How We Booked Our Anniversary Trip to Dubai and the Maldives Using Points & Miles

My wife and I just celebrated our second wedding anniversary (11 years together in total if you can believe that!) and per our tradition, we decided to spend it in some exotic locations halfway around the world. For our honeymoon two years ago, we spent 8 nights in Moorea/Bora Bora and last year for our first anniversary, we went to Bali and Phuket. While it is getting decidedly tougher to keep topping our previous honeymoon/anniversary trips, this trip was probably our favorite yet. Here is how I booked this amazing trip to Dubai and the Maldives using points & miles.

Booking our Flights:

To Dubai/Maldives:

For this special trip, I knew I wanted to fly either business or first class and in particular there was one product I really wanted to try – Emirates First Class. The most feasible way to book this is with Alaskan Airlines miles and one huge perk of the Alaska program is a free stopover, even on one-way awards. As such, since I wanted to stop in Dubai on my way to the Maldives, it made the most sense to book an award from JFK to Dubai (stopover for 2 nights) then onward to the Maldives.

Emirates First Class

Shower for First Class Passengers

Shower for First Class Passengers

The cost for this award is 90,000 Alaska miles per person one-way and as stated, whether I flew NY to Maldives or NY-Dubai (stopover)-Maldives the cost is the same. The flight from JFK to Dubai was on the flagship A380 which has showers for first class passengers. The flight from Dubai to Male was supposed to be operated a Boeing 777 with older first class seats (no suite) but 3 days before the flight, the equipment was changed to a 777-300ER which meant a first class suite for the short 4 hour flight!

Can't beat this for a 4 hour flight!

Can’t beat this for a 4 hour flight!

To get these miles, I’ve been churning Bank of America Alaska Airline cards for a while now and to supplement the remaining amount needed, I transferred some SPG points to Alaska. I couldn’t book this award online with the stopover but calling Alaska Airlines was a piece of cake and this award was booked in no time over the phone.

Home from the Maldives:

I didn’t have anymore Alaska miles (otherwise I would have tried to route home on Emirates First Class again) so I turned to another Middle Eastern carrier and booked a first class award on Etihad. The final routing was simply Male-Abu Dhabi-JFK. While not as flashy as Emirates, Etihad offers a very solid first class product with a enclosed suite but alas no showers #firstworldproblems.

Etihad First Class Suite

Etihad First Class Suite

The two center seats in the photo above were our seats for the 14 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to JFK but for the Male to Abu Dhabi leg, Etihad only flies an narrow body Airbus A320 which was kind of a disappointment compared to all the other flights on this trip (Maldivian flights notwithstanding) but it was perfectly fine for the 4 hour flight.

The best way to book Etihad flights is with American Airlines miles and to book this first class flight home the cost was 90,000 miles one way per person. Unfortunately with AA’s announced devaluation, this award will increase to a staggering 115,000 miles one way which will be the second most expensive award on the AA award chart (the highest will be first class to Africa for 120,000 miles one way).

Booking our Hotels:

Dubai:

We stayed a total of 2 nights in Dubai but it was really just one full day as we landed around 8pm on a Friday night and our flight to the Maldives left early Sunday morning. My goal for Dubai was to use some expiring free night certificates from the Hyatt credit card, which allows you to book a category 1 -4 hotel for free. In Dubai, there are several Hyatt hotels in categories 1-4 so we chose the nicest which in my opinion which was the Grand Hyatt Dubai.

1441

Welcome Gift

Grand Hyatt Dubai

Grand Hyatt Dubai, courtesy of Hyatt

As you probably know, you only get 1 free night certificate per year for renewing the Hyatt credit card but I shared a trick/tip on how to extend the expiration date of a Hyatt free night certificate here. By extending it, I was able to use last year’s certificate which was due to expire in September 2015 PLUS this year’s free night certificate to cover my two nights. Rooms generally go for $200-$300 a night but we actually got upgraded to a deluxe room so the $75 annual fee for renewing the Hyatt card was well worth it!

Maldives:

I would argue there are only two realistic hotels to use points at in the Maldives – The Conrad and the Park Hyatt. Yes there are others but they are either insanely expensive with points (W, St Regis) or get awful reviews (Holiday Inn, Sheraton). The Conrad Maldives cost points 95,000 points a night while the Park Hyatt Maldives is 25,000 points per night. Based on our point balances, the easy call was to go for the Park Hyatt Maldives.

1565

Our OW Villa – Number 48

1609

Another shot of Villa 48

About 10 months before the trip, I had my wife apply for the Hyatt credit card which gives you 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world. Arguably, this is one of the best redemption for these free nights as nights generally go for over $1,000/night here. Those free night certificates covered the first 2 nights while the remaining 4 nights (we stayed 6 nights total) I used my Hyatt points which I transferred in from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

It is important to note that these free nights only book into the land villas which are still fantastic, huge villas that offer a direct path to the beach. However, we traveled all this way and  I could not resist upgrading to an overwater villa for a few nights. This paid upgrade cost $400/night but was totally worth it. We also tried out a land villa with a private pool which I will discuss more in the trip report to follow over the next few weeks.

In short, this was probably our favorite trip we’ve ever taken as we got expierence a true first class experience on Emirates and Etihad and the natural beatuy of the Maldives. The stopover in Dubai was great for 2 nights to break up the trip and I think it is worth seeing Dubai but not for more than 2 nights. We used a total of 180,000 Alaska miles, 180,000 AA miles, 2 Hyatt Free Night Certificates, 2 Hyatt Anniversary Free Night Certificates and 100,000 Hyatt points. To think this trip would easily cost over $30,000 and we did it for almost nothing with points and miles is simply amazing to me, even after all these years. 

Full trip report to follow with tons of pictures!

Good Deal Alert: Save 10-15% on All Hyatt Hotels + Easy Hyatt Diamond Status Match

Update: Hyatt is now only matching to Platinum status unless you are top tier at SPG, Hilton or Marriott. 

There are actually two separate promotions going on right that anyone with future Hyatt stays should take advantage of. Let’s break them down.

1. Save 10-15% on All Future Hyatt Stays – It what appears to be an annual offering from Hyatt, through November 24th per this Flyertalk thread, Hyatt is offering 10% off gift cards, e-gift cards and certificate checks when using promo code GPGIFT15. Here is the link to purchase these gift cards or certificates.

HyattGiftCard HyattGiftCard

However there is a way to make this offer better if you have an American Express business card enrolled in OPEN Savings (such as the SPG Business or Amex Business Platinum cards). In years past, purchasing gift cards would qualify for the 5% discount offered by the OPEN Savings program for Hyatt purchases and I assume this will continue to be the case this year as well.  This is the last year you can use this benefit as Hyatt is leaving the OPEN Savings program on 1/1/16 so make sure to put these purchases on a card that is enrolled in OPEN Savings even if means giving up 3x Hyatt points for using the Hyatt Visa as I much rather earn 1 SPG point & get an extra 5% discount  instead.

This is a great way to lock in a ~15% discount (technically slightly less than 15%) on all future Hyatt stays. I am participating in this offer as even though I have a few Hyatt stays next year booked solely on points, this is a fantastic way to basically get 15% off all incidents at the hotel (food, activities etc.)

2. Easy Status Match to Diamond Status – The big news yesterday was that Hyatt has introduced a new status match to Hyatt Diamond status that will be quite easy for many of you to achieve. All Hyatt is asking for to get matched to Diamond status is proof of elite status at any other hotel chain with at least one eligible stay this year. Now many of us have some form of elite status from credit cards and most of them will work for this status match! If you have Hilton Gold (from the  American Express Surpass or Citi Hilton Reserve credit cards), IHG Platinum (from IHG credit card), Marriott Gold (from Ritz Carlton credit card) or Starwood Gold (American Express Platinum card), you can use that to get matched!

You can either send a DM to their twitter team @HyattConcierge but I recommend emailing Hyatt Gold Passport at goldpassport@hyatt.com with proof of your elite status, proof of at least one stay and your Hyatt Membership number. As you might expect, they are overwhelmed with responses so it is taking some time for them to respond so don’t expect a response right away. To be honest, this deal seems too good to be true but people are already reporting success so let’s hope it continues for everyone else!

Our Awful Experience Trying to Get to the Park Hyatt Maldives

Update: I got to speak with the Hyatt General manager via phone while waiting (and major props to him for that) and he was told it was due to technical difficulties. I told him that wasn’t true as I was able confirm with the staff here that exact same plane flew us back to Male. So it was unsafe to fly 15 minutes to Kooddoo but safe enough to fly 45 minutes back to Male?

I’m writing this post as I need to vent about our awful experience trying to get to the Park Hyatt Maldives – in fact we still aren’t there yet and I’m back sitting in the Moonimaa Lounge in Male for the second time today. Let me explain.

To reach the Park Hyatt Maldives, you first need to fly into Male international airport, then transfer to a domestic Maldivian airlines flight which make a stop at another airport before reaching Kooddoo. Once at Kooddoo you have a 30 minute boat ride direct to the resort.

Today started off great as we flew Emirates 652 DXB-MLE in first class with suites (there was a late aircraft switch) and we landed at 3pm local time in Male. Our flight to Kooddoo was scheduled to depart at 5:15pm but unfortunately was making a “20 minute” stopover in Kaadehdhoo. At 5pm we were informed our flight was delayed 30 minutes and would take off at 5:45pm which it did. So a small delay but nothing to complain about.

We landed in Kaadehdhoo at ~6:30pm and about half the passengers deplaned as many of them were going to the Six Senses resort. The pilot announced the stop would take 20 minutes or so and everything looked fine at this point so we could fly the 15 minutes to Kooddoo. Around 7pm, we were still on the plane with the door open and we could tell something was wrong as the ground staff and pilot were discussing something intently. Finally, we were informed there was an additional 30 minute delay and they escorted us off the plane into a waiting room at the airport.

It is 8pm now and the waiting room is filling us as new passengers are arriving to the airport who were schedule to depart for Male. We are finally told boarding will begin but the plane was going BACK to Male instead of continuing on 15 minutes. We were given no explanation and when we asked the flight attendant all we got was “there a flight schedule change”.

What?!?! We have finished one leg of the flight and NOW they do a schedule change? I’ve never heard such a thing! So without any choice, we flew back to Male and landed a little after 9pm. So 6 hours after I got to Male, I am right back after flying a roundtrip to Kaadehdhoo for no reason. The best part was landing in Male and the staff having NO idea what to do with us (a woman comes on board and goes “more than 8 of you?” and runs off obviously not prepared for us). Finally someone has the wise idea of leading us off the aircraft to the lounge which is nothing to write home about.

20151004-132251.jpg

Our new flight time is 11:15pm (which is about an hour from now) so I’ll be sure to update this post if any further delays or mishaps occur. With the Park Hyatt being 1 hour ahead, we are not expected to arrive now until close to 2am. This isn’t at all the Park Hyatt’s fault but it does leave a sour taste in my mouth as this is suppose to be a relaxing trip and this hasn’t been a great experience thus far. Is a 6+ hour delay & taking a domestic flight for no reason the worst thing in the world? No, its not but any fanfare or joy of arriving will now be focused on getting to our room as quick as possible and gong to bed.

Thanks Maldivian Air!

End Rant.

PSA: You Can Extend the Life of Hyatt Anniversary Award Nights By More Than 30 Days

Update: As of Hyatt’s IT update in January 2016, this is no longer an option. All stays must be completed by the expiration date on the certificate.

I’ve had the Chase Hyatt Visa for several years now and I renew it solely for the annual free anniversary night which is valid at Category 1-4 hotels. Each year my anniversary night must be used by August 31st or I lose it. However, there is a little know policy that Hyatt Gold Passport can actually grant a courtesy, one time exception in which they will extend the expiration by 30 days. This is actually a policy Hyatt has confirmed publicly but many people still don’t know about it. So while you probably just learned something, I recently tested and proved you can do better by extending it even further out.

This all started when I started looking for an award night in Abu Dhabi for early October as I built in a one day layover (really 21 hours) in Abu Dhabi on our way to the Maldives. My goal was to use the annual anniversary free night from my Hyatt credit card since August was here and I still hadn’t used my anniversary night. I had to find a Category 1-4 Hyatt in Abu Dhabi and it turns out there is a perfect hotel that would work for us – the Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi, a category 3 hotel that looks fantastic and gets great reviews as the 13th ranked hotel in all of Abu Dhabi. 

Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi

Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi

This would be perfect except even with a 30 day extension my anniversary night would expire on September 30th – my reservation would be for the first week in October so I needed 32 days. Instead of resorting to using next year’s anniversary night (that was valid until 8/31/16) I turned to the power of social media and contacted @HyattConcierge asking for help. I explained I wanted to use my expiring anniversary night and understood a 30 day extension was possible but I was really hoping I could get a 32 day extension if that was at all possible. Sure enough by simply asking, it worked!

Hyatt Convo

However, Hyatt did better than just extending my expiration date by 2 days. They ended up giving me a whole another month to use it and extended the free night until October 31, 2015! I noticed this when I went to My Awards in my Hyatt Gold Passport account online and saw this year’s anniversary night (which is now marked as redeemed since I am using it for an October stay at the Capital Gate Abu Dhabi) & compared it to next year’s anniversary award which has the same August expiration date I see every year. I’m guessing that based on a technological limitation on Hyatt’s end, the expiration must be a month end so I really got a 2 month extension from the original expiration date.

Notice the difference in expiration dates between my two anniversary nights

Notice the difference in expiration dates between my two anniversary nights

Summary:

By simply telling Hyatt I needed two extra days (after taking into account the 30 days they would have granted me) to use my anniversary award night, they were kind of enough to grant me an extension greater than what is generally allowed. By doing that, I was actually able to extend my expiration date by a total of 60 days which in essence gave me more than a 14 month window to use my anniversary night. I don’t see why others wouldn’t be able to replicate this though I think it would help if you tell them a specific circumstance and the dates/hotel you are looking to book with the extended anniversary night. The lesson here is before resorting to throwing away the anniversary night because it is about to expire, it doesn’t hurt to ask Hyatt if they can extend it. I was pleasantly surprised with my results!