The Most Luxurious Uses of Miles and Points, and Two New Airlines Under My Belt

Following on my last report, flying all 3 big gulf carriers in first class on their Airbus A380s in a single trip where I visited Bangkok and finally got to see the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, I redeemed miles for another fairly over-the-top adventure.

I booked a pre-devaluation American AAdvantage award to fly Etihad’s Airbus A380 First Apartment.

The First Apartment of course is on the upper deck of Etihad’s A380. Upstairs Emirates has 14 suites, configured four-across. Etihad has 9 suites and the Residence, with a two-across configuration.

It’s a single aisle on the upper deck of the superjumbo with seats that are large enough you can walk around inside your suite even when you’re in bed mode, and if traveling with someone put down the divider between apartments and sleep beside each other (almost) like you’re at home.

This award was an itinerary I changed several times, but ultimately wound up as:

  • New York JFK – Abu Dhabi, Etihad First Class (A380)
  • Abu Dhabi – Male, Etihad Business Class
  • Abu Dhabi – New York JFK, Eithad First Class (A380)

Pre-devaluation meant this cost 90,000 miles each way per person plus $46.30 in roundtrip taxes (post-March 22 it would now cost 115,000 miles each way).

The itinerary required an overnight in Abu Dhabi on the way to the Maldives, so I booked the St. Regis Abu Dhabi and used one of my Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum Suite Night Awards to upgrade the room.

This was the ‘framing’ or ‘guts’ of the trip. Locking this in meant that I knew when I’d leave the US and when I’d return. And it meant that I would go back to the Maldives for the 5th year in a row which I know seems crazy but I’ve found that the Park Hyatt Hadahaa is my ‘special place’.

To some it’s just not worth the travel and expense to get there, they’d prefer a beach nearby. To me the arduous journey is a feature, not a bug.

  • It takes a day to get there. Not only do you have to fly to the capital of the Maldives, but take a domestic flight and then a boat after.

    By the time you arrive, and no matter how comfortably you travel, there’s a certain exhaustion that sets in. That toll really helps me reset. Instead of taking days to unwind, I’m there almost immediately when the boat pulls up to the dock.

  • The time difference is crucial for me to separate myself from work. I wake up early in the morning on the island, before close of business in the U.S. I answer email. And then from breakfast onward no one is trying to reach me for the day and I can truly be on vacation.

  • It’s an absolutely gorgeous place, with good service and good food. There’s a real serenity to it, and being on an island with nothing else forces me to relax.

As a result I’ve returned over and over again, and this was my 2016 opportunity.

Some people prefer the basic Park Villa. All of the rooms are very similar on property. The Park Villa is on land. The Park Villa with a pool is just that — you don’t need a pool, because you have the ocean, but many people enjoy sitting out back of their villa relaxing beside it.

I like the overwater villa, even though it lacks the outdoor spaces of the land villas and even though air conditioning doesn’t keep them very cool. I redeemed 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night for 5 nights. As a Diamond member I was upgraded complimentary to a Pool Villa. And I paid for the buy up from Pool Villa to Overwater Villa.

Now, I never go for more than 5 or 6 nights at a time. Because I love the resort, I always leave wanting more and I think a longer stay would start to get tedious. So I tie the trip in with something else as well.

From the Maldives I decided to pop over to Colombo, Sri Lanka for a couple of days. Because there’s no such thing as bad Sri Lankan food. Male – Colombo is a short flight, just under 500 miles. And it’s served by several airlines:

  • SriLankan (oneworld)
  • Turkish (Star)
  • Korean (SkyTeam)
  • Emirates
  • Mihin Lanka
  • China Eastern (SkyTeam)

I decided to fly China Eastern Business Class, Male – Colombo because it was available for $90 per person one-way, less than other airlines were charging for economy. (Last year I flew Emirates first class for Male – Colombo and was alone in the cabin.)

In Colombo I stayed at the Hilton, which has fantastic staff and a great club lounge though it’s a dated property. I paid cash ($129 a night) since points options were too expensive.

From there we continued to Dubai. I had several options. I had hoped for Colombo – Abu Dhabi on Etihad using American miles but space wasn’t available. There was first class space on Emirates, but the options I had for this four and a half hour flight were too many miles. So I decided to fly flydubai business class Colombo – Dubai.

Booked directly on the flydubai website it was about $300 per person one-way for business. (Booked through OTA websites it was pricing around $500.)

In Dubai we booked an award for 3 nights at the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa.

It’s a Starwood Preferred Guest category 7 hotel, and it’s all suites so they charge double. Normal redemption price there is 60,000 points per night. However,

  • Starwood was running a 35% discount on redemptions at top resorts including this one. That made it a still-steep 39,000 points per night.

  • The award doesn’t just come with the standalone Bedouin villas with their own pools looking out over the desert. All guests on property receive complimentary meals (including room service) and two activities per day on the property, like dune driving and camel riding.

It was an expensive redemption but all the reports of the property I’d heard were outstanding. And since the place was going for north of $1300 per night while I was there it was better than 3 cents a point in value.

We flew home in Etihad first class, Abu Dhabi – New York JFK, on one of the best flights I’ve ever experienced. From pickup (Etihad’s car service is complimentary anywhere in the UAE — even in the desert on the border of Oman) to dropoff in New York everything was spectacular from the folks who offer the best hard product in the sky for sure.

I’ll try to keep up writing sections of the report at a reasonable pace, so I hope you enjoy it and find some of the nuance in how I made my choices and redemptions useful along the way. Any questions, please ask!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. what’s flybubai? I’ve heard of flydubai, but flybubai is something special, it would seem.

    I recently flew EY F AUH-IAD. It was a TREMENDOUS let down. Seats were great on the 787-9, but service food and quality were just really off. I’ve flown EY F several times over the last two years and have noticed a gradual decline. this was the bottom of the barrel. I was on the 380 F JFK – AUH in January this year and then on 777 AUH-LAX F on my return, and it was sad to see the decline.

  2. Jason, I agree! We flew the other direction, IAD to AUH on the Etihad Dreamliner. Hard product is fantastic but the food was a MAJOR letdown! Service was good, but not great, and the cabin manager had such terrible body odor that you could smell him throughout the entire section. The Etihad lounge at IAD was incredible though, we were treated like royalty, so that really started the trip off on a nice note.

  3. Also booked the same trip pre-devaluation and will be staying at Park Hyatt January 2017.
    First trip to Park Hyatt.
    First on the way over and business on way back. Look forward to the apartments – got 2 adjacent rooms. Booked 9 nights- hopefully will not be too long if diving some of the days.

    Went to Conrad in 2014 so hope Park Hyatt is as good.

  4. @Deb K

    We did the same thing – going January 2017, 14th -20th – maybe I’ll see you there!

  5. Similar experience AUD-JFK in March this year…loved the First Apartments, but service was terrible. All FA’s had a great attitude, smiling and friendly as could be, but delivery was really really poor. It took over 3 hours to eat, and in our party of 3 the chef forgot items from each of our orders, and the food was mediocre at best. Forgot even to take a breakfast order for one person in our party. Service was shockingly slow, disorganized and unimpressive, but at least they were nice about it unlike many US FA’s!

  6. As usual misleading your readers. It is not the best hard product in the sky. The bed is not comfortable at all, however what do I know

  7. @Johnny33 what do you know indeed? what DO you know? what do you consider the best hard product? And I disagree, I’ve found the bed super comfortable. And it’s far far more personal space than any other first class seat. It’s not as good a shower as Emirates but I’ll take it over Emirates for the space any day.

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