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

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

Beautiful Bali

Hello Dear Readers!

So I finally finished out my Europe/Middle East trip, and just yesterday made it home back to the United States. My flight took off from Madrid at 10am and I landed safely in Sacramento at midnight. It was a horribly long amount of time to travel, but Nala was very well behaved and I even made a few new friends who were stuck sitting next to me (for like…8 hours).

I managed to stay a full 30 hours in California, during which time I did a load of laundry (that’s all my clothes, really) ate real Mexican food, went to a concert (my kid brother’s band concert) and bought some new things from Target. I love America!

Alas, I am now back aboard a plane, currently headed to Houston. There, I’ll be meeting David, Steve (David’s older brother), and Deja (sister-in-law). We’re heading from Houston to Bali, with a day-long layover in Singapore. It should be fun. (This is all past tense. The flight was super long and we crashed out in the lounge in Singapore for the entire day).

Did I show you guys pictures of the Villa we got in Bali? AirBnB also does luxury rentals, and we’ll be staying there for about $150/night. I’ll be sure to take some good photos while we’re out there.

We’re doing all kinds of amazing stuff: an ATV ride on the beach, a nighttime hike past a blue fire volcano, snorkeling, aaaaand getting Scuba certified! I felt like it was really time, since I’ve got so many upcoming trips where the diving is supposed to be amazing. (Great Barrier Reef, anyone?)

Tales of our adventures to follow!

-Carissa “Scuba Steve” Ragland

Phenomenal Flamenco

Hello!

I realize my last post was pretty serious. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and I think you guys will be glad to know that I’ve decided to report the man to AirBnB. Cultural differences aside, if you’re going to be inviting people into your home, you should never force yourself on them or act so inappropriately.

So! That being said, I want to talk today about my most recent shenanigans with Sarah. She keeps cropping up, doesn’t she? That’s because we’re both so much fun!

You guys know all those really heartwarming videos of soldiers coming home and being reunited with their dogs? Well, Nala and I had a similar moment, which I will illustrate in the photo below:

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Isn’t she adorable? I got a full face tongue bath, which is really gross but also I love her so it’s ok. Since Sarah and I didn’t have much time together, we decided to go full out. We checked into our hotel, dropped off Nala and headed out to make the most of our time in Madrid.

Now, you guys know the last time I was in Spain I subsided almost solely on churros with dipping chocolate and champagne. I’m here to tell you that nothing has changed. I swiftly introduced Sarah to these vices, and within the space of twenty minutes we had consumed chocolate, churros, a pile of Iberian ham, and were each clutching a glass of Cava. We’re efficient, you know.

I had made reservations as a surprise to dinner and a Flamenco show, so we headed over there to have an awesome three course meal, which we complemented with a bottle of more champagne. I mean, why not?

Have you guys ever been to a Flamenco show? I know I’ve heard so much about the passion of the dancers (and Spanish people as a whole), but it all seemed a little blown out of proportion. Well, let me tell you…it’s not.

We had front row seats to the show, and at first, the place seemed kind of small and crowded. However, when the music started…just wow.

There were two singers, a violinist, and two guitarists. They began playing, slowly at first, to warm up the crowd, before breaking into amazing, fast-paced music. These people have got some serious skills. Shortly thereafter, the two dancers, a man and a woman, came out.

Words fail me here, but I’m going to try to describe it.

The music pulsed through the room as the crowd murmured, some leaning back in their seats, others sipping glasses of wine as everyone sat, waiting. A low tension hummed in the air, and slowly, subtly, the beat of the music sped up.

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Abruptly, the curtain at the back of the stage was turned aside, and a woman strode out. She was passion, personified. Her long dress trailed behind her as she took center stage, her face regal, her back straight.

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One breath, two, and she began to stomp, her shoes tapping a staccato on the wooden floor as she moved with the music.

The floor, scarred with the marks of a thousand dances, echoed with every step, and she twirled, her dress fanning out, her arms weaving, framing her face, her neck, her hips, as she poured her soul into the movement.

Suddenly, the curtain twitched again, and her partner came out, his clothes tailored tightly to his body, his eyes dark, and he, too, began to dance.

Together, they stepped across the stage, first moving together, then apart, each one competing to outdo the other. Faster, faster, they moved, the strain of the violin drifting past their frantic feet, until the room was full with the sound of their song.

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Sweat beaded on his brow as he spun, whirling around her, his feet a blur as he tapped, tapped, tapped, to the beat of the music. Together, they told a story- of love, of heat, of flame and fury and passion, until the music built to a crescendo and came, crashing, to a halt.

As one, they turned to us, arms outflung, chests heaving, and bowed.

The room exploded with applause.

To say it was phenomenal would be an understatement. If there’s one thing you do in Spain, go see a Flamenco show.

After the show we headed out to a rooftop bar, where we enjoyed a “few” drinks before heading back to the hotel at around 2am. Overall the night was a great success, and definitely a foreshadowing for the excellent day to come.
-Carissa “I wanna dance like that” Rawson

Generous Jordan

Hello Dear Readers! Does it always seem like I’m saying I’m going to write more trip reviews for you guys? I realized yesterday perusing through my posts that I’ve promised a thousand and one stories…so I guess I’d better start making a dent. I told you all that I spent four days at the Dead […]

Hello Dear Readers!

Does it always seem like I’m saying I’m going to write more trip reviews for you guys? I realized yesterday perusing through my posts that I’ve promised a thousand and one stories…so I guess I’d better start making a dent.

I told you all that I spent four days at the Dead Sea, and I invited Alaa and his family to come hang out the pool. He showed up on the last day, but unfortunately his family couldn’t make it. We still had a great time! He was suitably impressed with my suite, and when check-out time came, we loaded up the car and took off for Amman.

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In case you forgot what it looked like

Along the way, he invited me to his son’s birthday party. How cool is that?? His son, Yaseen, was turning two, so we spent the whole rest of the day going around getting ready for his party.

I even got to pick out the cake!

Though I’m not going to lie to you guys, 100% of people were extremely confused by us walking around speaking in Arabic. Hanging out with a Jordanian gives me some serious street cred. Also, having Alaa with me means I don’t have to pay the tourist tax anymore! This means everything  costs about 98% less- from coffee to french fries.

We stopped off at his sister’s house (he has five), and drank some coffee while we chatted. His sister scrolled through the photos on my phone (danger!), telling me how pretty I was, and, matter-of-factly, that I used to be fat.

Thanks.

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She wasn’t wrong, per se’

After everything, we headed to Jerash for the party. It was at his mom’s house, where his whole family was waiting, including his mom, dad, two of his sisters, wife, and all three kids. You guys saw a photo of his daughter, Sally, before. She’s my new best friend, though literally impossible for me to understand. If you thought learning a foreign language was hard, try to understand it coming out of the mouth of a squeaky tiny little kid. Luckily she’s small so I can just laugh and ignore everything she says!

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Since I was the guest, I got one of everything, despite my protests. So, I had a piece of cake, some dessert I don’t know the name of, another dessert I don’t know the name of, some Jello-y dessert, and several drinks. I nearly exploded.

Honestly guys, I’m so happy. Nothing will ever replace the look on Yaseen’s face when I gave him his present (joy, combined with his intense fear of me), or the warmth I felt at being so welcomed into this family. Their generosity is profound, and I am so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to spend a little time with the people in this corner of the world.

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson