2 weeks in Taiwan, Singapore, and the Maldives on miles and points

Conrad Maldives pool

Here’s a quick writeup on my recent trip to the Maldives.  Maybe one day, I’ll do like all the other bloggers and split it up to 10 different posts with pictures of each day.  😉

First off, when my wife and I travel overseas, we don’t just go to 1 location.  It’s usually 2 or 3 locations. That’s mainly because the award routing rules let you do that, so why not take advantage of them. The main destination of this trip was the Maldives of course.  We had already gone to Tahiti/Bora Bora on our honeymoon and wanted to compare it to the Maldives.  In the miles and points game, these 2 locations are the most aspirational destinations in the world.  Why?  Because they are absolutely gorgeous and more importantly, you can use miles and points at these 2 locations.  I’m sure there are more beautiful places on Earth with expensive boutique hotels, but in the miles and points world, you have to stick to places that have Hiltons, Hyatts, and Starwoods, and even then, the cash cost is usually over $1,000 per night at these locations, but by redeeming points, you are getting the most value from your points at these 2 destinations. So without further ado, I explain how I did all this on miles and points.

 

2 business class tickets from Seattle to Maldives

Retail Cost – $10,400 per ticket so $20,800 total (but realistically, I would have paid like $1500 in coach per person)

Cash Cost – $56.80 per ticket so $114 total (airport taxes)

Points Used – 160K per ticket so 320K total

So I booked this ticket back in March for a Thanksgiving departure.  The reason for that is because I had to find availability for 2 business class tickets to 3 destinations, and the farther out you book, the better your chances of finding seats.  Also note this was after the huge United devaluation, so that’s why it cost 160K per ticket instead of 110K.  I had amassed 750K United points at this point due to a lot of shopping on the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, which I then transferred to United. Anyway, to book this ticket, you have to understand that United’s ‘roundtrip’ award consists of 2 oneways and 1 stopover.  So my ticket was from Seattle to Taipei (stopover) to Singapore (destination).  That was my first oneway.  My 2nd oneway was from the Maldives to Seattle.  That’s how you get 3 destinations on 1 award ticket.  You may have noticed that I didn’t mention Singapore to the Maldives.  That is because that would have been an invalid route since I can’t have 2 stopovers (both Taipei and Singapore).  Therefore, I booked a 1-way ticket from Singapore to the Maldives on Tiger Air for cheap.

 

2 economy tickets from Singapore to Maldives

Retail Cost – $160 per ticket so $320 total

Cash Cost – $0

Points Used – 32K Barclays points

I paid this in cash, but I used my Barclays Arrival card to redeem 32K Barclays Arrival points to credit the cash cost.  This was a 4 hour coach flight.  I didn’t realize how bad it was until the guy in front of me reclined.  That’s when I was wishing for the coach flights back in the US.  Regardless, the 4 hour flight flew by pretty fast (if that’s even possible.)

 

3 nights at Grand Hyatt Taipei

Retail Cost – $279 x 3 = $837

Cash Cost – $150 (credit card annual fee x 2)

Points Used – 2 free annual Hyatt award nights + 12K in points

I have the Chase Hyatt card which if you pay the annual fee every year; you get 1 free award night up to a category 4 hotel.  It was a coincidence that I was able to straddle 2 free award nights.  So I basically paid $75 instead of $279.  This hotel is supposedly haunted because it was built over a cemetery.  We didn’t see or hear anything “funny” while we were there.  Plus, it was right across from Taipei 101 and a 5 minute walk to the subway system.  I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Taipei.

 

2 nights at Intercontinental Singapore

Retail Cost – $170 x 2 = $340

Cash Cost – $98 (credit card annual fee x 2)

Points Used – 2 free annual Priority Club award nights

My wife and I both have the Chase PC credit card.  Once again, if you pay the annual fee every year, you get 1 free award night at ANY PC hotel.  We chose to use it here just because 1) Singapore hotels are grossly expensive and 2) we didn’t have any future travel plans that would give us as good a redemption rate. As for the hotel, we told them we were celebrating our anniversary and they really hooked it up for us (see my pictures).  It’s above the Brugis MRT stop and connected to a mall.  They also gave us 2 free drinks off the full menu for being Plat members (just for having the cc).  I won’t credit that as a saving, but it definitely was a nice perk.

 

5 nights at Conrad Maldives

Retail Cost – $1464 x 5 = $7,320 (I included the 10% tip and 12% tax here)

Cash Cost – $95 (credit card annual fee)

Points Used – 2 free nights + 285K Hilton points

This is one of the most aspirational Conrad properties and one of the best use of Hilton points.  The standard room goes for over $1K a night, but you are also spending 95K HH points a night (getting nearly 1.5 cent of value is incredible for a Hilton point, which usually averages around .5 cents of value).  I had initially spent nearly 500K HH points, but at the last minute, I applied for the Citi Hilton Reserve card.  This card gave me Gold status and more importantly, 2 free weekend certificates at ANY Hilton, and so I changed my rsvp to 3 nights on points and 2 nights on the card.

With a Gold member, you also get the breakfast buffet for free for you and a guest.  Else this would have been at least $50 a person per day, and so for 5 nights, this saved me over $500.   I also used AMEX Offers which just so happened to be giving $75 for every $400 spent per AMEX card.  I brought 5 AMEX cards and asked them to split the total charge of $2400 over 5 AMEX cards and the last on the Citi Hilton (10 HH points per $ charged).  The reason why the total charge was over $2400 was because the Conrad is on its own atoll and you can only access it by seaplane, which costs $550 per person round trip.  We also splurged and got the 3 hrs couples massage, which was ~$600.  The rest was spent on food, which was ridiculously expensive.  We ate at the Rangali bar, which is the most casual and cheapest restaurant 3 of the nights and got a waygu burger for $30, lobster for $40, and the best tandoori chicken thin crust pizza I’ve ever had for like $27.  We didn’t do any excursions.  We also decided not to upgrade from our beach villa to an over the water villa for ~$300 a night since we did that already in Tahiti.  Also, Gold members got a free happy hour from 5-6 which included alcohol, so we were pretty tipsy by 6.  We then rolled over to the Rangali bar’s 50% off happy hour and got one of the best mojitos ever for $9.  And that’s where we usually ate too. We went to the underwater restaurant Ithaa.  They have a 4 course lunch for something like $250 pp and a set course dinner for like $500 pp.  Ridiculous!  We decided to go for cocktail hour, which was a glass of champagne and spent $65 pp (ridiculous in itself).

 

1 night at Crowne Plaza Airport Singapore

Retail Cost – $258

Cash Cost – $0

Points Used – 40K PC points

Ridiculously expensive hotel, but because it’s attached to the airport, it’s also the most convenient.  We were arriving at 10pm and leaving the next day at 2pm.  I figure we saved $50 on taxi fees for not getting a hotel in the city as well as the time savings.  The hotel also gave us 2 free drink tickets, but had a specific ‘free drinks menu,’ which wasn’t as good as the full menu at the Intercontinental.

 


 

Total Retail cost – $29,875 ($12,075 if you count realistic airfare of $3K total in coach)

Cash Cost – $1,557 (incl seaplane but not counting food and misc)

Total Points redeemed – 689,000 points (approx cost to accumulate – ~$1,100)

As I write this, I’m still debating whether the Maldives is better than Bora Bora.  I think they both have pros and cons, but you can’t go wrong with either.  The main advantage is that for US folks, Bora Bora is easier to get to.  And you can island hop so you’re not bored out of your mind.  After 3-4 days, I was getting bored.  Plus, I don’t like 90 degree sun and so you only have a very short window to do stuff.

Edit – I need to explain how I accumulated the 689K points.  Let’s break that down starting first with Hilton’s 285K points.  I had the AMEX Hilton which gave me 6X at grocery stores, which I bought gift cards.  285K / 6 = $47.5K.  The gift cards cost 1%, so I spent about $475 in gift card costs to accumulate the 285K HH points.  The 40K PC points came from my initial 80K signup bonus from the PC credit card (I don’t manufacture PC points). The 32K Barclays points was accumulated using the Arrival card that gives 2X on every purchase, so I had to spend 16K.  I got these by loading USBuxxx cards at $2.50 per $500.  So this cost me $80.  The 320K United + 12K Hyatt came from Chase Ultimate Rewards points, so that’s 332K.  Half of these came from signup bonuses, so basically “free.”  I also used a lot of buying and reselling stuff on Ebay using the Chase shopping portal where I made sure every item made a profit (not counting the portal points), so they are also “free”.  So let’s say 25% of the 332K is manufacturered, so that’s 83K.  I would accumulate those from using the Ink card at Staples for 5X buying $200 VGC, so that 83K would cost me $581.  So all up, that’s about $1,100.  Add that to the cash cost, the trip cost about $2,500 instead of $12,000 coach tickets.

  • Tri

    Great trip report, Vinh. I want to go to Maldives so bad. I have enough points and miles to do it, but our work schedule doesn’t allow it. Have you ever used your miles/points for a trip to Viet Nam?

    • Miles per Day

      I’ve been there 10 times in my life, the last 2 times were using miles/points. I mostly used United miles on Eva or ANA or Asiana to get there.

      • Tri

        I also used United miles to get there. I am amazed at your scale on manufactured spending. You are probably on par with Greg (FM).

        • Miles per Day

          I’m pretty sure I do more MS than Greg. 😉 But he makes a lot more money on his blog than me.

  • Paul

    Your trip report is very timely as we have a trip coming up to the Conrad Rangali in Jan! It’s interesting that you mention about the Amex $75 off $400 offer. Did the $75 credit from Amex post to your account? I am asking because there was a fine print in the offer that said it was valid only for US properties. Knowing the outcome would help us a great deal for our trip!

    Thanks,
    Paul

    • Paul, I didn’t even see that fine print. No wonder I got no “Congrats you used this offer” email. I even tweeted Ask Amex yesterday about it, and they said it would take up to 90 days after my billing statement closes. This may be one of those times I call up AMEX 3 months from now and play dumb to ask why I didn’t get it (and hopefully they give it to me as a goodwill gesture). Thus, I wouldn’t count on using it Paul. Thanks for reading my blog though.