Using Miles to Get to the Maldives

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If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I had even heard of the Maldives before my delve into the world of miles and points.  I’m sure that is utterly ignorant, or at least super uncool to admit, but hey it’s the truth.  However, I had absolutely heard of over water villas, as had my husband.  We certainly didn’t imagine we would ever stay in one, but we sure as heck knew what they were.  Enter my husband’s 40th birthday planning.  We kicked around tons of ideas, but over water villas kept sounding awesome…as did a celebration in Amsterdam.  Of course those two things are almost polar opposites of each other in my mind, but who am I to judge a kid-free 40th birthday?

He decided that was how he wanted to spend his 40th next year, and so I went to work trying to make it happen.  Naturally one of my first resources to turn to was friend and Maldives on Miles guru Gary Leff from View From the Wing.  As those who read his blog already know, Gary likes premium cabins.  More specifically, Gary likes international first class on top carriers.  Who wouldn’t? He not only likes it, but is very knowledgeable about it with ample first-hand experience.  We kicked around different routings and carriers, but ultimately the reality is, to keep the trip from being outrageously priced in either miles or dollars, a round trip on Star Alliance was our best bet if we wanted to build in an Amsterdam stopover.

This meant no Cathay or Emirates or Etihad for us on this trip, but it did mean that we could do the trip round trip in business class with the Amsterdam stop for just 120,000 United miles each.  This is only 20k more miles each than if we only went to Amsterdam in business class via United and their Star Alliance partners.  I imagine we probably let our buddy Gary down a little with our somewhat conservative booking decision, but our mileage accounts do have limits, and this trip is already going to ring in at close to 400,000 miles and points when you include flights and hotels.  As a result, we had to be as smart as we could with what we had to work with.

Once we committed to Star Alliance, we went with United over US Airways or other miles mostly in part due my Platinum status with United that would allow for free changes if better flights or routings became available down the road.  We were booking almost a full eleven months out, so there is a strong likelihood that our options may change as the trip approaches and we want to be able to take full advantage of those options if they appear.  I could have opted to buy miles from LifeMiles, and that would have likely given me access to some additional routes/carriers (like Singapore) that weren’t showing great availability via United, but I really didn’t want to empty my wallet buying miles when I already had some that would work.

I had been watching award flight availability patterns for the weeks proceeding our dates via United’s award search option on their website.  I noticed that two business class seats from Amsterdam to Houston were often available Mon – Wed of each week, and made note of which days of the week the more optimal routings from Amsterdam to Male were available.  Of course this didn’t guarantee anything for my dates, but it gave me a good idea of how it would play out before the booking window actually opened.

Ultimately the pattern basically held and we were able to get the following routing:

Outbound:

Hosuton – Amsterdam in United BusinessFirst

Stopover in Amsterdam

Amsterdam – Istanbul on Turkish Business (this segment was originally only available in economy, but I kept checking and grabbed two seats in business a couple days after booking)

Istanbul – Male in Turkish Business

The hotel will help make our arrangements from Male to the Park Hyatt – read Gary’s post on this process here

Return:

Male to Singapore in Singapore Business

Singapore to Seoul in Singapore Economy (I am watching this like a hawk hoping to move up to business)

Seoul to San Francisco in United Business (upper deck on United 747!)

San Francisco to Houston in United domestic First

That is a ton of flying for 120k miles each.  We aren’t going to have an “over-the-top suite and showers at 36,000 feet experience” that we may have had in first class on some carriers, but for all but one segment we are in a premium cabin with seats that are generally just fine for sleeping.  We are more than happy with that compromise!  There is no easy way to get home to Houston from Male.  It is a ton of flying no matter what you do, but we opted to go via Asia instead of Europe for many reasons – one of which is it is just cool to “fly around the world” for your 40th birthday.  Those Asia routing options did not come up when searching online, but did when I searched one-way from Male – Houston.  I then just called in and fed the segments one by one to the very helpful United booking agent and it ticketed without a problem.

All of the rooms at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives are villas, however to get the over water villas you do have to negotiate with the resort and pay an up-charge to confirm in addition to the 22,000 Hyatt points per night we are paying for the base level park villa.  Truthfully all of the villas look great to me and our experience would be fine even without paying to confirm a “better” villa, but since it is a 40th birthday we will be paying extra to secure the over water option on this trip.  Though the pool villa options look pretty cool, too.  Gary also has a very helpful post on this process.

Park Hyatt Maldives over water villa

This trip will not be quick or cheap by any stretch, however the cost out-of-pocket is dramatically reduced thanks to miles and points.  In fact, there is a 0% chance this trip could have ever happened without miles and points.  It will require both sets of grandparents helping with Little C since we will be gone for so many days, and we are more than fortunate to have the miles and support to make this type of trip happen.  I’m by no means a Maldives on Miles expert, but even I was able to put together a decent reward flight itinerary without devoting too much time and energy.  The “pretend” price for the trip was $42,000 for the two tickets.

United price mommy points

No chance I would have ever paid anything close to that (so I won’t pretend I got 17.5 cents per mile value for my miles), but it is still entertaining to look at it from that point of view.

Hopefully this trip will be the perfect way to ring in a 40th birthday and will create some great memories to last a lifetime.  Thanks miles, points, and grandparents for making it possible!

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Comments

  1. Nice post. I’ve been looking at this recently even since my wife saw some underwater aquarium hotel room in the Maldives in some top 10 rooms news story.

  2. Mauritius is my Indian Ocean island of choice, but the Maldives and the Seychelles are nice as well. One thing with the Maldives is you really are a “hub captive” to the resort and they figure if you can afford to make it there you can afford to pay an arm, leg, first born for food/drink. It’s a fun trip though, especially if you scuba dive. Great reef life.

  3. Can you do this kind of booking through the United website or do you have to call in like US Airways? I didn’t think they would allow you to book an “around the world” flight. Very exciting though!

  4. What’s your food budget?
    Flying to and from the hotel is rediculously expensive. I am under the impression that children are NOT allowed to stay in over water villa, correct?

  5. Nice!

    Before the HHonors deval I booked 6 nights on Conrad Maldives (4 with the AXON + 2) and was watching for the flights. Got a JFK-MXP-IST-MLE on UA and TK all on business. Recently I booked the way back with Cathay from CMB-SIN-HKG-JFK with 1 ticket on business and 1 in first, now waiting to see if one more space opens up in first.

    Same thing with us, withough the points and miles, we probably would not even think about this trip.

  6. Maldives is one of my major point goals. Planning for 2015 for my wife’s 28th birthday (I’ll make it cover birthdays 28 through 30), so hopefully the game doesn’t change drastically until then:)

    The transfers and food will be expensive, but not any more than we would pay in total for a trip to Hawaii at our own expense.

  7. Did you build in any long layovers (<24h) on any of your transit points e.g. Singapore?? Also, there's nothing 'pretend' about that price, it's irrelevant that you would never pay it, that's what it costs.

  8. MommyPoints – Did you do all the research for the itinerary on United website or did you use any other engines to search for availability. Pardon my ignorance, if that’s a stupid question.

  9. Dan, I saw that, too. If they actually build it that would be pretty amazing!
    Adam, ha ha.
    Trajan, no doubt the costs for things like that will be high on this trip.
    Oliver, Hilary from TravelSort actually did just take her kid there and had a great time, but this trip is an adults only trip for us. Anyone that wants a trip review with a kid, check her’s out!
    http://travelsort.com/blog/park-hyatt-maldives-hadahaa-review
    Rich, crazy huh?
    Food, Wine, and Miles, well it is virtually an around-the-world ticket in premium cabins so I guess that adds up!
    ABC, my understanding is that children must be 12+ for the overwater villas. Breakfast is included for all and evening drinks and snacks will be included for us as Diamonds, so that will help. Gary has said that appetizers run in the $20s, entrees in the $30s and $40s, and desserts around $20.
    Vivek, yup. Even with points this vacation is not cheap. It is in the middle of nowhere!
    Phil, nice!
    DBest, we did not because of how long the trip already is and needing to not be gone any longer than we already are. I agree that in some ways the price is real, but I am sure there are ways to get the price down even if you are paying with cash.
    mw, awesome! I hear nothing but good things.
    Andrew, I agree. It is expensive, but points make it possible when it otherwise would not be. Special occasions are a great excuse for a special trip.
    Rafiq, I did play around on Expert Flyer and did compare to Life Miles availability, but most was done on United.
    Seth, that’s why I call it pretend. 😉

  10. @DBest: The reason the “pretend” price is that high is because it prices out point-to-point tickets in the mixed cabins on the mixed carriers. If you just want a business class ticket to compare to those are much closer to $12K each. Still way more than I’d pay, but hardly the ridiculous $43K number.

  11. @DBest. The price is 100% pretend as you’d never pay that so you can’t say you got that value of your flights. To a multi millionaire one could argue that valuation is accurate but to everyone else it’s not an accurate valuation.

    Think of it as this, “if you were in a marketplace and offered the same exact trip itinerary that MP booked for $43,000 would you pay that?” If your answer is no then those points are not worth $43,000. They are only worth what you are willing and able to pay. I’d reckon that for MP that number would fall to about $6,000 total.

  12. Summer, did you just look up the individual segments by themselves on United? So each of the four segments for the return flight home one by one? Also when you call up to book that, how do you phrase the call? Does “I’d like to book a roundtrip flight from Houston to Male and have the routing I can give you” work?

    Also to Seth, w/r/t to the high price being due to mixed carriers and what not, I also find that one ways (which occurs in Summer’s itinerary) are a poor barometer of the fake value of the flight. For example next week I’m flying JFK-LHR on BA in First with my girlfriend. The one way price for two was $21,424 when I put together my total costs several months ago. However the roundtrip price for two was about $10K. I added up the total “retail” cost of my trip to share with my skeptical girlfriend which came to about $40,000 for 9 nights with BA First there and UA J back. However I subtracted one way adjustments of ~$18K to make it more accurate.

    • Jeremy, I actually had booked half of the journey (the return half) and then called in to add the first half. I did not look segment by segment initially, but rather searched by putting in MLE-IAH to see what was returned. It returned routings via Europe or Asia. I booked routing via Asia and then called in to add the outbound flights to make it a RT.

  13. Reading your post just got me all excited again about my trip to Maldives!

    Booked with US miles Toronto > Istanbul on AC in J, Istanbul > Male in J on TK. Staying for 5 days at W Retreat in an over the water villa, then flying to SIN in J on SQ, staying for 5 days then to NRT on NH in J, then IAD in First Class on NH then back to YYZ!

  14. Just how long are you guys leaving the babe with g-ma?….we personally think that 5 days is perfect for adult only time and found that 7 nights was almost unbearable. To the point we left a cash paid for condo on a beautiful Florida beach a day early!

  15. Matt, awesome!
    Grant, just two days this time.
    iv, great!
    Jacki, I also like trips in the 4-5 day zone. We have been gone as long as 7 or 8 to Europe and it is rough. This trip rings in at 9, but she will be 4.5 years old and we can talk, Skype, etc. We will miss her, but reuniting will also be super fun. We only leave for long trips about once a year.
    oneeyejack, awesome!
    Jon, I think it is usually $350 per night for that upgrade.

  16. Great breakdown of planning a trip! Also, I applaud you for refraining from making the silly statement of saying that you got 17.5 cents per mile.

  17. @mw,
    Why are you waistingyour time here when you are in paradise? Are you so addicted to points and miles you can’t take vacation from your hobby?

  18. Perhaps try SIN-TPE-USA with TPE-USA leg on EVA Air’s new business product?

    We went to Conrad last year w/ a then 2 year old and it was a blast. With a kid or not, Maldives will be memorable.

  19. Awesome! Nice routing! I have booked Conrad in November but I don’t think I’ll make it this time. Seaplane costs a lot plus and I didn’t figure out my routes yet.

  20. That is fantastic!!! Sounds like a great birthday trip for your husband’s 40th. My 40th is coming up in a couple of years, so I’m going to have to speak with my wife to make sure she is planning something proper to celebrate =) then I’ll have a few years to prepare for her 40th as well. Have a great trip! I’m looking forward to reading all about it when you return.

  21. I had debated doing this kind of trip for our anniversary. However, after talking it over with my husband-the idea of leaving our child for an extended vacation scared us. Should something happen and we both are gone-we would feel horrible leaving our child with both parents gone at once.

  22. Sounds like a great plan. Been there and it is beautiful and private. I agree, this is a vacation for you and your husband.

    Let us know if they sell vanilla reloads over there. Didnt see them when I visited in 2011.

    PS say hi to Emily if you see her, they are going too! 🙂

  23. -Glad to hear some of you are planning similar trips!
    -I know that not everyone feels comfortable leaving their little ones behind, but we have great parents that she is happy to stay with and we are happy to take them up on it from time to time. 🙂

  24. Jeremy, we’ll have to agree to disagree, I think it’s the dynamic pricing that throws people off. Just because I can’t afford a Porsche Turbo doesn’t mean it is subjectively worth less to me than its sticker price. Of course, different airlines charge different prices for similar experiences – flying in a bed across an ocean, so we can’t ignore that. But then again, I can always buy a Nissan GT-R for about half the price of the 911 but almost the same performance.

    Seth, you definitively have a point, maybe the “real” value should be whatever the cheapest way to acquire and redeem miles for the trip would set you back.

    Summer, that’s too bad, I’d rather stopover in Istanbul or Singapore than Amsterdam, but maybe only cause I’ve already been to Holland.

  25. I wish my hubby and I felt comfortable travelling so far away from our 3 year old son! I’m not saying that sarcastically or snidely, either! We’d love to go to even Europe by ourselves for 5-6 days, but despite the fact that I am the one who goes all out on collecting miles and points and love using them, I am a slightly fearful flyer, and I have these horrible ideas of our plane crashing over the ocean and leaving our son completely parentless. So thus far, we’ve taken him with us on a couple of international trips (Europe and SA) and quite a few domestic, too. It’s always been a surprisingly great time, but there ARE so many sacrifices and frustrations, too, that wouldn’t be there if we simply felt comfortable enough to leave him with my Mom. Hubby and I would love to do Cathay First to Hong Kong on our own, but I think I’d have an actual panic attack up in the air, on that long flight, imagining my baby all alone. I’m jealous of those who have no fear of flying whatsoever!

    • Leah, I do have some fear, but I also have fear driving in Houston traffic. I had some neighbors growing up that would take one trip a year without kids, but they flew on different flights to get there for that reason. That said, it is good to know your limits. We started small when she was younger with one night away at a local hotel and worked up from there. However, if you are too worried or sad about the little one you left behind then obviously it isn’t worth it. Thankfully trips with kids are awesome as well! 😉

  26. @Leah, so sorry to hear that you are struggling with leaving your little one at home, but just know you are not alone. It sounds like your little one really is little, too. So, this is almost certainly something that you will become more comfortable with over time. I will second what mommypoints says about starting small (we often have a night or two in “the city” while grandparents stay at our house with our kids (4,6) less than an hour away), and that heck, trips with kids are fun too. We’ve had a great time with our kids in New Orleans, Paris, London, and bazillions of other places. And I’m eagerly awaiting mommypoints’ future post about doing Vegas with kids. I’ve never been there and would like to try it sometime, probably with the kids.
    (ps, I think that going on two separate flights is kinda silly, you’re basically dividing an already tiny number by 2, but hey, do whatever makes you feel comfortable ;-))

  27. It’s hard to leave the little one behind, but I’m a firm believer in the fact that it needs to be done — for your sanity, your marriage, and even for the child to develop some independence and flexibility. My husband and I did 12 days away in Spain and Western Europe last fall when our daughter was nearly 4. Our daughter got to spend quality time with both sets of grandparents, and everyone was happier for the experience. We are now expecting #2 and I know we won’t get the chance for such a long trip for several more years, so I’m glad we seized the opportunity!

    • Leslie, I am of the same mindset. #2 is like a a reset for a while, so enjoy the gap between an “older” first child and the arrival of a second. 😉

  28. We’ve done 1-2 nights away, in Chicago, only about 5 hours from our home, but nothing further than that. I’d be ok with going almost anywhere in the continental US for a few days away and I wouldn’t be too paranoid about that b/c I figure I could quickly and easily get back home if something were to happy while my son was in his grandparents’ care. But something about flying to Europe (or further) without him is where I draw the line, no matter how much I wish I could. Unfortunately, US destinations just don’t hold much appeal to me… nothing like Europe, anyway! And now, my son is not-quite-3 (bday in Sept) and I have a baby girl on the way (due in Aug), so we’ll be sticking close to home for quite awhile yet.

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