- Positioning flights to San Francisco, Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf, and Some Dim Sum for the Day
- Cathay’s New San Francisco Lounge
- Cathay Pacific First Class, San Francisco – Hong Kong
- The Wing and Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – Singapore
- A Grand Suite at the Grand Hyatt Singapore
- Eating in Singapore
- Dinner at Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands
- Singapore Airlines Business Class: Singapore – Male
- Transfer to the Park Hyatt Hadahaa, Maldives
- Park Hyatt Maldives – Part I
- Park Hyatt Maldives – Part II
- Park Hyatt Maldives – Part III
- Maldivian, Kaadehdhoo – Male
- Singapore Airlines Business Class, Male – Singapore
- Cathay Pacific Business Class, Singapore – Hong Kong
- Conrad Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – Chicago
- American’s Chicago Flagship Lounge and the Final Journey Home
Two things happened last year which inspired this trip:
- Hyatt took over management of the Alila Villas in the Maldives, rebranding it a Park Hyatt, meaning that I could use my Gold Passport points for a redemption. The hotel is a top category redemption (22,000 points per night) but that’s actually a great value considering the high room rates there. The base room is a villa, as well.
Still, a trip to the Maldives is an expensive proposition — you don’t just have to get yourself to the middle of the Indian Ocean, but for a resort as remote as this one you have to get yourself there, and airport transfers from Male to the resort involve a domestic flight and a boat ride, something that costs ~ $500 per person. Plus actually being in the Maldives is far from inexpensive, you’re going to run up quite a tab on food alone. (Though the Park Hyatt offers complimentary breakfast to all guests in sharp contrast to the Conrad Maldives which no longer even honors the breakfast benefit to Hilton Diamond members.)
- Fortunately, I had just taken advantage of the Capital One 100,000 point signup bonus. And at the time the best redemption value was converting points to hotel gift certificates, a 70% better return than just redeeming points for travel directly. Most international hotels hit you with a currency conversion charge, but the Park Hyatt Maldives bills in US dollars to begin with so there’s no such charge. Even better.
Thanks to Capital One, I had Hyatt dollars burning a hole in my pocket. And thanks to some generous promos last year (not quite Faster Free Nights, but still lucrative), I had Hyatt points to burn too.
And while I haven’t been the Maldives before — I’ve been to tropical paradises before, and had an overwater bungalow at Bora Bora Nui back when it was a Starwood property, before joining Hilton — I have some sense of the chain properties there. I can’t compare the Park Hyatt experience to places like One & Only Reethi Rah or the Four Seasons — and I won’t — the Park Hyatt seemed like the best option for me and indeed I think it’s one of the very best hotel redemption values that there is, anywhere, right up there with the Conrad Koh Samui.
Starwood’s W is impossibly expensive as a redemption. The Conrad looks nice but isn’t kind to elites. It’s also expensive to upgrade a villa. The Waldorf=Astoria Beach House is tempting even at the top HHonors redemption level. There are certainly lesser chain hotels, a Holiday Inn even, but that’s not my style and not what I wanted to experience if I was going to spend the time to get to and be in the Maldives. The Park Hyatt it was.
Now how in the world to get there? The goal with miles is to get to Male, but that’s hardly easy, the only oneworld carrier that flies there is British Airways, three days a week, and the flight departs London Gatwick. Star’s only flight there is on Singapore Airlines from Singapore. The Middle Eastern non-alliance carriers can take you there, and indeed long after I booked this trip Etihad became a partner of AAdvantage. They’re even starting Washington DC service next yaar, and in the future I’d likely fly them Washington Dulles – Abu Dhabi – Male and call it good. But I set this trip up without that option.
I started looking at flying in and out of Colombo, less than 500 miles away and an inexpensive city to buy tickets from. I could do an add on to Male without too much expense. Thai Airways flies there from Bangkok, Cathay Pacific flies there via Singapore and also Bangkok (depending on day of the week). I decided against, it’s an extra flight and in the case of Cathay it’s two business class flights from Hong Kong with still the need for the purchased flight to get to Male, before needing the domestic connection.
Instead I decided to break up the trip — I booked a Cathay Pacific first class award to and from Singapore using American miles, and a separate Singapore Airlines Krisflyer award for business class Singapore – Male. Getting that award with Star Alliance partner airlines can be tough in business class, certainly getting more than one seat is a real challenge (despite the flights ultimately being mostly empty). It’s more doable with miles in Singapore’s own program, miles I got through transfers from American Express Membership Rewards. Singapore does add fuel surcharges to their awards (~ US$300 per ticket for taxes and fees), and also gives a 15% discount for redeeming miles on Singapore flights using their website.
But putting this together, and for February travel, I had concerns about pulling off the flights with the potential for bad weather. I was going to need to get out of DC, certainly subject to snow storms in mid-February. And my logical gateways for Cathay Pacific are New York, Chicago, or Toronto (which is dropping first class unfortunately). But weather in those cities hardly seemed something to bank on, either. So I decided to grab seats out of San Francisco, probably the easiest market to get two first class Cathay awards from. And I gave myself about a 24 hour cushion to make it there. I’d fly out on Friday after work, send all day on Saturday in San Francisco (giving myself a buffer in case of weather-related irregular operations), and catch the midnight flight Saturday night to Hong Kong connecting onto Singapore.
I put my Cathay award on hold, booked my Park Hyatt award stay, then went back and ticketed Cathay and my Singapore Airlines awards. Then I had to decide where to stay in Singapore? I picked the Grand Hyatt because I had two expiring suite nights from the Hyatt Visa, and still had a confirmed suite I could use on paid stays that would be expiring as well, so I combined two free nights with two paid nights upgraded. Last year I stayed at the Intercontinental, and despite a huge upgrade to an Ambassador Suite I wasn’t especially fond of that hotel and didn’t want to return. I considered the Conrad as well but the time-sensitivity of my Hyatt award certificates made the decision for me.
Hong Kong would be another challenge, I considered an award at the two Intercontinental properties, but neither treats Royal Ambassadors especially well on award nights (though the Grand Stanford is more generous than the Intercontinental Hong Kong, though the latter is the better hotel). I considered the Grand Hyatt but didn’t want to burn points, a paid night was prohibitively expensive. So I settled on the Conrad, where a Cash and Points award was available and where Diamonds are treated well, I was confident not just in lounge access and internet but also a Harbour View.
I opened a correspondence with the Park Hyatt, asking about confirmed upgrades. I figured that if I was going to make it all the way to the Maldives, I wanted the full Maldives experience. The base room is a villa, and it seems that Diamonds tend to get upgraded to villas with private pool subject to availability on arrival, though this is not guaranteed since with ‘all suites’ there’s nothing due Diamond members ‘by right’ in the program. Many prefer the villa with pool for its privacy and overall spaciousness. But I wanted a water villa, because that’s one of the things that’s archetypical of resorts in the area. Plus I had an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora and loved it — the direct access to the ocean, the uniqueness, the beauty walking to and from the room.
I was quoted rates to confirm upgrades at booking that I thought were quite reasonable: $200++ per night (10% service charge, 3.5% Goods and Services Tax, $8 per person bed tax) to upgrade to a pool villa or $350++ per night to upgrade to a water villa.
I’m since heard that they’re charging more than that now for a similar confirmed upgrade, so I considered myself to be getting a ‘deal’. I booked a 5 night award, so $350++ times five was hardly cheap, but I had plenty of Hyatt Gift Certificates and I felt a bit flush. Plus the flights to and from Male, and the base room rate, were ‘free’ with miles. So I went for it, and I requested that they assign us to the most private villa possible.
Now I was excited. And I just had to wait. And wait. Other trips came and went, and even the best ones seemed like vacations I had to ‘get through’ before finally being able to visit the Maldives. Now that I’m back I can say that I’m thrilled with the whole trip, that I would do it over. But before we get ahead of ourselves, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride through my eyes..