I’m recently back from a trip to the Maldives and Malaysia. I used American miles for the air, Hyatt points for the hotel in Maldives and to upgrade a paid stay in Kuala Lumpur (one of my favorite world food cities, along with Singapore).
The trip was prompted by an opportunity to meet friends in the Maldives, and celebrate a 40th birthday (fortunately not yet mine!).
As an introduction to the report, I wanted to lay out what I booked, how I booked it, and what each part of the trip cost. I think the most valuable thing I can do in a trip report is explain my thinking and logic, because that can help others – agree or disagree – in thinking about points and making use of them.
Most of the airlines on this trip I’ve flown before (though Malaysia’s international business class was new for me), and most of the hotels I’ve stayed at before. There are some changes and updates in service, so I’m glad to be able to report on those changes and update my experiences so that readers know what to expect. But much of the report won’t be completely new.
Still, I know that when I’m researching hotel properties I want the most recent experiences, and to read as much detail as I can — especially about a special stay on the other side of the world. So hopefully this will serve as a useful contribution for readers who find themselves booking similar trips in the future.
I look forward to answering questions, too, as the report progresses!
Booking the Outbound on Etihad
Etihad first class is one of the most readily available first class awards there is. And the most reasonable way for a US-based traveler to redeem for it is to spend 90,000 American AAdvantage miles.
American’s ‘Middle East and Indian Subcontinent’ awards are not cheap in first class, but they are easy to get and you’re getting a fantastic hard product and a reasonable soft product.
What’s more, as long as you do not stop in Abu Dhabi (where Etihad is based) for more than 24 hours you can include an onward flight to a final destination within the same region. I’ve flown Etihad to the Maldives, though the timing of US flights requires an overnight, and why I flew them over Thanksgiving to India.
Etihad flies from New York JFK, Washington Dulles, and has flights scheduled to begin from Los Angeles and Dallas Fort Worth that offer a first class cabin. Chicago and Toronto flights do not offer first class.
At the Freddie Awards I talked with Dr. Barry Green (who runs the Etihad Guest program)’s wife about their travel plans, and they were taking the Chicago flight. American is their US partner, and Chicago was their only non-stop option from Seattle. I would have guessed they might have flown first class, but that would have taken an extra connection.
There was no problem booking Etihad first class on my first choice of dates, with an overnight in Abu Dhabi.
You can search Etihad space on the Etihad website. With only one exception, an Abu Dhabi – London flight over a year ago, I’ve had a perfect match between the low level saver award space Etihad offers its own members and what American AAdvnatage can see.
American does not let you book Etihad at AA.com, you’re going to have to call, and if you aren’t an Executive Platinum (100,000 mile flyer) you’re going to have to pay a telephone booking fee. (My status with American exempts me from that.)
The flight from Abu Dhabi to Male is operated by two-cabin equipment. There’s no first class but I saved my first class boarding pass stub from the night before and had no problem accessing the first class lounge.
Where to Go Next? Kuala Lumpur
I thought about just making a straight roundtrip on Etihad but decide that for roughly the same miles I could book a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, one of my favorite cities largely for food and a place I hadn’t been in 18 months. Malaysia’s Male – Kuala Lumpur flight had business class space, something I wanted on a short redeye. I had only flown them domestically before and wanted to try them (and try their satay!) internationally. For a short redeye I also didn’t want to fly coach, so I booked business.
This would have cost just 20,000 British Airways Avios, as the flight is a hair shy of 2000 miles. Instead I spent 30,000 American miles. It’s reasonable to argue with me over that choice — there’s no fuel surcharge on the route, and the ticket in paid business is under $700. But I’ve got such a big mileage balance between American and US Airways that I decided to overpay in that currency.
Availability on this flight is reasonably good, and I search for it using the British Airways website and then have to call American to make the booking.
Return flight on Cathay Pacific
Cathay’s first class isn’t hard to get. I was up until the spring of 2009 but then things really opened up. Space isn’t as easy to get as it was in 2010 and 2011, but it’s still good when the schedule opens and 6 months out, and unsold seats usually open within a week of departure.
Coming back from Kuala Lumpur I initially booked Malaysia Airlines for the Kuala Lumpur – Hong Kong segment. That meant about a six hour layover in Hong Kong, but would give me a chance to fly Malaysia’s A380 in first class.
Unfortunately a schedule change meant that the flight would be operated by a 2-cabin 777 instead, so I moved myself to Cathay’s 2-cabin equipment which meant that I could leave an hour and a half later in the morning and shorten my travel time.
I liked out as well because the aircraft I got for Kuala Lumpur – Hong Kong turned out to be internationally configured, so I had a great seat for the three and a half hour flight.
I connected to Cathay’s first class service as far as I could go. Starting off in Malaysia meant missing most of the US-bound flights for the day but I grabbed the late afternoon flight to New York which was available, and forced an overnight connection there grabbing an American regional jet back to DC the next day.
Here’s what the flights looked like
For my overnight in Abu Dhabi I booked the new Premier Inn that opened in the fall. I’d be landing around 8pm off a 14 hour flight, and departing around 9am the next morning. I didn’t intend to do anything in the city, which I visited and spent time in a year ago. So I just wanted an airport hotel. It’s basic, it’s clean, and it’s cheap, and I was confident it would be a reasonable choice since it’s attached to the airport and was only about 6 months old.
I’ve stayed at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa in the Maldives before (in fact, in both 2012 and 2013). I rarely return to the same hotel twice outside of major cities. There’s just too much in the world to see and experience. But I’ve come to love this property.
I’ve explained before that the distance and seclusion of being on an island far from the capital of the Maldives is a feature, not a bug for me. The time difference is perfect (I’m asleep during the business day at home, I get up early and answer the day’s emails and am then free for the rest of the day without anyone trying to reach me). And the distance is far enough that I can really unplug and relax. Plus I’ve found the facilities and the staff to be just outstanding.
I cannot compare the Park Hyatt to other Maldives properties, though I certainly have impressions. This strikes me as the best option for using points. It seems like a far better hotel than the Sheraton, and the W is just way too many points requiring double the points of top tier category 7 as an all suite property. The other main option is the Conrad, which many people speak highly of and is closer to the capital where you’ll arrive off of international flights.
In fact the Park Hyatt was chosen because we were meeting friends there, but their choice may even have been influenced by the fact that I enjoy it so much.
I loved loved loved the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur on my last stay, where I had a suite overlooking the Petronas Towers and could wait to go back. It turns out the hotel has gotten better, improving its club offerings since my last stay (which had been my one knock on the property).
Finally, I booked Cathay Pacific back to New York JFK.. getting in too late to connect home to DC. So I booked an award night at the Hilton JFK, a property that I’ve reviewed many times in the past. Bottom-line is it’s the best hotel at JFK, largely because it’s the most recently renovated full service property. Before the Hilton, I’d choose the Sheraton, and before that the Hilton Garden Inn.
Coordinating Plans on the Ground
I made a complimentary car service booking from my house to Washington Dulles airport on the outbound via Etihad’s website. The airline offers this for both business and first class passengers at many airports, and offers it on award tickets even. (It’s offered on both outbound and arrival, but on this trip I wouldn’t be needing it on the back end of the trip.) The offering in Abu Dhabi actually extends as far as taking you anywhere within the UAE, and I’ve had them drive me as far as Dubai before.
It’s important to be in touch with the hotel in the Maldives in advance, as they coordinate your domestic flight transfers and boat rides. You let them know what flight you’re coming in on and they meet you outside of international arrivals, walk you over to the domestic terminal, and take care of check-in for you. They buy your domestic flights and post those to your hotel bill They’re also happy to know any special requests (I have special coffee requests, and requests for extra water in the room, and arranged a confirmed buy-up to water villa in advance).
I also was in touch in advance with the folks at Food Tour Malaysia, who I loved on my visit to Kuala Lumpur a year and a half ago..
Cost of Air and Hotel
I spent 90,000 American miles DC – Maldives (first class award), 30,000 American miles Maldives – Kuala Lumpur (business class award), and 67,500 miles Kuala Lumpur – DC (first class award) for a total of 187,500 miles per person. The taxes were $62.60 per person.
I spent ~ US$80 on an overnight hotel in Abu Dhabi. The upgrade fee in the Maldives is $350++ per night.
I originally booked the Park Hyatt Maldives as a category 6 award for 22,000 points per night prior to Hyatt’s award chart changes. I rebooked the hotel as a cash and points award for 12,500 points + $150 per night. The difference was arguably not worth it but this made my five nights there count towards my Diamond requalification and tipped the scales for me.
Roundtrip flights between Male, capital of the Maldives, and the nearest domestic airport to the Park Hyatt plus the roundtrip speedboat rides totals just shy of US$500 per person.
I booked the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur for ~ US$180 per night which was the Hyatt Daily Rate at the time. That’s very pricey for the city, but since I made the reservation prior to Hyatt’s award chart changes I was able to confirm an upgrade to a suite for my entire 3-night stay for just 6000 points total. (I could have used a confirmed suite upgrade on a discounted rate but I was short on those; after the award chart changes the price of the upgrade would have been bumped up to 6000 per night or 18,000 total).
This isn’t a ‘cheap’ trip in miles and cash, but it was – to my find – a great value trip. I wouldn’t be spending the kind of money that it would take to book this with cash, even flying coach, but I can fly first class and have an overwater villa in the Maldives at a price I can manage. That means a lot to me.