Monday, 21 September 2015

HOLIDAY 2015, GOING ON REWARDS TO THE MALDIVES AND DUBAI

For two entirely different reasons, the Maldives and Dubai have always been aspirational destinations for me. Having seen fantastic reviews of them over the years, I've always considered the Maldives to be the ultimate in romantic and secluded getaway destinations, made all the more desirable due to the well known expense of getting and stay there.


For Dubai, I've long wanted to visit this city that seems to have shot up out of nowhere in the last 15 or so years. Everything I've heard of it makes me think of it as the Vegas of the middle-east, a superficial playground that has no right to exist in the landscape that it has enveloped. I'm all for a bit of superfical, if its done well :)


Preplanning

I'm fortunate in that I have the ability to collect useful amount of rewards in different loyalty programmes.  So when planning ahead for this holiday, I needed to assess which programmes I'd need to focus on, so as I could accumulate the required points/miles.

Here's the most common programmes that I can acquire points in, and what they possibily translate into in terms of travel benefits that would be relevant to my intended holiday.

Tesco Clubcard.  £2.50 of clubcard vouchers gets you 600 Avios of 650 Virgin miles. Can also be converted into Hilton Hhonor points via Virgin, which works out at £2.50 gets you 975 Hilton points.

American Express. MR points can be converted 1-1 for Avios, Virgin Etihad or Emirates. They can also convert 1-2 into Hilton points.

MBNA AA visa/Amex card. spend on the amex card, and get 1.5 miles per £1. Spend on the Visa card and get 0.75miles per £1.

Choice of Carrier

If you follow this blog, you'll know that I live in Northern Ireland. The most direct way to the UAE for me is from Dublin, either Emirates to Dubai, or Etihad to Abu Dhabi (AUH). There are no first class seats on either (in fact there isn't a first class seat out of Ireland to ANYWHERE), so I'd be looking for business seats. You can fly direct to the Maldives(MLE) from either of those two cities. The two cities are about  90 mins or so drive apart.

Etihad seemed the best one for me for a number of reasons. First, I could transfer MR points into Eithad guest miles. But, of more interest to me, Etihad has a partnership with AA, allowing AA to book reward seats on Etihad flights, using AA miles. Finally, on business class flights, free chauffeur driven cars are made available in AUH, for transfers to/from your hotel, including hotels in Dubai.

I had a stash of AA miles built up from a previous time when I took out the MBNA AA Amex/Visa cards. A look at the AA partner award told me that Dublin to the Maldives (via AUH) would cost 30K AA miles per person 1-way in business class.  MLE-AUH would cost 25K each in biz, and AUH-DUB would be another 30K each. So 85K AA miles per person, 170K AA in total. I also knew that AA charges very little in terms of taxes and fees for award seats. Finally, checking award availablity would be easy, as Etihad's website provides you with the info, and AA has access to the same seats.

Choice of Hotels

For hotels,  I'd done some research and found that the Conrad Hilton is about the best hotel in the Maldives that can be booked on redemption. The Maldives is an expensive place, so anything I could do to mitigate costs would be worth doing. I've had the hilton credit card for a while now, and if I put another few £K onto it, I'd hit the £10,000, at which poin Hilton would give me Hhonors Gold status.  Gold status gets you free breakfast at the Conrad, easily a saving of £50 a day for a couple. An award night in the Conrad costs 95K hilton points. As a gold member you get 5 nights for the price of 4. I felt 6 nights would be better.

I could make a decision about the Dubai hotel later, there are countless options there.

So I knew what I needed to collect. I needed 170K AA miles. I also needed 475K hilton points for my 6 nights stay in the Conrad. This meant I needed to focus on gathering American Express points, and also Tesco points.I also would need to put a bit of spending on my Hilton visa card, to get me that gold status that would get me free breakfast, and that 5 nights for 4 benefit.

In the next article, I'll explain my initial booking, and why I had a change of plans afterwards.

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