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

The Magnificent Maldives- Diamond Status Is Important!

Hello Dear Readers!

Are you guys as excited as I am for this series of posts on the Maldives? I had such an excellent time there, and really cannot think of a more excellent way to spend my 28th birthday.

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Mandatory paradise selfie

So aside from all the beautiful photos, there are actually quite a few things that went into coordinating my trip to the Maldives.

Our topic today is Hilton Diamond status, which I’ve written about before, but whose importance becomes significant when talking about the Conrad Maldives. You see, when you book a $2,000/night hotel, they sort of expect you to be able to afford it. Their bottom line doesn’t rest on travel hackers who use points to manipulate themselves into luxury. And why would it?

But here’s the thing. When your hotel comes in at 2k a night, it suddenly seems reasonable to start charging $50/person for breakfast. Or $500/person for dinner.

What I’m saying is, it’s not cheap.

And I’m only fake rich. I’m points rich. Which means that I absolutely cannot afford to eat my way through my annual budget.

This is where status comes in. You see, Diamond members receive all kinds of perks whenever they visit Hilton hotels. At the Conrad Maldives, there’s an entire list of benefits you get- check these out!

• Free breakfast for two at their restaurants Atoll and Vilu, daily

• Afternoon Tea at their Mandhoo Restaurant from 4-5pm, daily

• Happy hour at Vilu, from 5-6pm, daily

• Fruit basket with chocolate in your room at check-in (refilled daily)

• Free bottle of wine at check-in

• $25 spa discount card on arrival

These benefits are especially important when you consider the fact that I wasn’t kidding about those meal prices. The price to eat dinner at their underwater restaurant really is $500/person, though you can certainly eat cheaper at any of their other restaurants. Over the course of a four night stay, your meal bill can easily run into the thousands, and that doesn’t begin to cover alcohol. But, if you play your cards right, you can avoid most of the costs of staying at the hotel- eat breakfast late, snack on fruit for lunch, indulge in tea at 4, and run over to happy hour to have a few free drinks before dinner. With that, most of your day is covered. It turns an incredible indulgence of a vacation into something financially manageable.

So that’s what we did. Harrison and I enjoyed the hell out of their massive breakfast, which included a sushi station, an egg station, ice cream, crepes, pancakes, waffles, and even sparkling wine! In short, it’s amazing. You better believe I ate as much food as humanly possible.

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Round one of ten

Even better, our personal concierge, upon learning that it was my birthday, arranged to have a cake (complete with candles and matches) sent to our room. It was excellent!

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Feeling like a queen

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Anyway, long story short, the importance of Diamond status cannot be overstated, especially at these crazy expensive resorts, where you can save hundreds of dollars on your vacation simply by having status. Oh, and how did I get it? Check it out here, for a guide to matching your way to elite status.

See you all soon for more posts on the Maldives!

-Carissa

The Magnificent Maldives- For Real!

Hello Dear Readers!

I think you all should now that I’m on a plane in pajamas right now.

No, I don’t normally fly like this. But I’m coming back from the Maldives, and somewhere in my mind I thought “oh, I’m heading to a tropical paradise, where I will need only shorts and a bathing suit to wear.”

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And nowhere in my mind did I think “perhaps it will be freezing when I return from my tropical vacation to Scotland.”

So I’m in pajamas.

But on the plus side, the Maldives were great! As I’ve said before, I spent a total of four days there. However, while I had originally planned on staying at the Park Hyatt Maldives, I changed my reservation to the Conrad Hilton for a couple different reasons:

1. I have Diamond status at Hilton, which meant I got lots of free things.

2. They have an underwater restaurant.

3. I was able to finagle better free nights at the Hilton than the Park Hyatt.

These things require quite a bit of explanation, so they’ll be done in multi-posts, starting with Diamond status, how I got it, why it’s important, etc, tomorrow.

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See you then!

-Carissa “Could the Water Be Any Bluer?” Rawson

I’m 28!

Hello Dear Readers!

So many things to celebrate these last few weeks, including the blog turning a year old!

But more importantly, it was my birthday on the 10th, which everyone recognizes as the national holiday Carissa is the best person ever day.

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Proof.

I’ve spent the last 4 days in the Maldives, a trip I’ve been planning for over a year, and I can’t wait to show you all the photos. In the meantime, here are some tasters:

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-Carissa “Help Me I’m Nearly 30” Rawson

The Hilton Moorea: Honeymooners and Romance

Hello Dear Readers!

As you know, I’ve just spent the last few days on the island of Moorea, in some of the best hotels I’ve ever seen. My trip overall was very relaxing- I got up every day, hung out at the pool, swam in the ocean, and generally enjoyed so much needed downtime.

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It’s absolutely stunning

Today’s post is going to focus on the Hilton Moorea, my first hotel on the island. I broke down before how I booked it, but to summarize, I used Chase’s travel portal to book the hotel. This is because the price was $772 for two nights, as opposed to $1500 on Hilton’s own website. (Chase acts as a third party booking site, much like Priceline.) I also used my Chase Ultimate Rewards to pay for it, which can be redeemed at a value of 1.5 cents per point (if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve), meaning I spent just over 50,000 points for the two nights.

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Now, since I booked on Chase I wasn’t able to receive any of my Diamond benefits, but I figured the $700 price difference was worth missing out on late check-out and a room upgrade. They even gave me an upgrade anyway, simply because they didn’t have the room I had originally paid for.

 

Let me tell you, this place was fantastic. They have hotel rooms, but I booked a bungalow with my own private pool, which is luxury at its finest.

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My first thought upon reaching the Hilton was “pristine.” This hotel, costing $700/night, can afford to care for every detail. It’s also a very small resort, with only about 100 rooms. It’s got a number of overwater villas (which I didn’t pay for) and lends out free snorkeling/kayaking/paddle boarding equipment to enjoy at the water.

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My biggest gripe with these hotels is the price they charge for everything. Like, I get it, they expect someone who’s staying here to be down with paying $17 for a cocktail, but I most certainly am not. Luckily, my breakfast was included with my room rate, and I’ve always got bunches of food squirreled away in my bag in case of situations like this.

I did treat myself once to the traditional Polynesian dance show and buffet, which the concierge informed me was available for a “nominal” fee of $87. (Gag).

The show was really cool:

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My second biggest gripe was that I was the sole lone traveler, a fact which apparently boggled the mind of everyone there. This is definitely a honeymoon destination, so be prepared to face lots of questions if you show up without someone on your arm.

Overall I really enjoyed my stay at the Hilton, and absolutely plan to come back here.

I mean seriously, who wouldn’t?

-Carissa “No, That’s a Table For One” Rawson

Pure Paradise: French Polynesia

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from my new favorite country, French Polynesia, where the water is blue and the beaches are pristine. Like I’ve mentioned before, my stay here is taking place across two different hotels: the Hilton Moorea, and the Intercontinental Moorea, both of which are utterly gorgeous and deserving of heaps of praise. To that end, I’ll be writing about them separately, both their positive and negative aspects, and which I’d rather visit again (it’s a tough call!).

My flight here from Los Angeles was as painless as can be. I’ve now stripped my travel gear down to a single backpack and tote bag, so I had nothing to check. Thus, I checked in online, waltzed through security, and hung out in a lounge until the very last minute when I boarded my flight. This was only my second flight with Air France, and I’m always tickled pink by the teeny baguettes that they pass out during the meals.

Less awesome was the fact that my flight in Tahiti landed at 4am. Now, I’m going to go ahead and admit to you all that I had no excuse for being unprepared, but I did almost no research to figure out how to get to Moorea.

No joke, my knowledge was like: “Uhhh, isn’t Moorea a different island? Do I need a ferry?”

The answer to that is yes. You do need to take a ferry. But first, you need to get to the ferry. When I asked the woman at information, she told me to take the bus “that way” (pointing to the left) “to the market, then get off and walk.”

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But first, bask in my photography skills. Ooh. 

Seriously, those were my instructions. So, I headed up in the pitch-black (it was about 4:30am) to the bus stop, waited for fifteen minutes on the wrong side, then another fifteen minutes on the correct side after I realized the bus I wanted had just driven by.

I finally made it on the bus, which looks like many of the buses we have in the US. That is: decrepit, worn down, and utterly devoid of information. Obviously, I was already supposed to know where I was going, and nobody spoke any English to help me.

At this point, my plan was to look out the window and, like, hope that I’d see something resembling a market so I’d know when to get off.

It didn’t exactly work like that. After about twenty minutes, I noticed we seemed to be heading into some sort of downtown, and at one particular stop a ton of people got off. I took that as my cue and disembarked, where I found, to my immense surprise, that I was right!

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So, so right.

I even managed to find my way to the ferry, where I purchased a ticket to Moorea, and spent the next two hours drinking an extremely French cappuccino and paying 4 euro for access to internet. Boo.

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My first glimpse of Moorea

Next post is the Hilton Moorea- see you guys soon!

-Carissa “Seriously Why Aren’t I Tan” Rawson

A Tahitian Paradise

Hello Dear Readers!

So, I’ve come to admit that I…*may*…have a bit of a traveling addiction. One of my first posts on this website detailed my schedule for the upcoming year, and back in January I thought my schedule was jam-packed.

Well…I’ve since added a few new trips, the most recent of which is a five night stay in Tahiti. You may wonder why/where I get my ideas for travel, and honestly it’s an amalgamation of flight sales that I find, good opportunities for reward points redemptions, and sometimes even just places I want to go.

So how did I come to the idea of Tahiti? Well, I’ve mentioned before that American Express has offers that it passes out, some of which come in the form of a statement credit, some in the form of bonus points, etc. A couple months ago, they came out with an offer that gave you 20,000 membership reward points if you spent $1,000 on Air France. I’ve gotten a similar offer to this before (Spend $1,000 on Japan Airlines for 20k bonus points), and I’d been sitting on this offer for a while. I actually received it on a few different cards, but I obviously don’t have multiple thousands of dollars to be throwing around.

Anyway, it was the final day for the offer, and I’d been chewing on some different ways I could use it. Scrolling through Air France’s website, however, I saw that they had a monthly special on direct flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti for a cool $1000 round-trip. So, redeeming this offer, I bought the ticket and received 25,000 total membership rewards points (including the bonus categories rewards for purchasing airfare), which equals- at the minimum- $500 worth of airfare on American Express. I can also transfer it to other partners in order to get better value for my points, but I usually prefer to keep things simple.

Having booked my flights, I needed to find a place to stay. In case you didn’t know this, Tahiti happens to be…fairly expensive. However, there are quite a few different hotels out there, so I had plenty of options.

Hotels

Hilton Moorea

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You all know that I’m very partial to Hilton hotels, (It’s the status, really) so the first place I looked was at the Hilton website. Well…it’s not cheap. The Hilton Moorea is currently going for $1500 for a two night stay:

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However, there are often times when the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal will offer you lower rates on the hotel than the hotel website itself. Such was the case of the Hilton Moorea, where after much searching I found the same 1000sq ft bungalow pictured above on Hilton’s website for a mere $677 for two nights. ($772 after taxes) That’s a savings of 54% off the original price. (This works much the same way as Priceline, in that you get a discounted room rate by booking through a third party.) Even better, however, is that Chase allows you to redeem Ultimate Reward points at a value of 1.5 cents each if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, meaning that the two nights only ended up being 52,000 points total.

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For reference, the total amount of points required to redeem on Hilton’s website is 396,000.

Since the Hilton was such a splurge, I didn’t want to stay more than the two nights. Thus, I needed three more somewhere else, but where?

Intercontinental Moorea

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The next hotel I looked at was the Intercontinental Moorea. Again, there are tons of hotels in the area, but this one had the benefit of being amazing and also near to the Hilton, so my transportation between the two wouldn’t be a problem. Paid rates for a room here for three nights equal out to about $1000:

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However, back in January, I got the IHG credit card by Chase. Its sign-up bonus is 60k points after 1k spend in the first 90 days, and after my spend was done, I had a total of 70k points sitting in my account. The Intercontinental Moorea is redeemable for a total of 40,000 points a night, or you can use a combination of points + cash in order to redeem a stay. IHG works differently than other hotel chains with its cash + points offers, in that it has you “buy” points at a reduced rate and then make a full award redemption, as you can see below:

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The combination I chose was points + cash, in which I spent 80,000 points and $200 in cash for all three nights. Since I was 10,000 points shy of the 80,000 I needed, I transferred over points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to cover the difference. And then I booked my room! So, all told, I’ll be staying a total of five nights in Tahiti, at some really awesome hotels. My costs are as follows:

Costs
Flight: $1,038
Hotels: $200
-Total Cost: $1,238

In return, I am earning 25,000 American Express rewards points, which equal out to at least $500 worth of airfare. In addition, I’ll be earning thousands of Flying Blue miles on Air France, which I’ll put to use when I move to Scotland later this year.

Were I to pay completely out of pocket, my total would be this:

Costs
Flight: $1,038
Hotels: $2499 ($1511 for the Hilton, and $988 for the Intercontinental)
-Total Cost: $3,537

That’s 65% off! I’m pretty excited, as I’ve heard amazing things about both of these hotels.

Also, have you guys looked at the map of Tahiti?

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Looks remote enough for me!

-Carissa “Basically living on a beach” Ragland

Diamond Status Challenge Success!

Hello Everyone!

Remember how I wrote a couple months ago about doing a Diamond Status match? Well, today, I received great news!

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I’ve gotten so much value out of this status already, and now I have almost two more years of it- for free!

I’m going to go happy dance away now.

-Carissa

The Suite Life

Hello Dear Readers!

I have lots more trip things to tell you about, but today I have something awesome to share with you. Remember how I’m always talking about getting status (whether airline or hotel), and how much it can benefit you?

Weeeeell yesterday I checked (back) into the Hilton Dead Sea, to find out that they had upgraded me to their best available room!

I had booked the cheapest rate available for $184/night, using my Citi Prestige card to get the 4th night free. After taxes and all, my total came to $871.53, of which $197.39 Citi refunded back to me. Thus, my total for a 4 night stay was $674.15. A quick look at the rate for a 4 night stay here in this room shows a total of $1784.99.

Yes, they gave me an $1100 upgrade. Simply because I had status with the chain. I’m over the moon about it! And not to sound like a broken record here, but I also get free breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, extra bonus points just for being me, and this totally awesome welcome amenity:

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They were all peanut butter filled??

Status is so worth it! If you guys want a quick refresher on how I got it (without staying in the hotels because come on, that’s expensive), simply click here.

I’m off to enjoy my balcony.

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-Carissa “I’m basically a celebrity” Ragland