Cancelling the Maldives (or how we considered all of the factors and made the right decision)
As Astrid told you before Christmas, we booked an amazing holiday for May in the Maldives. While Astrid gave you a couple of glimpses of what The Deeves (as I’ve come to fondly refer to them) look like, and that it is a “fancy-schmancy resort in the Indian Ocean,” she didn’t explain why we chose that. Well, this is the back story of how we got to the point of planning and getting excited about going there, and then the new story of how our excitement turned to concern, ultimately leading to cancellation, and the emergence of a new plan.
Well, it all started with a twofer (geez, how many stories start that way, I wonder?). You see, my British Airways AMEX card (that I finally signed up for, despite general reluctance, to use for work travel expenses) gives you a 2-4-1 voucher when you hit a certain amount of spending in a year; some bloggers have claimed that this is the “most valuable perk in the UK loyalty card sector”. I should probably note that the UK is fairly far behind the US in terms of the crazy credit card bonuses and what not that have spawned a huge industry of bloggers and other assorted nutters. If you don’t know, there are legions of people applying, getting, and ditching all sorts of credit cards (it is called “churning”) in the US to capture the sign-up bonuses and minimum-spend bonuses and other giveaways.
Anyway, I digress. We thought that, since it was a genuine by-product of old-fashioned blood, sweat, and tears, we should try to benefit from it – and who doesn’t like something for nothing? Well, it turns out that it isn’t quite that simple (as explained in the 1,150-word terms and conditions!). While the 2-4-1 means that you can book a reward ticket (i.e. using air miles) for two people for the “price” of one, it comes also with a number of caveats. As the recipient, I have to be one of the two people travelling, and we have to be travelling on the exact same ticket (same dates/times/locations). That might not sound like a problem, but as we like to plan vacations that build onto my work trips, it won’t really work for that. The travel has to originate in the UK and can only be on British Airways planes (and not on any oneworld alliance or other codeshare partners). This means that we are limited to travelling from London to a destination served directly by British Airways.
The worst part, though, is the bane of existence for all miles and points aficionados – you still have to pay the taxes and fees! This is a double-whammy leaving from the UK and with British Airways, as Britain has some of the highest departure taxes in the world, and BA then piles on some of the highest fuel surcharges in the world. In sum, what this means is that reward tickets using air miles – at least with British Airways flights from London – are nowhere near actually being free. A “free” round-trip ticket to New York might only require 40,000 miles, but it also will cost you about £380 (about $600) in taxes and fees. Alternatively, you can usually buy a ticket for between £400 and £500 ($650-$800) with a reasonable amount of notice (and earn miles in the process!). Now, the equation is a bit different for premium-cabin travel; while LON-NYC would cost take 80,000 miles in business class and about £620 (nearly $1000), the cheapest ticket you can buy is going to be at least £1500 ($2400), and probably over £2000 ($3200).
So, back the The Deeves. We scanned the map of British Airways destinations from London and tried to find something that was appealing and that would be good value. I should note that European destinations are already (quite helpfully) available for a great deal with a pretty small number of miles and a reduced, fixed total payment for taxes and fees, meaning that there is no real value in using the 2-4-1 for any of these. Instead, long-haul is the way to go – and our eyes lit up when we saw Sydney on the map (200,000 miles per person for the 42-hour round-trip journey in business class). But it turns out that people book that as soon as it is open, a year in advance – and the £800 (nearly $1300) in taxes and fees per person are nothing to sneeze at either! Ultimately, we tried a bunch of possible destinations, and wanted something relaxing and something that we might not otherwise do. I had read about the Maldives in numerous travel blogs as an exotic destination, and a good one to go to on points and miles – and I happened to find availability in premium economy for some viable dates in May. BA flies 3x/week from London Gatwick to Male (the capital of The Deeves), which takes about 10 hours – overnight going there and daytime coming back.
Perfect! We booked the flights for 75,000 miles (getting the 75k for the second person free) and £930 (nearly $1500) in taxes and fees, giving us four nights there. Still, the retail price for what we booked was £2738 (nearly $4400), and even tickets in economy would have been more than £1600/$2550. So, we were quite pleased with that value, and started to get excited about planning. The next most important thing was accommodations – especially in The Deeves, where in most cases each resort is its own island. Most of the resorts are quite well-regarded, but of course also quite expensive; we’re talking several hundred £s / pushing $1000 per night! So, in keeping with the spirit of this plan, we looked to points. We found that we could use Hilton points to stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island – and with no taxes or fees added on. My Hilton gold status would also get us some perks, including daily full breakfast and early evening happy hour, Internet, and even a bottle of wine and chocolates upon arrival. So, we booked that as well, and were extra pleased to have found a deal for 37,500 points per night, well below the advertised 50,000 points per night (which is the basic rate for all top-tier Hilton properties worldwide).
Now, at that point, everything was all set, and we started reading some reviews of The Deeves and the Conrad in particular – like this one – to help plan. That’s where we ran into a problem…
This is the only advertised way to get from the airport in Male to the resort is by this air taxi. As you know, I hate taxis, but this one sounded pretty cool – what a way to arrive! Furthermore, there is a Conrad lounge at the airport terminal where you can have breakfast and relax before the resort’s self-labelled “road to paradise” – a 90km, 30-min ride. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends; the seaplane costs just over $500 (£310) per person! Just to get there, then, our “free” trip was already going to cost us £1600/$2500. We started to worry a bit. I decided to inquire with the resort as to whether there were any other ways of getting there. Very helpfully, a representative responded that private speed boat transfers can be arranged, at the low, low rate of $3500 + taxes each way.
The nail in the coffin, however, was reading about food prices; while we had breakfast included, we found several reports on the Internet stating that dinners were typically $200-$300 per person without alcohol…or say $2000 for the two of us for four nights. Plus, being stranded on an island meant no cheap lunch options either. We considered whether taking a ton (well, at least up to 50lbs) of ramen noodles in a second suitcase would work, but…that didn’t really sound like the kind of relaxing getaway we wanted – nor did constantly worrying about how much such relaxation was costing!
So, we made the responsible and sensible decision to cancel The Deeves. Clearly, we are nowhere near wealthy enough to go for this sort of place even for “free”. Also, given that we don’t even know if we would like the style (being more city break type of people), it certainly wouldn’t be worth it!
We realized also that we could abandon the 2-4-1 voucher if need be (it expires in mid-July, but most options in business class, including to the US, were already booked when we looked in late December). Wanting some sort of vacation in May, we then decided to do the reasonable and very exciting thing of adding two weeks of vacation onto the end of my work trip to Buenos Aires. Forget The Deeves – we’re (now, and for real this time, we think) going to Argentina and Chile!
We have now managed to get an amazing deal for Astrid to join me in Buenos Aires by purchasing a round-trip from Madrid to South America – just 110,000 miles in business class on Iberia and a grand total of just £88 ($140) in taxes and fees for the nearly 13-hour flight! We will of course also have to get Astrid between London and Madrid, but those trips are available for just 15,000 miles and £60 ($100) round-trip. So, all that’s left is making an itinerary and arranging accommodations – but early research suggests that we can do it relatively affordably. Sorry for faking everyone out about The Maldives, but we’re glad that we’ve now made the right choice for May and can’t wait to get there!