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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Starwood Preferred Guest® Luxury Credit Card from American Express

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 get to cross that trip off my bucket list in just over a month. 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:

Marriott

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 7 (60,000) $142
Westin Maldives 7 (60,000) $475
JW Marriott Maldives TBD  $600

Note that Marriott has yet to implement peak and off-peak pricing, and Category 8 pricing won’t take effect until March 2019. Until that time, all Category 8 hotels are bookable for just 60,000 points a night (worth $540 based on TPG’s valuations).

Note that the newly-opened Westin Maldives is currently listed as a Category 7 property on Marriott’s site, but it’s conspicuously absent from the program’s award category page. I’d assume that it’ll shift to Category 8, though we won’t know for sure until Marriott releases full details on the March implementation.

The JW Marriot, slated to open in July 2019, still doesn’t have an assigned award category (nor is it even available for reservations), though it’s safe to assume it’ll be at least Category 7.

While these hotels are all in Marriott’s top two award categories, don’t make the mistake of thinking they were created equal. At the top end of the spectrum is likely 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 only a handful of them at the entire property, expect competition for award space to be fierce.

A Garden Villa at the St. Regis Maldives. Photo courtesy of the hotel.
A Garden Villa at the St. Regis Maldives. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

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 three night stay during peak season.

 

With garden villas selling for $1,200 or more on those dates, you’ll lock in a redemption value of at least 2 cents for your 60,000 Marriott points, more than double TPG’s valuation of 0.9 cents each.

The newest addition to Marriott’s Maldivian portfolio, the Westin Maldives, is 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.

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.

W Maldives. Photo courtesy of the hotel
W Maldives. Photo courtesy of the hotel

We have yet to see what the JW Marriott will look like when it opens in July, but for a newly constructed hotel in a luxury brand, I certainly have high hopes. But 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.

Construction sites just a few hundred feet away. Photo by Zach Honig.
Photo by Zach Honig

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. You also could open a cobranded credit card like the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card, which is currently offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Just be aware that the entire portfolio of Marriott and SPG cards will be undergoing a rebrand in February as the Marriott Bonvoy program officially launches.

Hyatt

Hyatt’s award chart is fairly generous at both ends of the luxury spectrum, but high on the list of “too-good-to-be-true” awards is the fact that the Park Hyatt Maldives is only a Category 6 hotel (rather than a top-tier Category 7). This means that you can book a sprawling Park Villa (over 1,700 square feet) for only 25,000 points per 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.

Hilton

At the moment Hilton only has one property in the Maldives, the Conrad Maldives, though its also in the process of opening a Waldorf Astoria and the SAii lagoon, a Curio Collection hotel, which are both sure to be stunning. For now though, the Conrad and its $526 round-trip seaplane transfer is your only option.

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. That being said, the Conrad appears to consistently price out at 95,000 points (worth $570 based on TPG’s valuations) almost every night.

For this price you can book either a beach villa or water villa, though Hilton also makes it easy to upgrade to premium rooms directly on its website. The prices are unfortunately staggering, with a superior water villa costing a whopping 332,000 points per night. Given that standard water villas already come with plunge pools, direct water access and either a sunrise or sunset view, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to pay more than 3x as many points to upgrade.

This property is 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.

IHG

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 there — a Holiday Inn!

Now this isn’t your standard Holiday Inn, as it’s probably the only one in the world to feature overwater villas. Your 40,000-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.

One thing worth noting is that at 40,000 points a night, the Holiday Inn Maldives is eligible for use with the new restricted IHG free night certificates that come with the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. If you still have an unrestricted free night left from the old card though, you can probably find better ways to use it.

Non-Chain Hotels

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 can 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.

Bottom Line

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. The Marriott merger opened up a handful of new options (and the program has another property on the way), 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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Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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