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Booked: Bye Bye Bonvoy, Hello Sunshine!

As restrictions lift around the world and the skies become busier than they’ve been in the past two years, it’s now my turn to get back to international travel. 

My wife Ashley and I are busy preparing for our upcoming two week trip to the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, where we plan to swan dive into two weeks of luxurious bliss.

Here are some details about the trip, with some of the thoughts that went in to our decision making process along the way.

The Trip

As with many of you, I have been busy earning points over the past two years. However, I haven’t been burning them at quite the same rate. So, we’ve been sitting on a number of Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy points that we’d rather have been redeeming for meaningful experiences.

With the upcoming devaluation of Marriott Bonvoy, we decided to visit some places that we’d likely be priced out of once pricing goes fully dynamic in 2023. Since we’re celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary this year, we decided to ham it up a bit to mark the occasion.

Staying in an overwater villa in the Maldives fits this bill perfectly. We opted for Le Méridien Maldives Resort and Spa, due to the attractive pricing and our previous positive experiences at Le Méridien properties.

From being surrounded by the Indian Ocean, we head to the United Arab Emirates to surround ourselves with the desert during a two night stay at Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, which Ricky reviewed in 2019.

We’ve flanked our blissful stays with excellent flights that we’ve both been dreaming about since March 2020. Let’s have a look at the details.

The Outbound

After bidding farewell to family and pets on Vancouver Island, we make a short hop to Vancouver for a long daytime layover. The plan is to have brunch with friends and stretch our legs in beautiful Stanley Park, before heading back to the airport to lounge before our first long-haul flight.

We scored business class seats on Turkish Airlines from Vancouver to Istanbul, onboard its beautiful 787 Dreamliner. I’ve had to cancel flights on this route no fewer than five times since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’m sure you can imagine how pleased I’ll be as I ready myself for eleven and a half hours of Turkish delight.

Turkish Airlines 787 business class – Seat 2K
Turkish Airlines 787 business class

Turkish Airlines holds a special place in my airline heart, as it was the first long-haul business class product I flew (on our honeymoon) after beginning my journey with Miles & Points. Turkey has subsequently become one of our favourite places, both as a transit point and as a destination.

After a four-hour stay in the Turkish Airlines Business Lounge, we hop on an eight-hour overnight flight to Malé, again with Turkish Airlines. The business class cabin on this Boeing 777 aircraft is the less desirable 2-3-2 configuration, but we were happy to have a quick, single connection. Since it’s an overnight flight, we’ll try to rest up as much as possible to maximize the waking hours during our stay.

We arrive in Malé early in the morning, which sets us up nicely for a mid-morning 30-minute seaplane flight on Trans Maldivian Airways to Thilamaafushi Island – our home for five nights.

Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane

After our stay, we have an afternoon flight back to Malé before catching an evening business class flight to Abu Dhabi aboard Etihad Airways. 

Up to now, these flights cost us each a total of 105,000 Aeroplan points. At 11,650 miles, it prices at 100,000 points on the fourth distance band on the North America–Atlantic chart on Aeroplan, plus 5,000 points each for the stopover.

This will be my first time experiencing Etihad’s business class product, and I’m excited to see what their Dreamliner business class is like, as we’ll be able to compare it to…

The Return

After our stay in the United Arab Emirates, we will enjoy over 14 hours of bliss as we fly Etihad Airways First Class from Abu Dhabi to Washington. For the second time on the same trip, we’ll be on board Etihad’s 787 Dreamliner, but this time, we’ll be right at the front of the plane.

I’m interested to compare the two products, as many people often ask about how different the experiences are.

Etihad Airways 787 First Class

After an unremarkable overnight stay in Washington, which will be much needed after 14 hours of wining and dining, we fly to Montreal on an all-economy Air Canada flight to attend the Prince of Travel Signature Event.

Getting from Abu Dhabi to Montreal cost us 120,000 Aeroplan points each. We’re getting around 10 cents per point for the flights, which I would argue is a great use of Aeroplan points.

For our last leg, we’ll make an early-morning stop at St-Viateur Bagel before heading to the airport and flying to Vancouver and onward to Victoria. We booked an Economy Latitude fare for 23,800 Aeroplan points and used eUpgrades to instantly confirm seats in business class.

The rest of the plane will be treated to the scent of fresh bagels wafting from the overhead bin above my seat, but hey — at least it’s not a durian.

Admittedly, I’ve made a number of changes to these bookings over the past few months. Previous iterations of the itinerary included: 

  • Originally routing via Montreal to fly with Turkish Airlines (we switched to Vancouver–Istanbul when an ExpertFlyer alert came in)
  • Flying out of and into Comox, where we live (we changed to depart from and arrive in Victoria, where our pets will stay with family)
  • An overnight connection in Istanbul (which we tightened up by monitoring award space) 
  • Routing via Bahrain to get to Abu Dhabi (which we avoided when the direct flight with Etihad became available around two weeks prior to departure) 
  • A very early morning departure from Montreal (we swapped the luxury of an A330 lie-flat on the flight to Vancouver for a more leisurely morning in the city)

We took advantage of Aeroplan’s generous free change policy to make changes for free. We had to pay the difference in points or in taxes and fees each time, but didn’t have to pay any change fees. I also enjoy unlimited free changes this year as a Super Elite, which I “earned” from last year’s Status Bump promotion.

The Hotels

Le Méridien Maldives, a Category 5 Marriott Bonvoy property, opened in 2021. It quickly gained notoriety in the Miles & Points world as one of the cheapest ways to get an overwater villa in the Maldives.

Le Méridien Maldives – Sunrise Overwater Villa

With many options available to us, we opted to book a Sunrise Overwater Villa for 160,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and a US$250 co-pay for a five night stay. Without a co-pay, the price jumps to 210,000 Bonvoy points.

We decided to part with some cash and save the extra points towards our other stay. Further, as we currently value Bonvoy points at 0.9 cents per point, we’d be getting less than that for the extra 50,000 points.

Our other option would have been to book a Sunset Overwater Villa for 160,000 Bonvoy points plus a $750 co-pay. After reading other reviews, we settled on the Sunrise Villa and will put the $500 towards two days of food and drink at the resort.

Le Méridien Maldives offers several meal packages, which I will cover in detail in my review. 

We are still finalizing which one we will go with, but are leaning towards the mid-range option that costs $125 per day, and then upgrading to All-Inclusive, at $200 per day, for the last two days. Breakfast is included with my Marriott Platinum Elite status, so this affords us options for lunch and dinner, with beverages included.

Of course, we’ll also be sure to eat instant noodles on the balcony at our villa, as per tradition on the Prince of Travel team.

We arrive late in Abu Dhabi and opted for the cheapest Marriott hotel in the city. We settled on the Aloft at $92, and I’ll earn two elite qualifying nights for the stay due to the current Double Nights promotion.

From there, we rent a car and make a short drive through the desert to Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai, a Category 8 property. We found a rental car for $130, which was less than the cost of a one-way transfer to the hotel booked privately.

Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – Bedouin Suite outdoor patio
Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai

We booked into a Bedouin Suite for two nights at 100,000 Bonvoy points per night. As all meals are included, our costs will be minimal for this stay; just any alcohol and extras that we decide to purchase.

After a drive through Dubai, we’ll head back to Abu Dhabi for a quick stay at the Courtyard World Trade Centre Abu Dhabi. We paid a cash rate of $97, and again will earn double nights for this stay. We won’t be spending a lot of time in the hotel, so we opted for a more affordable option over burning a Free Night Award at, say, The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi.

The remainder of our stays are unremarkable. We booked a travel agent rate at Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel near DCA airport, and then two nights in Montreal at the Fairfield by Marriott Montreal Downtown for $75/night.

We anticipate being tired after our flight from Abu Dhabi, and the hotel offers a free shuttle to DCA airport the next day. In Montreal, with what’s sure to be a packed weekend, we just need a decent place to rest at night, as we’ll otherwise be busy visiting friends and with the Signature Event.

Why Now?

This isn’t necessarily a trip that my wife Ashley and I would usually do, as we tend to move around a bit more on our holidays. Typically, we’ll have a few days of activities and stay at more modest accommodations, followed by a day or two of rest and relaxation at nicer places.

But after the upcoming Bonvoy devaluation takes place, we wouldn’t be likely to drop a ton of points on a dynamically-priced overwater villa, or at a super fancy resort in the middle of the desert. 

Le Méridien Maldives – Main pool

Aside from YOLO and FOMO, which I’m sure had an effect on our decisions, having a trip like this came at the perfect time for us. The last two years have been gruelling: we finished up grad school and moved across the country, began new careers, bought a house, and have generally been going non-stop. Oh, and there was also a pandemic.

Furthermore, having very recently recovered from COVID, we feel more confident embarking on a journey far away from home. We are both covered by travel insurance and will continue taking any necessary precautions, but with testing requirements recently being lifted for the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, we feel optimistic that the worst is behind us.

We both want to slow things down for a bit, and what better way to do that than by flying across the world to a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean?

I’m certainly looking forward to relaxing, recharging, and reconnecting with my love for travel to new places. And, of course, beginning to celebrate our fifth anniversary.

Conclusion

We’re busy getting set for our upcoming luxury trip to the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates. After a rainy winter on Vancouver Island, we can’t wait for two weeks of sunshine and indulgence.

Indeed, we are parting ways with a lot of points, but we feel confident that it will be worth the experience. 

I look forward to checking off a few boxes on my Miles & Points list over the coming weeks, and I hope to share some of the highlights from my trip with some of you at the Prince of Travel Signature Event in Montreal.

16 Comments
  1. Kelly

    Thanks for the info on Bonvoy devaluation.

  2. Tiggs

    Planning a similar trip from YVR in the near future. Having hard time finding award availability on the IST-MLE leg on TK in business. Using the Aeroplan search engine shows no availability over multiple dates, and expert flyer confirms this. Did you have this problem ? Have any idea if there is a specific timing for release of award business seats on this leg? Thanks.

    1. T.J. YQQ

      We originally had flights leaving at 2 in the morning, but found space on an earlier connection. I’d suggest putting in an ExpertFlyer award space alert and then booking a backup option for the meantime.

  3. WT

    Good for you!!!! Enjoy!!! You only live once. Nice to see maximum opportunity being seized with the points x 2 !!

  4. ML

    Did a similar UAE trip last month. Re: transfers, we were easily able to get a private car transfer for ~70 USD from Dubai to Al Maha using GetTransfer.

    Also stayed at the Renaissance Arlington/DCA after landing in IAD on Etihad First and the Uber XL from IAD to the hotel was by far the most expensive transfer of the whole UAE trip. Back to reality.

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Thanks for the DP. I hadn’t seen GetTransfer, but might opt for the road trip for the experience.

  5. Timbo2

    Just returned from MLE a few weeks ago and from the Al Maha in December. (don’t give into temptation and feed the sand gazelles). I’m sure it will be a memorable trip. NOTE: Assuming the five year anniversary is with each other…

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Sure is. From what I’ve heard/read, Al Maha is a memorable place, and I hope it fits the bill for us, too.

  6. JL

    I’m looking forward to reading your reviews. Especially the Al Maha (where I’ll be spending a week in September), the Le Meridien and Etihad’s first class product (which I’m taking to Abu Dhabi in September)!

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Ricky reviewed Al Maha and Etihad First Class back in 2019 and 2020. Be sure to check those out, too.

  7. Angad

    Question TJ, I’m also looking to book the Le Meridien resort in Maldives for October this year. Would you recommend booking it now? Also when I book using MB points the air transfer fee is included along with taxes, is that billed to the credit card right away? For the entire booking would you recommend using the MB Amex card or HSBC WE MC since the print shows in USD?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      I’d definitely recommend booking it now. There’s no harm in doing so. The air transfer isn’t included in the taxes; it’s an extra US$420 per person. I haven’t been asked to pay yet, but I imagine it’s going to get charged soon (we leave in 5 days). You’ll save a few hundred dollars with the HSBC card, but you’ll get a decent return with the Bonvoy card – I haven’t decided yet 🙂

  8. Bernard

    Excellent. It took a lot of work but you did it.

  9. Kyle

    Looks great TJ, the much needed break will be refreshing for you guys I’m sure.

    We have a similar trip and rioting coming up this fall. Do you mind sharing where you found the car rental in Abu Dhabi?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Thanks very much. Sounds like you’ve got something to look forward to, too!

      We booked with Europcar, but Budget was an option as well. I just shopped around and found a price that was reasonable for what we needed.

    2. Kyle

      Routing*

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