The Distance and Seclusion of the Maldives are a Feature Not a Bug (for me) – But You Can Still Go for Less

Rapid Travel Chai flags a discussion and controversy over travel to the Maldives: frankly, is it worth it?

He argues no,

I have researched a Maldives trip preciously and never seen the appeal and value for me. If I want to go to a beach, which is rare for me, I do not want to fly around the world and take multi-hundred dollar airport transfers. And Male gets thumbs down from just about every traveler. …some people get quite defensive. I can relate, when I put so much into a trip I don’t want to admit when it is disappointing. Others clearly genuinely love their Maldives experience.

Put me down in he camp of those who love it, and it’s clearly not self-deception trying to convince myself I’ve gotten value out of the trip since it cost a lot — I’ve actually gone back.

My reasons for valuing the Maldives won’t resonate with everyone, there are many different kinds of travelers and it’s important to understand yourself to know what sorts of trips will work best for you, and which sorts of trips are worth the time and the expense.

The Maldives is Expensive to Get to, and an Expensive Place to Be

The Maldives is not an inexpensive place to visit. It’s remote. Even if you book an award ticket on miles, there still will be airport transfers. Some are done by water taxi. Others require a domestic flight.

The Park Hyatt Hadahaa where I’ve stayed twice requires an hour-long domestic flight and a thirty minute boat ride, that’s all after arriving in the Maldives’ capital city of Male. Since you’re buying domestic travel and roundtrip boat transfers, that runs nearly $500 per person. Other properties, closer to the airport, can be reached less expensively.

And once you’re there you are pretty much stuck ‘on property.’ You aren’t going to be going off property for meals or sightseeing (other than booking excursions through your hotel, which won’t be cheap). There aren’t any local groceries to buy food at and hold down your cost.

Your activities are limited since you’re “stuck” on-property. The options you do have tend to be expensive, not just because you’re buying from a monopoly provider (the resort) but fundamentally because you are so remote. Everything gets shipped in, and you’re in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

And the remote location really is the driver here — there are certainly pricier destinations. Dinners at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, where I stayed in January for a conference, certainly run as much or more than the Park Hyatt Hadahaa. But it’s not hat difficult to find options outside the hotel in Grand Cayman.

It’s not as though it’s the most expensive place to vacation, nicer places in Sardinia will certainly cost more to name just one example.

But since it’s distant for Americans, and it’s expensive without low cost alternatives, it warrants thinking seriously about whether the time and expense are worthwhile. Here’s why it is for me

The Geographic Distance and Seclusion are a Feature Not a Bug

I’ve come to realize a good portion of why the Maldives appeals so much to me. It isn’t “unparalleled snorkling” or diving though certainly those are great.

It isn’t even “unrivaled” beauty because there are plenty of beautiful places that are nearer to me geographically (I think Bora Bora, while remote in its own right, is probably prettier.. I have separate thoughts on French Polynesia which make the Maldives more attractive to me but suffice for this point that there are plenty of other beautiful places).

Rather the attraction is a combination of beauty and detachment. Now, this is very much a personal thing and so it won’t be for everyone. Some people call Bora Bora “boring boring.” They don’t want to be detached.

However I need to go that far away to feel secluded.

I travel a lot and stay very plugged in. My stress levels, the 100% throttle, simply don’t disengage on a quick hop down to the Caribbean. In the middle of the Indian Ocean, though, I find a kind of peace that I do not find elsewhere.

On my last visit to the Maldives I shared the resort’s boat back to the domestic Koodoo airport with a couple that reads this blog, and that funded their stay by each signing up for Hyatt Visa cards and combining the two free nights that came with each. The husband, in his TripAdvisor review of the property, called it his “happy place.”

It’s a very personal feeling which is, to me, worth the journey and the added expense.

Still, having said that, I want to do my best to maximize my time and expense so I don’t generally do just the Maldives. In the past I’ve combined it with Singapore visit and also with a UAE visit. I pair it to get me more value for the travel time and for the miles, amortizing the distance across more than a single place I get to see. In other words even when I make the journey to the Maldives I try to leverage it and maximize value.

I had not stayed at a single hotel or resort for more than 5 nights since 2007, prior to my second Maldives trip this earlier year. I made my second stay for 6 nights which turned out to be perfect for me. More than that and I would have gotten itchy for someplace else, I would have felt too disconnected.

Even that isn’t for everyone. Folks who need action and energy, lots of people and lots of interaction, who get bored of solitude will not want to stay that long and probably won’t feel like what they are getting is all that valuable to them the way I find it is for me. They’ll question the length of the journey and the cost, because to them the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

The distance and cost is only half of the analysis. The other side is your preference function. Five or six nights is long enough for me to downshift and to enjoy the low key vibe… to not have to plan, to squeeze things in, to feel rushed to experience.

I can lay out, take in a spa treatment, do whatever water exploration I wish, and not feel like I’ve packed in every moment.

To me the best experience is sitting out on the beach for a cocktail at sunset, meandering over to dinner, and walking back along the water to my room gazing up at the stars. And being far enough away from my real life that I can enjoy it without constantly thinking about everything back home.

Making the Maldives Affordable

  • Use points for flights.
    • Star Alliance airlines like United can offer mileage options via Istanbul on Turkish and Singapore on Singapore Airlines. Another option is flying to Colombo on Thai Airways and buying tickets from there (Colombo is ~ 450 miles away and flights are reasonable).
    • Oneworld has Malaysia Airlines via Kuala Lumpur and British Airways a few days a week via London Gatwick. They’ll be getting more service when Qatar and Sri Lankan join the alliance. And American partners with Etihad which serves Male daily.
    • Via Skyteam there’s Korean three times weekly and China Southern twice weekly.
    • Those with Chase points can transfer to Korean directly and fly Emirates or Etihad.
    • Starwood points transfer to Japan Airlines which offers Emirates redemptions in addition to having options via all three alliances.
    • American Express Membership Rewards can be transferred to ANA or Alitalia for Etihad flights as well as having options via all three alliances.

  • Use points for hotels. Hyatt, Hilton, and Starwood all offer hotels that can be booked with points. Hilton’s devaluation makes the Conrad much more expensive (in points). The Park Hyatt is a remote resort requiring a domestic flight. The Sheraton Full Moon Resort, while not a cheap category, doesn’t require double points as an all suite property in the SPG program and is relatively close to the capital.

  • If you are paying cash rather than points for a room, don’t book directly with the hotel. Consider a specialist agent like Linara Travel. Lindsey from Linara has mentioned to me occasionally having sub-$300 rates at the Park Hyatt. You can regularly expect that Maldives properties will discount more through certain agents and channels than through online booking engines.

  • Use Properietary Bank Points to Cover Other Travel Expenses. While I usually like accumulating miles more than bank points that pay for travel, if you have signup bonuses from cards like Barclay Arrival or have Capital One points the best way to spend those points is generally for travel costs.

  • Resort location matters. You can stay at a resort closer-in to Male, to save on the cost of transfers (avoiding a domestic flight). That also has the benefit of saving on travel time as well.

  • Elite status helps save. Having elite status pushes down price to, when that status covers costs like breakfast (as it would for a Starwood Platinum at the Sheraton). The Park Hyatt covers breakfast for all guests as well as internet, so the Diamond benefit there is an evening cocktail (“sundowner”).

  • Live modestly. Snorkle rather than dive unless diving is especially important to you. Late breakfasts often mitigate the need to buy lunch. Some people try to reduce costs by doing less, though this isn’t my preferred route, once you undertake the time and expense of getting there the cost to do things that do matter to you are a relatively small portion of the total cost — so my advice is skimp here only on things that aren’t important to you personally, reducing the enjoyment of the experience undercuts the whole reason to go.


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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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Pingbacks

  1. […] The Distance and Seclusion of the Maldives are a Feature Not a Bug (for me) – But You Can Stil… (View from the Wing). A well-reasoned justification of why the Maldives works for one busy traveler. I had a similar benefit of being disconnected in North Korea, though for the unfortunate reasons that the country is so closed, my two trips there have been the most relaxing I have taken anywhere due to everything being arranged and totally disconnected. Not that I did not wear myself out on them. Traveler now can pay a hefty sum for a SIM card with 3G at impressive speeds. […]

Comments

  1. Ah, and don’t forget Aeroflot’s direct flight from SVO.

    I agree, the thing we enjoyed most about our trip to the Seychelles & Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and Bora Bora in French Polynesia was the detachment. I only checked email in Bora Bora once and it was at the end of the trip.

    Total disengagement at its best.

  2. Well put Gary. And that is not to say that the opposite view is not valid either. There are plenty of people for whom the Maldives simply isn’t right for. But I remember when I first went to Alila Villas – as it was back then – one of my biggest observations was that the remoteness was actually part of the attraction. This is when you had to do the 1 to 2 hour boat ride to KDM, the flight to KDM would stop en route too, so it could be like 5-6 hours from MLE to the resort. And while you are right for the casual person snorkeling takes the edge of pricing of diving, the reason the diving is so spectacular is because it is so remote and the atoll is so deep that the coral near the surface is just completely and utterly untouched. When we were first going diving in 2010 shortly after the resort was opened there would be days where we were going to dive sites that none of the staff even had ever been to before. Virtually uncharted territory. Good luck getting that in Cayman Islands where every dive site is trashed and food is dumped in the water to artificially attract bigger fish. I recall noting in my original review on tripadvisor that they said they planned eventually to have seaplane but that would be a two edged sword in making the place more accessible but that very same access would inevitably lead to more crowding and for us underwater lovers the sad sight of seeing coral reefs being destroyed by the hands and feet of clumsy divers and snorkelers.

    I just booked up my third stay here (looking forward to comparing Emirates and Etihad F there vs back) and I have to admit I like the idea of staying somewhere closer to Male but am sure we will remain very happy once we get back to PHM

  3. Having been to the Maldives to the FS-KH, I agree with your assessment. It worked for us, but won’t for all. When I made the booking, I was “warned” that this is “Robinson Crusoe with Room Service.” Other than a day trip into Male, we didn’t leave the property – nor did we want to! If that will make someone feel “trapped,” then they certainly should consider other ports!

    Gary – Is there a property in Sardinia that you recommend?

  4. If I could get my wife to spend that much time on an airplane, I’d be game. As it is…probably never gonna happen, so I will live vicariously through those of you who have visited or are planning a visit to the Maldives.

  5. @Brendan what country’s human rights policies are you sufficiently comfortable with for travel purposes? Internationalizing a destination and attracting tourist dollars may also be reasons for reform, though the process is likely slow. The *most* repressive regimes also also the toughest to visit. Not an accident.

  6. @NYBanker – I do not consider myself well-enough versed in Sardinia to compare properties and offer an informed recommendation. Sorry!

  7. Gary: How about medical assistance in such a remote location like the Park Hyatt? When I try to convince my parents to book a trip to the Maldives their main concern is regarding being too remote in case they have any health issue and how long would take to get to a hospital in case it is necessary. What are your thoughts on that? I mean, if it takes a 30 minute boat ride and 1 hour domestic flight to get to a hospital that can be a huge concern for some people.

  8. We enjoyed the peacefulness and detachment on our trip to the Conrad Maldives, pre-devaluation.

    This is definitely a couples destination … for couples who are still actively in love, not going through the motions. You have to be able to enjoy just being. Swimming of your deck, snorkeling, lounging, reading…

    But we did enjoy it and have many good memories, from manta rays and sharks to skinny dipping at dusk

  9. @UnitedEF you’re an idiot if you think that’s the same thing. Buying something made in another country can sometimes be unavoidable but to actively seek it out is wrong.

    @Gary there are plenty of other places that don’t criminalize being a woman or gay that people can visit. Does the destruction of ancient artifacts by bloodthirsty Muslims not bother you? I don’t think the Maldives will reform to chase tourist dollars because they don’t have to. People like you will keep going there no matter what.

  10. Thank you Gary for sharing your perspective. It’s exactly the ‘seclusion & beauty’ you mention that we hope to find on our upcoming first trip to the Maldives for a week at the Conrad; and we are so looking forward to it!

  11. To each his own, but no thanks. Reminds me too much of that old TV show “The Prisoner”. Seems idyllic…until your realize you’re trapped. Watch out for the big floating blob.

  12. As I say, not for everyone, just sharing my perspective and why I value it — and that it’s important to understand your own travel preferences before committing to an expensive remote destination using limited vacation time.

  13. Hi. My husband and I are going to the Park Hyatt Maldives on August 6 with a group from Flyertalk–all are staying three nights but we are staying five. This trip is combined with a 4 night stay in Abu Dhabi first–there is then a 4 1/2 hour non-stop Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Male. The small aircraft/speedboat round trip transfer to the Hyatt is now $546 pp by the way. We booked a United award to Dubai where we are stopping first–then we snagged a great flight back from Male via Colombo Sri Lanka that includes Etihad F to Dulles. We are very much looking forward to our trip!

  14. Useful, interesting post Gary, both for why the Maldives is appealing and the good basic info about the airlines, hotels, etc. I’d differ slightly in that I think there are aspects of the place that, taken together, do make it a unique vacation destination:

    1. Great over-the-water bungalows/villas, rivaled only by French Polynesia as far as I know. (Please correct me if there are other destinations in the same class for OWBs. I’d love to know about them.)
    2. Superb service and rooms (at least comparing the former Hilton property Beach House Maldives with the Moorea and Bora Bora Hilton properties).
    3. Very couples-oriented.
    4. Incredible water, beaches and snorkeling/diving.
    5. Available through hotel chain awards.

    I know that none of these are unique to the Maldives, though #1 comes close. But taken together, I can’t think of any other destination like the Maldives. So for me, the distance is a hindrance, though I realize that if you plopped down these islands in the middle of the Caribbean they would be overrun by tourists.

    At the same time, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Brendan’s points. This tourism/human rights interface is a country-by-country debate that hinges on very specific circumstances. In the case of the Maldives, the country is uniquely dependent on tourism; it has taken some major step backwards in recent years in terms of human rights and political repression (which the tourism dependence has not alleviated; anyone interested should see the great documentary “The Island President” for some useful background); and the tourism industry’s dependence on so many foreigners as front-line employees (though understandable) means that perhaps not as many locals are employed as a percentage of the tourist work force as in other countries (meaning that a boycott might not harm as many locals as elsewhere). I’m not necessarily coming down in favor of boycotting the country on this basis, but think it’s a more complicated, country-specific equation than you or this site might have time to delve into.

  15. Steve, Maldives politics *is* rather complicated, with the former ruling elite in control of the military and owning resorts — the powerful interests that provide for tourism are the ones who ‘used’ Islamic passions as a bludgeon against a reformist democratically elected President when that President made moves to introduce greater tourism (opening up more land for resorts, competition against those interests)and greater taxes on tourism (also against their interests). Those elites cynically capitalize on Islamic beliefs of the country’s people, but neither major political faction believes the stuff. Red meat for their masses. in some ways the politics aren’t that different from our own, although with different groups picked on.

    When you’re on the resorts those rules don’t apply, the legal machinations are that the resorts are on uninhabited land and Islamic law applies only to inhabited parts of the country.

    Now, the question is who are you supporting with your tourism dollars? And at the same time how are you altering their interests? And what would the counterfactual be if you didn’t go? Very complicated and in some ways unkowable stuff, although I would posit that tourism there aligns the interests of the nation’s elites with relative openness and that without those dollars the rights situation on the ground would likely be much worse. But I full acknowledge this is probabalistic at best and could very well be wrong.

  16. @Brendan – this also applies to the UAE, which gets a lot of mention on Boarding Area, but not the rape victims getting thrown in jail. I suppose Gary is right, tough to go down the human rights slippery slope. Our own military here in the U.S. has a despicable record towards rape. But when oohing and ahhing over hotel breakfasts and toiletries, perhaps it is worth a mention now and again.

  17. Interesting to read, Gary. I clicked on it even though I am of the group that would find this boring. All of these types of places, Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Bora Bora, etc. have never had great appeal to me, but I hear about them often on blogs. So, I am intrigued to try and learn whether it’s just a difference in taste or if I’m just so completely ignorant of it all and should give these places a look. NO decision yet, but great info. Thanks 🙂

  18. @Haldami – How miserable you are spreading the hatred with words like “bloodthirsty Muslims”…
    Why do you think you have a right to insult 1.6 billion people?
    Comments like your’s should not have place on this blog.

  19. I think Carl has it right. Here we are sitting in a glass house containing a military that has multiple rapes/sexual assaults on a daily basis and gitmo bay as a beacon of its justice system, throwing stones at a small nation. It is far from perfect, but most places are not.

  20. There are much better places to spend your time than this Islamic façade.

    To travel half way around the world to be stuck in a Hyatt resort with nothing else to do does not work for me. But if that is what unwinds you, more power to you.

    As far as beaches and isolation: Bora Bora has beaches 10x better than this place offers. But as Gary ssys, “Boring Boring”. Barbados has better beaches than this remote and expensive atoll, with much better activities and international cuisine, not to mention world class accommodations.

    While this place may sound attractive to those who love to brag to their friends on Facebook, it is not “the aspirational” destination that bloggers like to push. There are better places to spend your money( or miles) and not have to support this 3rd century mentality.

    Seriously overrated.

  21. Oneworld also has cathay pacific via Hong Kong go to the male from October this year, every 3,4,6,7 in a week

  22. maybe you should look into the laccadive islands and write about them as an alt to the Maldives.

  23. Of interest: there is a rudimentary hospital 20 minutes by boat on the Gemanafushi Atoll.

    Certainly not a hospital by “western” standards but several Maldivian women give birth there every year.

    You can get a tour of the hospital through the inhabited island visit tour arranged by the Park Hyatt Maldives if one is so interested in inspection of the facilities 😉

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