How to Plan the Perfect Trip to the Maldives

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Maldives have been on my bucketlist ever since I saw photos of luxurious over water villas.  I finally decide to go this year for our 10 years together anniversary (3 year wedding anniversary).  Our anniversary is in May but I moved up our trip to accommodate some other travel plans, so we stayed 4 nights at the Mirihi Resort from 4/28 through 5/2.  There were a lot of decisions and factors involved in making the most out of this trip and I wanted to share it here.  This post will be some general guidelines and tips on planning (on a budget) and my next post will be about how and why I chose my resort.  These are just my own opinions and preference so if it’s not your style just take them with a grain of salt and jump to the topics you’re interested in.

To start, I had absolutely no idea about anything on the Maldives other than that it is really EXPENSIVE.  First thing people ask is how much did you spend and what resort because they are interested in going.  I feel reluctant to answer them because the cost can range so much and there are over a hundred beautiful resorts!  So I feel like I need to give a lot more detail when I answer them.  How you plan it can determine just how expensive or affordable it can be.  To my surprise, you can find some nice resorts around $300/night all-inclusive or you can go all out at over $1000/night.  If you are looking to just go to the “Maldives islands” on a low budget and stay where the locals do, there are a lot of blogs sharing how you can do that.  But I wanted to experience a resort so I started researching on them and trying to narrow it down (even with a comparison excel spreadsheet and all).  If I’m going to spend hundreds a night I want to pick the perfect resort that suits my needs and get my money's worth.  Here are some things to think about when planning a trip to the Maldives and some of the ways I brought down the cost but still meeting my requirements:

1. Flights

Flights to the Maldives are expensive and usually involve a lot of hours and layovers.  I’m sure there are many ways to offset this (waiting for a sale or using points) but in my case I decided to visit Southeast Asia for cheaper flights to the Maldives.  If you have the time, you can extend your trip and spend a few days visiting a new country or two. 

My flights: I’ve saw flights from EWR to KLE for only $400 round trip.  I would have jumped on that but since I needed to visit Taiwan for a wedding on this trip, we decided on a flight from EWR to TPE and from SIN to EWR with United Airlines for $600 for my “outer” flights (It would have been $500  if I was able to do round trip Singapore).  Still very cheap, with a layover in Narita Airport (sushi, anyone?)  Before I booked those flights I made sure there were logical flights and flight times that would get me from one country to another.  Once the outer flights were booked, I price watched the “inner” flights.  I discovered that flights to/from Malaysia and Maldives with AirAsia are extremely cheap.  As low as $30 (base price) one way.  After you tack on the fee and luggage (we shared one 29” inch suitcase) it is still an extremely cheap price.  Even though you don’t get to pick your seats, as long as you book it together you are likely to sit together.  This is the same for flights to/from Singapore to Maldives with Scoot Airlines.  With budget airlines, it is usually cheaper the earlier you book (early bird promo prices) but not always the case.  I waited for price drops, I got some at their lowest but some dropped further after I booked (you win some you lose some).  So my five flights were EWR > TPE > KUL > MLE > SIN > EWR.  Overall I paid $1971 (this includes round trip regular economy with United with free luggage and Three one-way basic fares with the budget airlines with free personal sized carry-on and 1 paid shared luggage) for TWO people ($985 per person).  This method might be too time consuming and complicated for some but I love puzzling flights and figuring out the best route and price. 

2. Speedboat or Seaplane distance
This part I did not know about until I started researching.  You are not in the typical beautiful Maldives when you land at MALE airport.  You still have to arrange a speedboat or seaplane to get to your resort (usually organized by your resort), and it is not cheap.

Pros: Cheaper ($100-300pp), faster (waste less precious time)
Cons: Closer to the airport, which means you may hear/see airplanes fly overhead, may have a view of “rubbish island” where resorts dump and burn waste in the Maldives, see other nearby islands, and more boat traffic

Pros: Arial view over the Maldives, a fun experience if you’ve never been in a seaplane before, your island is farther away and likely feel more exclusive
Cons: More expensive ($400-500pp), time consuming (waiting for the TransMaldivian or domestic flight, the distance to get to your island)

3. Length of Stay

Some people can stay 2 week and not feel bored, but that’ll definitely add up.  Since I am visiting several countries, I felt that 4 days in the Maldives was sufficient in weighing the amount there is to do (relaxing on the beach and snorkeling) and the cost per night.  But you may also find deals for longer stays (ex: stay 4 nights get 1 free) and if you are only going to the Maldives you might as well stay longer after such a long way to get there.

My stay: To maximize my stay I chose a flight that arrived at the Male airport at 9am (I didn’t get to the resort until 2pm – I went by seaplane), so we got to snorkel as soon as we arrived, watch the sunset, and have dinner.  Our departure flight was 9pm.  The luxury resorts usually have amazing service so we were able to take our time eating breakfast, snorkel one last time, and freshen up with late checkout at 3pm (the closest they could get to our seaplane flight time at 5pm).  We got to Male, and went through security.  Luckily there is a Priority Pass lounge where we can comfortably stay at with wifi, snacks and drinks.  Soon enough it was time for our flight.  So even though we paid for 4 nights, we got to enjoy almost 5 full days.  Also if your international flight arrives to Male late in the day I would suggest booking a hotel in Male for one night (around $100/night as opposed to paying the resort price and possibly not even getting to enjoy your included dinner) and taking the first transfer to your resort in the morning.  Although I’ve read people try to avoid having to stay in Male as it is not a nice area.

started raining when we were kayaking around the island

4. Low season vs High season

The time of year you go actually affects the price by a lot.  High season falls between December and March and best weather between November and April.  The low season runs from May to October, Although the weather is great year-round, low season is monsoon season.  I went in early May, but if I was able to book even a week or two later, I could have saved another $100 per night!  For example, Mirihi resort was around $500/night during low season, but as high as $1000/night during high season.  I took the risk to book in the low season since the islands are so small you’ll just get passing showers and the weather should clear up in a few hours.  And luckily that is what happened during our trip.  We arrived with some drizzling rain (which made me a bit nervous for the rest of our trip) but it cleared up by dinner time and it only rained once for about an hour during my 4 day stay.  The rest of the trip was beautiful, sunny, hot weather.

5. Discounts

I like to book on sites like Orbitz because they often have promotion codes (ex: 15% off hotels – maximum $150 discount, and don’t forget Ebates cashback). Even better if the resort you pick has free cancellation.  If you book early, take advantage of cancelling and rebooking when there is a price drop.  Some people may not have the patience for this, but it can save hundreds if you see a price drop.  I ended up cancelling on Orbitz and booking with Travelocity.  They also had a 15% promo code but it gave a maximum of $300 off.

Another really good option I found (that didn’t work for my particular resort) was working with a travel agency website.  There are a lot of recommended agencies listed on tripadvisor.  One in particular that I emailed, Purely Maldives, was really helpful.  I gave them my budget and requirements ($4000, 4 nights, water villa, good house reef).  They reply with a list of resorts that match your criteria and quotes.  Some of them were actually ones I found on my own and considered.  So they really know their stuff.  They gave a better price on all of them (except my resort! But it was really close in price).  I showed them the price I got with Travelocity, but they couldn’t match it due to the extra discount I got from Travelocity’s promo code).  During your planning, if you don’t know where to start, you can just try messaging them to see what recommendations they give you.

You might be able to find a package promotion.  I recently saw one on travelzoo and to my surprise it was for a resort I had considered.

I also looked into booking with credit card points.  The best option I found was with Chase Ultimate Reward Points. The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa has the best redemption at 25,000 points per night.  I actually have enough for a 4-night stay (thanks to the Chase Sapphire Reserve 100k bonus) but I decided not to because it only includes a Beach Villa and not a Water Villa (it is $500/night just to upgrade it. It wasn’t worth it for me).  It also does not include any meals.  I know that is picky, but I really want to experience a water villa for my first time.  Also, now it’s a great excuse for me to go to the Maldives again.

6. Water Villa or Beach Villa

Speaking of villas, When you think of the Maldives you think of water villas and that comes with a cost.  There are many types of villas but basically you are either on the beach or sitting over the lagoon over water.  Depending on your resort, you could have a view of the garden, ocean or lagoon, sunrise or sunset, a private pool, etc.  Your villas could have glass floor panel (everyone kept asking if I had that?!), soaking tubs with a view, jaccuzzi, outdoor showers, hammocks, private pool and so much more.  Make sure to see what your resort offers so you will not be disappointed it doesn’t look like what you see on Instagram (have you seen the one with a personal water slide??).

7. Meal Plan

The meal plan you choose can greatly affect your trip cost.  Here is my opinion on each style of dining:

A La Carte – pay as you go.  This option can get expensive and you can easily lose track of how much you’re spending unless you’re a light eater.  Food and drinks are also really expensive in the Maldives.

Half Board – Breakfast and Dinner included.  This option is not bad if you want to eat well and would only have to think about buying your lunch.  If you eat a late breakfast and an early dinner, you can even skip lunch!  Bring some snacks with you in your luggage and keep yourself busy with activities until dinner.

Full Board – Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  I think this option is a bit too costly if you are not a big eater.  The meals included are usually buffet style.  But if you don’t drink alcohol and don’t want to think about cost of meals while on vacation, this is the best option.

All-Inclusive – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Drinks and more.  If the resort offers it at a reasonable upgrade, go for AI.  Usually it is a good deal if you think about all the meals that are included and unlimited alcohol.  Some resorts include the mini bar and free activities such as water sport equipment, snorkeling lessons, and sunset cruises etc.  This would have been my ideal choice if the resort I chose offered it.

Other factors:

8. Food Quality & Service (Hotel Stars)
If food is important to you, I would suggest reading some reviews from past guests.  I tend to check Tripadvisor reviews a lot and see what guests have thought of the food.  Even if it is a buffet, the food can be fine dining quality.  My resort also had one of the best service I've ever experience.  They go out of their way to ask how your day is and help you with anything you need.

9. Large vs. Small island
Large islands
Pros: Usually lots of activities, more land to walk around and explore
Cons: Usually more villas and more people/kids (you can opt for an adult-only resort if you don't want kids around)

Small island
Pros: Quiet and secluded, more attentive care from staff, remote island feel, casual 
Cons: Could get boring (for long stays), feel suffocating

10. Luxury vs Island life
Luxury: When I see the Maldives I also imagine that Instagram dream...hammocks over the water, infinity pool, private in room pools and hammocks, outdoor showers, glass floors in your room, ceiling to floor window bathrooms with tub, and just tons of Instagram worthy spots all over the island for photos. 

Island Life: But isn’t the point of the Maldives the shades of blue, crystal clear water, soft sand, and palm trees?  With a small island vibe you truly feel like you are stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean.  You really don’t need all those perks (although they would be nice…)  No TVs, no pools, no shoes.  Some resorts stay true to the island vibe while still giving you a 5 star service stay.

11. House Reef
This is something I didn’t think about when I thought of the Maldives but it became an important requirement.  Since me and my husband don’t want to spend extra on excursions we wanted a resort with a good house reef.  I am also not a good swimmer so I prefer to stay close to shore.  We wanted to be able to snorkel right off our villa and the beach.  While most of the coral in the Maldives are bleached, you can still see a lot of sea life in the reef around the resort.

12. Excursions & Activities
You may want to consider adding some excursions to your trip if you want to see a variety of sea life such as manta rays and whale sharks or if you like diving.  Resorts also have trips to visit local islands, sunset dolphin cruise, special private dining options etc (some resorts include a few of these in their AI packages).  It should be no surprise but excursions are very expensive.  Depending on your resort you may get complimentary water sports and other recreational amenities or they may have a rental charge.

I hope this post was helpful and enjoyable to read, I know I wrote a lot but there was just so much info to share.  If I missed anything let me know in the comments below!

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  1. Incredibly beautiful pictures and really helpful piece of writing. It's really an absolute delight to watch your clicks.

    Thanks for sharing!
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