How I booked an 18-day honeymoon of a lifetime on points
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My husband Jaime and I celebrated our six-month wedding anniversary on March 21 in quarantine, so with extra time on my hands, it's finally time to write about how we planned the honeymoon of a lifetime -- almost totally on points: Our points-moon.
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Before we get into honeymoon planning, I need to give my dog Swisher, the barketing assistant of The Points Guy (and one of @thepointspups) his five minutes of fame. He was the ring bearer at our September wedding and, I must say, he looked quite handsome in a tux.
Let the planning begin
As TPG’s director of marketing and communications, I had no choice but to book my honeymoon using points and miles. I enlisted the help of a few team members, including the Zachs (Zach Honig and Zach Griff) and the Nicks (Nick Ellis and Nick Ewen) and, of course, Brian Kelly, The Points Guy himself.
My planning started about eight months out from our wedding. However, the welcome bonuses I accrued from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express were earned way before that.
My husband and I love to travel and have taken some amazing trips in the last few years to Greece, Bali, Japan, Morocco and more. Deciding where to go on our honeymoon was a decision we didn’t take lightly. After watching TPG’s videos of The St. Regis Maldives, we knew we had to go there. Thus began the planning of our 18-day honeymoon.
Qatar's Qsuites on miles
We found award availability on Qatar's Qsuites from Philadelphia to Malé with a stop in Doha, departing on Sept. 23, 2020 -- a few days after our wedding.
We booked our trip using 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles per ticket since American is a partner of Qatar. This flight would have cost $6,267 per person, based on the price of the flights when we booked. We earned some of the American Airlines miles on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage
Qsuite, TPG's winner of the Best International Business Class, got us to the Maldives in style. I had always wanted to fly “the double bed in the sky” and I can say for sure, this was the best business class I’ve ever flown.
Booking The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
We found award availability at The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort during a search in early January 2019. At the time, we didn’t have enough Marriott Bonvoy points in our account but by using Marriott’s points advance, we were able to secure the reservation. We just had to accumulate the points at least two weeks before arrival, which meant we had just about nine months to earn the points needed for our stay. We did so by staying at Marriott hotels and signing up for cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.
Related: The ultimate Marriott Bonvoy redemption -- A review of The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
At the time, the rate for our stay was 240,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. The resort is now a Category 8, starting at 70,000 points per night on off-peak dates, so the number of points needed for a stay has increased since we booked. We also took advantage of Marriott's fifth-night-free perk where Bonvoy members get the fifth night free on all award stays.
Arriving in the Maldives
Once we landed in Male, we were greeted by a St. Regis butler who took us to The St. Regis Lounge where we had snacks and refreshments while we waited for our seaplane transfer.
The seaplane transfer (not bookable on points) costs $695 per person and takes about 40 minutes.
Points reservations at The St. Regis Maldives are valid for a Garden Villa but we were lucky enough to get upgraded to an Overwater Villa, which was incredible. At the time of booking, the cash price for an Overwater Villa would have been $1,762 per night.
Related: The award traveler's guide to Marriott Bonvoy
Moving on to Bali
After five amazing nights in the Maldives, we flew from Malé to Denpasar, Indonesia, via Singapore on Singapore Airlines. For business class, these flights cost us 39,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles per ticket. If you don't have Singapore KrisFlyer miles, you can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points to Singapore Air.
The cost of this flight at the time of booking was $1,338 per ticket, so we saved $2,676 by booking these flights on points.
We had less than 24 hours in Bali until we headed to our next stop so we used the Category 1–4 reward night that comes as an anniversary perk from the World of Hyatt Credit Card to stay at the Grand Hyatt Bali. This saved us approximately $200. Although I would probably not stay there again if I return to Bali, we had a nice sushi dinner and it was a great place to stay during our short layover and was only 20 minutes from the airport.
A knock-out experience at Nihi Sumba
Next up was a stay at Nihi Sumba by Chris Burch, Travel and Leisure’s No. 1 hotel in the world in 2016 and 2017. To get to Sumba island, we flew Wings Air for the short flight from Denpasar to Tambolaka Airport.
Nihi Sumba is not bookable with points. However, you could take advantage of the fourth-night-free perk that comes with the Citi Prestige® Card at this resort to cut down the cost. (The information for the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.)
We were fortunate enough to receive this as a very special wedding gift from a close friend. I still pinch myself daily that we spent the second half of our honeymoon at the No. 1 hotel in the world. And let me be clear, our experience at Nihi was beyond our wildest dreams.
We were booked to stay five nights in a honeymoon villa. However, when we arrived the general manager met us and let us know that there was an “issue” with our reservation. Because of this “issue” we were upgraded. He walked us to our “villa,” Mandaka A. We were speechless. As pictures can describe this place better than words, see below:
Honeymooning at Nihi was a dream. We had registered for a bunch of the excursions before arrival so we took a Spa Safari, used paddleboards to go down the Wanukaka River, enjoyed a cooking class, toured the blue waterfall and more.
Changing plans on the fly
After Nihi Sumba, we planned to fly to Singapore via Denpasar. We had booked Garuda Indonesia's business class from Tambolaka Airport in Sumba to Denpasar to Singapore using 40,000 Delta SkyMiles per ticket. Since Delta and Garuda are partners, we were able to use Delta miles for this flight. A few months before our honeymoon, Garuda discontinued the Denpasar (DPS) to Tambolaka (TMC) route so we booked that flight on Wings Air.
There are many ways to do Singapore using points and miles. We planned to spend two nights at the Conrad Singapore, booked on points earned from the welcome bonus on the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. We had booked our two-night stay for 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
From Singapore, we were supposed to fly on the Singapore Air A380 to Hong Kong. Jaime, my husband, was ticketed in business class, and I got off the waitlist for Singapore Suites. The Singapore Suites was the TPG Awards winner for Best International First Class so I was excited to fly it.
However, while at Nihi Sumba we decided we just did not want to leave. “When in our lives will we be able to visit the No. 1 hotel in the world again?” So, we rerouted our plans and extended our stay at Nihi for another two nights. Although I debated whether or not it was worth giving up the Singapore Suites flight for two extra days at Nihi, in the end, I decided that it was worth it.
Heading home on Cathay Pacific and United
We called Delta and Singapore to cancel our flights and they credited the miles back to our account. We flew back to Bali and then to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific and found last-minute award availability in economy class.
Finally, for the final flight of our honeymoon, we kept to our original plan (flying home from Hong Kong) on the new United Polaris business class. The flight from Hong Kong to Newark cost us 80,000 United MileagePlus miles per ticket, which we accumulated by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United. At the time of booking, the cash price for this flight was $7,487 so we saved over $14,974 by using our points. We enjoyed the last part of our “honeymoon in the sky” and returned home to Swisher.
However, the story doesn’t end there. Each year, Nihi Sumba does a #Nihigram photo contest where they choose the top three photos from the year and post them on their Instagram feed over three consecutive days. The photo with the most likes after the three days wins a free trip back to Nihi. On New Year's Eve, I received a message that one of my photos was chosen as one of Nihi’s Top 3 Photos of the Year.
View this post on Instagram
✨NEED YOUR HELP INSTA FRIENDS & FAM!!!✨ my photo (this photo) ???????????? was chosen as one of three finalists to win a trip to @nihisumba where @jaimemanheimer and I (and then Jennifer Lawrence) had our *epic* honeymoons last year. The #nihigram with the most likes wins a FREE TRIP BACK TO PARADISE aka Nihi. If you see this PLZ be a good friend and like this pic on the @nihisumba account! I’ll be forever grateful and if we win and @jaimemanheimer can’t make it LMK if you’re free. ????????LINK IN BIO!
The photo I took was from the baby turtle release, something guests can enjoy every night while staying at Nihi. My jaw still drops every time I say this but my photo ended up getting the most likes and we won the free trip back to Nihi. As we say at TPG, I am still shook.
We plan to return to Nihi for our first anniversary -- and even found business class availability on the Newark to Singapore route, the longest flight in the world. We are praying, like all of you, that travel (and life) is back to normal by then.
With COVID-19 bringing travel to a halt, we know many of you have had to postpone or cancel trips. We suggest you use this time to start thinking about planning your dream honeymoon or vacation.
If you're planning a dream honeymoon like I did, start mapping out your points strategy. There are still ways to earn points while at home. I am already using this time to think about my trip back to Nihi Sumba.
Planning my “points moon” was so much fun and I learned a ton in the process. Here are some tips if you are looking to book your honeymoon using points and miles:
- Be flexible when planning your honeymoon. If you want to head off to an exotic destination but can't find a nonstop flight there with points, consider making a connection in a city that interests you and your spouse, and spend a day or two exploring it instead of just sitting in the airport for a few hours.
- Earn points and miles not by flying, but from credit cards. As long as you are disciplined with a credit card and stay within your financial means, credit cards offer the best way to rack up hundreds of thousands of points and miles quickly without being a road warrior. So instead of paying for everything with cash or a debit card, make sure you have a credit card in your purse or wallet that earns you travel rewards every time you use it.
- Use valuable transferable bank points. Four major banks — Chase, American Express, Citibank and Capital One — issue credit cards that earn points or miles that can be transferred into multiple airline or hotel programs, making them infinitely more flexible than points or miles earned with a single airline or hotel. Having a stash of transferable bank points will give you many options when it comes to booking your dream honeymoon trip.
- Take advantage of airline partners and alliances. All three of the main U.S. airlines — American, Delta and United — are members of worldwide airline alliances, all of which can book each other's flights. So if you have American miles, you don't necessarily have to fly on American — you can instead use them to fly with one of AA's partners, such as British Airways to Europe, Cathay Pacific to Asia or many others.
- Use points or perks to offset cash prices. If you have your eye on a flight or hotel that can't be booked directly with points, either use a credit card perk to get a discount off the full price — such as the Citi Prestige's fourth-night free on hotel reservations — or use your bank points to book the flight using the bank's travel portal. Bank portals offer the ability to use your points to book most flights and hotels even when there isn't any award space, though you'll usually get less value for the points when redeeming this way versus transferring them to airlines or hotels. You can also use a credit card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and take advantage of its purchase "eraser" feature to offset almost any travel charge using miles earned with the card.
With a little bit of points strategy, you can plan the honeymoon of a lifetime like we did. You may need to stay home for the time being, but TPG can’t wait to see where our readers travel once the world returns to normal. Happy points-mooning.