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In June 2020, during the summer of never-ending restrictions, Travelzoo published an insane deal—seven nights in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives with half-board meals and other extras for two people for $1,610. The deal of the century was hard to resist, so my husband and I didn’t think too long before we pulled the trigger. The package sold out the next day.
We had a rather generous two-and-a-half-year timeframe to redeem the voucher, and I’m glad we had that long because it took us about two years to bring this trip to fruition.
As many U.S. travelers do, we broke up the trip to Maldives by stopping in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the way there and back.
For many years, I thought Maldives was unattainable without hotel points, but I’ve been proven wrong. Yes, a bit of luck was involved with the Travelzoo deal, but similar packages to the island nation pop up every now and again, so it’s possible to re-create a similar itinerary.
Here’s how we pulled off the two-week trip by combining points and cash.
Points, Miles and Cash Breakdown
The flight costs below are listed per person, and the hotel nights include the total charge for two occupants.
|Salt Lake City to Los Angeles one-way flight||3,041 Southwest Rapid Rewards points + $5.60|
|Los Angeles to Male one-way flight (with a stopover in Dubai)||42,500 Alaska Mileage Plan miles + $52.20|
|Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai – one night||$134.80|
|Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai – one night||One Marriott free night certificate (valued at up to 85,000 Bonvoy points)|
$5.40 tourism fee per night
|Crowne Plaza Dubai – one night||$105.18|
|Travelzoo package in Maldives – seven nights||$2,044 for two people|
|Male to Abu Dhabi one-way flight||12,500 Aeroplan points + $93.15|
|Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi – one night||$78.67|
|Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles one-way flight||32,900 Turkish Miles&Smiles miles + $277.57|
|Los Angeles to Salt Lake City one-way flight||$158.60|
Booking the Flights
We had quite a bit of lead time to book our flights to Maldives, so I booked all of these one-way flights at different times with different programs. Let’s just say my husband and I flew six different airlines during this two-week jaunt.
I knew I wanted to stop over in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on the way to Maldives for two reasons. One, to break up the long journey. And two, even though I went to Dubai as a kid, the city is almost unrecognizable, and I wanted to see it now that it’s transformed so much.
For the first step, I redeemed 42,500 Alaska Mileage Plan miles per person to book us to Male, Maldives (MLE), with a three-night stopover in Dubai (DXB) on Emirates in economy class. The taxes came to $52.20 per ticket, which included a $12.50 partner award booking fee. This fee is charged to all Alaska awards booked on partner airlines per ticket per direction (even if you have status).
Unfortunately, the itinerary wasn’t available from Salt Lake City (SLC). We had to depart from Los Angeles (LAX), so we booked a positioning flight . I redeemed 3,041 Rapid Rewards points + $5.60 per person to get us to L.A. on Southwest Airlines.
It’s worth mentioning that it’s no longer possible to re-create this part of the trip because Alaska and Emirates ended their partnership in 2021.
While in the Maldives, we took a domestic island hopper with Flyme airline, which the hotel booked for us as part of our transfers to the resort.
For the return, I originally had booked a flight on a mix of Qatar Airways and American Airlines to get us home all in one exhausting 29-hour swoop. I had redeemed 40,000 AAdvantage miles per person for these economy flights. However, an award flight promo from Turkish Airlines rewrote our journey home.
The Turkish Miles&Smiles program discounted its award flight by 30%. The catch was that travel had to be completed through May 15, 2022. Our dates were in May, but I couldn’t locate a flight departing Maldives to any U.S. city with points, so I had to get creative.
I checked many different airports and eventually found a business-class flight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AUH), to Los Angeles for 32,900 miles + $277.57. It was set to depart May 15.
But then I still had to get to Abu Dhabi somehow. Luckily, Abu Dhabi is an Etihad hub, and there was award availability from Male, so I booked an economy flight with 12,500 Aeroplan points + $93.15 per person. The separate booking gave us about 25 hours in UAE’s capital, so we spent one night and visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in our free time before the flight home.
In the end, the puzzle pieces fit so perfectly, I think it was meant to be. I canceled my AAdvantage booking with Qatar, and the miles were redeposited immediately at no charge.
Because Turkish Airlines doesn’t fly to Salt Lake City, I had to book a final flight home from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City on United Airlines for $158.60 per person. I could have booked it for about half the price had I done it in advance, but because we had two different return reservations, I wasn’t sure which one we’d end up flying so I procrastinated booking the short flight home and paid a higher price.
Thanks to my MileagePlus Premier Silver status with United, we got upgraded to first class on that flight, so I guess all’s well that ends well. We even got to see a lunar eclipse from the plane while drinking complimentary Prosecco—a first for me.
Where We Stayed
I guess the question is more like where didn’t we stay? My husband and I redeemed his Marriott free night certificate worth up to 85,000 points to stay a night at Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai.
Because we had three nights total, we booked a paid night at the Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai for our first night and got upgraded to a suite and received a fruit plate and free breakfast, thanks to my Bonvoy Titanium Elite status.
We also booked a cash stay at the Crowne Plaza Dubai for our final night, where, thanks to my IHG Platinum Elite status, we were presented with an option—an upgrade in the smoking section or no upgrade in the non-smoking section. I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke, so we went with no upgrade.
Then, in the Maldives, we stayed at the Reethi Faru Resort in Raa Atoll for seven nights. The stay was part of the Travelzoo package. (See more on that below.)
Finally, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi for one night on the roundabout way home and paid cash for this night as well. The hotel is between the city center and the airport, but we didn’t do much in Abu Dhabi except visit the Grand Mosque, which is a short cab ride away.
This trip wouldn’t have happened had we not seen a Travelzoo deal for Reethi Faru Resort. In fact, the deal was so popular, several 10xTravel Insiders Facebook group members booked it as well.
The package was listed for $1,610 and included the following for two people:
- Seven nights in a water villa
- Daily breakfast and dinner
- One-way transfer from the airport to the resort (plane + boat)
- A sunset cruise
- A complimentary photoshoot
- A 15-minute massage
We had a little trouble finding dates that worked because the hotel had allocated a certain number of rooms for those with Travelzoo vouchers. At first, with all the uncertainties in the travel space, there was a lot of availability, but my husband was going to switch jobs and we weren’t sure when we’d go. Once we were ready, the available dates were far in advance—I’m talking nine months in advance.
I didn’t want to miss out on such a good deal, so we booked our week-long stay for May 2022. It was technically the start of the rainy season, but we got lucky with the weather.
The transfer included a 20-minute domestic flight and an hour-long boat to the resort. A seaplane, which would have taken about 40 minutes, was available for an upcharge, but we stuck with the plane + boat.
Because only a one-way transfer was included and we weren’t going to stay at the resort forever (although I would if I could), we had to pay $175 per person for the return transfer to the airport and the mandatory green tax of $6 per person per night once we arrived. That charge was another $434, so technically the package should have been listed at $2,044 because the transfer fee and the taxes are unavoidable.
I tried to recreate the same half-board package we had (minus all the extras) for the same dates in May 2023, and I got a quote of $3,875 directly from the resort.
We paid about half of that, and that’s about the maximum I would pay out of pocket for a week at the beach, so I feel pretty good about the Travelzoo voucher we purchased. Although various Maldives packages reappear on the website every now and again, I haven’t seen as good of a deal since.
The UAE is a bit surprising in a sense that Uber costs more than a regular taxi. We didn’t realize this until Day 2, so we went through a bit of trouble calling an Uber from the airport to our hotel and then trying to find it after a long flight (the driver came to a parking lot across from the Uber pick-up area and charged us for the wait time).
For comparison, an Uber ride from the Dubai airport cost about $26, and a taxi back from the same area cost about $10. So, I recommend taking a cab or downloading Careem, a mobile app that connects you with a taxi driver by phone.
Abu Dhabi cabs don’t accept credit cards, so it’s best to withdraw cash on arrival or use Careem and link a credit card.
COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
Although Dubai and Abu Dhabi are part of the same country, they’re different emirates and have different rules when it comes to COVID requirements.
Dubai has fewer restrictions than Abu Dhabi. Those with a valid vaccine certificate may enter the emirate and visit all the attractions without a PCR test. We’d looked up entry requirements online and read that a vaccine certificate had to have a QR code. However, a CDC card from the U.S. was sufficient. Unvaccinated passengers needed a PCR test.
As for Abu Dhabi, we had no problems entering the emirate from Maldives without a test, but we took one upon landing at the airport to be able to enter restaurants and visit local attractions. For example, the security guard at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque checked that we had a test before letting us into the mall (the entry to the mosque is through an underground shopping center).
The test on arrival cost about $10 and featured a QR code. Because of the short visit, my husband and I used the same test to fly back to the United States.
Maldives didn’t have any entry restrictions but did require everyone fill out a health declaration form upon entry and exit. I forgot to complete it at departure, and they checked at the airport, so we had to scramble before going through immigration to leave the country.
My Maldives dream was two years in the making, and I’m glad it finally happened after all the planning and waiting. A trip to the island nation isn’t cheap, but it still can be affordable even if you don’t use points and miles for all the trip components. Mixing points redemptions with cash payments can make for an attainable vacation, and breaking up the trip with stopovers can help make the trip across the world easier to handle.
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Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.