Introduction: A Hop to the Maldives
Review: Park Hyatt New York
Review: Emirates Lounge JFK
Review: Emirates First Class A380 JFK-DXB
Review: Park Hyatt Dubai
Review: Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Review: Emirates First Class 777 DXB-MLE
Getting to the Park Hyatt Hadahaa
Review: Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Review: Etihad Business A330 MLE-AUH
Review: Etihad First Class Lounge
Review: Etihad First Class A380 AUH-JFK
Review: American Business A321T JFK-LAX
Since first wading in to the world of points and travel many years ago, I have saved thousands upon thousands of dollars through travel hacks, and been fortunate enough to travel more frequently than I otherwise might be able, and in greater comfort than I should otherwise expect. I’ve maximized redemptions, maximized offers, and maximized the amount of time devoted to studying opportunities and taking advantage of them.
Yet, despite my (many) successes, each has felt relatively isolated and (increasingly) not grand enough. For years I’ve longed to pull off the impossible: a trip across the globe in some of the world’s fanciest first class cabins with stays at some of the world’s nicest hotels in interesting or beautiful locations, all while leveraging every points currency possible to make the experience as close to free as possible.
I just did it. I couldn’t be happier.
It was absolutely awesome.
For two weeks, I felt like a kid in a candy store, moving from one eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience to another. With every flight and every night’s sleep, I felt prouder over the extraordinary use of my miles and points. I sat in airplane seats I had long dismissed as “too” aspirational, and visited two countries I’d never imagined possible.
We spent thirteen days going from New York, to Dubai, and on to the Maldives, a small island nation about five hundred miles southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, known for beautiful beaches on small island atolls, coral reefs and a ton of sun.
While the Maldives were the ultimate destination, that selection was more a result of airplanes and cabins than a specific interest in the country. As I wrote previously, the trip came about as an attempt to experience Emirates and Etihad first class A380 cabins. The Maldives were a sufficiently far away location through which to enjoy both airplanes for many (many) hours.
We started in New York, flew from JFK to Dubai on Emirates, enjoyed a three day layover there, then continued on to Male, the capital of the Maldives. On the return, we flew from Male to Abu Dhabi in Business Class on Etihad, then Abu Dhabi to New York in First Class, then New York to Los Angeles in Business on American.
Outbound, the travel was completely manageable; we broke things up at each segment. The return was brutal – more than 12,000 miles lasting 44 hours door to door.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. In a heart beat. But let me be clear – there is no way to make 44 hours of air travel easy. Even in First Class in an apartment on an A380 with a shower, it’s still air travel. #firstworldproblems, I know.
For hotels, we turned the trip into a triathlon of sorts, starting at the Park Hyatt New York, then continuing on to the Park Hyatt Dubai, and ultimately spending a week not he beautiful beaches of the Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives.
These were my first stays at each of these properties, my first stays at any Park Hyatt property, in fact, and I was very impressed by each. The brand is luxurious and extraordinary comfortable, but neither gaudy or excessive.
Booking the Trip
This trip required five separate bookings – two for air travel, and three hotels.
The hotels were fairly straightforward. We chose Hyatt properties to maximize the points on hand as well as my Diamond status.
The Park Hyatt New York required 30,000 Gold Passport Points for one night. Hoping to use a suite upgrade certificate, I originally booked us using a Points + Cash rate of 15,000 points and $300. But from the time of booking all the way up to a week out, I could not confirm the upgrade, so I cancelled the reservation and booked all points to save the dollars.
The Park Hyatt Dubai was a Points + Cash booking, requiring 12,500 points plus $150 (slightly less, in fact, because of the exchange rate with AED) per night. I chose a Points + Cash rate for these two nights to solidify my re-qualification of Diamond status for next year (check!), and so that we could use a suite upgrade certificate, which I was able to clear months out.
For the Park Hyatt Hadahaa, I booked the first four nights using points – 25,000 each. For the final two nights, I used two free night certificates earned as the sign up bonus to Danielle’s Chase Hyatt Credit card. I was easily able to combine the two reservations, keep everything connected to my status, and leverage 50,000 points worth of value (more than $2,000 in hotel stay) from one credit card sign-up!
Flying on the outbound, I booked First Class in Emirates through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Until recently (a few days after I made the booking, in fact) Alaska Airlines miles were the best currency for travel on Emirates. No longer the case, unfortunately. Each ticket set us back 90,000 miles plus about $80 in taxes and fees, and the layover in Dubai was free. Booking was simple, and required an easy call to an Alaska Air agent once I’d found availability on each of the specific flights I wanted (using expertflyer.com)
The return flights were the toughest. I was careful to ensure that all the other bookings were completed as well as fully refundable (both true) before moving forward on this piece.
American Airlines partners with Etihad, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, based in Abu Dhabi. Though Etihad is not part of the OneWorld alliance, the airline represents without a doubt one of the best and most extravagant redemption opportunities. Booked prior to the award chart devaluation earlier this year, First Class between the Middle East and North America cost 90,000 miles each way.
I found availability by searching Etihad’s website, then called an American Airlines call center in Australia to lock in the reservation. Getting home from New York to San Diego was going to require weird routing because of how close our travel was to the Holidays, so I elected to fly back to Los Angeles and drive from there. This opened up one more opportunity to check out another fantastic airplane cabin – American’s A321 Transcon, which flies between JFK and LAX/SFO in a special three class configuration with fully lie-flat beds in First and Business class. Score!
Our trip cost us a grand total of 515,000 miles, across three points currencies (Alaska, Hyatt and American). Additionally, there were small taxes on the Alaska ticket ($160), and Cash + Points copays of $298 for the Park Hyatt Dubai reservation.
So, all in, our hotel reservations and airfare for the trip of a lifetime on the other side of the globe cost us 515,000 miles. Not a small sum, for sure.
Here’s where you start to appreciate the value of collecting points.
Emirates first class hovers around $18,000 one-way on this itinerary (across many months of potential travel dates) and Etihad first class is slightly over $7,000.
Our room at the Park Hyatt New York (they were kind enough to upgrade us to a suite, not normal on an all-points stay) goes for $1,425/night.
Our room at the Park Hyatt Dubai (we confirmed our booking in a Park Suite, and were upgraded to a Park Terrace Suite) goes for $857/night.
Our first room at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa (we booked a Park Villa, and were upgraded to a Park Pool Villa) goes for $1,205.
Our second room at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa (upgraded, with fee, to a Park Water Villa) goes for $1,405 minimum, but as much as $2,000++ during peak season (when we were there).
Grand total: 515,000 points gave us a trip that retails for, at minimum, $61,683. That’s a redemption value of almost $.12 a piece, for cities, beaches and apartments in the sky with flowing champagne, delicious food, and a shower. Twice.
The trip was an unbelievable, beautiful, extravagant adventure. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience all that we saw and did over two weeks in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean, not to mention to be able to do so at a young age with the love of my life.
We saw incredible sights, travelled the world, relaxed in the most secluded naturally beautiful spot on earth I have ever seen (or even imagined), made new friends, and ended the vacation with a near-perfectly ironic celebrity encounter.
Full reviews of all we saw and did thanks to points and travel hacks, coming up on Pointed Out.