Disclaimer: travelling during the pandemic isn’t something I recommend, especially while many countries are in full lockdown. It’s also important to buy travel insurance that has some form of COVID-19 cover and be prepared to buy for a private PCR test when the time comes .
Whether it’s a honeymoon or an epic holiday, the Maldives has become the epitome of high end luxury, which often means it’s unattainable. However, as we did more research and explored more options, it turned out that the Maldives isn’t quite as expensive as you might first think…
When deciding on our honeymoon destination, we had a few things in mind. We wanted:
- A beach holiday – no exhausting road trip and packed itinerary, we wanted to relax
- Somewhere modern(ish) – I’m all for a rustic vibe, but I want the aesthetic to match the money I’m paying
- All inclusive – we’d done all inclusive once before and absolutely loved it! (Take a look at my hotel review here)
- Something extra special – and that meant an over water villa
- Something within budget – within £3k per person (extreme for some budgets, I know, but I’ll get to this later)
- At least 2 weeks, more if possible
- Flights with a short layover – only 1-2 hours if possible
Some might say all the above is a tall order, but it is doable.
Where do you start when booking a Maldives honeymoon?
If – like us – you’ve never been to the Maldives before, it’s hard to know where to start. There are 1192 tiny islands (26 atolls) in the Indian Ocean that make up the Maldives with 154 resorts to choose from; how do you decide between Southern Maalhosmadulu Atoll or Huvadhu Atoll?
One of my biggest bug bears when it comes to browsing holidays is that it’s really difficult to just see what’s on offer without a specific destination and date in mind. So here are a few of the basics you might want to know:
- Velana International Airport (MLE) is the main international airport in Malé (the capital)
- The best weather: November – April
- High season: December – March (expect to see a significant increase in prices)
- Monsoon season: May – October (peaking around June)
- The average temperature all year round is 27°
Step 1: Find the hotels you like
Whether you have an idea for time of year/location/hotel or not, this is a good place to start.
We spent a while browsing Expedia and other sites for hotels we liked. It gave us a good idea of what the hotel standard was like, what was considered to be luxury, and what was more affordable. We started with some random dates about 10 months in advance just so we could see the broadest offering.
As mentioned in our preference list, we really wanted an overwater villa – it is out honeymoon, after all – but we actually found so many gorgeous hotels that didn’t offer these types of rooms, so if an overwater villa isn’t something you have your heart set on, there’s a lot more to choose from at really affordable prices.
Step 2: Work out what you want
We started a spreadsheet where we wrote down hotel names and the features we liked; one that had an overwater hammock, one that had an adults-only island, one that had it’s own scuba diving school on the island.
What we found was that each resort had it’s own perks to differentiate itself from the competition. But that just makes it all the harder to work out which hotel is the best – ultimately, it comes down to which one is right for you.
Personally, I like to have a really nicely furbished room. And the key way to tell is the bathroom; I have stayed in so many hotels with nice rooms, only to discover the bathroom looks a little gross or dated, and it can totally ruin the experience.
It was a little disappointing that some of the resorts advertising themselves as luxury getaways hadn’t spruced up their rooms in a few decades, and so we immediately discarded them: the plan was for this to be our once-in-a-lifetime-never-to-be-booked-again holiday. I wanted to feel like the money was well spent. What can I say, we had high expectations. *damn Instagram*
And so we started to notice a pattern in the hotels that we really liked; they had great communal areas, really nice rooms, and excellent amenities.
Step 3: Factor in cost
Okay, so it’s going to be almost impossible to get to this stage without factoring in cost. And I wouldn’t want you to find the hotel of your dreams only to discover it’s £5k over budget (yep, we definitely found a few of these). But now is the time to really start paying attention to what that cost covers.
Some hotels were really on the expensive side of things and only included breakfast. Considering we were unlikely to be eating anywhere else, it felt a little cheeky that some of these prices didn’t include a better food package.
There are also some other costs you need to consider that won’t be included in the room price:
- WiFi – believe it or not, some hotels will charge extra for this. Now there’s an argument for ‘you’re on honeymoon in a stunning location, what do you need internet for’. And yes, that’s true. But when I’m paying £££s, I expect WiFi to be a standard part of that. Is that too much to ask for?
- Transfer – with any other holiday, booking a taxi transfer probably isn’t that big a deal. But you’re forgetting the Maldives is 1192 islands. That means you’ll need a boat. Or a plane. You can arrange your transfer yourself, but most hotels will have their own service (and for simplicity’s sake, I’d say it’s probably best to go with that). Depending on location, these journeys can be pretty lengthy too; you’re looking at somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour and a half. And that comes at a cost. The sea plane transfer for our hotel is circa $410 each.
- Resort fee – this is a pretty common one in the US, but I didn’t expect to encounter it in the Maldives. Personally, I’m not a fan of this type of fee – what does the original room rate cover? But alas, it happens. And quite a few resorts will have an additional per night resort fee you’ll need to pay on check out. Luckily this is only charged per room so will cover both of you (or the whole family if you’ve got a family room) but expect somewhere between $5-$35 per night.
It’s hard to get an accurate idea of extra costs from a hotel’s website, so I’d recommend looking them up on Expedia and reading through the additional info.
Step 4: Play around with dates
The dates you choose will play a big part in the cost. Start with a flight comparison site where you can fiddle with the dates to work out the best option. I personally like to use Kayak. You can select the month you’re interested in, how long you want to go for and it’ll give you a flexible table of costs.
Read more about my go-to travel planning tools.
Here’s an example for flights to Malé in November:
Immediately you can see it’s cheaper to fly Tuesday to Friday (with a £200 difference between weekday and weekend). There’s also no flights on Sundays. So you can avoid long layovers and getting stuck somewhere like Doha or Dubai (unless that’s what you’re after).
Read about when we extended our layover to Cape Town so we had 24 hours in Dubai, and what a whirlwind of an adventure it was.
The great thing about Kayak is you can also filter flight options based on how long the layover is – we didn’t want to be hanging around for more than 2 hours. Oh, and remember to select the same airport for departure/arrival – we may have forgotten to do this…
Once you’ve worked out the cheapest/best flight dates, you can modify your hotel search dates to match. I’d recommend creating a list of the best flight dates and then matching them to the cheapest hotel dates.
Step 5: Shop around
This is by far the most important step. If you’ve worked out the hotel and dates you want, it’s now time to put that combination into every website you can find.
You’d be surprised at the price fluctuation for the same offer. For example, compare TUI with Expedia and see the difference. Now there is some merit in brand and I’ll come back to that later.
We must have spent at least a day scouring the internet for every holiday provider (including some US based ones – we have a no-fee international credit card which means booking in dollars isn’t an issue).
Make a list of who your top contenders are and whether there are any perks with one provider over another. For example, sites like Secret Escapes are great for stuff like this and we did actually find an over water villa with it’s own private infinity pool for a fairly reasonable price (more on this later).
Step 6: Break it down
Okay so you’ve found your hotel, found your dates and found the cheapest place to book. The last thing you need to do is break it down for a price comparison – and this is where you could really save money.
At this stage, First choice was coming in as the best price which surprised me. It was literally just in budget but I couldn’t find any information about the transfers – the booking page wanted me to select no transfer but there was no option to add it on.
And when you considered a transfer is a few hundred each, it was a significant cost to add on top.
To cover all our bases and exhaust every option, we looked at splitting it down. How much would it be to book the hotel and flights separate?
We ended up finding the flights through TravelUp, a site we’d used before for booking holidays.
We then looked at how much it was to book the hotel direct – sometimes that’s cheaper – but that worked out way over budget. It was only then we realized we could book our all-inclusive hotel through Expedia and the final cost would be £1,000 cheaper than the package deal from First Choice. That was a game changer.
Top tip: Transfer times
When looking at your flights, you need to consider your arrival time. If your transfer is a sea plane, they only operate between 9.30am and 3.15pm (based on sunrise and sunset) and can be weather dependent. If you arrive outside of these times, be prepared to pay for accommodation in Malé.
Top tip: trust
Don’t get sucked into the cheapest deal you find. While finding a good deal is great, also take into consideration the brand you’re buying from – especially during these turbulent times. If you’ve never heard of the brand, do your research and find them on Trust Pilot or read reviews on Google. (Or even ask friends and family if they’ve used them before.) I will often look to see if their listed on cashback sites like TopCashback as added confirmation they’re not a scam.
If you’re not comfortable purchasing form that site, then don’t. Peace of mind and reassurance is a lot more valuable than the stress of losing an expensive holiday.
Top tip: Use cashback sites
I can’t stress this enough.
We use cashback sites for literally everything we buy online, including the big stuff like car insurance, home insurance, holidays etc and it all adds up pretty quickly.
For this, we got £325 cashback on the hotel booking through Expedia – definitely worth it.
If you’re unfamiliar with using cashback sites, this amount is held by the website for a set duration to ensure the transaction completes and isn’t refunded before you can cash out the amount. TopCashback also allows you to upgrade your cashback for an added 2%-15% by getting it in vouchers for specific brands.
Note: for holidays (well, for Expedia) the average time it takes to pay out doesn’t start until after the holiday has happened so the amount will be marked as pending until then.
Our hotel shortlist and why we loved them
After browsing hundreds of different hotels, we made a shortlist of our favourites that seemed to match what we wanted so we could compare them side by side:
Meeru Island Resort & Spa
Really affordable and a lovely island. There were also loads of activities available on the island, including mini golf, water sports, scuba diving, tennis, volleyball and much more. It’s the perfect activity island and we very nearly chose this one.
Plus, the overwater villa had it’s own outdoor jacuzzi.
Why we didn’t choose it: the rooms were nice enough but I wanted something a little more modern.
Ellaidhoo Maldives by Cinanamon
This one was a top contender. The island is gorgeous and the rooms are really nice. There’s a lot to do on the island, with a whole bunch of activities available (maybe not quite as many as Meeru).
I personally get put off by dark wood and blurry photos – something in the back of my mind makes me think ‘no’.
There were only three things we didn’t like about this hotel:
- It only had 2 restaurants (and made us realise we were totally spoilt for choice in Jamaica)
- The rooms felt a little dated
- The island is surrounded by concrete barriers
Sun Siyam Olhuveli
I really loved this hotel. The rooms were gorgeous. And I especially loved the ones that came with their own overwater pool – the height of luxury.
It had everything we wanted but one drawback: it was too expensive for the dates we had in mind. It was possible to get it cheaper if we looked at other months, but we couldn’t be that flexible.
So this the deal we found on Secret Escapes. It included a private over water infinity pool, a dolphin excursion, 30-minute spa treatment and transfers. But it was going to cost an extra £1k and we honestly debated whether it was worth it.
In the end we decided against it even though the hotel looked amazing and I’ll you’ll see why in the next bit.
Our final package deal
We finally decided on Cinammon Hakuraa Huraa for a number of reasons:
- The rooms were newly refurbished and look gorgeous
- The over water villas came with a cosy outdoor patio area complete with built-in hammock
- There was an adults only island – perfect if we wanted less hustle and bustle
- There were no resort fee
How much did it cost?
Final holiday price: £5,375.08
Here’s how it breaks down
- £1,233.92 for flights with TravelUp, flying with Qatar Airways
- £3,880.34 for the hotel with Expedia
- $820 seaplane transfer (£586.76 with today’s exchange rate)
- £325.94 cashback for booking with Expedia
All-in-all, we’re £624.92 within budget, which will easily pay for the DJ, the cake and half the flowers.
This also included an extra night. So instead of 14 nights plus travel, we actually booked 15 nights at the hotel.
It seems like an expensive holiday – and it is – but when you break it down; travel, hotel and all inclusive works out at about £179 per person per night.
So there you have it – hopefully that’s helpful. We spent ages looking for the right deal for us but perseverance paid off in the long run!
Have you booked your honeymoon yet? Where are you going?