Jordan, Like a Boss

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the *acute* comfort of my very first Ryanair flight, a four hour debacle commencing in Tel Aviv and culminating in Kaunas, Lithuania. I’m taking Harrison for a very special surprise birthday trip- having managed to keep our destination a secret until we arrived to the airport in Tel Aviv. Pretty cool, right?

Even cooler is the fact that last weekend Harrison and I took a weekend trip to Jordan. That’s one of the nice things about Israel; it’s located in the Middle East, which means that direct flights to quite a lot of the world are extremely short.

Now, before I talk about all the fun we had, I do want to tell you guys how I managed to minimize costs for the trip. This is a points and miles (and travel) blog, after all.

In case you didn’t know, relations between Israel and the rest of the Middle East are…tense. It’s the reason I took a sketchy unmarked flight across the Sinai, and also the reason that the base price for a thirty minute flight between Israel and Jordan starts at $350. This a is a 70 mile journey, folks.

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But basically a world away.

Luckily, British Airways is one of the last few airlines that maintains an award chart based on distance flown rather than ticket cost. And since the two airports are so near each other, the cost for a reward flight on British Airways is a mere 4,500 Avios (and some fees) each way.

British Airways is a transfer partner of American Express, so I transferred over 9,000 Membership Rewards (worth ~120 dollars) for two tickets for Harrison and I, meaning we spent about $250 in points and fees for our $700 flights.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t award availability for our return flight, so we used the land crossing. That story will be coming soon.

We stayed a total of three nights in Amman, and I finally, finally got to use my buy-one-get-one-free night certificate from Intercontinental (you can pay $200 for a year of elite status at IHG, which, among other benefits, gets you one free weekend night/ year with purchase of another night). With two nights covered, I redeemed 25,000 IHG points on our third night.

All told, we spent $302 and 25,000 points on three nights at the Intercontinental Amman. Even better? That aforementioned status (Ambassador) guarantees you a room upgrade, and since availability must have been good, they exchanged my twin bed room with a king size suite overlooking the city- for all three nights!

The breakdown for our costs is this:

Regular Price Our Price
Flights $700 9,000 Avios (worth $120) and $130 in fees
Hotel $1560 25,000 IHG points, one free night certificate, and $302
Total Cost $2260 $432

I’m not going to lie, seeing this breakdown makes me feel pretty awesome. And it just serves to highlight how valuable points and miles are. In case I haven’t harped on that enough.

Stories of our trip are next!

-Carissa “Queen Noor of Jordan” Rawson and Harrison “Basically Her Sidekick” Goldensteinbergowitz

 

Aspiring to the Hilton American Express Aspire

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been a long time since I’ve written specifically about credit cards and reward travel, and for the first time in a long time, I’m actually caught up on my trip reviews.

So today I’m going to talk to you about a credit card I’ve been lusting after ever since it was launched in January 2018. The card, the American Express Hilton Aspire card, is an ultra-premium credit card that combines a disgustingly high annual fee ($450!) with some of the best benefits available in the credit card business.

What Do I Get For All That Money?

• 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide

• 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants

• 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other purchases

Hilton Honors Diamond status

One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership

• A second weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year

Priority Pass™Lounge Membership

• $250 Airline incidental fee annual statement credit

• $250 Hilton resort annual statement credit

• $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package

• No foreign transaction fees

• Access to the American Express concierge

150,000 point sign-up bonus

What’s the Big Deal?

1.Hilton Honors Diamond status– this is the highest status Hilton offers, and provides tons of benefits for elite members. The Aspire card is the only card on the market to offer top level elite status simply for holding a credit card.

2.One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership– this free night is unrestricted, meaning you could use it at the Conrad Maldives if you so please (which costs $2,000/night). It’s very easy to find a hotel that will cost more than your $450 annual fee.

3.Priority Pass™Lounge Membershipif you aren’t interested in getting other premium credit cards, like the American Express Platinum Card, then this could be a good option for you as Priority Pass has airport lounges all over the world. It’s awesome to get away from the stress of the terminal.

4.$250 Airline incidental fee annual statement credit– this credit can be used on the airline of your choice for things like: purchased upgrades, purchased seats, bag fees, and an annual lounge membership.

5.$250 Hilton resort annual statement credit– use this at your free night for the ultimate in smug satisfaction.

6.150,000 point sign-up bonus– 150,000 bonus points is nearly enough for two free nights at the Conrad Maldives. Combine it with your other free night for three completely free nights at the best hotel in the world. If that’s not your jam, 150,000 bonus points also equals 30 free nights at Hilton’s category 1 hotels. Enjoy the upgrade your Diamond status brings you.

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At the underwater restaurant in the Maldives.

I actually recently applied for this card myself but was turned down due to having too many American Express cards. Yeah, that’s a thing. I have an offer to upgrade from the lower tier American Express Hilton Card, but it comes without the sign-up bonus, which is really kind of crappy. Let’s be realistic though, once my Diamond status runs out in March, I’ll probably head right over to this card.

Enjoy the luxury!

-Carissa “How Many Cards is Too Many?” Rawson

Mileage Running- Mad Genius, or Just Mad?

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s that time of year again, where I make intensely insane decisions for the sake of status. Last year, I flew for a weekend to Nice in order to make Platinum status with Delta for 2018.

This year? This year I flew from LA to Spain in order to make Platinum Premier status with United for 2020.

You may be asking yourself, “for the love of God, why?”

Sometimes I ask myself the same thing. But the long and the short of it is this: ThePointsGuy values Premier Platinum elite status worth $4,580 for the year of 2018. Why? For the huge number of benefits you get as a result. (Free economy+ on all flights, free exit row seating, free upgrades to business and first class, free priority boarding, free checked bags (all of these things are for you and up to 8 companions on your ticket), Star Alliance gold status, and free access to all Star Alliance lounges whenever you’re flying on them).

More than this, though, I am acquiring my Premier Platinum status through a status match challenge. It’s pretty common, as airlines try to poach frequent fliers from each other. So just before my Delta status expired (which I earned through real flying), I emailed United, asking for the challenge.

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The requirements for a status challenge are that you fly 18,000 miles on United owned aircraft (so no partner flights) within 90 days. For me, that’s an easy trip to Israel and back.

Or so I thought. I didn’t know about the United owned aircraft clause, so after I completed a trip to Israel in November, I was still like 8,000 miles short of my goal and had until January 26th to complete it.

This put me in a bit of a bind. You see, I could either let the challenge lapse and not get status on United, which would have probably been the easy route.

I have been meaning to stay home more often, after all.

But the thing is, I was planning on using my United status for 2020 American Airlines status (worth $3,430), and my 2020 American Airlines status for 2021 Delta status (worth $4,025). It was a serious waterfall effect, you see.

Which is how I ended up on a plane to Spain a mere seven days after returning home from my most recent trip. This time, my service dog Brit flew with me, and she was a total champ. Brit happens to be a bit of a potty snob, as she’s used to the lush, rolling hills of Illinois in which to do her business. Airport service dog relief areas are not her jam.

“Please let me potty”

Which is how she ended up holding it from Los Angeles-Houston-Frankfurt-Madrid.

She’s a better woman than me.

-Carissa “Never Gonna Stop” Rawson

Phu Quoc

My project is done, my internship is drawing to a close, and I’ve yet to regale you all with stories about Vietnam.

Pine no more, because today we’re starting.

So, Harrison and I spent a total of two weeks in Vietnam. The first week was in Phu Quoc at the J.W. Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay, which I had booked specifically because it’s themed as an an ex-school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And if you guys know me at all, you know I love me some Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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I used a free seven night certificate to book the hotel, which meant that our stay was technically free.

I say technically because while the room was paid for, our various activities were not. And it was very much a resort, with cooking classes, yoga on the beach, bike rides around town- you name it, it was available. And we did most all of them.

But before I talk about the activities, I want to take a minute to show you guys this hotel. It’s really up there in terms of design and architecture, and has some of the coolest theming I’ve ever seen. It only opened late last year and had been on my list ever since, so I was really stoked to go.

Now like I said before, we stayed at this hotel for a total of seven nights. That meant we had seven days to kill with various activities:

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Wishing I was dead after a ridiculously difficult bike ride to a bee farm
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Learning how to make Vietnamese coffee
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Attempting- poorly- to cook Vietnamese food

And seven days to swim in the water and enjoy the pools:

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And eat some intensely confusing “science” food:

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There’s not a ton else to say about the week, as we did what most people do during beach vacations: we relaxed.

Though we did end up going one night to the Phu Quoc night market, which Harrison loved and I nearly threw up in due to the dried octopus and various other unsavory scents.

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UUGGGHH

Tomorrow, Ho Chi Minh and the hundred thousand things we did there.

-Carissa “It’s Over!” Rawson

High-Class Hong Kong

Hello Dear Readers!

I left off yesterday having arrived fresh off my first class flight to Hong Kong. It honestly was one of the coolest experiences of my life, and one I’m not likely to forget soon, particularly as I’m still wearing their pajamas to bed every night.

I’m extra poor these days, since I’ve been living the student life for a while now. So when I was looking to plan this trip, I needed to make it as money efficient as possible. With that in mind, I took a look at hotel prices in Hong Kong.

They were bleak. Averaging at around ~$300/night, there was no way I could afford to stay in the city. Luckily, I had a couple tricks up my sleeve.

For night one, I used the annual free night certificate that comes with my Chase IHG credit card to stay at the Intercontinental Hong Kong. (The certificate nowadays is capped at a lower hotel, but the card still offers really good value). This hotel regularly goes for ~$400+/night because it’s got one of the best views of Victoria Harbour. I pay $49/year to own this credit card. (I did pay $60 to upgrade to a room with a really good view).

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Pictured: An excellent view

For night two, I used the annual free night certificate that comes with my Chase Hyatt credit card to stay at the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong. This certificate is good for any hotel up to category 4, which the Hyatt Regency happens to be, so I was lucky. The new version of this card has a $95 annual fee, and the cost of the Hyatt Regency averages around ~$200/night.

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Blurry night photo attempt.

With accommodation taken care of, I needed to figure out what to do for two days.

Now, Harrison here will make fun of me and say that I didn’t see Hong Kong at all. I disagree. I explored the hell out of Hong Kong Disneyland.

I also ate at a two-star Michelin Restaurant.

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What is this thing?

And I watched the light show from my room!

-Carissa “Intrepid Explorer” Rawson

Fancy First Class

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve just spent the last two weeks in Vietnam and have now safely arrived to Tel Aviv. For those of you who don’t know, I’m volunteering to teach Arabic at an NGO for the summer while I finish up my Master’s degree. Tel Aviv is a beautiful city, so I’m glad to be here.

Now, before I start telling you guys my adventures about Vietnam (and Hong Kong), I need to tell you all how I got there. This is a points and miles blog as well, after all.

So.

Marriott has what’s called Air and Hotel packages. These cost 270,000 Marriott points, and in return you receive 120,000 frequent flier miles from the airline of your choosing and seven nights at any category 1-5 Marriott hotel. I’m not expanding much on this because as of August first these packages are being highly devalued, so it’s not worth it to spend time discussing these. Suffice to say that I redeemed my points and chose to receive my 120,000 miles into my Alaska Airlines account.

I did this for many reasons, not the least of which is Alaska Airlines’ extremely lucrative partnerships with other airlines, which means you can get a lot of value out of redeeming their miles. Additionally, they’re considered some of the highest value miles (as opposed to, say, Delta), so they’re worth going for even if you’re not located in an area very conducive to Alaska flights. (Like me, in the Middle East).

Alaska has some really good award chart redemptions, (see their chart here for the ‘sweet spots’), and I redeemed 70,000 of my 120,000 miles in order to fly Cathay Pacific first class to Ho Chi Minh with a two day stopover in Hong Kong (Alaska will allow you to make stopovers for free on award flights, which many other airlines don’t do). This one way ticket would have otherwise cost me over $8,000, so I consider these miles well spent.

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Not including my onward flight to Ho Chi Minh

Cathay Pacific is meant to have some of the best first class services out there, so I was more than a little jazzed to be spending 13 hours on board this flight. I know, I know, who wants to climb onto an airplane for a long ass flight?

This girl!

And literally everyone else who loves champagne and filet mignon and other fancy whatnots. Here are some pictures for you to enjoy (yes, I’m bragging.):

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Look at my poor attempt to capture how luxurious it was!
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Three windows all to myself. Seat 1a
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Did you guys know caviar is disgusting? I tried it because come on I had to, but I couldn’t even finish it.
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They even give you pajamas to keep!
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The flight attendant smiled at me knowingly after I asked for my sixth glass of champagne.
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Coming in to land at Hong Kong, refreshed and ready to sweat it out.

-Carissa “Already Back in Economy” Rawson

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I want to tell you about our day spent snorkeling with whale sharks. For those of you who don’t know, whale sharks are absolutely massive, and the Maldives happens to be a hot spot for them. We spent most of our time snorkeling on the house reef (or eating. There was a lot of eating.), so ended up only doing this one excursion. Plus, as you can imagine, it was obscenely expensive.

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Heading to catch our speedboat

So what did it entail? Well, to be honest, it was pretty cool. We hopped into a speedboat with about six other people and a guide and sped away from the resort. It was about an hour long ride to our whale shark spotting destination, so we settled down and enjoyed the breeze, the waves, and the islands we were passing. Probably the coolest part was that in our wake, thousands of flying fish skipped away from us. Have you ever seen a flying fish? I hadn’t but they’re really cool, and watching them soar across the water, like skipping stones, was really neat.

The way shark spotting works is that you get to the hotspot and your guide literally climbs up on top of the boat, searching for enormous shadows in the water.

Unfortunately for us, there didn’t seem to be any sharks around. We spent hours trawling the water, slowly, searching for these guys. And it’s not like you can miss them, right? The problem is that whale sharks don’t normally swim so close to the surface, and they can (and do) dive right down and stay there.

They’d told us that the young males were the ones who usually swam up near the surface, but we had no luck.

So. One guy.

One guy had a drone. Brand new, top of the line, really cool. So he volunteered to fire up the ol’ drone and see if he could spot any whale sharks from high up. A cool idea, in theory.

He sent it up, and away we went, following after it as he searched. See, the problem though, was that drones can only fly for about twenty minutes at a time. Twenty minutes pass and we slow down, coming to a stop as he attempted to land it.

I mentioned we were in a speedboat, right? And that his drone was new, brand new?

Yeah. So there he goes, trying several times to lower it to the deck, only for it to- finally- hit the edge of the boat and *splash* right into the water.

And no, it didn’t float. Immediate panic ensues and he runs to grab a diving mask. He jumps in and flails around, while the guide leaps into the water- and- I kid you not, just dives.

It’d had time to sink by now, so I don’t know how far down she went. But she was under there for a while. A long while. I began to wonder if she was dead or simply lost, but then- miracle of miracles- up she popped from the depths, drone in hand.

You guys, this woman freedived into the Indian Ocean to find a lost drone. I can’t even find my goggles in a swimming pool.

The jury’s still out if he ever got it working again, since it wasn’t waterproof, but he did mutter angrily that it was a $1200 waste of money.

Shortly thereafter, we started to make our way back, disappointed at not finding any whale sharks- when- to our immense joy, we ran into a boat that had found one.

And once you find one, you gotta jump in ASAP because they don’t stay at the surface for very long. So in we went, flippers on, choking on saltwater and swimming furiously after this guy.

I’m going to take a moment now to thank my parents for all the swimming lessons they forced me to take, because I managed to stay in the front of the group and get an uninterrupted view. It was incredible.

Our guide had a GoPro with her. Take a look at the video below.

-Carissa “This Is Why I Don’t Have a Drone” Rawson

I Survived Snorkeling: A Tale of True Bravery

Hello Dear Readers!

When trying to figure out what to talk about, I usually scroll through my photos. I try to take a fair few, and use them to spur the stories I tell you guys. And that usually works out well for me.

But I realized something while going through my photos of the Maldives.

Paradise looks great:

But it also looks pretty similar in every photo. And we spent most of our time in the water, which meant we took no photos at all.

So you’re going to have to rely on my story telling skills more than my visuals, I’m afraid.

In that same vein, let me tell you about our snorkeling.

Now, I’ve been to a fair few places for snorkeling (and even once dived successfully in Australia), so I’ve always figured I knew what snorkeling was about. You go in,  see some cool fish, swim around a reef, try to not touch the urchin and get poisoned. You know, normal things. So when they told us they had a reef just off the beach of the resort, I was excited but not expecting much.

I cannot even tell you how badly I misjudged this reef. It stretched the entire length of the island, and during our time there we saw more different aquatic animals than I’ve seen in all my previous snorkeling put together.

We spent so much time snorkeling that, while my face was completely unburnt, I was unable to sit comfortably for over a week. And yes, I was wearing sunscreen.

The best part about this reef was that you could walk right out to it. The water was so close to it, and it was so expansive, that at times your belly was about an inch away from the coral and the reef stretched on literally as far as you could see. You had to be a good swimmer (or at least floater) in order to avoid getting caught up on the coral.

And this place was packed. Aside from all the regular recognizable fish (Nemo? Dory?), we also spent hours swimming with giant schools of fish, found an octopus hiding inside some coral, followed a sea turtle for over twenty minutes, and even swam out over the “drop-off” which was exactly like the one in Finding Nemo and exactly as terrifying as you’d think.

But my favorite part, which Harrison completely missed (he was frolicking in a school of fish), was when I was wandering along and happened upon a barracuda- or at least that’s what I thought it was. Turns out it was a Moray Eel, but at the time all I could think was “oh god please don’t bite me.”

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You can forgive the confusion

He was a mere few inches from my face and I frantically backpedaled, getting far enough away to wheel around and begin swimming in the opposite direction.

At which point I encountered two reef sharks.

And ok. Reef sharks aren’t huge. But they were sharks! And I was panicking! Alone!

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Ahhhhhhhh!

At this point I wheeled just 90 degrees (still avoiding the barracuda) and began swimming in towards the shore as quickly as possible.

Of course nothing happened to me. I mean come on, you think the Hilton is gonna let a shark eat their customers? No.

But it was scary!

– Carissa “The Bravest” Rawson

The Magnificent Maldives- Reserving a Room (For Free!)

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve made so much fuss over the last year about the Maldives, and previously when I wrote about going, I detailed how I would spend points for nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives. Well, like I told you before, I ended up trading in those nights for a 4 day stay at the Conrad, simply because it was easier (and I wanted to go to their underwater restaurant.)

So how did I do it?

Well, the Conrad Maldives is the absolute highest category hotel that they’ve got, clocking in at an astonishing 95,000 points/ night. For reference, their cheapest hotels (Category 1) go for a mere 10,000 points/ night.

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I spent all year saving up for this, using sign up bonuses from the Hilton Honors Ascend card (which offers 100k points after 3k spend in 6 months) and the now defunct Citi Hilton Reserve card, which offered two free weekend nights at any hotel after 3k spend in the first three months.

I also saved up all the points I’d ever earned from doing my Diamond status challenge and made sure most of my stays during the last year were at Hiltons. This wasn’t just to earn points (though the earning ratio is vastly improved when you have status), but also because being a Diamond member means I get better perks here than at any other chain.

If you’re looking to acquire Hilton points, you can get the card I mentioned above as well as the Hilton Honors Aspire card, which earns you 100k points after 4k in spend in the first three months. (It also gives you Diamond status simply by owning it). There’s also the no annual fee Hilton Honors card, which gives you 50k bonus points after 1k in spend in the first three months.

Obtaining these three cards will net you a minimum of 250,000 points before spend (which will easily drive it up another 10-15k)- nearly enough for three nights at the Conrad Maldives. If you can get yourself up to 380,000 points (very doable in a year, as the Hilton cards earn rewards very quickly), you’ll have enough points for 4 nights. The Hilton Honors program gives the 5th night free on all hotel stays, so you’ll be able to stay for 5 nights for the cost of 4!

So, yes, it’s expensive. But you’re also redeeming your points at a hotel that regularly goes for over $2,000 a night, so you’re making it well worth your while.

The reward room you get is the beach villa, which is nice enough on its own. But a mere month before my arrival, Hilton accidentally made overwater villas (normally a $150-$300/ night upgrade) available for redemption for only 95,000 points a night- the same rate as a beach villa!

Unfortunately, I was past my cancellation window, so thought I had lost the opportunity to snag this. However, I still gave the Diamond desk a call and to my extreme surprise, they pulled some strings, replacing my 4 night stay in a beach villa with 4 nights in an overwater villa at no extra cost! I was more than a little pleased, and have continuously gloated since.

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For us!

Anyway, if you’re looking to stay, those three cards are the easiest way to earn large quantities of points, and once you’ve accumulated enough, it’s worth your while to aim for 4 nights and get 5. If you’re averse to too many cards, American Express transfers points to Hilton at a 2:1 ratio, so you’ll need a mere 190,000 American Express points for your 5 nights at the Maldives.

Up next, more fun and less points. See you soon!

– Carissa “Smug AF” Rawson

Maldivian Money- The Monopoly Money That Wasn’t

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve got a great many things to say about the Maldives even though it was a relatively short trip, but half of them are to do with points and the other half are about what I actually did while I was there. And if you’re not into points- well, then, today is your lucky day!

Today I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a good story- a tale of both woe and triumph, (but mostly woe), where a girl learns a costly lesson but also has an amazing time. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?

So. I told you all how the Conrad Maldives is expensive, right? And I knew this going in. In fact, I broke down for you exactly how to save alllll kinds of money during your trip.

And yet.

And yet.

It was our first night, you see. Harrison and I had just arrived, met up in the Conrad Lounge at the airport, and made our jolly way via seaplane to the resort. (Which was amazing, by the way).

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Super cool!

And we’d enjoyed the bottle of sparkling wine that they’d left in our room. We’d taken a dip in our own private pool, and had already swam off the edge of our overwater villa down into the ocean.

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We were flying high, you could say.

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So we wended our hungry, tipsy, way down to dinner. It was gorgeous, an absolutely phenomenal view. The restaurant was built on a deck over the beach, and nearly no one else was there, which meant that the lights, softly glowing, fell only on us, the sand, and water, while the gentle crash of the waves kept us company. Such a scene paved the way for excess, as the magic was kept alive through small glasses of champagne, toasted tipsily to each other, to our fortune, and to our immense luck at being there in paradise, together.

One, two, perhaps three glasses of champagne each.

And dessert. You can’t have a luxurious dinner without dessert, right? Molten lava cake and ice cream, melting messily on our plates as we laughed, drank, and toasted.

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Such indulgence, the scene was almost fantastical, like something out of a movie. I could write you volumes about it, but suffice to say that it was so great I almost don’t regret what happened next.

You know those places that don’t publish their prices? And their saying is “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Well, we should have asked. Because when that bill came- oh Lord did it come.

It was so expensive that at first glance I looked down, scoffed, and reached for my wallet, thinking that the prices were in “Maldivian Money-” some sort of Monopoly money that meant nothing to my mighty US dollar.

No, no they were not.

And that’s the story of how I spent my entire budget on my first dinner in the Maldives.

– Carissa “Worth It” Rawson