctions occurred that I found interesting for different reasons. First, in October, 2016 an Indian businessman bought a Dubai plate with the number 5 for 33 million aed ($9 million US). Yes, you read that right. He spent more money on a license plate for his Rolls-Royce than I will ever make in my lifetime. What I found humorous about all of this is that two weeks after his purchase, he showed up in the newspaper again. This time it was for being fined for illegally parking in a handicap parking spot. He was issued a fine of 1,000 aed ($270US) and cited four black points. Uh huh. I am sure this will break his bank. However, to be fair, he says it was his driver that made the error, not him, and that he was only in the spot for a few seconds while loading shopping bags. He says that he has been unfairly prosecuted, plans to argue the fine, and has opened a case against the person who uploaded a video of his car to the police. A quote in the newspaper reports him saying “I hope people will exercise a bit more restraint before embarking on character assassination of a person who they hardly know anything about.” I am sure we can all understand how stressful this has been for him. Of course, if the attention is just too much, maybe he should have stuck to a 5-digit plate number.
On the flip side, and this is just my opinion and not based on evidence, it would not surprise me if he has been subjected to more negative attention simply because he is Indian. There is a lot of racism against Indians in this country, and they are frequently treated as inferior. There are a lot of people out there that will not think it is right that an Indian was able to purchase this special plate number. It is easy for me to imagine that he actually has been treated unfairly, or at least not treated in the same way as if he had been Emirati.
That being said, Emiratis are not exempt from having negative headlines when it comes to purchasing license plate numbers. In November, 2016 Abu Dhabi held an auction in which the license plate with the number 1 was sold for 31 million aed (8.46 million US) to an Emirati. In all of the newspaper articles about the auction his name and picture prominently showed up. Then about ten-days later, the news articles were about how the check he wrote for the plate bounced. Yes, I’ll say that again. His check for 31 million aed didn’t clear the bank. Of course, now that criminal proceedings are happening, the newspapers have stopped publishing his name and picture in the articles because, well, they probably don’t want to shame the family. He says that he knew that he didn’t have the funds to cover the purchase but had hoped to sell the plate for a profit. No word on what happens to the plate now.
Bottom line: Some people in the UAE have an exorbitant amount of money and are willing to spend it on what they see as an important number. Why bother getting to know a person when you can simply judge them based on a number?