The ultimate Marriott Bonvoy redemption: A review of The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Waking up as my British Airways flight was descending into Male, the capital city of the Maldives, two things were clear: 1) The Maldives are even more beautiful than I had ever imagined and 2) My partner and I were about to actually pull off a trip we'd been envisioning for years, a stay at The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort -- on points, of course.
I've saved up points for splurge-worthy redemptions before, but nothing quite like this. This trip was not only my first time in the Maldives but it was also my first stay at a St. Regis. Just about everyone who has visited this resort -- including TPG himself -- has raved about it, despite the astronomical cost of food and beverages.
But would it really live up to the hype? I was about to find out.
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.
We booked during the brief (but amazing) time following the Marriott and Starwood merger when award nights at even the most extravagant Marriott properties could be had for a maximum of 60,000 points per night. We reserved seven nights for 360,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, taking advantage of the program's fifth-night free perk. Even better, we were able to book over my 40th birthday. We arranged for the grandparents to watch our children in London and excitedly looked forward to our trip.
Since we booked, Marriott's new award chart has gone into effect and a room at this Category 8 property will run you 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night and 100,000 for a peak night. And, like almost all resorts in the Maldives, this property comes with steep taxes and fees on top of your points redemption, as well as a cash co-pay for certain rooms. Plan for a pricey stay even if you can cover the cost of the room entirely with points.
If you're a little low on Marriott points and want to build up your balance for a stay like this, consider signing up for a card like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which for a limited time is offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. Alternatively, you could consider the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, which is offering a limited time bonus of up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of card membership. Offer ends 1/13/2021.
On top of the room rate, you'll have to pay a mandatory $695 per person for round-trip seaplane transfers between the resort and the main airport of the Maldives, Male International (MLE). At checkout, pay for those charges with a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card so you can effectively "erase" them from your statement. The seaplane airfare is not eligible for Bonvoy-point earning, nor does it count toward Ambassador-level spend.
Read more: Where to stay in the Maldives using points and miles
Location and check-in
We didn't have as long a journey to the Maldives as those who come from the United States. After an 11-hour nonstop flight on British Airways from London, we entered a very chaotic scene at MLE, with drivers, tour guides, travel agents and disheveled travelers all fighting for space.
Suddenly, though, our St. Regis airport butler (yep, airport butler) emerged. His job was to take care of us until we reached the hotel's lounge at the airport (most high-end resorts in the Maldives have these), where we'd wait for our seaplane transfer to the resort.
The first stop was the check-in desk for the seaplane, which was disorganized, but our butler took care of checking our luggage. We didn't see it again until we opened the door to our villa.
Then we were taken in an air-conditioned car to the hotel's lounge where we'd wait for the seaplane flight. Here we could order food and drinks while we waited until there were enough people to fill up the plane. On an iPad we watched a welcome recording from our on-island butler, Mariya, which made us very excited to be there.
The seaplane lounge itself was bright, airy and -- as I mentioned earlier -- had complimentary food and drinks to order such as coffees, muffins and egg dishes.
Before the seaplane flight, staff members gave us earplugs and mints and then we were off. This was my first seaplane ride and as someone who sometimes struggles with plane sickness and heights, I worried. However, I found the ride smooth and even relaxing, though it definitely would not have been if it weren't for the earplugs.
Read more: Is the St. Regis Maldives worth the trip?
Usually, the first place you go when you get to a resort is the lobby to check in. Not here. In fact, we never stepped foot in the lobby building during our stay. We'd begun the check-in process at the seaplane lounge in Male and Mariya our butler was waiting on the deck to greet us and assist us in finishing check-in in our villa.
We were greeted with coconuts filled with a tropical beverage, posed for a photo and then were whisked away in a golf cart with Mariya at the wheel for a tour of the resort. (I commented on the plastic straws in the coconuts and was assured that the resort will be banning them shortly.)
Room 1: Beach villa
We ended up in our beach villa, having received a complimentary upgrade from the garden villa we booked. There were treats around the villa to remind us of our Gold status, which I have thanks to The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required).
The room was airy and had plenty of outlets and a comfortable king-size bed. The entire room was run by an iPad, which worked seamlessly to control everything from the curtains to the TV to the lights. Our villa measured 1,506 square feet, larger than our flat in London.
In addition to our butler Mariya, we had Ahmed, who cleaned our room and generally looked after us. He provided complimentary sandals, beach bag and two different styles of hats that we could use. Perhaps most importantly, he brought us complimentary sunscreen.
The bathroom was gorgeous and spacious with sinks and wardrobes on each side, a shower, bathtub and toilet, plus an oversized outdoor shower. The only downside in the bathroom was that the toilet was glass-walled, meaning that your companion either has to steer clear of the entire bathroom area or be right there with you. However, there was a curtain that you could put down between the toilet and the outdoor shower.
The back patio has a daybed, small table and chairs and a plunge pool measuring 161 square feet, which felt like a perfect size.
Just in front of the plunge pool was perfect white sand with the cerulean sea that makes the Maldives famous and lands the country on most points collectors' bucket lists.
I asked Mariya several times during our stay if any upgrades were possible, as I'd never before stayed in an overwater villa and was dying to try one out. The first few times I asked, Mariya very professionally and very kindly denied our request. However, on our fourth night she found us at cocktail hour and let us know that we would spend our final two nights on the jetty in a resort-facing overwater villa!
Room 2: Overwater villa
The overwater villa is what most people picture when they think of the Maldives -- and it's the room type that TPG reviewed during his stay at this property soon after it opened.
The day we moved across the jetty was overcast and the waters were choppy, but we were beyond happy to be there. Overall the room was gorgeous, but having the TV sitting in the middle of the room struck me as a little odd.
The bathroom was marble, came with products that included free sunscreen and led to the staircase to the ocean.
By far the greatest amenity of this room was the direct access it provided to the sea.
We actually had less privacy than at our beach villa because of the location of our room, which looked at other overwater villas and the rest of the resort.
It was too shallow to jump off but we headed right down the ladder and into the sea.
Our ride across the jetty to the Whale Bar or dinner offered sunset views -- if we ever return, I'd definitely consider paying extra for a sunset-facing villa.
Our transportation of choice was the bicycles that came with our room.
When you arrive, there are a few reasonably priced or free activities that you'll definitely want to book ASAP. My husband signed up for free morning yoga every day. We also signed up for a complimentary photoshoot (with three photos included), along with discounted massages ($125 per person). We also booked a snorkel tour ($80 per person). We arranged for jet skiing but the afternoon we were meant to go was too choppy.
The Iridium Spa is an overwater spa that looks like a lobster from above with each of the treatment rooms resembling a claw. I've been to my fair share of spas in my life and this may be the best I've ever visited.
We enjoyed the hydrotherapy pool, which claimed to reduce all sorts of things from muscle pain to jetlag. It wasn't hot, so as the sun set we found it to be too cold. However, the steam room and sauna inside the dressing rooms (separated by gender) quickly warmed us up.
Our massages were tailored to our requests. The attendants were kind and calming and we were never rushed (a pet peeve of mine at spas). We discovered that the spa was discounted in the early and late hours, so we decided to return. It cost $308 for a 60-minute couples massage, including the 21% tax and service charge -- very reasonable for a five-star resort. I've paid more in Hawaii.
We aren't qualified to scuba dive, so we stuck to snorkels. I definitely recommend taking one of the tours that get you out on the water for $80 per person. There are dolphin cruises and fishing sunset cruises at the same price point. We thoroughly enjoyed our snorkel trip, which took us a short ride away to a shallow reef where we could then explore.
The boat ride itself was lovely, the sea was calm and we could see the island from a different vantage point.
When it comes to outings, a day on the St. Regis yacht comes in around $10,000 for the afternoon. One experience that looked really fun was a Robinson Crusoe experience at $800 per person, which included use of your own private island for the day.
The seas became too rough later in the week to use stand-up paddleboards or kayaks, which were both free. Your butler will liaise with the dive center to let you know best times and days for snorkeling, diving or any other activity on the water. There was a discount on the dive center of 10-20%, depending upon your Marriott Bonvoy status.
Once a week the management puts on a drinks night. Depending on the number of guests on the property, either everyone is invited or the group is limited to those with certain levels of elite status with Marriott. It's normally held on the beach, but on our evening it rained, so we headed inside to Vommuli House, the recreational center that houses the salon, gym, and kids club.
Because of the cost of alcohol at the resort, the event is well attended.
We would also get occasional Whatsapp messages from Mariya inviting us to attend a cooking class or cultural event.
There was a cooking class later in the week that was during the rain and well attended, unsurprisingly.
Vommuli House is the space where the salon, gym and kids club are all located. It was also used for events and gatherings when the weather wasn't great outside.
We were there without our children, but I toured all of the children's facilities, which were stunning.
The only thing that didn't measure up was the official kids' pool which was a shallow lagoon next to the Whale Bar. It is in the middle of a walkway and surrounds a concrete tree holder so it is not very functional.
Instead, families tend to use the main pool since everyone else has their own plunge pools and, of course, the sea. Despite the resort being near capacity, I only saw one family use the main pool over the seven days. The vibe was predictably calm and quiet at all times.
There are two things that the St. Regis Maldvies doesn't want to advertise -- the cost of food and beverages and the rain. We ended up going to the spa and gym when it rained, but you should have a rain plan. You can keep yourself occupied in the library where you can pick out a book to read, and there's also Netflix available in each room where you can sign into your own account. Just remember to sign out, as the TVs don't do that automatically.
Food and beverage
You've heard it a thousand times before, but the cost of food and beverages at The St. Regis Maldives is infamous. There are entire Facebook groups and Flyertalk threads devoted to the subject. It is expensive, the portions are not large by American or even British standards and there's nowhere else to eat.
However, there is some relief in the form of the Marriott Bonvoy food-and-beverage credit. The offer is not widely advertised but if used correctly, it can save you some money. After asking about it, our butler presented us with a letter detailing the offer. We had to make a decision by the end of our first day.
Our offer explained that if we prepaid $300 per night, we would receive $350 worth of food and beverage per night. The credit can vary based on your status and the time of year, so inquire on your first day.
There are six restaurants on-site and we ate at five of them. The one we missed was the semi-private dining experience with wine pairings at Decanter. It was already fully booked when we arrived. It is only offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays but the people who went raved about it when we asked.
Breakfast is an elite welcome amenity to Platinum members or above. Otherwise, breakfast is $80+ at Alba Restaurant every morning. In addition to the stocked buffet and free-flowing prosecco, you could order a la carte from the menu. We could sit inside or outside and never had any issue finding a table.
For lunch there aren't many options, but the go-to is Crust, the pizza place on the beach.
A pizza comes in around $35 and can be shared, depending on your hunger level. My husband found it to be a perfect serving size for one. One afternoon we wanted pizza sent to our villa, but it was an extra $20 so we picked it up and brought it back ourselves.
Our dinners ranged from $275-$500 each evening with drinks, tip and tax (21%). We did not hold back -- this was a big trip for us. The bottles of water are $14 (plus tip and tax) so watch out for those. Water is free in the room and many people carried water bottles to refill at breakfast, in the room and in the gym for free.
Orientale is on the beach and features Japanese, Chinese and Indian food. The Japanese food was delicious; the Chinese and Indian food and desserts were just OK (for the price). The trio of maki below was delicious and $40. Another night we had a plate of sashimi for $40 that was equally good.
The steaks we ate at Orientale were delicious -- we still talk about them to this day! My husband had a Nori-crusted beef tenderloin ($49) and I had the Wagyu beef striploin ($59). The portions were a great value for the St. Regis and so good that we returned a second time to have the same thing.
Cargo is a Mediterranean restaurant with a set menu that has just a few choices located in the middle of the island rather than on the ocean. It has a fixed-priced menu that will set you back $250 for two people, without drinks.
Once a week there is a fresh seafood bonfire, usually held on the beach. It was raining during the evening it was scheduled during our stay, so it moved inside Alba. Everything is priced by weight so it can be hard to judge costs. I watched a newlywed use his phone calculator and audibly gasp when he realized his lobster would be over $200 (he put it back).
Our dinner ranged in price from $40 for the 200g tuna steak to $90 for the 500g reef fish (grouper). My favorite dish was the Alba Chocolate fondant ($25).
On our final night, we ate at Alba. I ordered the $96 surf&turf, which came to over $115 with tip and tax. I had to take a photo next to my hand to show the scale. It wasn't a huge portion, but it was delicious -- and I still had room for my favorite chocolate fondant.
Although we didn't have our children with us, I took a look at what my 2-year-old and 4-year-old would have been ordering -- $19 plus 21% tax and fee for a hot dog would have added up fast.
Whale Bar has a nightly sunset routine that's unique to all St. Regis properties: a Champagne sabering and subsequent glasses for all. Because we mostly kept to ourselves, it was nice to socialize for 30 minutes or so.
I didn't do extensive due diligence before this trip other than a cursory check on TPG. I learned a lot from the other guests who were also basking in the glow of the 60,000-point redemption rate as the sun set over the ocean. The rapport among the guests was palpable. Many of them visited each other's villas and discussed returning the following year. They talked about renting the yacht for the sunset cruise, which was a discounted (in relative terms) $500 per person. By our final days, $1,000 (plus 21% tax) for a sunset cruise almost started to sound reasonable. My husband and I became fully acclimated to the St. Regis prices and were lulled by the dream landscape.
The guests would become extra excited the night that their butler took the lead in sabering Champagne bottles and rooted them on. Then we relaxed with a glass of Champagne (or non-alcoholic alternative) and watched the sunset before heading to dinner or the spa.
The outstanding service culture at this hotel was evident before we even arrived. I emailed the hotel ahead of time to let them know that we'd be celebrating our 40th birthdays during our stay, and the hotel offered us a bottle of prosecco and free 60-minute (shared) dip in the Blue Hole, the Iridium Spa's hydrotherapy pool, as a gift.
The St. Regis staff and its attention to detail was a standout part of our visit, beginning with our butler Mariya (who was shared with a few other guests and seemed to work 24/7). When I rode my bike around the island, I would often only see staff, not other guests.
Read more: What travelers need to know about tipping hotel staff
Mariya reminded us of our dinner reservations and arranged for our activities.
There would be employees smoothing out potential potholes or uneven sand in the road. When I passed an employee for the first time on my bike, he lowered his sunglasses, looked me in the eye and put his hand on his heart. It felt genuine. This happened dozens of times and at times even made me tear up.
One morning at breakfast we saw a couple from Ohio whom we had befriended and who seemed in a low mood. I asked what had happened. The husband raised his left hand which was missing a ring. He lost it snorkeling off the beach in front of their villa. I said that the resort would help them, but they didn't seem hopeful. When we saw each other again at sunset, he proudly showed his hand, complete with wedding ring. A team of seven St Regis staff members had donned dive and snorkel gear and searched until they found his gold band.
My time at the St Regis feels like a dream that happened to someone else. Before we went, I worried that I'd feel trapped -- I didn't. If anything, I wish I had taken advantage of more of the activities. I worried that I'd miss my kids at a family-friendly resort -- nope. Instead, on my first trip since having children, someone else took care of me. The service was other-worldly. If we left our bikes somewhere overnight, they magically returned to our villa. The staff memorized our favorite drinks.
Mostly, it was the setting, however. The quiet beaches, the crystal-clear water, the feeling that nothing was rushed and everything was available. My favorite memories were riding around the island and finding patches of beach with no one in sight. Being in a dream-like setting without a care in the world and with hundreds of people working to ensure you have an amazing time made me realize why I got into the points game in the first place.
I also valued the absence of "insta-traps" that many beach resorts have. No swings or floating breakfasts. No influencers at every turn. Sure, we all wanted to take a few photos, and in a true paradise, it's natural to want to share it. Although the entire island looks like a photoshoot, the resort wasn't designed for photography at every turn.
The Maldives was at the top of my points redemption list, but I knew in advance that we needed to save up a good amount of cash as well for our incidentals. Would I redeem for another stay if I could find rooms at 85,000 points per night? Absolutely. I've already looked into what it'd take to allow me to return for five nights in the fall.
Photos by the author unless where otherwise specified.