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This is a guest post by 10xT Reader Jeff Koss. For more examples of readers using points/miles to take amazing trips to check out our 10xT Insiders Facebook Group.
I just finished my first class trip to the Maldives including a long flight in Etihad’s Apartments from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK) — only 4 of the 9 Apartments were occupied.
I selected seat 1H directly across from the Residence. Someone with a ton of cash to burn had booked it but canceled so the butler gave me a tour — you’re not allowed to take pictures so all I have are the memories.
It took me roughly 3 years to finally find a seat on dates I could travel and book this trip of a lifetime. Needless to say, I had high expectations and Etihad delivered! The Bordeaux wine and the food were ridiculously good.
The total cost of these flights would have been $22,831. I paid $117.41 and 221,500 AA miles.
Here’s how I did it!
Earning American AAdvantage Miles
I earned 180,000 American miles thanks to welcome bonuses from 3 cards: Barclays Red Aviator, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard. After putting some spend on each of them I ended up with 190K American miles.
Searching tips: Forget trying to search an outbound flight on Etihad from the U.S. I spent WAAAAY too much time. Thanks to Spencer & Travis, I was told to search from AUH or MLE – JFK.
(Check out some of the other best ways to fly to the Maldives using points and miles here)
Booking My Trip To The Maldives
To get to the Maldives, I flew first class on American Airlines from Boston (BOS) to Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG) then connected to Male (MLE) in business class on Cathay Pacific. I booked this award ticket with 115,000 American miles.
For the return, I really wanted to try Etihad’s Apartments. I searched for first class award space on Etihad’s site — no need to log in — and found GuestFirst award space which is bookable by partners, unlike OpenFirst award space.
As has been discussed in the 10xTravel Insider’s Facebook group, you need to call the American Airlines’ contact center in Australia or New Zealand as the U.S.-based center has tons of trouble seeing business and first class award space on Etihad.
I tried calling twice but my call each call was routed to a Caribbean contact center. Surprisingly, while I was on the phone with American about another flight, I asked the phone agent to search for Etihad first class space and she was able to see award space.
I thought she was yanking my chain so I had her confirm twice that it was available.
Booking My Hotels In The Maldives
For my hotel, I booked an all-inclusive package at Adaaran on Hudhuranfushi to surf Lohi’s for $525 per night for 4 nights including surf passes and speedboat to 6 other surf breaks.
If you don’t surf you can book directly with the Adaaran for MUCH cheaper – $525-ish to surf vs $225-ish for no surfing!
For the other nights, I looked for opportunities to book with points.
During the dates I’d be in the Maldives the only decent Starwood property — now part of Marriott — looked to be the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon. It cost 80,000 SPG Starpoints prior to the SPG and Marriott Rewards loyalty programs being merged.
I was able to book 5 nights — 4 nights plus the 5th night free — which would have cost me $779 per night not including a $60 per night per room service charge and $136 round-trip boat ride from the airport. That would have been a total of $3,116.80 (including boat ride & service charge) for the stay.
With my Platinum Elite status, I was able to get an upgraded to an overwater bungalow with a private pool! As a Platinum Elite, I also received complimentary breakfast and discounted food and drink on the property.
After reading some reviews on the property, I was a little hesitant to book but I found it to be very clean and was far enough away from Male that you only heard a few planes take off each day.
It’s less than 4 miles from the airport and the boat transfer was only $136 which, when compared to some resorts which require a $500 one-hour, was more than reasonable.
After traveling over 30+ hours I was VERY happy with a quick boat ride!
Bonus tips about the Maldives
- Don’t forget sunscreen and aloe; it’s $20-$28 for a small can once you’re there
- Bring a small beach bag to schlep all your stuff to/from the pool/beach
- If you surf, be careful! The reef breaks and it can build up very quickly.
When I was surfing, I saw dolphins (cool), giant manta rays (creepy) 10-15 feet away, and reef sharks (Yikes!). I also stepped on a sea urchin and had to go see the medic — don’t do that.
Could I have made this trip even cheaper by only booking hotels with points? Of course! However, the surfing experience is something that was a top priority for me. Because I booked my flights and some of my nights in the Maldives on with miles and points, I was able to book the experience I wanted.
All in, I spent a little over $2,200 on flights and hotels for a round-trip first-class trip across the world. Compared to the $25,000+ that it would have cost without points, I couldn’t be happier.
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