Do you earn points on seaplane transfers in the Maldives?
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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
The Maldives is one of the most picturesque and remote beach destinations in the world. An abundance of newly-opened points hotels has made it easier than ever to stay for free, but you’ll still have to pay for the seaplane (or speedboat) from the capital island of Malé (MLE) where the international airport is to your individual hotel.
Ready to plan that bucket-list trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there.
TPG reader Andrew wants to know if he’ll earn hotel points for this expensive part of the trip …
I’m planning a trip to the Maldives for next year and trying to wrap my head around the crazy expensive seaplane transfers! I know I have to pay the price, but will I at least earn bonus hotel points for the charge? If not, what credit card should I use?TPG READER ANDREW
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Depending on which hotel you’re staying at, round-trip seaplane transfers can easily cost $500 or more per person. Some hotels that are closer to Malé use speedboats instead and some hotels have their own private seaplanes, but more often than not visitors arriving in the Maldives will find themselves on a 15-seat DHC-6 Twin Otter seaplane operated by Trans Maldivian Airways for the gorgeous 20 to 30 minute flight to their hotel.
When I stayed at the St. Regis Maldives last year, I was a bit surprised to see after checkout that I’d earned ~25,000 fewer points for the stay than I was expecting to. As a Bonvoy Titanium elite member I earn 17.5 points per dollar spent at Marriott, which means that 25,000 missing points roughly equates to the ~$1,400 or so spent on round-trip seaplane transfers for two people. I followed up with Marriott and the hotel, who told me that the seaplane charge was not eligible to earn points.
The same thing happened this year when my girlfriend and I stayed at the W Maldives, a wonderful property that I somehow enjoyed even more than the St. Regis (thanks to the best hotel staff team I’ve ever met and abundant marine life). I emailed the hotel about prepaying for the seaplane charges (just over $1,000 for two people) this year so it wouldn’t appear on the final bill, as an anniversary gift for my girlfriend. I asked again whether they could still submit the charge to Marriott to earn points, and they informed me that the seaplane charges were not eligible.
While I was disappointed to be missing out on about 17,500 Marriott points this year (worth $140 based on TPG’s valuations), this does match up with Marriott’s terms and conditions. Under the “non-qualifying charges” section which details purchases that aren’t eligible to earn points, you’ll find a mention of “other third-party services.” As mentioned before, nearly all seaplane are operated by Trans Maldivian Air and not the hotel itself, making them ineligible third-party services. Hotels that operate their own speedboats to and from Malé like the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort or SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton might code differently, but they might still outsource the boat transfers to a third-party company.
Of course, if you’re traveling to the Maldives and aren’t sure, you can always reach out to your hotel in advance to check. Given the logistics that go into arrivals and departures from the Maldives I’ve found hotels there to be great at communicating with guests before arrival and it never hurts to ask.
So which card did I opt to pay with? My Chase Sapphire Reserve, of course. Since I wasn’t going to earn any Marriott points I wanted to capture the largest travel bonus I could, and the 3x points per dollar on travel on the Sapphire Reserve fit the bill. I could’ve tried paying with The Platinum Card® from American Express, but since the charge was processed by the W and not by TMA, I was worried it wouldn’t earn the 5x bonus points (as the Platinum requires your purchase to be directly with the airline in order to qualify).
There’s certainly a risk to prepaying for an expensive seaplane transfer like this, but if you do so just a few days before your trip there’s a bonus as well. TMA counts as a “common carrier” for the purpose of Chase travel insurance, and so by putting this charge on my Sapphire Reserve before our trip started (instead of paying it at checkout like most guests do) I gave myself some extra protection in the event weather interfered with our travel. Seaplanes are especially sensitive to weather, and if we’d arrived in Malé only to find a storm was preventing us from getting to our hotel, my travel insurance would have kicked in and helped us recoup any prepaid expenses while we found somewhere to stay for the night.
The cost of seaplane transfers (as well as the exorbitant prices of food and drink once you get to the hotel) are one of the reasons the Maldives remains such an exclusive destination, even for award travelers. Unfortunately you likely won’t earn any hotel points on the staggering seaplane expense, but if you creatively “prepay” it at the last possible moment, you can build in some travel insurance coverage to protect your expensive trip.
Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy.
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