Maximizing Miles in the Maldives: Cathay First, Eating in Singapore, and a Park Hyatt Water Villa – Singapore Airlines Business Class: Singapore – Male

  1. Introduction
  2. Positioning flights to San Francisco, Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf, and Some Dim Sum for the Day
  3. Cathay’s New San Francisco Lounge
  4. Cathay Pacific First Class, San Francisco – Hong Kong
  5. The Wing and Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – Singapore
  6. A Grand Suite at the Grand Hyatt Singapore
  7. Eating in Singapore
  8. Dinner at Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands
  9. Singapore Airlines Business Class: Singapore – Male
  10. Transfer to the Park Hyatt Hadahaa, Maldives
  11. Park Hyatt Maldives – Part I
  12. Park Hyatt Maldives – Part II
  13. Park Hyatt Maldives – Part III
  14. Maldivian, Kaadehdhoo – Male
  15. Singapore Airlines Business Class, Male – Singapore
  16. Cathay Pacific Business Class, Singapore – Hong Kong
  17. Conrad Hong Kong
  18. Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – Chicago
  19. American’s Chicago Flagship Lounge and the Final Journey Home

We caught a cab from the Grand Hyatt to the airport, the cab driver seemed skeptical when I told him we were flying Singapore but going to terminal 2 and not to the newer terminal 3. Central Asia flights are terminal 2, he called the airport to verify and found that indeed that’s where we were headed.

We were on Singapore Airlines business class awards, roundtrip Singapore – Male. These are not easy tickets to get generally,, and this was a separate award from what brought us in and out of Singapore.

If I’d been able to use US Airways miles for the itinerary it would have been a great value at 30,000 miles roundtrip. Unfortunately there were never any seats available to Star Allaince partners (though I didn’t check within a week of travel), I booked these tickets with Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles. They cost me 55,250 miles per person roundtrip (after 15% online booking discount) plus fuel surcharges and taxes of about SGD$330 per person.

That’s a lot of miles for one trip, considering we were also spending 135,000 miles apiece for the first class Singapore roundtrip. I could have saved some miles flying Cathay to Colombo and back, stopping over in only one direction, but that would have added another (paid, though not more than the fuel surcharges on the Singapore redemption) flight segment onto the itinerary. This is how I wanted to do it, and I had to come out of pocket the miles to make that happen.

Maldives are just tough to get to — with Star Alliance in addition to the Singapore flight there’s a once-weekly Austrian flight on which award seats are fairly impossible. Oneworld services on British Airways a few days a week from London Gatwick. There’s Malaysian from Kuala Lumpur. But mostly non-alliance service, including generally the Middle Eastern carriers, as noted earlier with American’s new Etihad partnership that’s probably the path I’d take for a return.

It’s really striking and says a lot about Singapore that there weren’t ever partner business class award seats available… when both flights were less than 1/3rd full in business on departure, although it’s possible that recent unpleasant political events in the Maldives contributed to the light loads and that the flights would have been expected to go out more fully booked.

We arrived at Changi’s T2 and there was no line to be checked in for business class passengers.

Through passport control in minutes, it was a short walk to Singapore’s business class lounge. Sadly I’ve flown Singapore first, even, but never on departure from Singapore, so I’ve yet to try The Private Room first class lounge.

This lounge, which I’ve visited in the past, is perfectly nice and comfortable — it’s busy but there’s plenty of seating, there are nice showers and a nice buffet area and perfectly serviceable internet.

I had a seat, plugged in my laptop to conserve power though I’m not sure why as there’d be seat power on the flight, and checked my email one last time as it was just past the end of a business day in the States and I wanted to get my box cleared out so that I could clear my head for total relaxation.

After about an hour boarding had commenced for our flight so we headed down towards the gate. By the time we arrived nearly everyone else was in the gate area, and there was no one queued up for security.

I do love that Singapore does security at each gate separately, it makes connecting especially a breeze as there’s no transit security to clear before heading to the lounge. You land, get off the flight, and can head straight to a shower or relaxation ad there’s never really a meaningful line at security or if there is you are standing right by the boarding doors and of course airline staff see you, security isn’t going to make you miss your flight in virtually any conceivable case.

We were greeted (as I had known to expect) with one of Singapore’s Airbus A330’s with their ‘new-ish’ mid-haul business class product. For a four hour flight, angled-flat seat with large screen video on demand and seat power is a real treat and also a real contrast to Cathay’s old-style recliner product offered on most similar routes.

The seat was a little bit narrow for my tastes, but I love the classy look and feel of the leather, it’s a scaled down version of Singapore’s lie flat long-haul seat and just looks fantastic.

I found the seat great for lounging, and the general comfort-level plus the incredibly friendly Singapore flight attendants made the trip pass quickly.

Newspapers were distributed, along with socks, I kicked off my shoes and put them on over my own socks for the flight. Pre-departure beverages served, menus were distributed, very much all according to script.

Prelude
Satay
With onion, cucumber and spicy peanut sauce

Starter
Antipasto plate
Seared scallops with grilled vegetables and mozzarella

Main
Grilled sirloin steak, chimichurri, salsa, roasted baby tomatoes, mushrooms, potato

Braised chicken with mushrooms and bamboo shoots, carrots and fried rice

Grilled salmon with lemon chive sauce
Buttered green beans and steamed potatoes

Baked tandoori lamb chop with mint chutney, pineapple onion salad and cumin pilaf rice

Finale
Ice jelly with fresh fruit

Dark chocolate, crème brulee with mixed berries

Gourmet cheese with garnishes

A selection of fresh fruit

Gourmet coffees & selection of fine teas, with pralines

Singapore’s business class meals — and on medium-haul no less — are really impressive, both in terms of quality but also and truly because of the presentation.

And how can you go wrong with satay, even before your appetizer is served? (And can I say how impressive it is to see meals served in courses this way?)

Mmm… peanut sauce 🙂

I mean, it wasn’t as good as the satay at the East Coast Lagoon Village hawker stalls, the flavor in that beef was incredible, just exploded in your mouth. But at 30,000 feet, this was a nice treat.

Here’s the scallop appetizer, which was good not great, but a welcome presentation nonetheless:

The steak was unimpressive, though a hearty portion for an entrée with sides.

With the cabin only 1/3rd full, my wife ordered the lamb but they were out. While she considered her choice, I ordered the steak, and it turned out that was the last one. I tried to get her to take it, but turns out she didn’t want it (good choice) and she went for the chicken instead:

I did nibble on some cheese, good but not nearly as interesting as the cheeses I’m often served in first class (hardly a complaint).

Meanwhile my wife tried a few bites of both desserts

After a couple of episodes of The Big Bang Theory is was almost time to land. I snapped a photo of this warning on the landing card:

The Maldives is certainly an interesting place. A supermajority muslim country, it’s a dry country, but over 70% of GDP is tourism. So they’re not going to do anything to disturb that. Alcohol, while heavily taxed , is very much available on the resorts. I’m not by any means an expert in the political economy of the country but I understand they draw a distinction between inhabited and uninhabited islands, Islamic laws apply in the former and not the latter, and the resorts are considered to be a part of the latter.

Much of the current political controversy plays out in the theatre of enforcing Islam, the opposition which recently ousted the democratically elected President was pushing for crackdown. They make political hay with the people over this. But their real beef seemed to be that the government was (1) raising taxes on resorts and (2) allowing expansion of new resorts, while the opposition — which had been in control of the country for decades and had used its political muscle to reap economic benefits — actually owns many of the existing resorts. So the government’s policies were to the detriment of the resort owners.

You had the spectacle of resort owners simultaneously using Islam but benefiting from its non-enforcement in ‘uninhabited areas’, a classic bootleggers and Baptists scenario where they protect themselves from competition by wrapping themselves in religion.

So when the government threated to crack down on spas at resorts it was kabuki theatre on the government’s part, to call the opposition’s bluff and put economic pressure on them. All of which was prelude to the coup.

And none of which seemed to be affecting tourism. In and out of the airport, we never came into contact with ‘local’ society. Most of the places I travel I do want to get to know the area, the Maldives are known for separating high end tourism from local society and I have to respect that choice, it’s a potentially uneasy coexistence because they rely economically on tourism which is otherwise at odds with the beliefs of the people.

I was rather surprised though I suppose I shouldn’t have been to land and see provocatively dressed women (really, just in resort wear and prepared for a hot climate but based on Western sensibilities). I’d have expected folks to understand the local culture and be a bit more respectful of it. But it didn’t raise any eyebrows, certainly airport staff are used to this and the airport itself is apart from the local society…

We landed in Male and I found the procedure interesting, taxi all the way to the end of the runway and turn around, the landing strip is basically straight and the plane makes a u-turn at the end until it reaches its parking place on the tarmac. No jetways, they bring a set up stars up to the aircraft and you walk into the terminal for immigration. As business class passengers we were first off the plane, no line for immigration, and we were through relatively quickly but it did appear that some of the immigration officers were having difficulty booting up their machines which was delaying passengers a bit. We had to wait for bags to come off the carousel, and then walked them over to customs. Every bag went through x-ray as you passed through customs, it wouldn’t be a good idea to try to bring in items on the prohibited list!

Once through customs we were greeted by a man with a Park Hyatt sign, who walked us through the rest of the transfer process.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,

    You mentioned you might take EY from the US on a future trip, using AA miles. However, EY doesn’t publish any fares in the US – Maldives market, do they? Given AA’s rules, that means you can only take EY as far as AUH, and then you’re on your own, right? (I also noticed they don’t publish US – KTM, but they do publish US – DEL, which is a bit weird.)

  2. @Dan you are right. Ironically EY does publish fares from Canada. So YVR-JFK-AUH-MLE works but JFK-AUH-MLE does not.

    You can book however with ANA without the ticketing restrictions, and you can also do an AUH stopver. JFK-AUH-MLE would be 105k I think. You can transfer Amex Membership rewards 1:1 into ANA

    You can also use Qatar via the same route (ANA). They fly DOH-MLE and from DOH to IAD/JFK/YUL amongst others

  3. @Gary – I think this about the best regional J product available. The seat is basically the same you’d get on say JFK-NRT or CDG-JNB on AA or AF respectively. But with better food, better IFE and better service!

  4. @Phil with enough calls you can get JFK-AUH-MLE ticketed as one award, though it’s not easy. Personally I’d do it as two anyway at least in one direction, I kinda want an AUH stopover (and you get free car service, including all the way to DXB if you like).

    Downside to ANA is that they won’t include other partners in the award so no connections to get to JFK and also add fuel surcharges

  5. @Dan you’re not really on your own they just would charge you extra for the AUH-MLE segment, which they’d do anyway if you did an AUH stopover, but I have successfully booked JFK-AUH-MLE as one award… 🙂 Just not easy 😛

  6. @Gary – yes I did managed to get JFK-AUH-MLE ticketed once in F (for four of us!) but had to cancel. Presumably you can get lucky though there are two chances for it to be picked up (the phone agent and then again when ticketing)

    And it gets even dicier when you try to add another leg to get to the EY point. On the one I did book, they could not add RDU-JFK to get us started.

    That said I plan to combine this next year with YVR-JFK as part of our usual ski trip to Whistler then stopover then JFK-AUH-MLE which does have an EY fare. That is actually a pretty awesome use of points overall

  7. I just returned from the UAE and if one is considering a stopover en route to MLE, the St. Regis and Park Hyatt on Saadiyat Island in AUH are just beautiful. I liked Abu Dhabi much better than Dubai, but the Al Maha Resort in the desert was even more incredible, although quite expensive.

  8. @Gary

    Yes, but argh. I’m not rolling in the AA points, and a JFK-AUH(F) combined with an AUH-MLE would run 120k miles one way. Comparatively, the JFK-HKG(F)/HKG-CMB(J) award on CX would run only 67.5k miles one way. The former ends up to be a steep award in comparison. Put differently, I could have 1 F rt or 2 J rts. I’m not interested in maximizing the number of *coach* trips that I take, but I don’t know that I’d trade two J trips for one F trip. This isn’t the easiest choice.

  9. @Phil

    How are you routing the YVR-MLE flights? Can you tell me which carriers for which legs? I can’t get EY to price an over-water segment on their metal.

    EY does publish North America – TRV, which isn’t the worst option in the world. Air India will sell you a reasonably cheap non-stop flight to MLE.

  10. Next time you should pre-order the lobster thermador from Singapore. Much better tha all the other selections

  11. @Kayvan S I’ve had the lobster thermidor in SQ Business SIN-DPS, decent enough and better than the other choices that day. I had the lobster thermidor in F, NRT-SIN, and it was awful and not thoroughly heated..

  12. Gary can’t wait for the Park Hyatt Maldives review
    Have a great trip!
    I guess you won’t be ordering rack of Pork off the menu
    Or baby back ribs 🙂

  13. @Don for what it’s worth they did serve pork bacon, I felt a little weird ordering it but figured it was appropriate if they were offering

  14. Hi, Gary

    Using Delta miles on china Southern, seats are easy to get, most flights have at least 2 business class award.

  15. Looking forward to the rest of the trip – especially to see if if the Hyatt might be a good option for mixing up my usual location in the Maldives. Thanks as always!

  16. The second part of #8 on the restricted list, no medicines, is really weird. I wonder how strict that is and what that applies to? I’m not on anything that I need to live or anything, but I always take simply sleep, dramamine, some type of painkiller, tums, etc on a trip just to be prepared. I wouldn’t want to go if I couldn’t bring any of that stuff. So odd.

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