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I’ve got another trip report for you. I love these reports because it gives me a chance to help showcase members of my Daddy Travels on Facebook community. My little travel group is steadily growing, I have quite a few regulars who are always participating, sharing, and learning – this was my exact goal when I built my community. So, for this trip report, I present Talisa as she summarized her experience when she and her husband, John, embarked on an aspirational trip to the Maldives. This is Talisa…in her own words.
Meet Talisa & John
It has always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to travel the world. Growing up in the Philippines, I didn’t think it was possible for me to go to the likes of Europe and even more, the Maldives. To many, Maldives is a dream destination, a once in a lifetime experience. I love to experience different cultures, weather, try the country’s food, and be amazed of the architecture, and character of every place.
My zest for travels kicked off with a trip to Orlando, Florida in 2015. After that, we did short trips to other states, and went on one big international trip each year. The travel bug hit me hard once I became a registered nurse. Working as a nurse can get stressful so having these trips planned became a motivation and something to look forward to.
My husband, John, and I travel together. I must say I’m the planner and I drag him along. He usually dreads what I plan, but every travel definitely makes a mark on him and has no regrets on going. I just got to give him a little push
Her favorite travel destinations
I have a lot of favorite destinations, but New Zealand is memorable for a few reasons. New Zealand was our first long haul travel together and booked it on an error fare. We weren’t ready and didn’t save up for a trip, but who could say no to $250 roundtrip per person to New Zealand? This was also our first (and only) time driving on the other side of the road!
Our travels to Asia have always been memorable. But truly, every single one of our travels were memorable – Europe, US, Mexico, Canada. Our latest Bahamas trip was awesome, too!
Why she chose Dubai and the Maldives
A few years back, I always get such joy and rush when I get to book and plan a trip for such good value just like our New Zealand trip. My husband and I aren’t picky with how we get to the destination nor where we stay. Budget travel allowed us more frequent travels. Spirit Airlines always get a lot of hate, but we were cool with it. You get what you pay for. We were able to fly to East Coast for about $50 RT per person. That can even be cheaper than a Las Vegas trip!
I was first introduced to the world of miles and points through YouTube. Aspirational travel has become my goal. There have been talks of starting a family and so I thought that this is the time to use the points that I have been saving—last hoorah if ever I do get pregnant in the near future.
I booked our flights with Emirates (Los Angeles to Dubai, and Dubai to Male, Maldives). I booked this using our Chase Ultimate Rewards points. For our Maldives flight back to Los Angeles with a layover in Doha, we booked via Qatar Airlines using American Airlines points.
The cost of booking their aspirational trip
Both Emirates flights were business class. It was 123,650 Skywards Miles per person. Emirates allows a stopover in Dubai for free so instead of having a layover for a few hours, we decided to stay for three nights. For two people, it came out to 247,500 miles and $516.60 in fees. To do this, I simply transferred 248,000 miles from our Chase Ultimate Reward to Emirates. For our return, I used 70,000 American Airlines miles and $77.05 each person for Qatar Airlines QSuites. For our stay at Conrad Maldives, I used 380,000 points for five nights.
How they earned all of these miles and points
I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited and my husband has the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I also have the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. I used the “Stay 4 nights, get the 5th night free” for our booking with Hilton for Conrad Maldives.
Planning could go a little crazy
I used miles and points for this trip. It was my first time transferring to an airline partner, Emirates, using Chase Ultimate Rewards. I may or may not have been more excited for the plane rides than getting to the Maldives itself. I didn’t have enough American Airlines points, so I had to purchase more miles, which was on sale at that time at 30% off. We initially were flying Singapore Airlines Premium Economy with cash, but they kept changing flight details, even to the point of getting back to Los Angeles two days after my desired date of arrival. The travel gods must love me as this was a blessing in disguise. It was a difference of $300 to fly premium economy (less than $100 difference from basic economy) with Singapore Airlines versus flying business class on Qatar Airlines by points. It was a no-brainer and I didn’t have to pay any cancellation fee as Singapore Airlines had changes with my original booking. I didn’t mind the splurge as this was over 15 hours of flight!
The trip preparation
My husband and I first flew to Dubai to stay for a few nights. Prior to flying, we got our COVID PCR tests done at Kaiser Permanente at no cost for members. We got tested two days prior to our trip. We got our result the day after we got tested. We also brought our COVID vaccination cards as proof we are fully vaccinated but neither Dubai nor Maldives asked for this.
Pre-arrival communication with the Conrad Maldives
After I booked my stay at the Conrad, I received an email from a reservations coordinator. They confirmed the stay, asked for flight, and guest details, and also charges such as seaplane transfer or discounted upgrades. They also informed me of the PCR testing (before coming and leaving the resort), health declaration form (prior to departure to and from Maldives), resort and flight details, and as well as luggage allowance.
Emirates and Qatar were an absolute dream come true
We used Emirates to get to Dubai and Maldives. We used Qatar Airlines to fly back to the USA. The flights were nothing short of amazing! It was our first time flying business class. Emirates and Qatar have such a great reputation for their premium cabins so the flights itself were part of vacation as well.
My eyes were shooting stars once we entered the plane. Never in my entire life did I think I could fly business class, and with an airline of this caliber. The flight attendants were so friendly, helpful, and attentive. We were served welcome drinks of our choice, chose our meals and thirty minutes upon take off, they placed our seat mattress covers (I forgot what it was called). After a couple of hours into the flight, we were served dinner. My husband had lamb and I had prawns. Both were so lovely! I was in awe of how big those prawns were.
I slept shortly after dinner. I worked the night before our 4pm flight and hadn’t slept at all. I slept for a solid 8-9 hours! It felt great! Then I realized there was only 3.5 hours left of our flight to Dubai! I slightly panicked as I planned to make most of the food and drinks onboard. I requested a hot snack, which was prawns over polenta! I got served breakfast shortly after my “snack.” We also visited the bar/ lounge in the back and that itself was also amazing! They also had snacks, cakes, pastries, and chocolates!
Flying to Maldives
We had to get tested again prior to flying to Maldives. To fly from Dubai to Maldives, a negative COVID result taken no more than 96 hours prior to departure was needed. A QR code for the health declaration form was also needed before flying to the Maldives. I read that somewhere before our trip, but I had forgotten about it from all activities we did in Dubai. There were a lot of testing centers, clinics, hospitals at Dubai. In fact, COVID testing was so accessible, you can also arrange for them to come to where you’re staying and get tested there. Malls, such as Dubai Mall and Mall of Emirates, also had testing centers, but as I read, an appointment may be needed. Tests were 150 AED, which is about 40 USD, but if the hotel arranges the test, I believe they were charging 250 AED. Results will be emailed to you within 24 hours of the test. A negative COVID test is needed to enter Maldives. The test should take place within 96 hours.
Scoring free COVID testing in Dubai
My husband and I decided to go to a clinic close to our hotel to get tested but about half an hour before leaving, I read on the Dubai Expo ticket we can get tested at no cost. We received the Dubai Expo ticket for free from flying Emirates. A negative COVID test within 72 hours or proof of being fully vaccinated is necessary to enter the Dubai Expo. My husband and I went to the testing clinic and we were asked when our flight was. They were going to charge us the 150AED, but we just had to tell them that we were going to the Dubai Expo the following day (which we really planned to do) and presented them our Dubai Expo tickets. Every saving is a saving!
Before flying from Dubai to Maldives
As we were checking in for our flight bound to Maldives, we presented our passports and printed negative COVID tests and the agent told us we needed the form filled out on the Imuga – Maldives Immigration site. We entered flight, stay, and COVID test details and got our QR code instantly. My suggestion is to take a screenshot of the QR code in case there is no Internet, and they ask for this again upon arrival and at the resort. Some people also have printed their QR codes as well.
Emirates Premium Lounge in Dubai
We took an Uber from our hotel to the Dubai airport. They have a separate Emirates business class terminal. At Dubai airport, we were able to use the Emirates Premium Lounge. It was massive! Our flight was around 9am so they served mostly breakfast food at the buffet stations. There were two buffet stations that served the exact same thing – some American, Mediterranean, and Asian food. There was also an ice cream cart, a few drinks bars, and a health hub, where there were healthier food options such as fruits and freshly squeezed juices.
There were lines to check in despite several counters being open. It blew my mind how many people flew premium cabins. Also, at the terminal, we were able to get our Tax Refunds. The flight to Maldives was also so comfortable. It was about 4 hours to Maldives from Dubai. We were served a meal onboard– I chose lasagna, which I wasn’t too fond of. I had a nap as well, which took most of the flight.
Arriving in Male Airport
After immigration and collecting our luggage at Male airport, we were welcomed by people with signs for every resort. Other resorts have their own booths. We were then escorted to get our seaplane boarding pass. The resort will give guidelines regarding luggage allowance and they are quite strict about it. They brought us to the Conrad lounge. At the lounge we were served drinks and a choice of snack and a dish. I had pineapple juice and aglio olio pasta while my husband had juice and tuna sandwich. Once it was closer to boarding, we took the van to the boarding area for the seaplane.
It was my first time on a seaplane. My suggestion is to try to get in first to get a window seat. The seaplane was small and crowded. The takeoff and landing were so smooth. It was nice to see all the other islands from above. It took about half an hour to get to Rangali Island. To the inquiring minds, we arrived in Male between 3-4pm, and the seaplane flew to Rangali Island at 5pm.
The cost for the seaplane transfer
- Round trip charge per adult is US$ 590.00 inclusive of tax.
- Children below 12 years of age receive 50% discount
- Infants below two years of age are complimentary
Seaplane luggage allowance
- Luggage allowance is 27kg per person plus three kilograms of hand luggage
- Maximum weight is 32 kg per piece of luggage any excess goods will need to be removed and placed in another baggage
- Excess baggage is chargeable and is paid directly to Trans Maldivian at US $5.00 plus 12% TGST per 1kg per way.
Finally, Conrad Maldives
For the Conrad Maldives, the property was divided in to three different islands. One was geared more towards adults, another island was mixed in nature (with children), and one with a big beach. Ironically, it did not feel crowded, we saw people mostly during meals. We went in November, it was windy. We had heavy rain one night. We were in a tropical destination, so we were used to the 10-minute rain shower. The temperature was around 75 degrees.
Upon checking in, there was no complimentary upgrade for us Diamond members. We were originally in a beach villa the first three nights (this was the standard room), and then on the last two nights, we opted to go for the overwater grand king villa with pool.
The downside, this was an extra $800 per night. There was a plunge pool in the villa. About the pricing, we kept checking with the front desk for overwater availability, and due to its dynamic pricing structure, the cost kept changing.
About the front Desk and resort staff, upon arrival, they took us to a small lounge, we were given fresh coconut. We were also given our own host who was our contact for everything. We communicated using WhatsApp. Here’s a tip. We were able to ask for a microwave for free. This helped in minimizing our dining costs. We were able to buy food while we were in Dubai, and we were able to bring them with us to Maldives.
The meals at Conrad Maldives
Since we are Hilton Diamond Members, we loaded up and ate a heavy breakfast. There were lots of selections – rice, noodles, crepes, etc. We were quite full until the afternoon. We were full enough not to have to eat again for lunch. For our entire stay, we only ate one dinner. It was roughly $700 for two people when we had lobster and champagne on the beach. It was a buffet, free flowing champagne. We also tried one of their cocktail hour specials. Again, it was pricey – two little bites at $85 per person.
As mentioned, it was quite windy, so wakeboarding didn’t work for us. We had complimentary use of snorkel and kayak. We did not see any manta rays. There were sharks even by the beach. I did not see any bikes. We did enjoy snorkeling 3x-4x during our visit. We brought our own gear, but there were snorkeling equipment for our use at the resort.
Summary of expenses
Here are the out of pocket expenses:
- $3,000 – purchased AA miles
- $700- Lobster and Champagne Buffet Beach dinner for 2
- $230- cocktail hour at Ithaa Undersea Restaurant for 2
- $300- COVID tests for 2
- $500- Emirates fees for 2
- $1,180- Seaplane transfer for 2 (round trip)
- $2,150- Upgrade to overwater villa for 2 nights
Talisa and John’s takeaways
Research, research, research
There are a lot of resources out there talking about the resort and their personal experiences. It helps a lot to get a ballpark of how much we will be spending and what things we need to bring that can make our stay more comfortable and even save money.
Bring your own sunscreen
Sunscreen can cost from $35-50 at the resort.
Snorkel gear is free of charge
You could borrow for the duration of stay. I had an idea that they had it, but we still brought our personal gear, which took a lot of luggage space and weight.
Be mindful of luggage weight. Seaplanes have a specific weight allowance per passenger. In our case, luggage allowance is 27kg per person plus 3kg of hand luggage and the maximum weight is 32kg per piece of luggage. Any excess goods will be removed and placed in another baggage. As of November 2021, extra baggage is $5.00 plus 12% TGST per 1 kg each way.
Communication with the resort
This can be a big help. They are good at answering questions and providing information related to your stay. Prior to getting to the resort, we were informed that they can provide a microwave as we requested, and we were able to prepare quick and easy foods.
Fill up during breakfast
As Hilton Diamond members, we had free buffet breakfast and happy hour. We always filled ourselves with heavy breakfasts that gets us through until happy hour or dinner. To even further save, we brought our own snacks and food we can prepare with a microwave. We chose to save on the everyday dinners, and instead spent big on a Lobster and Champagne Buffet Beach dinner and a cocktail at the undersea restaurant, which Conrad is famous for. Definitely the most expensive meal we ever EVER paid for. Beach dinners are also pretty and all, but also need to consider that it is weather permitting. Towards the end of our dinner, it rained. They had to move us to the Quiet Zone’s bar so the guests can get served and finish their meals.
The weather plays a big factor
November was a transition month in terms of weather. We were told that we were lucky we only had a few rain showers during our stay (we had 2-3 days of rain shower, which happened during the night). The week before we arrived, rained poured every day. A resort employee told us that January to April will be ideal. We wish we were able to do some water activity or excursion, but weather did not permit during our stay.
Using points and cash
I would’ve saved more if I had enough points to book the Qatar flight completely on points. However, we were going to pay cash for a one-way flight with Singapore Airlines. It cost only $300 more to buy the points to fly business class with Qatar Airlines. For $300 more, the comfort and experience we had on Qatar Airlines QSuites were definitely worth it!
Booking a room using points vs. cash
If a room is not booked on points, taxes and resort fees would apply. We were charged taxes and fees as we upgraded our room to an overwater villa for 2 nights. -We do not regret paying for the upgrade. It was our first time in Maldives, and we felt that an overwater villa was a must-experience. It is what the Maldives is known for anyways. With the long journey to get there as well in mind, the upgrade was definitely worth it.
Would we upgrade if we went back?
Most likely not. We were more than content with a standard beach villa. Especially with a windy weather, it would’ve been nice to know to request for a villa from 202-210. There were more snorkeling opportunities there and more calm waters.
Be mindful of your flight times
Seaplanes are available for arrivals between 0600-1500. For departing flights, if the international flight is before 0900, guests will be transferred from resort to Male the previous afternoon.
Know that it’s going to be expensive
If you have the means, and willing to pay, go for it. For us, the overwater villa upgrade was biggest chunk of our cost. If you paid for your stay using points, everything is covered including resort fees/taxes. Just know that things could easily add up. Seaplane per person is $600. COVID PCR test is $150 per person and you must take your test before leaving.
All in all, we spent about $8,200 for all flights (Emirates and Qatar), including our entire stay in Conrad Maldives. This also includes seaplane transfer, upgrade for water villa, food, and souvenirs, PCR test, gratuity). Thanks to miles and points, If we paid for everything out of pocket, it would’ve cost a fortune – $40,000 if paid in cash.
It was a treat for us. This would’ve been about $5k less if completely booked with points! If No upgrades or need to buy AA miles. But it is what it is. I’m glad we experienced it all! We still saved a lot!
My takeaways from Talisa’s and John’s Trip
First, thank you so much to Talisa and John for sharing all these details and pictures of their adventure from Los Angeles to Dubai to Maldives. Thanks for bringing us along for this journey. I truly appreciate the level of details you provided, and I know that it will help folks like me, I have an upcoming trip to the Maldives with plans on stopping in Dubai.
Travel miles and points matter
I seriously didn’t know where to begin. I’ve had this entry with me for a month now, and I tried to get my head around it – how these miles and points could really change your travel perspective. I have not yet been to the Maldives, yet, I’ve written a few trip reports and shared someone else’s experience. I am blown away by how pricey these airlines charge for flights to the Maldives, especially when you fly business or first class. And on top of that, the amount it would cost to stay in these dreamy villas. But then again, thanks to miles and points earned from many different credit cards, the dream easily becomes within reach.
Paying $8K for a $40K vacation
If you were to ask me, would I even consider a $40,000 trip? I would boldly say NO. $40,000 is a lot of money. That is someone’s income. That could be someone’s vehicle or perhaps two vehicles. That could be a down payment for a house. Or in different parts of the US or the world, that could be a payment for a house or a condo. So, I’d distance myself from trips that would be tough to digest. And then I remember, wait a minute. You now have miles and points, Jason. I could easily entertain the idea of booking a $40,000 trip. That’s what I see happened here. Talisa and John celebrated their anniversary, dreamed of this getaway, and with the help of miles and points, it all came to fruition. Surely, not everything was covered by miles and points, but as Talisa had mentioned, things started to quickly add up and they knew, and they were prepared. So, to pay $8K for something valued at $40K is still a win in my books
Nothing wrong with cutting corners
I had a phone conversation with Talisa about this trip, and she mentioned that they still had to cut corners in order not to overspend. As she mentioned, they skipped lunch for most of the trip. The brought their own snacks that they were able warm up and eat from their villa. I could totally relate to this. I could see us doing this. I could see us enjoying the free breakfast and dinner, and skip lunch. But not everyone is keen to doing such thing. Others have the mentality of “hey I’m on vacation, I’ll spend and eat what I want, when I want!” Again, there is nothing wrong with that. But the point is there are ways to cut corners.
Possible alternative, go to an all-inclusive resort
The alternative to cutting corners, especially on a trip to places like the Maldives is to find an all-inclusive resort. My travel buddy, Ethan S., recently enjoyed a trip to the Maldives, and did exactly that….enjoyed the luxury of not having to worry about the meals by booking an all-inclusive.
Treat yourself and do what works best for you
Lastly, I’ve always mentioned this time and again. We are all different when it comes to travel. There are those with the means, where sky is the limit, and cash is king. There are many of us in this credit card space where we earn miles and points who book these trips and reward ourselves with the best type of flights and accommodations. There are those who look for package deals, special offers that could make trips like this very possible. At the end of the day, you do you. You do what’s best for you. You book what your heart (and your wallet) dictates. There will always someone out there who would do something differently, that’s okay.