The Mileymoon: Introduction
Singapore Airlines B787-10 Business Class SIN-DPS
St Regis Bali
Banyan Tree Ungasan Bali
JetQuay CIP Terminal Changi
Cathay Dragon A321 Business Class HAN-HKG
Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge HKG
Cathay Pacific B77W First Class HKG-SFO
Post Ranch Inn: History & Arrivals Experience
Post Ranch Inn: Tree House Room
Post Ranch Inn: Dining and Ranch Tour
Cathay Pacific Lounge SFO
Cathay Pacific B77W First Class SFO-HKG
Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge HKG
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class HKG-HAN
Singapore Airlines A330 Business Class HAN-SIN
Planning a Maldives trip
W Maldives Transfer Experience
W Maldives Villa
W Maldives Dining
W Maldives Activities
There’s no place in the world that quite captures the imagination like the Maldives. With sun-kissed beaches, crystal clear water and a wealth of marine biodiversity, it offers an experience unlike anywhere else.
It’s hard to think that this cluster of 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks rising out of the Indian Ocean could attract more than 1.3 million visitors a year spending $2.7B across its 135 resorts and 458 guest houses (yes, I found the Maldives tourism stats book), but it does, and tourist numbers continue to rise each year.
Given its remote location and unmatched natural beauty, the Maldives are home to some of the most luxurious (and expensive) resorts in the world. Although it is possible to do the Maldives on a budget, that’s not why most people come here. Visiting the Maldives typically means spending a pretty penny, which is why it’s best saved for a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon or anniversary trip.
If you’ve been thinking about visiting the Maldives, I’d advise you to make your trip sooner rather than later. At the rate sea levels are rising and coral reefs are getting bleached, it’s likely the Maldives your children see will be nothing like it is today.
After completing the US leg of the Mileymoon, we were now heading to the Maldives and the W Hotel. In this post, I’ll cover some general advice on planning a Maldives trip, and in the next I’ll talk about things specific to the W Maldives.
(1) When should I visit?
November to April is peak season for the Maldives, with little rain and warm temperatures. Naturally, room rates are much higher during this period, but it’s the tradeoff for good weather.
May to October is the monsoon season, and you’re likely to find better deals on rooms here. Rain may sound like a vacation spoiler, but remember that rain in the Maldives comes from tropical storms- very fierce, but very short. It’s rare you find a day with non-stop rain, and it may even be a bit more pleasant to snorkel or walk the beach with some cloud cover. Waters may be a bit more choppy during this season, but if you’re snorkeling in an area with a natural barrier like a house reef it shouldn’t be that big a deal.
(2) How many nights do I need (and how should I book them?)
In my opinion, four to five nights is the sweet spot for a Maldives vacation. Any more, and you’re liable to get bored (not to mention broke). Any less, and it’s not worth the time and expense taken to get there.
It helps that five nights is also the sweet spot for most hotel redemptions. For example, you’ll get the fifth night free when you redeem Hilton (with Silver status or above, easily attainable via the AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend) or Marriott points (for all members).
One good way to cut the cost of your hotel without sacrificing luxury is to look out for opportunities to buy hotel points when they go on sale.
|Chain||Revenue Rate||Points Cost|
|Conrad Maldives||Hilton||~U$1,080||US$475 (95,000 @ 0.5 cents) or US$380 (with 5th night free)|
|Waldorf Astoria Maldives||Hilton||~US$1,900||US$600 (120,000 @ 0.5 cents) or US$480 (with 5th night free)|
|SAii Lagoon||Hilton||~US$740||US$425 (85,000 @ 0.5 cents) or US$340 (with 5th night free)|
|Park Hyatt Maldives||Hyatt||~US$750||US$513 (30,000 @ 1.71 cents)|
|Holiday Inn Kandooma Maldives||IHG||~US$600||US$225 (45,000 @ 0.5 cents)|
|St Regis Maldives||Marriott||~US$1,660||US$645* (85,000) or US$515 (with 5th night free)|
|W Maldives||Marriott||~US$1,310||US$645* (85,000) or US$515 (with 5th night free)|
|Sheraton Maldives||Marriott||~US$420||US$380* (50,000) or US$303 (with 5th night free)|
|Westin Maldives||Marriott||~US$680||US$455* (60,000) or US$364 (with 5th night free)|
|JW Marriott Maldives||Marriott||~US$1,100||US$645* (80,000) or US$515 (with 5th night free)|
*Based on the old Starwood points pricing system where you could buy points at 2.275 US cents each. Starwood points were converted to Marriott points at a ratio of 1:3 during last year’s merger, and as of today there haven’t been any good opportunities to buy Marriott points
The best thing about hotel points is that (1) all taxes are already included in the points rate and (2) they’re generally cancellable, unlike the cheapest revenue rates. Do note that cancellation policies in the Maldives may require 2-4 weeks notice, especially during peak periods.
If you hold a Citi Prestige card, then you should strongly consider using the fourth night free benefit. Although it no longer covers taxes and fees on the fourth night, you’re still going to save a huge chunk of money.
You’ll also want to consider booking hotels in the AMEX Fine Hotels & Resorts portfolio (available to AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders). These occasionally offer the third/fourth/fifth night free, in addition to benefits like a hotel credit, room upgrade, late check-out and breakfast.
If you can’t get either of those cards, consider using the Entertainer’s Hotel deals. Depending on the property and time of year, you can get 1 for 1, 2 for 2 or 3 for 3 night deals-a lot of savings for this part of the world!
(3) What are my options to get to the Maldives from Singapore?
The Maldives are only 4.5 hours from Singapore, but it’s not like there’s a ton of non-stop flights available. There are three daily non-stop options provided by Scoot, Singapore Airlines and SilkAir. One-stop options are available via CMB (on SriLankan) and KUL (on AirAsia), but there aren’t significant cost savings and I wouldn’t recommend it.
From SIN to MLE
|1510 SIN | 1650 MLE||✓|
|1825 SIN | 2005 MLE||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Singapore Airlines SQ452|
|2045 SIN | 2210 MLE||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|1005 SIN | 1150 MLE||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|1100 SIN | 1235 MLE||✓||✓|
From MLE to SIN
|1750 MLE | 0145 SIN||✓|
|2105 MLE |0455 SIN||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Singapore Airlines SQ451|
|2325 MLE | 0710 SIN||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|1250 MLE | 2040 SIN||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|1335 MLE | 2135 SIN||✓||✓|
(4) What’s the best flight timing to take?
The best flight timing really depends on whether the resort you’re staying at can be reached by speedboat, or seaplane only.
Speedboats operate 24 hours a day, but the last seaplane leaves at 4.30 p.m. There may be exceptions, but the general cutoff time for arrivals if you want a seaplane on the same day is 3.30 p.m. This means that if you want to transfer to the resort via seaplane on the same day you arrive, MI482 and MI484 are your only flight options.
Given that there’s virtually nothing to do in Male, my advice if you can’t make the morning flights will be to get in as late as possible, catch a good night’s sleep at a cheap hotel near the seaplane terminal and take the first seaplane out the following morning. This makes SQ452 a great option. In any case, given the exorbitant rates of most Maldives properties (whether you’re paying with cash or points), it makes little sense to arrive at the resort late in the evening and “waste” a day.
As for flying out, the hotel will typically schedule a seaplane at about the 2.5-3 hour mark before you’re due to fly. If you’re on one of the SilkAir flights, that means having to pack up and leave straight after breakfast.
The Scoot and Singapore Airlines flights allow you to spend more time at your resort on the final day, but that comes with a cost too. Restrictions on seaplane timing mean you’ll reach Male airport no later than 6pm. For passengers on SQ451 (departure 11.25pm), that’s a heck of a long time to wait for your flight. There is a Priority Pass lounge at the airport, but it’s not exactly worth coming early for. Remember also that check-in only opens 3 hours before departure so you’ll have to find something else to do in the meantime
My opinion is that the Thursday Scoot flight actually has the best return timing- 5.50pm allows you to enjoy your morning in the resort and take a seaplane after a late lunch. Otherwise, I’d take MI483 to save myself a long wait at MLE airport.
(5) How much do flights cost?
If you’re looking to pay cash, budget flights on Scoot can go as low as $270 round-trip, with full service flights on Singapore Airlines starting at $588.
Otherwise, KrisFlyer award space to the Maldives is generally very good in Economy and Business Class, and you should be able to find at least two Saver awards available on most days.
|Economy||37,000+ S$118.40||74,000 + S$118.40|
|Business||78,000 + S$118.40||130,000 + S$118.40|
However, expect a sub-par Business Class experience as Singapore Airlines operates an A330-300 with the 2009 angled-flat Regional Business Class to MLE. SilkAir’s Business Class isn’t much better, and on the whole I wouldn’t consider this to be a route worth splurging miles on.
You can try picking up awards to Male at 30% off during Spontaneous Escapes, but they’ve only featured in 4 of the past 12 editions. Even when they do, it’s mostly Economy awards that are on sale.
|Last 12 Months||Economy||Business|
(6) How much do transfers cost?
It’s entirely possible, likely even, that the transfer to your resort will cost more than the flight to the Maldives.
Such is the nature of the seaplane industry here, a duopoly run by Maldavian and Trans Maldivian Airways.The average round-trip price is US$500-600 per person, for a flight that very often lasts just 30-40 minutes at most. There’s no way to redeem these with miles or points, so don’t even ask.
You won’t book and pay for these tickets yourself. Instead, the hotel pays on your behalf and adds the charge to your bill, which means you should use whatever credit card gives a bonus on foreign currency/hotel spending.
Unlike regular commuter flights, there isn’t a fixed schedule for seaplane departure and arrival timings. Routes are worked out daily based on the number of passengers and where they’re heading. This means the resort will not be able to confirm your exact seaplane timing until the day before. So please don’t bug them for this information ahead of time, there’s nothing they can do.
The map below gives you an idea of where the resorts are relative to MLE airport. That said, there’s not really a correlation between distance and cost, so it’s not like a short hop costs dramatically less than a long one.
Seaplane passengers are limited to 20kg of checked luggage and 5kg of hand luggage per person, although in reality these aren’t strictly enforced. Excess luggage is only US$5 per kg, so even if you meet the odd strict counter staff you won’t be paying dearly.
Resorts which are closer to the airport can be reached by speedboat, with rides rarely taking more than an hour. Prices are much more reasonable, relatively speaking, at ~US$150-250. There’s also no luggage allowance limits.
If you’re really looking to pinch pennies (you’re in the wrong place), then you could take a public ferry for a couple of dollars a person. However, these are only an option if you’re traveling among the more inhabited islands (i.e not the uberluxe resorts), plus schedules are irregular and transfer times are longer than speedboats.
(7) Do I need an overwater villa?
Well, you don’t need one, in the same way you don’t need to go to the Maldives for vacation. But an overwater villa is a quintessential part of the Maldives experience- there’s nothing like watching the sunrise from the deck of your overwater villa before stepping directly into the water to snorkel the house reef.
The problem is that at most properties (but not all) offer beach villas as the base category room, meaning you’ll need to shell out more cash or points for a water villa. This can be painful when you’re already paying so much for the privilege of being there.
One idea is to stay at a more affordable resort where water villas price the same as a beach villa at a higher-end one. Suggestions include Sun Island Resort & Spa (~US$330), Reethi Faru Resort (~US$420) and Gangehi Island Resort (~US$560).
That said, a beach villa isn’t the end of the world when you’re just steps away from some of the softest sand there is. They may also, counter intuitively, be a bit more private at certain resorts where water villas are packed very tightly together.
(8) Should I get half/full board packages?
Food in the Maldives is expensive, no two ways about it. Part of it is captive audience gouging, part of it is that it’s genuinely expensive to ship food to the middle of nowhere. Throw in a 10% service charge and 12% GST, and it’s understandable why some people bring Maggi mee.
Since you can’t just hop to a restaurant round the corner if you don’t fancy the food in the resort, it’s tempting to buy a half or full board package that at least puts a cap on your F&B expenditure.
In general, half-board in the Maldives means breakfast and dinner, and full board means breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most of the times, alcoholic beverages are not included in half or full board plans, but some resorts may have different policies (or “upgraded” full board packages which include this).
It’s important to note that getting half/full board doesn’t give you a free run of the menu. There won’t be daily lobster and caviar, because half/full board meals are usually in the buffet restaurant. If a la carte options are offered, half/full board guests may be restricted to a smaller menu. If the resort has a “superstar” restaurant, it’s almost certain to be excluded from half/full board plans and require a substantial upcharge.
It’s much harder to justify a half/full board package if you’re an elite member. After all, Marriott Bonvoy Platinum (or higher) and Hilton Gold (or higher) members already enjoy free breakfast. A hearty breakfast, taken later in the morning, can last most people until the late afternoon where a small shared meal should be enough to tide you over till dinner.
Moreover, selected Marriott resorts offer F&B discounts to elite members under the “members dine more” program.
At the W Maldives, my Platinum status got us an across-the-board 20% discount on all F&B, including alcohol. Similar discounts are available at the Westin and Sheraton Maldives. This makes a half/full board package even less worth it.
Although miles and points can dramatically reduce the cost of visiting the Maldives, you should still be prepared to spend quite a bit. Expect to pay US$100-150 per meal for a party of two with drinks, US$200-250 an hour for a spa treatment, and US$150 for a 15-minute activity like parasailing.
This won’t cover every last question you have about visiting the Maldives, but it’s a good place to start! In the next post I’ll look at our experience getting to the W.
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