• Greg and Betsey

Nearly Free to the Maldives!

For Betsey’s second anniversary of turning 39, I surprised her with a week in the Maldives at an overwater bungalow—one of her travel bucket list items. Even better, we were able to do it for about 10% of the actual cost while flying business class!


Keep reading to find out how and to get our review on the Le Meridian Maldives as well as the Qatar Airways Qsuites review.

How we got there

Getting to the Maldives is not for the feint of heart. But, once you see the beautiful blue water and perfect white sand beaches, you realize you’ve made the right decision. Knowing of how long the flights and layovers would be, I opted to upgrade most segments to business class on Qatar and British Airways.


Our itinerary:

ATL - DOH - MLE

Seaplane to to the resort.


Seaplane from resort to MLE.

MLE - DOH - LHR - ATL


From Atlanta to Doha, we got to experience the Qatar Airways Qsuites! This may be the best business class experience available today! Private suites, with closing doors and an option to convert to a full size bed.




The service from the Qatar Airways staff is off the charts. They provide excellent service without being right behind you all the time. Some great perks of the Qsuites experience. You can enjoy dining at any time during the flight and in any order you want. Their selection of beverages was also very nice. You get new PJ's, an amenity kit with toothbrush/toothpaste and Castello Monte Vibiano products to help you show up to your destination fresh.


Pictures just don't capture how much room you have in these suites!



After dinner, dessert and a drink, our attendant came to convert our seats into a full double bed. The put down a mattress topper, and duvet and extra pillows with pillow cases. With the privacy door, you can turn on the “do not disturb” sign, close the door and get some quality zzzz.


The first leg from ATL to DOH was a little under 13 hours flying time. I was able to sleep more than half of it, which was really good for me. Betsey can sleep anywhere and through anything. The lay down beds really helped me!


How to Book Business Class to Maldives for 90% Less the Cash Price

If we were to have paid cash for our QSuites flights to the Maldives and the business class tickets back home, the cost would have been $22,000! Now, some of you may be willing to trade a car or house down payment for some flights, but most of you are like us and want to travel hack your way to luxury trips.



Book with Miles on American

I booked our flights using American Airways miles. Many of you know that I fly Delta almost exclusively for work, but I am open to other options when travel hacking dream trips.

I booked our flights using American Airways miles. Many of you know that I fly Delta almost exclusively for work, but I am open to other options when travel hacking dream trips. You can also use British Airways Avios (Chase transfer partner) and Cathay Pacific Miles (Amex and Citi transfer partner) to book Qatar flights. The key is to accumulate enough for the transfer or to book directly.


If you want to experience the Qsuites, the first step is finding which flights/aircrafts have them installed. As of now, there are only certain flights that Qatar Airways has the Qsuites on leaving the US. Thankfully, the ATL-DOH route is one of them. So, my priority was to find the flight with the Qsuites and adjust the resort dates to fit, which was easy to change with Marriott's flexible change option. You can search on


You can search on Qatar’s website for the flights, or you can search on American, since that’s the miles I would be using. The issue comes up if you are searching for “award tickets” on American’s website, the availability may not show up, even though there are award flights available. To get past this, the key is to search for the Award Flight Availability on British Airways. If you can book a rewards flight with British Airways Avios, then you will be able to book the same flight through American using American miles. This may take some back and forth between different websites, but its worth it.


Use Seat Guru to confirm that your flight has Qsuites. You can look for the this arrangement in business class. If you are traveling with a companion and want the seats that convert into a full bed, choose seat E and F.

QSuites Seat Layout

If you see this seat arrangement on the map, then it's most likely not Qsuites and their old business class set up (which is still very nice, but not quite the same experience as the Qsuites).




Once you’ve found the flights you want, you need to get the flight numbers, times, dates, and confirm on BA.com that there is award seats available. Sometimes, these will show up on AA.com and you can book them yourself. AA.com will show the American flights first. You can select to only see partner airlines. If the flights to DOH don’t show up on AA.com, you will need to call them. This is what I ended up doing.


When you talk with a representative, be sure to stipulate that you want to book the QR flight from ATL- DOH, not an American Flight, which will most likely be a British Airways flight through London. Give them the Qatar flight numbers and they should be able to book it that way. If they are having difficulty (which can happen), then you have 2 options. Hangup and try and different representative. Or, you can call American Australia via Skype and book through them. They are on a different system for partner flights and booking may be easier that way, depending on how complicated the itinerary you’ve chosen.


Make sure that the connection flights from DOH to MLE are on the right day! We left ATL at 7:00PM on a Monday and landed in DOH at 4PM on a Tuesday and the flight to MLE wasn’t until 1:00AM on Wednesday. The long layover was the worst part of the trip, but thankfully the DOH airport is nice, with multiple lounges available, including one with a spa and swimming pool.


Flights Home

Coming home from MLE, we went DOH to LHR to ATL, adding an additional leg. There was not a direct flight to he same day we were coming home, so I opted for a shorter layover and shorter total travel time by adding the extra leg through London. Though we didn’t get to fly the Qsuites on this route, we got home 15 hours sooner and still had exceptional service on the business class of Qatar and British Airways.



The Qatar flight to London was the Heringbone layout, which I enjoyed better than the BA layout. Everyone has direct aisle access. The food was better on Qatar as well. While it was not the best lobster I’ve ever had, it was the by far the best lobster I've ever had on a plane!



**Be aware that the taxes and fees are generally higher on British Airways flights through London than other routes, especially for premium cabins. But, saving close to a full day of travel to get home and see the kids made it worth it.




The Layover


The layover in Doha was a little long at 8 hours, especially after the outgoing 13 hour flight. Thankfully there are some great options to kill time. There are multiple lounges available, quiet rooms for resting, a large food court, as well as an onsite hotel. If you have a Priority Pass membership (free with many American Express cards, as well as some premium Citi cards), you can get access to one of the business lounges. We took advantage on our layover and enjoyed taking a quick shower in preparation for our 4.5 hour flight to the Maldives. They provide towels, soap, shampoo, conditioner, and private shower rooms to change. There are quiet nap rooms, where they have lounge chairs to sleep. They were all booked full when we tried, but we did catch a little sleep in the regular chairs in the business lounge.



The Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge. Image Credit: ausbt.com.au.

Qatar Tours


Pre-Covid, there are excursions you can take from the Doha airport to experience Qatar. Hopefully, these come back soon as they have some really interesting options and would have been much better than sitting around an airport, even as nice as DOH. You can go camel riding, sand boarding, dinner in the desert, 4x4 rides in the desert, tours via yauts and city tours. Most require a layover of 5-8+ hours.


Arriving in The Maldives

Upon arriving at the MLE airport, we were immediately met by a representative of the Le Meridian Resort who helped us get checked in for our sea plane ride. There are specific weight limits for your bags on the Transiland Maldivan Airways seaplane flights. If you are over, regardless of any airline elite status, they will charge you. After checking into the flight and taking our checked bags, we were taken by a bus ride to the VIP lounge to wait for our plane departure. The docks for the boats are on the other side of the airport.


The VIP lounge is small, but they had some nice drinks, some breakfast foods and fruit. There were 2 massage chairs in the corner that were taken by the same couple for the entire hour we were there, so we didn’t get to partake. They obviously were enjoying them. Maybe a time limit would help.


VIP Lounge Trans Maldivan Airways


There was a slight delay in the flight due to some rain.Our seaplane was completely full with a 1-2 seat set up with 8 rows. The takeoff was loud, but a lot smoother than I anticipated. Within seconds you are flying above the beautiful water. The immediate areas around the airport and capital are more urban and industrious. With in minutes though, you are flying above other islands and atolls.


The Maldives is a chain of 26 coral atolls (groups os islands) that stretch for over 460 miles. As a first-time visitor, I’m not sure you could pick wrong! Everyone we flew over util we landed at our resort was just beautiful beyond words. The deep shades of turquoise water and beautiful white sand surround each one.


Our flight was about 45 minutes from take off to our splashdown landing. The last picture is our plane parking at the resort!


Le Meridian Maldives



Photo Credit: Marriott

As soon as we exited the sea plane, we were greeted the assistant manager of the resort, who welcomed us by name and took us via golf cart to reception to check in.

Welcome Lounge for check-in. Photo Credit: Marriott


After nearly 40 hours since we left home, our check-in was smooth and they had our room ready, even though it was 10:00AM. Check in is right off of the seaplane dock. The golf cart ride to the room allows for a brief tour of much of the facilities.




Sunset Over Water Bungalow

Overwater Bungalows. Photo Credit Marriott

Though I was able to book the entire week with Marriot Bonvoy points, I chose to go with a cash upgrade to get the Sunset Overwater Bungalow. Most nights we would sit on the back deck and watch the sun go down as the stars began to populate the night sky. When booking, the Sunset is priced as an upgrade over the Sunrise villas. The sunset rooms are on the left and sunrise on the right. The rooms are identical. The view was unbelievable!


The rooms were perfect for the 2 of us. The bed looks out over the water. There was a small hutch with a coffee maker and tea kettle, along with a mini fridge. They provided complementary water each day.


Betsey loved the bathtub over looking the water. There were shades you could lower for more privacy if necessary. You could occasionally see a few snorkelers swim by, but most of the time you had complete privacy. The back deck was nice in the morning and as the sun was setting. The afternoon it got quite hot and with little shade, we opted for the pool or napping inside.





Had I to do it all over again… my top pick would have been to upgrade to the On-the-Water Lagoon Villa or select the Sunrise Overwater Bungalow for less points/cash than the sunset. I don’t think it’s worth the extra points, and/or cash upgrade for the sunset Bungalow.

Lagoon Villas. Photo Credit Marriott

The Lagoon Villas were on the opposite end of the resort as most of the other active villas, which provided more privacy than the sunrise villas. On our last day, we were not able to get a late checkout with our current room, so the manager allowed us to move rooms since we didn’t fly out until 3:00PM. They put us a Lagoon room, which had some great perks over the sunrise Villa. The best snorkeling is 50 feet off the back deck of the Lagoon villa. A healthy growing reef runs for ~200 yards parallel to the Lagoon villas and is filled with the best and brightest fish around the island. Since Betsey brought her own snorkeling gear, we were able to get in one last swim before leaving. One last benefit of the Lagoon Villas were the shade that was available in the afternoon on the back porch. For a few hours each afternoon, it was just hot on our Sunset Villa to enjoy the pack porch.


If the Lagoon Villas is not available, I would next opt for the Sunrise Villa. First, they faced the prettier water of the protected bay. Once the sun passed noon, the water was easier to look at and enjoy with the shade on the back porch. It got hot in the afternoons, so we didn’t spend as much time until sun was setting on our back dock. Another reason was the Sunrise were closer to better snorkeling than the Sunset. If you’re not doing a lot snorkeling, then this may not be a big deal. We went most days, except for one when it was very windy and the water was choppy.


Activities

Speaking of snorkling. The resort provides free snorkel gear you can keep for the entire week. As long as you return it 4 hours before your departure, it’s free. They also have free kayaks, including the glass bottom version, which we enjoyed. Paddling over close to the reefs provide a very cool way to experience the beautiful underwater life.


They also have stand up paddle boards and small sail boats that are free to use. All you need to do is fill out a waiver at the beach sports hut on the beach. When you are finished, they help you bring everything in. There were other water activities you could pay additional money, like scuba diving, turtle and dolphin excursions.













Waves Fitness Center

The workout room was surprisingly large and offered a great variety of equipment. They had multiple treadmills, elliptical, and bikes. There were full weight racks, multiple weight machines, a full dumbbell wrack, kettlebells, and core equipment. And, I guarantee your gym doesn’t come with this view. The location is right off the path from the overwater bungalows, which made it very convenient.




There is also a full service spa, Movies on the beach, and a kids section for those traveling with families.










The Pools

There were two different pools, plus a kiddie pool at the main pool. The Velaa pool is the main pool and is right next to the Velaa Bar and Grill. The Riviera Pool is the adult only pool, with a bar available for drinks and food. Both pools were smaller than I would have expected. Though this was not a big deal. What was a bummer though was the lack of lounge chairs around the pool. There were very comfortable chairs on the beach with small tables and umbrellas. I hope they’ll add some around the pools. But overall, both pools were beautiful and offered breathtaking views.














Restaurants


With the resort confined to the small island, you are stuck with few restaurant choices. The good news is, we thought the food exceeded our expectations.


Click the links below to view the food and beverage menus, including a la carte and the various meal plans.



- Tabemasu – To view the menu, please click here

- Latitude - To view the menu, please click here

- Riviera - To view the menu, please click here

- Waves Café - To view the menu, please click here

- Velaa Bar + Grill - To view the menu, please click here

- Turquoise - To view the menu, please click here

Meal Plans

You can do a half-board or full-board option. The half-board comes with breakfast and dinner, and some drinks. The full board is all meals plus alcohol. We ended up NOT choosing any of the meal plans and went a la carte for our meals for a few reasons.

- Free breakfast included as a Platinum Marriot Bonvoy member. This saved us ~$70 each day. People often ask why stick to one hotel chain when traveling and this is one of the reasons.

- Upon looking at the reduced menu items included in the meal plan, we wanted the variety.

- After the first two days of eating a huge breakfast (more on this in a minute), we skipped lunch a few times and just had an earlier dinner (perfect for watching sunsets too)

- Ultimately, we figured it would have been more expensive to do the meal plan with less options.

Turquoise Restaurant. Photo Credit Marriott

For breakfast, you have 3 options.

1- Room Service. This is not included in the meal plan nor as a part of the free breakfast for elites, so we passed.

2- Lattitude (10AM) coffee bar.

3- Turquoise. This is where we ate breakfast each day. It’s part buffet with various stations for made to order options. There’s an egg station for eggs any style, including omelets, Benedict, and scrambled. There’s a waffle and crepe station. I may or may not have ordered a crepe everyday. Felt like we were back in Paris! There are some Asian and Indian stations as well. There was every type of bread, danish, pastry, donut you can think of. They had fresh fruit as well as fresh squeezed juice which is Betsey’s favorite. The view form Turquoise is amazing to top it off.


Lunch and Dinner

Turquoise is also open for lunch and dinner. It is a buffet style for lunch as well. There are many options with stations changing daily. This is a good idea for families with many different appetites to please.

Velaa Bar and Grill

This is where we ate dinner most nights and a few times a very late lunch. The grilled meat plate was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Plus it was our first night after a few long travel days. The steak and lamb were really great. No, there’s no cows on the island. We were told a food boat comes once a week.

A few times we opted for a big late breakfast and then an earlier dinner. We would get to the Velaa bar around 4:50 and order off the lunch menu. By the time the food came it was after 5:00 when we normally eat anyways. The lunch menu has brick oven pizzas, tacos, and burgers, which surprisingly are not available on the dinner menu. So, if you’re craving a burger or some fresh fish tacos, hit up the Velaa Bar and Grill for lunch or an early dinner. **The prices were also much cheaper at lunch.



Rivera Pool and Bar. Photo Credit Marriott

Riviera

This bar and restaurant is at the adults only pool. We spent a few days there hanging out at the pool. I ordered the truffle fries (I love truffle fries!) and a drink. Was a little ridiculous to be $50, so we didn’t do that again. But the view was great and it was not crowded—at times we were the only patrons present.

Tabemasu


Tabemasu Restaurant at Sunset. Photo credit Marriott

This is a fancy Japanese restaurant with a unique offering of traditional and modern dishes. We didn’t visit this restaurant as it was closed 2 of the nights we were there, but it’s overwater views and vista provide an unbelievable setting.


Booking Bungalow with Points

When booking Marriott rewards, be sure to search a variety of days. If you are flexible, search different weeks and months. The dates we booked in February was almost 150,000 less points than when a friend was looking in May. July didn't seem as high when I looked. Also, if you have free Marriott nights via American Express or Chase Marriott credit cards, be sure to see if the days allow for free night certificates.


5th Night Free

Remember, Marriott gives you the 5th night for 0 points when booking with points. For 7 days, I ended up using only 240,000 points. This is well beyond a normal redemption, at nearly 3x the value. The 5th night free helps stretch your points further. **This is why I rarely redeem Marriott points for anything less than 5 days.


Earning Marriott Bonvoy Points


Besides earning Marriott points with hotel stays, you can add a lot of Marriott points with their co-branded credit cards. The great part about Marriott is they have relationships with Chase and American Express.


Chase Marriott Credit Card. This also comes with a free night each year, which I always redeem for more than the $95 annual fee, saving money and earning bonus points in the process. Follow this link as we get a small number of bonus points if you do :)


American Express Marriott Credit Card. Get 75,000 bonus points for signing up. That's nearly 1/3 of the way to the Maldives! Follow this link and we get a small number of bonus points if you do :)



Besides the sign up bonus with co-branded credit cards, you can transfer American Express Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott. This could give you the extra points you need or take advantage of multiple signup bonuses to get the points necessary.


Chase Sapphire Preferred. This is a really great all around travel credit card. I book all my rental cars with it as it carries primary insurance coverage, bypassing my own insurance. This is much easier than dealing with other cards like Amex that are secondary to your own insurance. Get 60,000 Points with a new card! Follow this link as we get a small number of bonus points if you do :)


American Express Gold Card. This is another great all around travel card with great bonus categories for grocery stores, restaurants and travel purchases. Sign up bonus is 60,000 points! Follow this link as we get a small number of bonus points if you do :)


With some strategic signup bonuses with American Express and Chase, as well as coordinating your other purchases, you could have enough points quickly to book your over the water bungalow bucket trip too!


Final Take

Was it worth the nearly 3 days of travel to get to the Maldives?


I've been asked dozens of times and the answer was absolutely YES! Experiencing the Qsuites as well as the other business class seats made it not only easy, but actually enjoyable. Watch the layover times and keep them as short as possible.


The Le Meridian Maldives was really nice and the view was stunning. It was not too busy and the staff were over the top nice. Our last night they brought Betsey a cake and champagne to celebrate her birthday! The over the water bungalow was one of Betsey's dream list and I'm so glad we got to check it off. Even better was it cost us ~10% of what everyone else was paying (all in--food, drinks, taxes, fees, etc).




I would highly recommend the resort, especially given the current Bonvoy redemption rates make it a much better deal than any other resort I researched.


Let us know if you make it to the Maldives!










And yes, I wore these on the way home to celebrate!





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