Cleared for Takeoff: Using points and miles to book Emirates business class and an overwater villa in the Maldives
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A trip to the Maldives is at the top of many travelers' wish lists. So for today’s Cleared for Takeoff story, I'll look into TPG reader Oz Noori’s request for help planning a trip to the Maldives for himself and his two daughters:
Hi! I’ve been saving up points to take my two daughters (18 and 23) to the Maldives. I think I have the hotel almost established but not sure on flights.
Hotel-wise, I want to stay in an overwater villa. I’m Hilton Diamond with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. I want to use the 5th night free option, and it might make sense to buy the remaining points if necessary. I also have two Hilton complimentary night certificates as I haven’t used any during the pandemic.
For flights, I want to fly lie flat business or first both ways from Detroit (DTW). I’m not sure how to find the best availability on a good airline that isn't outrageous.
I’m flexible on dates. I was looking at winter or next spring but almost anytime I can make work is good. This has been a dream for a long time! I’d love any help you could provide!
The information for the Hilton Aspire has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Oz has a stash of Hilton Honors points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, Delta SkyMiles, American AAdvantage miles and United MileagePlus miles. Follow along as I share how I’d plan Oz's trip to the Maldives using points and miles.
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Current points stash
Oz currently has the following points and miles balances he can use for his Maldives trip:
- 312,000 Hilton Honors points.
- He'll soon have an additional 130,000 Hilton points once he earns the welcome bonus on a new Hilton Honors card.
- 341,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
- He also has access to an additional 46,600 points from family members.
- 77,500 Amex Membership Rewards points.
- 26,700 United MileagePlus miles.
- 108,000 Delta SkyMiles.
- 38,800 American Airlines miles.
Oz noted he has the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Hilton Aspire Amex, American Express® Gold Card, Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, a Southwest card and a Disney card. And he said he still has annual credits on several of his cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve's $300 annual travel credit, the Hilton Aspire's airline fee credit and the Hilton Aspire's up-to-$250 Hilton resort statement credit. So, these credits are fair game for use on his Maldives trip.
Plus, he has two Hilton free night certificates he wants to use on this trip. Since he isn't looking to travel until this winter or next spring, he can still earn more points and miles if needed.
Related: Maldives vs. Bora Bora: Which remote island chain should you visit?
Round-trip airfare to the Maldives
Oz wants to fly in business or first class on a high-quality airline with his two daughters. There are many ways to get to the Maldives on points and miles. If he had lots of American Airlines miles, I'd recommend flying Qatar Airlines and its Qsuite product. But since Oz has 387,600 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and 77,500 Amex Membership Rewards points, flying Emirates from New York or Chicago is a compelling option.
Emirates business class is a great product and on the A380, you'll have access to the famous bar area. Although aircraft types on a route can and do change, I recommend booking an award on an Emirates A380 out of New York City.
Oz can then use Delta miles to position himself and his two daughters from Detroit to New York City. And, assuming he books their Delta positioning flights on one reservation, they'll each get their first checked bag free as a benefit of his Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.
How to book Emirates business class with miles
You can book Emirates awards through several programs, but since Emirates Skywards is a transfer partner of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, I recommend that Oz book his flights directly through Emirates.
To do so, go to the "Spend Miles" page on Emirates' website and click on "Book Emirates" in the "Classic Rewards" section. Doing so will take you to the "Book a flight" page. Go ahead and log in before starting a search.
Select "Book Classic Rewards Flight," enter your flight details and click "Search."
If you see cash rates, switch the "Redeem Skywards Miles" toggle above the results to the on position. Doing so gave me a grid of rates since I'd selected a flexible dates search. Click on the result in the grid that you want and then click "See flights."
On the next page, you'll see prices for each of the flights you could book. If you don't yet have enough points to book, you won't be able to progress past this page.
Three round-trip business-class awards from New York-JFK to Male (MLE) would cost Oz at least 510,000 miles plus $1,582. I recommend that he use his Chase Sapphire Reserve when paying the taxes and fees, as doing so would get him and his daughters travel protections on their trip.
He could transfer 387,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and 77,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Emirates to accrue 464,000 Emirates Skywards miles. However, he'd still be 46,000 miles short.
Related: What it’s like flying Emirates first class during the pandemic
How to earn enough Emirates miles for this award
One perk of Emirates Skywards is that you can transfer points from all five major transferable currencies. As such, it's easy to earn Emirates Skywards miles.
If you need more Emirates miles, you could add a new Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards card to your wallet. After all, once you reach the minimum spending requirements to earn the bonus, you can transfer your points to Emirates at a 1:1 ratio. In particular, here are some cards to consider (and their current bonuses):
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Citi Premier® Card: Earn 60,000 bonus Citi ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening (see rates and fees).
- Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card within the first three months of card membership.
Oz only needs 46,000 more miles for his award. So he could apply for any of these cards and have enough rewards once he earns the bonus. Alternatively, he could add one of the cobranded Emirates credit cards to his wallet.
Related: Best ways to redeem Emirates Skywards miles for maximum value
Hilton hotels in the Maldives
You can stay at many hotels in the Maldives using points and miles. But Oz has Hilton Diamond status, a stash of Hilton Honors points and two Hilton free night certificates. So I agree that it makes sense for him to redeem Hilton Honors points and enjoy the fifth night free on awards that Hilton provides its elite members.
There are three Hilton hotels in the Maldives for him to consider:
- Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
- Standard room reward for 95,000 points per night in a sunrise water villa or beach villa (availability for the sunrise water villa is limited until May).
- Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.
- Standard room reward for 120,000 or 150,000 points per night in a king reef villa with pool (but award availability is sparse; I only found standard awards on three nights across the next year while writing this article).
- Overwater premium room rewards start around 988,000 points per night.
- SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton.
- Standard room reward for 85,000 points per night in a twin or king sky room.
- Overwater premium room rewards start around 309,000 points per night in a king overwater villa.
Oz expressed two wants for his Maldives hotel: an overwater villa and to use Hilton's fifth night free elite perk. However, the fifth night free is only available on standard room reward stays of five or more nights. There aren't five consecutive nights bookable as a standard room reward at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi and the standard room rewards at the SAii Lagoon Maldives aren't overwater villas.
This leaves the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which offers a sunrise water villa as a standard room reward on some dates. Based on Oz's request, I assume he plans for himself and his two daughters to share one villa. Hilton will let you book the villa for three adults, but I expect Oz and his daughters may only have a king bed and a small couch. So, Oz and his daughters should consider whether they feel comfortable with the sleeping situation before booking.
Of course, Oz may snag an upgrade as a Hilton Diamond elite to a larger villa. But an upgrade isn't guaranteed and may not come through in a popular destination like the Maldives.
Assuming they decide to book the water villa, they could use Oz's two Hilton free night certificates to stay two extra nights. But I recommend they try one room type for their five-night stay and another room type for a two-night stay. After all, the beach villas have some extra amenities and space. And especially for this trip, I think Oz and his daughters may appreciate the beach villa's daybed that can be curtained off into an alcove (as this would give them more space and privacy while sharing the villa).
Related: Cleared for Takeoff: Booking an overwater villa dream vacation with points and miles
How to book this hotel with Hilton points
I'd book two nights in the water villa and five nights in the beach villa if I were in Oz's shoes. However, I suspect that Oz and his daughters will choose the opposite since an overwater villa was a primary request for their stay.
In either case, you'll need to find standard reward availability for your desired room types when using free night certificates or to get a fifth night free. You can use Hilton's calendar search to check availability by selecting "Use flexible dates" when searching.
Unfortunately, you can't search for only the beach villa or only the sunrise water villa when using the calendar tool. So, although you can see which dates have standard rewards, you won't know until clicking through whether a beach villa, water villa or both are available.
After doing a few searches and clicking through a lot of results, it seems Oz and his daughters will need to travel in the shoulder season of May if they want to stay in the water villa for five nights. I found standard reward availability in a water villa for a five-night stay on May 15-20.
Click on "More prices available" to check prices and book with points. For this stay, you'd get over 1 cent per Hilton point. The five-night stay would cost $5,912.74, including taxes and fees (but not including transfer fees) or 380,000 points (after the fifth night free that's given to Hilton elites on standard reward stays of five nights or longer). So, Oz would get a redemption rate of 1.56 cents per Hilton point, which is much higher than TPG's valuation of Hilton points at 0.6 cents per point.
Once you sign in, you can book your award. You'll see a points and money slider that will allow you to use a mixture of points and cash to book your award. So, you can book your award even if you don't have enough Hilton points. But, if you want to use the fifth night free perk, you'll need to pay entirely with points.
I also found standard reward availability for a beach villa on May 25-27. But Oz will need to call Hilton Honors to use his two Hilton free night certificates for these nights.
Related: How to have a splurge-worthy Maldives honeymoon on a budget
How to earn enough Hilton points for this award
If you have Hilton Honors elite status and find standard reward nights for your dates, you'll need 380,000 Hilton Honors points for a five-night stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Oz currently has 312,000 Hilton Honors points, but he'll soon earn an additional 130,000 Hilton points thanks to a welcome bonus on his new Hilton Honors credit card.
You can also earn Hilton Honors points by signing up for a new Hilton Honors card, such as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or Hilton Honors American Express Card. Or, you could transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio.
Related: Loyal to paradise: All you need to know about the Maldives’ Border Miles program
Points and miles can significantly decrease the cost of a dream Maldives trip. And credit card perks can reduce your out-of-pocket costs. For example, suppose Oz and his daughters charge on-site expenses like dining and activities to their room. In that case, they can use the Hilton Aspire's up-to-$250 Hilton resort statement credit and the Chase Sapphire Reserve's $300 annual travel credit to offset some of these expenses.
But, on top of dining expenses and activities, there are also expensive hotel and resort transfer fees in the Maldives. In particular, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island charges $526 plus 12% taxes and fees per person age 12 and older for a return transfer from Male. Oz and his daughters should account for this high cost when preparing for their dream trip.
If you have a destination in mind and need help figuring out your points strategy, send us an email to be featured in the next installment of Cleared for Takeoff.