“Oh my god, you have to tell me how you booked this!”
We’re paraphrasing, but this was the gist of a fair few DM’s in our inbox after we posted how much we paid versus how much the Maldives should have cost us.
Unfortunately, there is no one website or magical promo code to enter to get you this deal. It requires flexibility, logistical planning and patience.
Before you waste your time reading, there are a some prerequisites:
- You’ll need someone to go with OR have someone who is willing to sign up to Hilton Honors (it’s free).
- You’ll need to have a decent credit rating, to be accepted for the American Express Platinum Card a.k.a AMEX.
- Either you or the person you are travelling with must NOT have had a personal AMEX card within the past 24 months.
- You’ll need to spend £2000 on your shiny new AMEX card within 3 months, to receive the bonus points required to convert to Hilton Honors points.
- You’ll need to be flexible (not physically) with the dates you can travel.
- You’ll need to have a budget of around £5,000 for everything (around 1/3 of this will be paid at the end of the holiday which gives you a chance to spread it out).
If the answer is YES to all of these and you fancy bagging yourself an £8-10,000 holiday for closer to £5,000. Read on.
Step 1 – Sign Up To Hilton Honors
The Conrad brand is one of many brands that trade under the Hilton name, which means it also shares the same loyalty programme – Hilton Honors.
In order for us to get this amazing price, you’re going to be paying for the room using Hilton Honors points. The main benefit of paying for a Hilton room on points is you don’t pay taxes or fees.
Many of the best Hilton properties charge 10% on top of the advertised price and 10% on top of $500+ a night soon adds up.
The reason this is Step 1, is because you cannot buy points within 90 days of opening the account*. So, you can’t do this last-minute.
*you can buy points within 30 days if there has been activity on the account, such as a Hilton stay or a transfer of points from AMEX.
Step 2 – Sign Up For The AMEX Platinum Card
This card has a £450 annual fee which is steep but before you stop reading;
- The card can be cancelled and the fee will be refunded pro rata. This means, if you manage to do everything I say in this post within 6 months, then cancel the card, you’ll get £225 back.
- You get access to 1000’s of airport lounges around the world via Priority Pass (and a few other lounges such as the Plaza Premium Lounge @ Heathrow T5), even when travelling economy. We’ve used a countless number of lounges on our travels.
- You get access to AMEX offers which gives you money off various retailers.
- You get invited to free exclusive events (there was a Christmas one last year in London with free-flowing champagne!)
- Probably the most important of all for this post – you get Hilton Honors Gold Status.
Hilton Honors Gold Status would normally require you to stay 40 nights per year in Hilton properties but with the Platinum Card, you get status straight away, no stays required.
This is particularly important because Gold Status grants you the following at the Conrad Maldives:
Hilton Honors Gold Status also allows you to utilise the “5th-night free” perk whereby you book 4 nights with points and get a 5th night free.
If you plan on keeping the card (like we did) and continuing to stay at Hilton properties (like we do) then you’ll continue to get free breakfast, complimentary upgrades and bonus points on your stays with Hilton Gold. It doesn’t always make sense to stay at a Hilton just based on these things but they’re nice perks if you happen to stay at one.
Once you have the AMEX Platinum Card, you’re going to want to make sure you enrol in Hilton Honors for the Gold Status then you’re going to want to make sure you set up a Direct Debit. The AMEX Platinum card is a charge card which means they are NOT credit cards.
You’ll need to pay them off, in full, every month otherwise you’ll be charged a hefty fee and potentially get marks on your credit report. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
In order to accrue enough points for the Conrad redemption, you’ll need to spend £2000 within 3 months to get the welcome bonus. If you go through this link, you’ll get 35,000 instead of 30,000 (full disclaimer, we’ll get a kickback from this too but hey, it doesn’t cost you any more and we might have saved you loads of money!).
Step 3 – Convert Your AMEX Points To Hilton Honors
Once you have received the bonus, you should have over 30,000 AMEX points in your account which can be converted to Hilton Honors points. The conversion is 1:2 which means you need to convert 30,000 AMEX points to Hilton Honors to get a total of 60,000 points.
Any points left over in your AMEX account can be converted to multiple different hotel chains/airlines but that’s a blog post (or 20) for another day.
Step 4 – Wait For A Hilton Honors Points Buying Bonus.
At certain times of the year, Hilton offers a bonus for buying points, anywhere from 80-100%. You’ll want to wait for the 100% bonus which has cropped up several times in the past year.
Normally, you can only buy 80,000 points for $800. However, with the 100% bonus, you will receive 160,000 points for the same $800. You can only buy a maximum of 80,00 points per person, per calendar year so waiting for bonus periods is crucial. It’s a US programme so any points buying and points earning is calculated in dollars.
You will need both you AND your travel companion (or person you convinced to open a Hilton Honors account) to buy the maximum number of points for a total of $1600 and 320,000 points. You could use your Platinum Card for this, although bear in mind you will be charged a foreign transaction fee of around 3%. If you think you’ll struggle to spend £2000 in 3 months, this is a good way of taking a large chunk out of that.
You don’t even need the other person to lift a finger. As long as you have their log in details, you can log in buy the points for them on your card and pool the points to your account.
Step 5 – Pool Your Points
Hilton allows you to pool (share) your points between up to 10 people. Fortunately, we don’t need 10 people for this, just 2. It’s very important that the points are pooled to the same account that you transferred the AMEX points to.
Person 1 – 60,000 (transferred from AMEX) + 160,000
Person 2 – 160,000
Person 2 must give the points to Person 1.
At this stage, Person 1 should have 380,000 Hilton Honors points in their account. As of today, the current redemption for a night at the Conrad Maldives is 95,000 points per night.
95,000 x 4 nights = 380,000
However, remember we mentioned the 5th night free? That means you can get 5 nights for 380,000 points.
When we factor in the annual fee of the AMEX Platinum (£450) and the cost of bought points ($1600) at the current exchange rate, that makes around $2200 total outlay.
$2200 for a stay that should cost $5800? We’d say that’s a pretty good deal, and that’s without factoring in lounge access, AMEX offers etc.
Step 6 – Look For Award Space
Once you have all your points and status you’ll need to look for available dates and this is where being flexible pays off.
The easiest way to do this is to search for a random 5-night stay and click “Use flexible dates”. You should then be able to quickly see which 5-night stretches are available throughout the year.
Once you find a 5-night stretch available, check Skyscanner or Google Flights for dates that give you the best flight deals to coincide with your stay. This may seem obvious but bear in mind a lot of flights to the Maldives arrive the next day, so make sure to book flights that coincide with when you are actually staying!
Step 7 – Pick Your Room
Hilton has 2 “Standard” room options available for the Conrad Maldives – Beach Villas and Water Villas.
The Water Villa may seem like the obvious choice but the Beach Villas are significantly larger. If size matters or you have kids, the Beach Villa might actually be a better option.
However, if it’s your first (and perhaps only) time to the Maldives then there is no doubt, you should go for the Water Villa. There aren’t many places in the world you can stay in a room on stilts, in the middle of the ocean.
The reason we mention this, is because some dates may only show a Beach Villa available but if you keep searching around, you should be able to find Water Villas available too.
All of the room options here.
Step 7 – Book Your Flights
The next step is to book your flights which we won’t get into in this post. Expect to pay £650-£850 per person for a return flight in economy, flying from the UK. British Airways fly direct seasonally but you may not find space at the hotel at the same times.
If you can’t fly direct, we’d highly recommend flying with Qatar Airways as they’re a fantastic airline with an equally impressive airport to stop over in. We flew with them for just over £600 on our first trip to the Maldives and have flown with them several times since with absolutely no complaints.
Step 8 – Budget For The Trip
“Budget for the trip? Haven’t I just paid for it?”
Yes and no. The Conrad isn’t an all-inclusive resort so you’ll still need to pay for meals other than breakfast, and being a 5-star resort in the middle of nowhere… it’s not cheap.
Fortunately, breakfast runs pretty late (till 10:30) and with Afternoon Tea and Happy Hour included (which comes with canapes), we found we didn’t need to eat until dinner. Even then, expect to pay around $100 per person per night for food and drink. If you do plan on following through with all this and need some advice on what the best food/drink options to go for are, pop us a message!
You also need to factor in the Sea Plane transfers which are ludicrous for a 30-minute flight each way but mandatory. They’re $590 per person return which is almost as much as it costs to get to the Maldives BUT it is on a Sea Plane and is another experience in itself to tick off the bucket list.
Fortunately, all the food and transfers are paid at the end of the stay so you can budget in advance and spread the cost for this once in a lifetime holiday.
Hotel + AMEX – $2200
Food (approx) – $1000
Sea Plane – $1180
Flights to Maldives – £1400
Total – £4800
Once you factor all this in, you start to realise this isn’t a cheap holiday BUT when you consider that many of these costs you would get travelling to the Maldives anyway (transfers are very expensive to any resort) then it starts to look more and more appealing.
£4800 is A LOT of money but at least by doing it this way, you can soften the blow knowing you’re actually getting closer to £8,000 worth of value.
If you do decide to take the plunge, remember to get in there before they change the terms, and to use our Amex Referral Link which will get you an additional 5,000 Reward Points – and let us know if you do so that we can say ‘thank you’ for the little kickback we’ll get!