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Update: The Hilton American Express Ascend Card is now the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and is offering a bonus of 125,000 Hilton Honors Points after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months.
If I’m being entirely honest, I hadn’t really heard of the Maldives until I started collecting points and miles. However, it took just one picture of a stunning overwater villa to convince me that I absolutely needed to go and experience it for myself. Thankfully I got to cross that trip off my bucket list earlier this year, and it was worth every penny. If you haven’t been to the Maldives before, you’re in luck. With several new hotels opening up across the tropical nation’s 26 island atolls, you have more options than ever to take this dream vacation using points and miles.
Half of the appeal of the Maldives comes from its geographic isolation, which makes getting to Male (MLE) and on to your hotel a bit of a challenge. Be sure to check out this guide for ideas on how to cover your flights to the Maldives with credit card points and airline miles. Keep in mind too that once you get there, you’ll almost certainly have to pay an additional fee for a seaplane or speedboat transfer from Male to your hotel. Make sure to pay attention to the transfer fee at whichever hotel you pick, as they range from ~$100 to almost $700 per person.
All that being said, what are your options for using points to visit this incredible destination? Here’s a run-down:
It should come as no surprise that one of the world’s biggest hotel chains has a plethora of options from which you can choose in the Maldives (five to be exact). Here’s a brief comparison of the different resorts:
|Hotel||Current Award Category (standard points per night)||Round-trip transfer cost (per person)|
|St. Regis Maldives||8 (85,000)||$695|
|W Maldives||8 (85,000)||$475|
|Sheraton Maldives||6 (50,000)||$142|
|Westin Maldives||7 (60,000)||$475|
|JW Marriott Maldives (accepting reservations for stays starting September 15, 2019)||8 (85,000)||$600|
Note that Marriott has yet to implement peak and off-peak pricing, which will see these rates vary based on seasonal demand. On the upper end, Category 8 hotels will cost 100,000 points during peak season while Category 7 properties will fall as low as 50,000 points during off peak travel dates.
While these hotels are all in Marriott’s top three award categories, don’t make the mistake of thinking they were created equal. At the top end of the spectrum is the St. Regis Maldives, which might be the single most aspirational points hotel in the world. Awards book into the garden villa shown below, and with four of them at the entire property, expect competition for award space to be fierce.
Since the merger closed in August, award space at the St. Regis has fluctuated between almost non-existent and surprisingly generous. At the time of writing it’s more in the middle, with a number of dates available for a five night stay (including a fifth night free) during peak season early next year.
With garden villas selling for $1,200 or more on those dates, you’ll lock in a respectable redemption value of about 1.5 cents for your 85,000 Marriott points, almost double TPG’s valuation of 0.8 cents each.
However, the real beauty of the St. Regis Maldives (and much of the appeal of the destination as a whole) comes from the picturesque overwater bungalows. The garden villas are nice, but they’re the only rooms on the property that don’t offer direct water access. I would strongly recommend using your points to upgrade to an overwater villa, which costs anywhere from 125,000 points per night on the lower end up to 195,000 points per night during peak season. While the Marriott website isn’t always great about displaying availability for these premium rooms, the app does a much better job giving you all your options.
One of the newest additions to Marriott’s Maldivian portfolio — the Westin Maldives — tends to be even more generous when it comes to award space. That’s because more than half of its 70 rooms are Island Villas, the roughly 1,500-square-foot standard accommodations with private decks and pools that you can book on points. While the experience won’t be quite as premium as the St. Regis, you’ll save over $200 per person on transport fees, and you certainly won’t be suffering with your private pool and beach. Booking here will also save you 25,000 points per night, a hefty
(Editor’s note: We’d highly recommend booking this property sooner rather than later. It wouldn’t be surprising to see it jump to Category 8 in Marriott’s next round of category changes.)
The Category 8 JW Marriott is slated to open this August, though as of now the hotel is only accepting reservations for stays starting September 15, 2019. While hotel openings are often delayed quite a bit (and this one already has been pushed back a few times), I’d hope that this property will in fact be open by the time peak season picks up in November. The good news is that the JW Marriott is counting its overwater villas as base rooms, meaning you won’t have to use extra points to get that special experience.
Marriott’s W Maldives does exactly what you’d expect a W hotel to do. It brings a South Beach-style party to the middle of the Indian Ocean. Availability is decent here, and this can be a good option to consider if you’re looking for a little more excitement on your relaxing vacation.
However, there is one Marriott property in the Maldives that might not be the best use of your points: the Sheraton Maldives. You can read Zach Honig’s review to find all the reasons you might want to skip this hotel, but it boils down to dirty beaches, a lack of privacy and mediocre food. Sort of the exact opposite of what you expect when you’re paying top dollar for this type of vacation.
Earning Marriott points
If you’re short on Marriott points, the program does allow transfers from both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, though you’ll tend to get better value through other transfer partners. With the Bonvoy program now in full swing, there are also plenty of Marriott credit cards you could open to boost your balance quickly:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Terms Apply.
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Earn 100,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Offer ends 10/23/2019. Terms Apply.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from your account opening.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months from your account opening.
For additional suggestions, check out our guide on how to earn Marriott points.
Hyatt’s award chart is quite generous at both ends of the luxury spectrum, but high on the list of “too-good-to-be-true” awards is the Category 7 Park Hyatt Maldives. This property has bounced between Category 6 and 7 a few times over the years, but it currently costs 30,000 Hyatt points for a free night.
Seaplane transfers cost $520 round-trip, which isn’t cheap but noticeably lower than the St. Regis. Not only are Hyatt points incredibly easy to earn — between transferring them from Chase Ultimate Rewards or signing up for The World of Hyatt Credit Card — but award availability at this high-end property is surprisingly good. There are multiple five-day stretches over peak holiday travel times that are bookable with points.
Cash rates here aren’t as sky-high as you might see at other remote resort properties, but that’s in no way reflective of the experience you’ll get. Park villas include outdoor waterfall showers and direct beach access, and you might even get lucky and score an upgrade to a park pool villa.
Earning Hyatt points
Hyatt is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you can transfer points from the following cards directly to your World of Hyatt account:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Alternatively, The World Of Hyatt Credit Card is offering a tiered bonus of up to 50,000 points. You’ll earn 25,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months and another 25,000 after spending $6,000 total in the first 6 months.
For full details, check out our guide to earning Hyatt points.
Hilton currently has two properties in the Maldives: the Conrad Maldives and the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, though its also in the process of opening the SAii Lagoon, a Curio Collection hotel, which is accepting reservations for stays starting August 1, 2019. With Hilton’s dynamic pricing system, award rates at most properties fluctuate from day to day, and the price you see is the price you pay. And as you’d expect, these high-end properties require a fair amount of points.
Here are the award rates we’re seeing:
- Conrad: Consistently prices out at 95,000 points (worth $570 based on TPG’s valuations)
- Waldorf Astoria: Consistently prices out at 120,000 points (worth $720), though availability is limited
- SAii Lagoon: Consistently prices out at 85,000 points (worth $510)
If you’re redeeming points for a standard room, you can book either a beach villa or water villa at the Conrad, while the Waldorf books into a massive, 2,518-square-foot beach villa. Unfortunately, the SAii Lagoon classifies the King Sky Room as it’s standard accommodations for awards, which is a 473-square foot room with a sea view and private terrace. While you’ll save on transfer costs, I’d highly recommend spending the extra points for the Conrad or splurging for the Waldorf.
Keep in mind too that Hilton makes it easy to upgrade to premium rooms directly on its website, but the prices are unfortunately staggering. For example, a superior water villa at the Conrad costs a whopping 332,000 points per night, and the other two properties have similarly sky-high rates. Given that standard rooms at the Conrad and Waldorf are massive and filled with amenities, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to pay more than 3x as many points to upgrade.
All three of these properties are also eligible for the free weekend night certificates that you can earn/receive on the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card (one after spending $15,000 in a calendar year) and the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express (one at account opening and upon card renewal each year, and a second after spending $60,000 in a calendar year). These cards also include automatic Hilton elite status, though unfortunately the usual perks don’t all apply at the Conrad Maldives. Check out this link so you know what to expect if you do book an award stay here.
Earning Hilton points
The best way to earn a significant amount of Hilton points quickly is by opening an Amex Hilton credit card:
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Earn 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership. Terms Apply.
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card: Earn 125,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership. Terms Apply.
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: 125,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
For other ways to boost your account balance, check out our guide to earning Hilton points.
The IHG Rewards program has perhaps the biggest gap of any major hotel chain between its high-end brands and its more affordable ones. While the Maldives is one of the priciest vacation spots in the world, IHG has exactly one hotel currently open there — a Holiday Inn!
Now in all fairness, this isn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill Holiday Inn, as it’s probably the only one in the world to feature overwater villas. Your 45,000-point award night books you into a standard room, though with cash prices starting as low as $150 a night, you might be better off saving your points. It’s also one of the only Maldivian hotels where speedboat transfers can cost more than the room itself, at $229 round-trip per person.
IHG’s footprint in the Maldives will expand this fall when the InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort opens. It’s currently taking reservations beginning on September 1, 2019, with cash rates for beach villas start at around $1,000 and overwater villas pricing out closer to $1,500. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any award space at this new property yet, and since IHG allows hotels to restrict the number of rooms made available for awards, I wouldn’t get your hopes up about using points here.
Earning IHG points
The best way to earn a quick haul of points is by opening the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, which is currently offering a welcome bonus of 125,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. IHG is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, though given the high award rates in the program, your Chase points can bring you much better value elsewhere.
Award nights in the Maldives tend to be incredibly expensive, but if you’re not fiercely loyal to a single hotel brand, there is another option to consider. Non-chain hotels often offer many of the same amenities — modern, spacious rooms, pristine beaches and top notch food and service — but at a fraction of the cost. You can book these independent hotels using a card with a purchase eraser like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or by taking advantage of a pay-with-points redemption option like you find on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You can score some great deals this way, such as an all-inclusive beach suite for only 38,400 points a night …
Or overwater villas with breakfast included for just a hair more.
Remember too that just paying for a property outright with a newly-opened Sapphire Reserve should qualify as a travel purchase and thus be eligible for the card’s annual $300 travel credit. You could also use the Venture Card to book and pay for your hotel at Hotels.com/Venture to earn 10x miles on those purchases, giving you a return of 20% when you stack it with the Hotels.com Rewards program.
However, if you go either of these routes, just be sure to read some reviews of the property first to make sure it will live up to your expectations.
Finally, don’t forget a program like Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express in your wallet. These will undoubtedly be pricey, but with added perks like complimentary breakfast and an on-property amenity, you may find a great option for your trip there.
While the Maldives is often thought of as an exclusive and unattainable dream destination, that’s not entirely accurate. Sure, it’s hard to get there, but you have a decent number of alternatives to stay for free using points. We’re seeing solid availability at Marriott locations for 2020, but no matter what hotel chain you prefer or what type of points you have, you should be able to get started planning your Maldivian vacation using points today.
Know before you go.
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