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You’ve seen the photos: Thatch-roofed, stilted bungalows perched over an aqua-blue reef. It’s the image that comes to mind when you think “Maldives,” and it’s what you’ll find at Hilton’s Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort.
Situated on its own two private islands, the Conrad is a stunner. But the real reason I chose it for my bucket-list Maldives trip a few years back was the ability to stay for free using Hilton Honors points.
Before we move into how I made it happen, I have a disclaimer: Even a free stay at the Conrad Maldives will cost you a pretty penny. The cheapest meals run about $50 per person, and a drink comes to around $20.
But there’s a secret weapon you can use not only to cover your actual room rate, but also to take on a big chunk of your other costs while at the hotel: the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.
If you’re planning a trip in the near future, there are some local COVID-19 protocols you’ll need to know about.
For future trips, there are some local COVID-19 protocols you’ll need to know about. International visitors to the Maldives must have a confirmed booking at a registered tourist facility before they enter the country, which shouldn’t be a problem if you’re planning to make a reservation at the Conrad. Tourists also need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure, and to submit results through IMUGA—the country’s digital immigration platform—within 24 hours of departure as part of a health declaration form. They also need to present a paper or electronic copy of the test results during airline check-in. Most importantly, read up on the latest CDC travel advisories, which still advises against all international travel at the moment.
Booking a Maldives resort
Standard rooms at the Conrad Maldives (a.k.a. the only affordable rooms when using points) will run you 95,000 Hilton Honors points per night whether you’re staying in an overwater bungalow or a beach villa. There are a couple tricks I used to keep my total cost in points down.
First, those with Hilton Honors elite status have access to an incredible perk: If you book four nights using points, you get the fifth night free. That means for a five-night stay, you need 380,000 points instead of 475,000.
But it gets better. Hilton also doles out annual free weekend night certificates to holders of some of its credit cards—Aspire included—good for a standard room on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night at nearly any of its properties around the world.
While I happened to have both the 380,000 points and free weekend night certificate necessary for my six-night stay before I took out the Aspire credit card, if you don’t already have Hilton points to your name, the card will get you most of the way there.
New users can earn a welcome bonus of 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership, and you earn at least three points per dollar you spend on the card. (That number jumps to seven points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines, on select rental cars and at U.S. restaurants, and to 14 points per dollar on purchases made with Hilton hotels). And as I mentioned, each year, cardholders get a free weekend night certificate, too. The litany of perks more than pay for the card’s $450 annual fee.
That means if you and a travel companion each apply for the card, you’ll already have at least 324,000 points and two certificates in your back pocket after earning the welcome bonuses. You’ll even earn extra bonus points if one of you signs up with the other’s referral link: 15,000 extra points, to be exact.
And if you’re worried about getting the elite status necessary to unlock the fifth-night-free benefit? Don’t be: The Aspire card automatically confers Hilton Diamond status, the highest level of status in the Honors program.
Learn more about applying for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card here.
Speaking of that diamond status, it saved me hundreds of dollars on food and drinks once at the resort. Diamond members get free breakfast each day, including access to a sizable buffet and a full menu of a la carte items.
Capitalize on breakfast and you can render lunch unnecessary, especially considering that Diamond members also have access to an afternoon tea time and snack buffet, as well as a daily happy hour with snacks and unlimited drinks.
Of course, if you’d rather stick to traditional meal times, you can do that, too. Diamond status will get you discounts at some of the resort’s restaurants.
Resort statement credit
No matter how far you can stretch the included food, there’s no getting out of your costs entirely. That’s because a $500-per-person round-trip seaplane trip is required for all guests to reach the resort.
I used the Aspire to pare down that cost, too. You’ll get the first $250 you spend at an eligible Hilton resort each year returned to your card in the form of a statement credit, essentially cutting that seaplane charge in half.
The resort has many safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. For one, the Conrad participates in Hilton’s CleanStay, a program developed in partnership with Lysol and Dettol maker RB to ensure stringent cleaning standards across the Hilton portfolio.
On top of that program, the hotel also has its own lengthy slate of safety measures in place to enforce frequent sanitation and promote social distancing.
Guests are requested to provide scanned copies of their passports prior to arrival to minimize contact at check-in, for example, and they’ll receive a QR code to access the resort map and other information digitally. Every guest will get a temperature check on arrival, with an in-house doctor and clinic available to guests throughout their time at the resort. Villa doors will be sealed after cleaning so that guests can rest assured their room hasn’t been accessed, and restaurant tables will be spaced out, with food and drinks arriving covered.
The resort also works closely with the Health Protection Agency of the Maldives and actively monitors recommendations from the World Health Organization.
While the Maldives can be an ultra-pricey destination, it doesn’t have to be. With a little strategic planning and the right credit card, you too can check this locale off your list for just a fraction of the cost.
Condé Nast Traveler has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Condé Nast Traveler and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
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