My Ultimate Relaxation Trip Report: Etihad and Emirates First Class, Food in Sri Lanka and Returning the Maldives

I’m beginning to write up the report of my most recent trip to the Maldives, and this is a basic preview and outline of the trip I’ll be sharing.

Regular readers know that I love the Maldives. It’s not for everyone and I hope to give you a sense both of why I like it so much and also reasons why not everyone will.

For me the distance is a feature, not a bug, I need to be that far away to really disconnect and the time zone difference helps too because I’m getting up in the morning when the business day ends on the US East Coast and I have the entire day ahead of me undisturbed.

I’ve now gone back to the Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives four consecutive years. I love it there, though many little things have changed and indeed at the end of the month they’ll have a new General Manager (their third since becoming a Hyatt).

In order to book the trip I used a combination of American and Alaska miles to fly Etihad and Emirates first class. I used Hyatt points for the villa in the Maldives, and paid to upgrade to an overwater villa. I detail the costs for the trip below.

If you don’t have an interest in the Maldives, it should be fairly easy to skip over these posts, though even if you think you know all about the Park Hyatt I’ll be sharing what’s changed since I’ve reported on it last as well as what may be to come.

You may have seen my writeups of Etihad first class before, I think it’s an outstanding overall product and I’ve found it really easy to redeem for and the Middle East a great place to transit enroute the India and surrounding areas. This time I flew their longest route, experienced their lie flat business class for the first time as well, and report on their new business class in Abu Dhabi.

And while you can find reports online of Emirates first class, I hadn’t ever done it onboard the A380 so my take may be a little bit different. Plus there’s no way I was going to fly that bird and not report on showering in the air.

Outbound: Etihad First Class and Business Class

I booked first class awards Los Angeles – Abu Dhabi on Etihad.

In Los Angeles I was able to visit the Star Alliance first and business class lounges (Etihad uses the Star lounges until they have their own).

I overnighted in Abu Dhabi at the Premier Inn attached to the airport (I used Orbitz Rewards dollars for the ~ US$100 room — I like using those sorts of credits at non-chain hotels because booking through Orbitz means I give up elite stay credit).

In the morning we visited the new Etihad business class lounge, where we were invited to use the roped-off first class lounge based on our arriving boarding passes. Then we flew Etihad business class (which is now lie flat for this flight) to Male.

This was 90,000 miles and $7 in taxes per person.

Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives

I used points for a room and paid cash to upgrade to a water villa for 5 nights.

Here’s what it cost:

  • I booked this as a category 6 hotel, before its recent increase to category 7. Normally that would have meant 25,000 Hyatt points per night, but with the current promotion for Hyatt Visa cardholders I got 20% of those points back. So 20,000 Gold Passport points per night, which is the lowest price it’s ever been.

  • The hotel is quite good about upgrading Diamonds from the base villa to pool villa, subject to availability. Since it was my fourth visit to the property they let me know that they’d go ahead and confirm that in advance.

  • I paid for an upgrade from pool villa to water villa for $155++ per night. (The hotel now separates out the villas farthest out on the pier and calls them ‘Sunset Water Villas’ — and charges $245++ per night more to confirm into them — so I got in under the wire with my reservation as I was assigned to one of these.)

Return: Emirates First Class

I used 100,000 Alaska Airlines miles plus $42.50 in taxes and a $12.50 partner booking fee per person in order to secure Emirates first class flights:

  • Male – Colombo (overnight)
  • Colombo – Dubai – Dallas

We spent about 23 hours in Colombo and took the opportunity to sample a good bit of local food.

We stayed at the Colombo Hilton where I paid a US$116 cash rate for the hotel. I was given my very first complimentary upgrade to a suite ever at a Hilton property (Here’s why I have HHonors Diamond status) and club lounge access.

We had the usual contract lounge access at the Male airport, of course, and Emirates has their own lounge in Colombo.

In Dubai I finally got to experience the A380 A Concourse and the entire level of the terminal which makes up their first class lounge. The best way to describe that is the 1980s film Night of the Comet: a comet crashes into earth and evaporates pretty much all life except for a few teenagers, while leaving all structures standings. There couldn’t have been more than half a dozen people spread across twenty-someodd gates for much of the time I was in the ‘lounge’.

    (Click to enlarge)

    Look! There’s a person in the lounge!

This was my first time flying Emirates first class onboard the Airbus A380, so my very first time taking a shower on the plane. And it was awesome.

So join me on this trip, I’ll take you along on my week-long trip to the Maldives.

Total points used: 190,000 airline miles per person + 100,000 hotel points.

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. We may have just missed each other. I am curious to see what you thought of the trip.

    My wife and I were at the Park Hyatt in early March and we also flew Etihad from LAX to AUH and Emirates from DXB to DFW.

    We thought Etihad had better food and nicer and more attentive staff while Emirates had the better seats (and the shower!).

  2. We took the same trip last month! Etihad DFW-AUH going and Emirates DXB-LAX coming back. Excited to read the rest of your review and take a walk along memory lane!

  3. @Charlie H – I prefer Etihad’s seat over the Emirates seat, and I had a fantastic crew on Emirates (plus there were only 4 passengers in the cabin including myself and my wife).

  4. was it low season at PH Maldives? I am not sure how you scored the upgrade to OW villas for $155. Every time I have checked it has been $300-500

  5. You must have gotten in with Emirates first class using Alaska miles before they stopped showing Emirates availability – as far as I know right now that is no longer bookable

  6. I love the Maldives as well. It’s the most spectacular beach destination on earth! But IMHO, the Park Hyatt is not the best resort. One&Only, Gili Lankanfushi, both Four Seasons Resort, Cheval Blanc Randheli and Maalifushi by COMO are far superior. I stayed at Maalifushi by COMO a coupe of weeks ago, and you can read my trip report (with Youtube clip) here:

  7. @the Luxury Travel Expert – the Park Hyatt is certainly not the best resort. It’s a very good resort in the Maldives where I can use a reasonable number of points.

  8. @danny – as I explain in the post, i was upgrading *from a pool villa* — basically they charge you the difference from the room category you are in to the one you are upgrading to.

  9. Hi Gary,
    have you ever flown F on Etihad flight on Jet Airways aircraft? AUH-JFK? Lucky said he thinks it’s an OK option but the reviews on skytrax are dreadful.
    Thank you.

  10. Maldivezzzzzzzzzz. Wait? Are we in the Turks and Caicos or the Tuamotus? Unless one is a diver (and Palau is still better), I have found there is little distinctive about the Maldives. Even their authoritarian government isn’t distinctive. (Fiji anyone?) I grant you that it’s an impressive set of redemptions, but there’s a more interesting world out there than just RedemptionWorld.

  11. Lantean- we flew last week on Jet / Erihad First Class (and companion was in Business) and it is not the same at all as per the sales pitch from Etihad. Seats are old and rugged, staff are not well trained (they are all Jet Airways in their uniform as well), food is 95% Indian which is not what is expected, service on board is poor. How Etihad can continue to offer this inferior product at the same number of miles as the evening flight is very odd and quite unfair. We were only 2 in F and still service was super sketchy. it may compare to a U.S. First or may be better than a U.S. airlines First. But that is not the point. You should be getting the same consistent experience especially in First which you don’t.

    Oh – and the pyjamas are also different than from the normal Etihad First.

  12. Gary is it possible to find 3 F award seats on Eithad? Also how do you search for space, did you just call AA for availability?

  13. Can’t wait to hear about it. I’ll be going back to the Maldives for the second time, and I find it unique (and I have been to the Tuamoto’s, Society Islands, Cook Islands, Carribean Islands, Hawaian Islands, etc.). Especially Hadahaa.

    I also found the isolation to be a plus.

  14. @tim you search for ‘Guest’ space on the Etihad website and then call AA to book. It’s rare to find 3 first class award space, 2 is very common.

  15. @Points with a Crew – On Sunday, I booked a roundtrip for two adults in Emirates first class DFW-DXB using AS miles for a late march outbound and a april return. Let me know if you need any pointers as there are some key phrases to use when doing so!
    P.S. I booked the outbound with one agent then called back to book the return with another agent, so this isn’t really dead at all.

    @Gary Leff I’m looking forward to this report, especially the business class between MLE-AUH because having lie flat seats on this route is new for Etihad.

  16. You are really missing a lot, 4 times in the same place! don’t be that boring you have to stay in different hotel each you visit the Maldives

  17. Good write up. I’m planning a trip to Maldives for late Feb 2016. Stayed at the Conrad my first time and want to checkout the Park Hyatt this time.

  18. Follow up to my previous post on Jet Airways. Am actually on the Etihad plane right now using the wifi from AUH to Washington Dulles. It is on the new B787 Dreamliner. Major difference in a positive way to the Jet Airways experience 10 days ago. However, this is still nowhere near the Asian airlines.

    1. I cannot sleep although I want to. Not Etihad’d fault but this airplane has the fancy “dimmers” on the windows. There is no window shade…so I have the brightness of the moon directly on my pillow! Tried using eye shades and they worked for a while, but the cabin will never be dark. Absolutely horrible design – everyone complaining across all cabins that can’t get to sleep. It’s like having a bright LED lightpost light on all the time.

    2. Food: ordered rib eye medium-well. Came out super-well. “Oven baked French Fries” are stodgy and not tasty. The beef jus was good.

    3. Service is ok. Friendly but still a bit clinical.

    4. Seats are fine and better than the Jet Airways cloth. The headphones though have a slight hiss.

    All in all, would not rate this flight positively just because it is so hard to sleep with the light coming into the cabin. It’s a 14 hour flight and a waste not to be able to get some shut-eye.

  19. Would love some advice for our upcoming MLE trip for our 10th wedding anniversary, especially since you are the Maldives expert! We are staying at the Park Hyatt Maldives and are flying Etihad business class MLE-AUH-LAX. Our flight arrives in AUH at 11PM and our EY flight departs for LAX at 9AM the next morning. My question is whether it’s worth booking the Premier Inn hotel that night, or whether we should just plan on using one of the transit hotels in the airport and spend most of our time at the Etihad Business Lounge? I read that we have to go through pre-clearance security a couple of hours before our flight anyway, so we’d really only have 7-8 hours max at the airport?

    Also, I checked the website and the Airport Transit Hotel in Terminal 1 seems to be under renovation since Sept 1 and should hopefully open soon? Our trip is this March 2016. Thank you for your help!

  20. @Ashah I’d personally plan on the Premier Inn. It’s attached to the airport, it’s basic, but it’s a decent night sleep. And it’s clean.

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