Best credit cards for dining and take out in 2020

The best card to use for dining spending depends on your goals. For example, some people prefer to earn flexible miles & points, which add up quickly and help you save money on travel. Others like to earn straightforward cash back, which equates to getting a discount on every meal. And don’t forget, you can earn bonus rewards for take out or delivery as well. To ensure you earn the bonus points, it’s best to order directly with the restaurant, but depending on the card issuer and the deliver service, you can earn bonus points for delivery as well.
No matter which credit card rewards you prefer to earn there is a card for you, so let’s take a look at the best credit cards for restaurants.
Best credit cards for restaurants in 2020

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best low annual fee Chase card
American Express® Green Card: Best lower annual fee Amex card
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for cash back
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card: Best business card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for earning Ultimate Rewards points
American Express® Gold Card: Best for earning Membership Rewards points
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for earning hotel points
Citi Prestige® Card: Best for earning Citi ThankYou points

Information for the Citi Prestige and Citi Premier card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets and has not been reviewed by the card issuer.

CardBonusAnnual fee

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account$95

American Express®️ Green CardEarn 30,000 Amex Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months of account opening. Terms apply.$150 annual fee (see rates & fees) 

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit CardEarn $300 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.$95, waived the first year.

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit CardEarn a $500 bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.$0

Chase Sapphire Reserve®Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.$550

American Express® Gold CardEarn 35,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.$250 (see rates & fees)

Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American ExpressEarn 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.$450 (see rates & fees)

Citi Prestige® CardEarn 50,000 bonus ThankYou points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.$495

Using one of the best credit cards for restaurants to pay for meals is a great way to earn travel rewards. (Photo courtesy of SolStock/iStock)
Best credit cards for restaurants
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Best low annual fee Chase card
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card you’ll earn 60,000 bonus Chase points after spending $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Insider tip
Recently, Chase partnered with DoorDash to add perks to select Chase credit cards. With the Sapphire Preferred you’ll get at least one year of a free DashPass membership, which normally costs $9.99/month. With DashPass you’ll get all delivery fees waived on orders of $12 or more with restaurants that participate in the DashPass program, in addition to reduced fees. You will need to activate this offer anytime before Dec. 31, 2021.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card’s benefits include, primary rental car insurance, trip delay coverage and baggage delay insurance. You’ll also earn 5x Ultimate Rewards point on Lyft rides (through March 2022), 2x points on travel and dining and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Annual fee
The Chase Sapphire Preferred’s annual fee is $95.
Our take
This is our top card for beginners and miles and points veterans alike. It has a reasonable annual fee, excellent travel insurances and earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to 13 different airline and hotel travel partners. The flexibility it gives you can be invaluable when it comes time to book your next trip.
Total value
This card’s bonus is worth $750 in travel (booked through the Chase travel portal), so subtracting the $95 annual fee leaves you with a first year value of at least $655.
American Express® Green Card
Best lower annual fee Amex card
With the Amex Green card you’ll earn 30,000 bonus Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Insider tip
The Amex Green card earns 3x Amex points at restaurants worldwide, which isn’t the case for every American Express card. Some Amex cards only earn bonus points at U.S. restaurants.
The Amex Green card comes with a few potentially valuable benefits. First off, you’ll get up to $100 in credit toward a CLEAR membership every calendar year and $100 in LoungeBuddy credits every calendar year. You’ll also earn 3x Amex points at restaurants and on travel purchases and one point per dollar everywhere else.
Annual fee
The Amex Green card’s annual fee is $150 (see rates and fees).
Our take
There are lots of great ways to use Amex points to book travel to just about anywhere in the world, so earning triple points on dining makes this card worth taking a look at. You can earn slightly more points at restaurants with the Amex Gold card (four instead of three), but with the Amex Green you’re committing to a smaller annual fee, which makes it a better choice for some people. For a deeper comparison check out our guide comparing the Amex Gold, Amex Green and The Platinum Card® from American Express.
Total value
We value Amex points at two cents each, making this bonus and its benefits (statement credits) worth up to $800. That’s a first year value of $650 after paying the card’s $150 annual fee.
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best for cash back
The Capital One Savor comes with a $300 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Insider tip
If you already have two Capital One credit cards you’ll find it difficult (if not impossible) to be approved for a third. Many reports indicate that this limit only applies to Capital One branded cards and may not extend to Capital One business credit cards.
The biggest Capital One Savor card benefit is the card’s 4% cash back on dining purchases. You’ll also get 4% back on entertainment purchases, 3% back at grocery stores and 1% back on all other purchases.
Annual fee
$95, waived the first year.
Our take
When it comes to saving on a night out it’s hard to beat this card. You won’t find a cash back credit card that gets you a better return on both eating out and entertainment spending.
Total value
Once you include the cash back you’ll earn from meeting the cards minimum spending (at only 1% back), you’ll earn at least $330 the first year you have the card.
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
Best business card
With the Ink Business Cash credit card you’ll earn a $500 bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.
Insider tip
While this is technically a cash back business credit card, it can be turned into much more. This is because you earn cash back in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points that are worth one cent each toward a variety of redemptions. But if you have one of the Ultimate Rewards earning cards that has an annual fee (Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card) you can pool your points onto that other card and then transfer them to Chase’s travel partners.
The card earns 2% back on the first $25,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each cardmember year. You’ll also earn 5% back at office supply stores and on cable, internet and phone services for the first $25,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year. All other purchases earn 1% back.
Annual fee
Our take
On the surface, the American Express® Business Gold Card looks like a better business card option for your restaurant spend since it can earn up to 4x Amex points at restaurants. But the catch is that the Amex Business Gold earns 4x on the two bonus categories per billing cycle that you spend the most in on up to $150,000 in combined purchases each calendar year, then 1x (read our Amex Business Gold review to learn more about the bonus categories). So you aren’t guaranteed to earn the 4x bonus on restaurants purchases, plus the card also has a $295 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Since the Ink Cash card has no annual fee all the rewards you earn at restaurants are yours to keep, so it makes much more sense for most people.
Total value
This card’s bonus is worth a minimum of $500, but as we explained above, it could be worth much much more than that if you pair it with certain other annual-fee cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best for earning Ultimate Rewards points
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.
Insider tip
When you use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to pay for travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal the Sapphire Reserve makes your points worth 1.5 cents each. And you can pool the Chase points you earn with other cards onto your Sapphire Reserve, so this card can actually increase the return you get from other Chase credit cards.
There is a long list of valuable Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits. The best perk is the card’s $300 in annual travel credits, which is automatically applied to a wide range of travel purchases. You’ll also earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on dining and travel purchases (not including the $300 travel credit) and all other purchases earn 1x.
The card comes with a Priority Pass membership, which gets you and up to two guests unlimited access to 1,200+ airport lounges. It also comes with top-tier travel insurance, including excellent trip delay coverage and primary rental car insurance.
Annual fee
Our take
The Sapphire Reserve is our top rewards credit card for frequent travelers for good reason. The annual travel credit is incredibly easy to use and very few people won’t be able to take full advantage of it. Almost any travel purchase earns the credit including airfare, hotels, campgrounds, timeshares, rental cars, cruises, buses and trains, even certain tolls and parking can qualify. So if you normally spend at least $300 per year on those expenses anyway, then you’re essentially only paying $250 a year to keep it.
Total value
Since the Chase points associated with a Sapphire Reserve card are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel booked through the Chase site, the bonus is worth at least $750 in travel. But, when you transfer your points to travel partners we peg your Chase points value at two cents each. After you add in the card’s $300 in annual travel credits and subtract the $550 annual fee, the first year value is $750. This is a conservative number because we haven’t attached the value of the card’s lounge access or excellent built-in travel coverages.
American Express® Gold Card
Best for earning Membership Rewards points
The American Express Gold card comes with an intro offer of 35,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Insider tip
This card’s annual airline fee credits of up to $100 only apply to an airline you select when you open the card and officially you can change your choice each January. But many of us on the Million Mile Secrets team have had success getting our selected airline changed mid-year by calling Amex and asking. This can exceptionally helpful in maximizing the credit’s value.
With this card you’ll earn 4x Amex points at restaurants and 4x points on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets. In addition, the card earns 3x points on airfare purchased directly with the airline or through Amex travel and 1x on all other spending.
You’ll also get valuable credits. Every year you can earn up to $120 in dining credits at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. But, you can only earn up to $10 in dining credits per month. The card also comes with up to $100 in airline incidental fee credits every calendar year. This credit is valid for charges like checked bags, lounge passes and change/cancellation fees.
Annual fee
$250 (see rates & fees)
Our take
This card is a powerhouse for worldwide restaurant spending because it has no foreign transaction fees and there is no cap on the number of points you can earn. And when you use Amex points for expensive business or first-class flights to destinations like Japan and Europe the value of your points can skyrocket.
Total value
We value Amex points, on average, at two cents a piece, which makes the card’s bonus worth $700. The card’s up to $220 in annual dining credits and in yearly airline fee credits bring the first year value up to $670 after paying the $250 annual fee.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Best for earning hotel points
The Hilton Aspire has a bonus of 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Insider tip
When you have any level of Hilton status you’ll get every 5th night free on points stays of 5+ nights. The free night cost is based on the average cost per night of the stay. This applies to Standard Room award stays and you can get up to four free nights per stay. And get this, you can use this benefit an unlimited number of times.
The Hilton Aspire’s benefits include the ability to earn 14x Hilton points at participating Hilton hotels and 7x points at U.S. restaurants, on car rentals and on airfare purchases directly through the airline or on the Amex travel site. All other qualifying purchases earn 3x points.
As long as you have the card you’ll get Hilton Diamond status, which comes with a 100% bonus on the base points you earn at Hilton hotels, free breakfast and room upgrades (when available). You’ll also get up to $250 in credits at participating Hilton resorts every cardmember year, this credit is valid for most things you can charge to your room including room rates and hotel restaurant or spa charges. Every year the card also has up to $250 in airline fee credits with your selected airline.
And those aren’t even the best perks. When you open the card (and every year you renew) you’ll get a free weekend award night valid at almost any Hilton hotel (except this list of exclusions). And you can earn a second free weekend night if you spend $60,000+ on the card in a calendar year. As if that wasn’t enough, you’ll also get a Priority Pass membership which will get you and up to two guests unlimited access to 1,200+ Priority Pass lounges.
Annual fee
$450 (see rates & fees)
Our take
If you can take full advantage of just a couple of this card’s perks it’s really easy to justify paying the Hilton Aspire’s annual fee. The wide range of benefits and generous welcome offer are why this card is one of our best American Express cards and one of our top hotel credit cards too.
Total value
The Aspire comes with up to $500 in yearly credits at Hilton resorts and for airline fees. The free weekend night is easily worth $200 and we value Hilton points at .5 cents each when used for hotel stays. That’s a first year total value of $1,000 once you subtract the card’s $450 annual fee.
Citi Prestige
Best for earning Citi ThankYou points
The Citi Prestige comes with a 50,000 ThankYou-point bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Insider tip
If you have the Citi Prestige (or the Citi Premier℠ Card) the ThankYou points you earn with card’s like the Citi® Double Cash Card and Citi Rewards+℠ Card become more valuable because you can then transfer those points to any of the Citi transfer partners.
When it comes to earning rewards, it’s hard to beat the Citi Prestige. The card earns 5x ThankYou points at restaurants and on air travel and 3x points on hotels and cruise lines. All other purchases earn one point per dollar.
The Prestige also has a great travel-credit perk worth up to $250 a year and it is automatically applied to eligible travel purchases as you make them. And twice a year you can use the card’s 4th-night free feature when booking stays of 4+ nights through
Annual fee
Our take
While the Citi Prestige card has exceptional earning rates and redeeming ThankYou points can be very valuable, this card isn’t what it used to be. You used to be able to use the 4th night free perk an unlimited number of times per year. On top of that, almost every Citibank credit card had its travel protections removed in 2019, so this card has a premium annual fee, but doesn’t come with rental car insurance or trip delay coverage.
Total value
We conservatively value Citi ThankYou points at 1.5 cents each when you redeem them with Citi’s airline partners. So this card’s intro bonus is worth around $750 in travel, plus you’ll get up to $250 in travel credits each year. After you pay the card’s $495 annual fee you’ll have a first year value of $505.
Qualifying for the best credit cards for restaurants
In general, to qualify for the best travel credit cards you’ll want a credit score over 700, but that’s not the only factor banks consider. They’ll also look at your income and credit history. On top of that, each bank has its own restrictions and there are even sometimes individual rules for a specific card.
The Chase 5/24 rule is the most famous of these rules. What it means is Chase will not approve you for its cards if you’ve opened 5+ cards from any bank (not counting Chase business cards and certain other business cards) in the past 24 months. In addition, you also can’t have more than one Sapphire card at the same time, so if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred you won’t be eligible for the Sapphire Reserve.
Amex limits you to earning a welcome bonus on a specific card to once per lifetime, so if you’ve ever had a specific Amex card before you won’t be eligible for the card’s bonus again. Citi also has application restrictions that vary a bit depending on the card. For example, the restriction on the Citi Prestige card is:
Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+℠, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these accounts, in the past 24 months.
So essentially, you aren’t eligible for the Prestige card’s bonus if you’ve earn a bonus with or closed another card in the ThankYou points family in the past 24 months.
Summary of the best credit cards for restaurants

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best low annual fee Chase card
American Express® Green Card: Best lower annual fee Amex card
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for cash back
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card: Best business card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for earning Ultimate Rewards points
American Express® Gold Card: Best for earning Membership Rewards points
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Best for earning hotel points
Citi Prestige® Card: Best for earning Citi ThankYou points

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For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, click here.

Chase Freedom review: No annual fee and terrific rotating bonus categories

The Chase Freedom® is a no-annual-fee credit card which currently comes with a $150 cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. With the card, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories which rotate each quarter when you activate them.
This card is perfect for anyone who already has a travel credit card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points or for people looking to get into the hobby and start earning points they can use for free travel. It consistently makes our list of the best cash-back credit cards.
Apply for the Chase Freedom card here.
Here’s everything you’ll want to know about the Chase Freedom to decide if it’s a good cash back fit for your wallet.
Wake up to this view on Oahu by using your Chase Freedom bonus to offset your travel costs. (Photo by Jeff Whyte/Shutterstock.)
Who is the Chase Freedom for?
First, this is a great card for anyone looking for a no-annual-fee keeper. That’s one reason I’ve had this card in my wallet for years.
It’s also one of the easier cards to qualify for. According to reports online, you’ll need a credit score in the 680+ range before applying. Just note that if you’ve had the card before, you won’t qualify for the bonus unless it’s been at least 24 months since you earned the previous bonus. Also, the Freedom card is affected by the Chase 5/24 rule — if you’ve opened five or more cards from any bank (not counting certain business credit cards) in the past 24 months, you won’t be approved.
If this describes you, wait until you are back under the limit of five cards opened in the past 24 months before applying for the Chase Freedom.
Current offer
With the Chase Freedom card, you’ll earn a $150 cash bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Considering that there is no annual fee, it’s hard to make a mistake with this cash-back card offer.
However, your sign-up bonus can easily be worth more. Depending on other Chase credit cards that you have in your wallet, you might be able to pool the points you earn on the Freedom to those cards and…

If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, you get a 25% bonus when redeeming your points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal (meaning your 15,000 points are worth $187.50)
If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you get a 50% bonus when booking travel through the Chase portal (meaning your points are worth $225 in travel).

Plus, if you have any of the cards mentioned above, you can combine your points and then transfer them to Chase’s travel partners, like Hyatt and United Airlines, and potentially get much more value. This is one advantage the Freedom has compared to the Discover it® Cash Back card.
Benefits and perks
Extended warranty
When you use the Chase Freedom to purchase an item, the card will extend the time period of a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less. That lets you avoid purchasing additional warranties when making big-ticket purchases.
Purchase protection
The Chase Freedom offers protection against damage or theft for up to 120 days on new purchases, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
Credit Journey
This Chase service is a great benefit. The bank will provide unlimited free access to your credit score as well as automatically enrolling you in alerts that can help you identify fraud.
Rental car insurance
You’ll get secondary rental insurance when you pay for the rental using your Chase Freedom.
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
If your trip is canceled or impacted by an eligible situation, like sickness or injury, you can be covered with your Freedom card. You can be reimbursed up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable fares.
How to earn points
The Chase Freedom card earns 1% cash back (or one Chase Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent) on every single purchase you make. However, what makes this card so powerful is the ability to earn 5% cash back (or five points per dollar) in rotating categories every quarter on up to $1,500 in combined spending when you activate the bonus.
For example, from April 1 to June 30, 2020, Chase is offering 5% cash back at grocery stores, on gym memberships and at fitness centers. If you make the most of your spending every quarter, you can earn $300 per year (30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) in bonus-category spending alone.
How to redeem points
You can redeem points you earn with the Chase Freedom at a rate of one cent each for cash back, paid travel or gift cards. However, as mentioned earlier, to really get the most value out of your Freedom you’ll want to pair it with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. Then you’ll be able to book paid travel through the Chase Travel Portal at a better rate or transfer your points to travel partners.
Is the Annual fee worth it?
The Freedom card has no annual fee, so it’s a perfect card to open and keep long term. This can help you maintain a healthy credit score because the age of your accounts is one factor that is considered when calculating your score.
Insider tips
You can earn even more travel when you transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to one of Chase’s transfer partners, airlines like United Airlines and Southwest, and hotel chains like Marriott and Hyatt. If you have one of the cards mentioned above, you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to travel partners at a 1:1 ratio.
That means if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer them to United Airlines and book flights at within minutes. By transferring your points to partners, you can really increase the value of your points exponentially.
For example, you can turn 35,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points into a round-trip flight to Hawaii from the West Coast by transferring your points to Singapore Airlines for United Airlines award flights. That’s a potential savings of hundreds and hundreds of dollars, as opposed to the $350 cash back you would have earned with the Chase Freedom alone.
Or, for example, you could transfer 8,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt for a one-night stay at the Hyatt Place Las Vegas. This stay could otherwise easily cost you $100+, under normal circumstances. After meeting minimum spending requirements, you’ve got almost enough points for two nights.
Credit cards similar to the Chase Freedom
I think the 5% cash back (5x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on rotating categories is a great way to boost your Chase points balance, but the activation and tracking of bonus categories might be too much for some to keep track of. Luckily, Chase has a similar card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, which earns a flat 1.5% cash back (1.5x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on purchases. I have both cards, in addition to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, in order to earn the most points for every purchase.
If you have a small business, you might want to consider the Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card which is also a no-annual-fee card that has a sign-up bonus of $500 (50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. This card, like the Freedom Unlimited, earns a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases, but the $500 sign-up bonus is where it really stands out. And qualifying for a small business card may be easier than you think.
Or you could earn Amex points with the no-annual-fee The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express which earns 2x points on the first $50,000 in purchases each calendar year, then 1x points. That’s an excellent return, even though the card doesn’t have a welcome offer.
Bottom line
The Chase Freedom is perfect for anyone who already has a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points because you can combine points from multiple Chase cards. This card is also great for people looking to get their feet wet with a no-annual-fee card that can help you earn free travel. Remember, the Chase Freedom currently comes with a $150 cash bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, which is a great way to start building your points balance.
You can earn 5% cash back (5x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) every quarter on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating bonus categories, which translates into as much as an additional $300 cash back or 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points each year. You can turn those points into travel memories when you pool your points with annual-fee Chase cards like the Sapphire Preferred, then transfer them to Chase’s travel partners like British Airways and Southwest.

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Best grocery credit card: Everything from unlimited cash back to big travel rewards

Grocery bills are a common expense in many household budgets, and using one of the best credit cards for travel to pay for your supermarket shopping can be a really easy way to earn cash back or points. But many of the best rewards credit cards don’t earn extra points for purchases at supermarkets.
With the coronavirus outbreak most of us are limiting out expenditures to essentials, like groceries. And if you want to get the most back for your purchases, these cards are all solid options.
Best credit card for Groceries

Chase Freedom®: Best rotating bonus category
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for cash back
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for cash back with no annual fee (see rates & fees)
The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: Best for low spenders earning travel rewards
American Express® Gold Card: Best for big spenders earning travel rewards
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Best for earning hotel points
Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for unlimited cash back with no annual fee

Information for the Amex Everyday Preferred card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets and has not been reviewed by the card issuer.
Summary of the Best grocery credit cards

CardGrocery benefitsOur review

Chase FreedomEarn 5% back the first $1,500 in combined purchases at grocery stores, fitness clubs and for gym memberships from April 1 to June 30, 2020.Learn about the Chase Freedom’s other perks here.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressEarn 6% cash back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. Supermarkets, then 1%. Terms apply.Uncover the rest of this card’s bonus categories here.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressEarn 3% cash back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. Supermarkets, then 1%. Terms apply.Learn more about why this is a great no-annual-fee card here.

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American ExpressEarn 3x Amex points on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. Supermarkets each year, then 1x. Terms apply.See how this card compares to the Blue Cash Preferred.

American Express® Gold CardEarn 4x Amex points on the first $25,000 spent each year at U.S. Supermarkets, then 1x. Terms apply.
This is also one of our top cards to use at U.S. restaurants.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® CardEarn 6x Hilton points at U.S. Supermarkets. Terms Apply.Find out how to earn free nights with this card here.

Citi® Double Cash CardEarn 2% cash back – 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay.Find out why this is our best overall cash back card.

Having one of these cards in your wallet will help you save at the supermarket. (Photo by Igisheva Maria/Shutterstock.)
Best grocery credit cards
Chase Freedom®
Best rotating bonus category
Earn a $150 cash bonus after spending $500 in the first three months of opening your account.
Insider tip
The cash back you earn with the Chase Freedom card can be much more valuable if you have any of these Chase credit cards:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

This is because you can pool the Ultimate Rewards points you earn with the Freedom card onto one of the above travel credit cards and then transfer them to any of the Chase transfer partners.
Benefits and perks
Each quarter you can earn 5% back on the first $1,500 in combined purchases. Right now (April 1 to June 30, 2020) the Chase Freedom bonus category is grocery stores, gym memberships and fitness clubs.
You’ll also earn 5% back on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and 1% back on all other purchases.
Annual fee
The Chase Freedom credit card has no annual fee.
Our take
The Chase Freedom card is a solid cash back card, but it really shines when you pair it will other cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. For example, the rewards you can earn instantly become at least 50% more valuable if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. That’s because with the Sapphire Reserve your Chase points are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site.
Total value
If you max out this card’s bonus categories you can earn an extra $300 per year. That’s a solid deal because you don’t have to pay an annual fee to keep the card.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Best for cash back
Earn a $250 statement credit after spending $1,000 in the first three months of opening your account.
Insider tip
According to Amex, superstores (Walmart, Target, etc.) and warehouse clubs (Costco, BJs, etc.) won’t earn bonus cash back. But there are sometimes store-specific cards that are good for those purchases, which we highlight at the bottom of this article.
Benefits and perks
The Blue Cash Preferred’s benefits go far beyond U.S. supermarket purchases. You’ll also earn 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit. The transit category includes Uber, Lyft, taxis, trains, tolls. subway, buses and ferries. The card also earns 6% back on select U.S. streaming services, but if you pay for your streaming service as part of a bundle the transaction may not qualify.
On top of all that, it earns 6% cash back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year, then 1%.
Annual fee
$95 (see rates & fees).
Our take
Even if you only open the Blue Cash Preferred for its grocery bonus category you’d still be coming out ahead every year because maxing out that bonus earns you $360. That’s a solid return for a credit card that earns cash back. Also, a big part of what makes cash back worth it for so many is the simplicity of being able to use it for any expense.
Total value
After you subtract the annual fee from the intro bonus you have a first year value of $155 before you earn a single penny of cash back.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Best for cash back with no annual fee
Earn a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 in the first three months of opening the account.
Insider tip
You can only earn an intro bonus on a specific American Express card once per lifetime, but the Blue Cash Everyday and Blue Cash Preferred are considered different products. So if you’ve had one you are still eligible for the bonus on the other.
Benefits and perks
The Blue Cash Everyday earn 3% back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year, then 1%. And purchases made at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores earn 2% back. All other spending earns 1% cash back.
Annual fee
$0 (see rates and fees).
Our take
This card earns half the bonus cash back rate as the Blue Cash Preferred on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets. That equates to earning $85 less per year in cash back once you pay the Blue Cash Preferred’s $95 annual fee see rates and fees. So this card is a better option only if you can’t qualify for the Blue Cash Preferred or can’t justify paying that card’s annual fee because you won’t max out the U.S. supermarkets bonus category every year.
Total value
Because this card has no annual fee you’ll earn no less than $150 first year, as long as you qualify for the intro bonus offer.
The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
Best for low spenders earning travel rewards
Earn 15,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in your first three months from opening the account.
Insider tip
If you can find a friend to refer you to the Amex Everyday Preferred you might be able to get a much more generous welcome offer, plus your friend will earn bonus points too.
Benefits and perks
The Amex Everyday Preferred earns 3x Amex points on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets every calendar year, then 1x. The card also earns 2x points at U.S. gas stations and one point per dollar on everything else.
But get this, you can increase the rewards you earn in a billing cycle by 50% if you make 30 or more purchases during that same billing period. So this card has the potential to earn up to 4.5x points at U.S. Supermarkets.
Annual fee
Our take
If you plan on making at least 30 purchases with this card every billing period you won’t be able to find a card that consistently offers a better return for purchases at U.S. supermarkets.
Total value
We value Amex points at two cents each when you transfer them to Amex’s travel partners. That makes the first year value of this card at least $205 after deducting the annual fee.
American Express® Gold Card
(Photo by Wyatt Smith)
Best for big spenders earning travel rewards
Earn 35,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months after opening the account.
Insider tip
If you want to be able to transfer Amex points to someone else’s airline or hotel rewards account they will need to have been an authorized user on your account for at least 90 days. Luckily, the first five authorized users you add to your Amex Gold account are free ($35 for each addition authorized user beyond five).
Benefits and perks
If you’re a heavy spender on groceries, you can’t beat the American Express Gold card. It earns 4x Amex points at U.S. supermarkets on the first $25,000 spent per calendar year, then 1x. The card also earns an uncapped 4x Amex points on dining, 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on and one point on all other purchases.
This is also one of our best credit cards for restaurants because it earns up to $120 in dining credits each year — you’ll get up to $10 in credit per month when you use your card at participating restaurant partners. The card also comes with up to $100 in annual airline fee credits with your selected airline. And it has no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
Annual fee
$250 (see rates and fees).
Our take
There are so many great ways to use Amex points to get outsized value for your rewards. And this is the best rewards credit card for earning Amex points at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets. So if you spend a lot in those categories and want to earn travel rewards, this is the right card for you.
Total value
At a value of two cents per point, the intro bonus is worth $700 in travel. With the cards dining and airline credits (up to $220 per year, combined) and after paying the $250 annual fee the first year value is $670.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
Best for earning hotel points
Earn 125,000 Hilton points after spending $2,000 on the card within the first three months of account opening.
Insider tip
If you have any level of Hilton status you get access to the 5th night free perk. With it, you’ll get every 5th night free on points stays (up to four free nights per stay), the discount is based on the average cost of all the nights during the stay. The good news is that the Hilton Surpass comes with Gold status as long as you have the card, so you’ll always have access to this benefit.
Benefits and perks
The Surpass earns 12x Hilton points  per dollar of eligible purchases at Hilton hotels, 6x points per dollar for eligible purchases at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and U.S. restaurants and 3x points everywhere else. And any calendar year that you spend $15,000+ on the card you’ll earn a free weekend night certificate valid at any Hilton hotel except these locations.
As I mentioned earlier, the card comes with Hilton Gold status, which gets you free breakfast at Hilton hotels. You’ll also get 10 free Priority Pass airport lounge visits per year.
Annual fee
$95 (see rates and fees)
Our take
The Surpass is one of the best hotel credit cards for earning mid-tier elite status. The reason for this is that Hilton Gold status is the only mid-tier elite status (with the major hotel chains) that comes with a free breakfast benefit. On top of that, you’ll have a hard time finding a card with a lower annual fee that also gets you access to Priority Pass lounges.
Total value
This card’s first year value is at least $530 based on our .5 cents valuation of Hilton points and after deducting the cost of the annual fee.
Citi® Double Cash Card
Best for unlimited cash back with no annual fee
This card currently has no intro bonus offer.
Insider tip
If you have the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier℠ Card you can transfer the rewards you earn with the Citi Double Cash to Citi’s travel partners
Benefits and perks
The Citi Double Cash card earns 2% cash back, 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay.
Annual fee
Our take
This is one of the best cards to use for everyday spending that doesn’t fall into another card’s bonus category. Because most cards only earn 1% on non-bonused spending with the Citi Double Cash you’re essentially doubling your return on those purchases. Not bad for a card with no annual fee.
Total value
This card has no intro bonus, so the first year value depends solely on how much you spend on the card.
Store-specific card options
Most of the cards on this list are issued by Amex and according to its terms superstores (including Target, Walmart and Amazon) and wholesale clubs (like Costco and BJs) won’t earn bonus points. So if you do most of your grocery spending at these stores you may want to look into opening a card specifically for these purchases.
Here are a few good options.
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
This card is issued by Chase, so it is subject to the 5/24 rule, which means you won’t be eligible for it if you’ve opened 5+ card from any bank in the past 24 months. You’ll also need to be an Amazon Prime member to qualify. It earns 5% back at Amazon and Whole Foods, making it one of the best credit cards for Amazon purchases.
It also earns 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% back on all other purchases.
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
There are plenty of good credit cards to use at Costco, including this one. With it you’ll earn 4% cash back on the first $7,000 on eligible gas purchases at Costco and gas stations worldwide each annual reward period (1% thereafter). It also earns 3% cash back at restaurants worldwide and on eligible travel purchases. When you make purchases at Costco you’ll earn 2% cash back and 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases.
Target REDcard Credit Card
The Target REDcard gets you a 5% discount on all qualifying target purchases. So even though you’re not earning rewards it’s a great option if you do most of your grocery shopping at Target. You’ll also get free shipping on most purchases made on the Target website.
The information for the Citi Premier, Citi Prestige, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, Target REDcard credit card and Costco Anywhere Visa card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

For more travel and credit card news, deals and analysis sign-up for our newsletter here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday Card, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here. 
For rates and fees of the Amex Hilton Surpass Card, please click here. 

A comparison of the United Airlines credit cards

If you’re a United Airlines flyer, you may be searching for the credit card that best serves your needs. There are plenty to choose from, after all.
United offers some of the best credit cards for travel. It’s important to know which perks you’ll get with each version — for example, only some United cards save you money on baggage fees or get you into United Club airport lounges.
All of the Chase United Airlines cards are affected by the Chase 5/24 rule. If you’re looking to earn United miles, it’s important to know your options. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll get with each card.
Best United Airlines credit cards

United℠ Explorer Card: Best all-around United Airlines credit card
United℠ Business Card: Best welcome bonus with a United Airlines credit card
New! United Club℠ Infinite Card: Best premium personal card United Airlines credit card
United Club Business Card: Best premium United Airlines business credit card
United℠ TravelBank Card: Best no annual fee United Airlines credit card

The information for the United Club Business and the United TravelBank card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Card NameSign-Up BonusAnnual Fee

United℠ Explorer Card60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening$95 (waived for the first year)

United℠ Business Card100,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening$95

United Club℠ Infinite Card100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening$525

United Club℠ Business Card100,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening$450

United℠ TravelBank Card$150 in TravelBank cash after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from opening your accountNone

The information for the United Club Business Card and the United TravelBank Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Our United Airlines credit card comparison will help you choose the perfect one to fulfill your travel dreams to places like Iceland. (Photo by Andrew Mayovskyy/Shutterstock)
How we choose the best United Airlines credit cards
Welcome bonus: The fastest way to a free vacation is by earning large welcome bonuses. Earning a single bonus could net you a round-trip coach flight to Asia, a lie-flat business class seat to Europe, or many other things.
Rewards for everyday purchases: If you fly United Airlines with frequency, you’ll want a card that gives you a large return on United purchases — and United miles for everyday spending. If you choose one that earns rewards to match your daily spending patterns, it’s an especially great way to steadily accumulate points for your next trip.
Perks and benefits: This is the true meat of a credit card. Ongoing perks like free checked bags, lounge access, priority boarding, etc. can save you hundreds and hundreds each year, not to mention enhance your travel experience.
Chase United Explorer
Card bonus
With the United Explorer Card, you’ll earn 60,000 United Airlines miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. We estimate United miles value to be at least 1.3 cents each. That means you should easily receive $780 in United flights from this bonus.
Ongoing earnings
The United Explorer card also comes with:

2 United Airlines miles per dollar you spend on purchases from United Airlines
2 United Airlines miles per dollar spent at restaurants and hotels when you book directly
1 United Airlines mile per dollar you spend on everything else

Benefits and perks
The Chase United Explorer card comes with priority boarding and two one-time United Club lounge passes per cardmember year. Plus, you’ll get a $100 credit every four years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership, which is a huge time saver at U.S. airport security checkpoints. Everyone on the MMS team has either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (you can read about TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry here).
Cardholders will also get priority boarding, free checked bags, access to more United Airlines award seats and more. Read our full post on Chase United Explorer credit card benefits.
Annual fee
There’s a $95 annual fee with this card, but it’s waived the first year.
Our take
This is my favorite airline credit card. It enhances every step of your travel experience with perks like waived checked bag fees and more award seat availability. The access to more award seats has come in handy more times than I can count. Being a United Explorer cardholder has not only made it easier to earn United miles but to use them too. I think this is an absolute must for United Airlines flyers. Read our Chase United Explorer review.
United℠ Business Card
Card bonus
Small-business owners can do business well with the United Business Card. You’ll earn 100,000 United Airlines miles after spending $10,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Ongoing earnings
With the United Business Card you’ll also get:

2 United Airlines miles per dollar on purchases from United
2 United Airlines miles per dollar on local transit and commuting
2 United Airlines miles per dollar at gas stations, office supply stores and restaurants
1 United Airlines mile per dollar you spend on everything else

Benefits and perks
Like the personal version of the United Explorer card, United Business cardholders get benefits like free checked bags for them and a traveling companion when they use the card to pay for their reservation, priority boarding, two one-time United Club lounge passes and more. And they get my favorite perk, access to more United Airlines award seats.
You’ll also receive a $100 United travel credit annually, after seven flight purchases of $100 or more. The card even comes with an annual bonus of 5,000 miles when you also hold a personal Chase United credit card
Annual fee
You’ll pay $95 per year to hold this card.
Our take
You won’t find a United card welcome bonus larger than this one. You can fly just about anywhere in the world with 100,000 miles. Although United recently moved to “dynamic pricing” for awards, you should have enough miles for three or four coach flights within the U.S., a one-way business-class ticket to Europe or even two round-trip coach flights to Hawaii.
You must have a small business to be eligible for this card but lots of folks qualify for a small business card without realizing it. If you earn income for performing a service like driving for Uber or selling goods on eBay, you could qualify. You’ll also need to be under Chase’s 5/24 limit to apply for the card, but Chase doesn’t report small-business cards to your personal credit report so the United Business credit card won’t add to your 5/24 count.
Read our full Chase United Business Card review.
 United Club℠ Infinite Card
Card bonus
Through May 18, 2020, the United Club Infinite card comes with a 100,000-mile bonus after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of account opening. That’s generally enough for at least two round-trip flights within the U.S., and more than enough for a round-trip flight to fun destinations like Peru or Hawaii.
United Airlines miles can help you cross off your biggest bucket list items. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)
Ongoing earnings
With this card, you get:

4x miles on United purchases
2x miles on dining
2x miles on all other travel
1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else

Benefits and perks
This card comes with a United Club membership (worth up to $650). If you enjoy United Airlines lounges and their free food and drinks when you fly, this is a great card to have. With the membership, you can access United Clubs and Star Alliance lounges. Plus, you can bring two guests for free (or one adult and dependent children under 21 years of age) to a United Club or one guest to a Star Alliance lounge.
Note that United Airlines lounge access restrictions state that you need to be flying United Airlines or one of its partners the same day to gain entry to United Clubs.
You’ll also get perks like first and second bags checked free when you pay for your ticket with the card (save up to $280 per round-trip flight), priority check-in and boarding and, of course, more access to available award seats.
Annual fee
This card has a $525 annual fee, which is not waived the first year. However, the savings from the checked baggage benefit and United Club membership can more than offset the annual fee if you fly United often.
Our take
The only glaring advantage this card has over the United Explorer Card is the United Club lounge access. There are other goodies but they’re not useful to everyone. A United Club membership costs more than you’ll pay for this card’s annual fee, so opening this card is a way to get United Club access at a discount.
Chase United Club Business Card
Card bonus
There’s also a small-business version of the Chase United Club card with an identical welcome bonus. You’ll earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s worth $1,300 in United Airlines flights based on our United miles value estimation.
Ongoing earnings
Just like with the personal version of this card, United Club Business cardholders will earn:

2 United Airlines miles per dollar spent on United Airlines flights
1.5 United Airlines miles per dollar spent on other purchases

Benefits and perks
The rest of the perks are the same as the personal version mentioned above.
Opening this card is cheaper than paying for United Club lounge membership. (Photo by Daniel Ross)
Annual fee
This card’s annual fee is $450.
Our take
Again, the main reason to get this card would be for the United Club access because membership costs more than you’ll pay for this card’s annual fee.
Chase United TravelBank Card
Card bonus
When you open this card, you’ll earn $150 in TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. The rewards you earn with this card can only be used for flights on United Airlines, so this sign-up bonus will save you $150 off the cost of a United Airlines flight (not any partner airline flights).
Ongoing earnings
With this card, you’ll get:

2% back in TravelBank cash per dollar with United Airlines
1.5% back in TravelBank cash per dollar for all other purchases

Benefits and perks

25% off United Airlines onboard food and beverage purchases
Rental car insurance (secondary coverage)
Trip cancellation insurance
No foreign transaction fees
No annual fee

Annual fee
TheUnited TravelBank Card is the only no-annual-fee United Airlines card available to new applicants.
Our take
Read our Chase United TravelBank Card review and you’ll see why we don’t recommend this card — even if you frequently fly with United Airlines. You’d be far better off picking up one of the best cashback credit cards and using those rewards for anything (not just United Airlines flights).
However, if you have other Chase United cards that charge an annual fee and aren’t sure if you want to keep them for another year, you might be able to downgrade to this card instead of cancelling your card. That way you’ll save your credit line and history with Chase.
Other ways to earn United Airlines miles
Don’t forget, United Airlines is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. This means you can transfer these flexible points directly to the airline if you have these popular credit cards:

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

These cards often have a better earning rate than United Airlines credit cards. Plus, if you have any of the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards mentioned above, you can combine points from these no-annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards cards and move them to United Airlines as well:

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card
Chase Freedom®
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Bottom line
Anyone looking for a United Airlines card has five options to choose from. Right now, your best option is the increased bonus on the United Explorer Business Card. You’ll earn up to 100,000 United Airlines miles after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements.
Let us know your favorite among the bunch. And subscribe to our newsletter for United Airlines travel tips and tricks to getting the most from your miles.

Rustic paradise: A review of Calala Island, a private island bookable with World of Hyatt points

Ever since Hyatt partnered with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), World of Hyatt members have been able to use points to book stays at over 500 independently owned boutique hotels  across the globe from the South of France to the streets of Southeast Asia.
Some of these SLH properties stick out and one of these is Calala Island, a private-island retreat with just four rooms off the coast of Nicaragua that touts itself as part of the “NiCaribbean,” the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
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As soon as the property became bookable through World of Hyatt for just 40,000 points per night, it shot to the top of our list of places that we had to get to. After all, how many private islands can you book on points? I booked the first nights I could find on points at the tropical resort. After my three-night stay at Calala, I can confidently say that this property is an absolute steal and deserves a spot at the top of your bucket list.

In This Post

As mentioned previously, Calala Island is bookable with Hyatt points. As of now, you can redeem for 40,000 points a night, but once dynamic pricing goes into effect, rooms here can be had for as little as 35,000 points per night on off-peak dates. At this rate, it’s an absolute steal, considering rooms regularly go for over $2,000 per night. I booked the hotel using Chase Ultimate Rewards that I transferred to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. As cash prices were $2,800 per night during my booking, this means I got 7 cents in value for each of my points, far more than TPG’s 2-cent valuation for Ultimate Rewards points.
The hotel consists of only four rooms, though only the junior suites (of which there are three), are bookable via points. Each room can accommodate two people, which means that a total of eight guests can occupy the island at any given time. During my stay, only two of the rooms were occupied: myself and my mom in one room and a couple in another room. Come to find out, they’re big fans of The Points Guy and also had booked with Hyatt points.
Related: The best hotel credit cards for 2020
If you’re short on Hyatt points, consider signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. You’ll be well on your way to a stay at this private-island paradise.
Unfortunately, Hyatt elite members don’t receive benefits at SLH properties despite their partnership. This is stated when you book online. Although we didn’t get elite-status perks, we were already enjoying so many benefits (such as nightly gifts during turndown), that I didn’t feel the loss.
Calala Island bills itself as part of the Caribbean, and although it’s not wrong, getting to this hotel is a schlep. There are no major airports nearby. Instead, guests fly to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, and then take a plane to Bluefields (on the east coast of Nicaragua), and from there board a speedboat to the island.

You can view this as a hassle, but you can also see it as a way to see a lot of Nicaragua on your journey to the hotel. From the taxi ride through the city to the two-hour boat ride, you’ll get to experience the country all the way to the resort.
Our speedboat to the resort.
The resort told us that a representative would meet us at 1 p.m. at Managua Airport (MGA) to shepherd us onto the flight to Bluefields. Our flight from Managua to Bluefields departed late and stopped at another island first (with no advance notice). Once we landed at the airport, we were met by another hotel representative who was practically dancing with excitement. After the two-hour boat ride, we made it to the resort after sunset at 6:30 p.m., well beyond the anticipated arrival time of 4 p.m. It wasn’t a huge deal to me, but don’t count on a seamless journey.
Unlike other resorts bookable with points, Calala Island‘s rate includes transfers. This means that the round-trip flight on a prop plane and four hours of speedboat journey will cost you nothing out of pocket. This is in stark contrast to popular resorts such as the Conrad Maldives, where round-trip transfers run upwards of $700 per person.
Unfortunately, transfers are limited to two departures per day, so if you arrive outside these hours, be prepared for a long wait.

To get to Calala, you can either choose to leave at at 5:45 a.m. or 1 p.m. at Managua Airport.
You can leave the island at either 5:30 a.m. or noon, for an arrival into Managua Airport at 9:45 a.m. or 5:15 p.m.

Have you ever been greeted by an entire island upon your arrival? I have, now that I’ve stayed at Calala Island. It was a music-playing, coconut-offering extravaganza upon our arrival. Every member of the resort’s staff was present and the two managers swiftly escorted all four of us (all of the guests at the resort) to the dining area to outline the facilities.

There was no check-in, per se, and everyone was already familiar with our names and stay dates. With fresh coconuts in hand, we were guided to our rooms and given the details of dining on the island.
In short, the island is gorgeous. Located in the Caribbean, it’s got picture-perfect white sand beaches and palm trees to spare. If you’re looking for an island paradise, look no further.

I challenge you to find a resort more accommodating than Calala. When my mom and I eyed each other nervously at the mention of a single king bed in our hotel cabana, one of the resort managers, Claudia, offered me my own room.
Let me repeat that. Because my mom and I didn’t want to share a bed, the hotel manager offered me a separate room of my own with no additional charge. At a property that runs in the thousands of dollars per night, this is generosity unparalleled by any elite status out there.

The cabanas feature all-natural materials, like thatched roofs, wooden beams and decorative seashells. There is no air-conditioning, but the rooms had excellent airflow and two ceiling fans apiece. In March, this meant I was able to sleep under the covers comfortably without feeling stifled. If you choose to stay during the summer, however, be aware that temperatures skyrocket and even the most generous of airflow probably won’t save you.

Each junior suite consists of one king bed and a small couch.

The bathroom was fully stocked, but it is open-air, so things could get awkward quickly depending on who you’re sharing with. This is also true for the cabana at large, as its massive glass-fronted walls open directly to the beach. Island security guards walk by on occasion, so I’d be extra wary of wandering around immodestly, especially at night.

I asked the staff to cover up those holes in the middle of my outdoor shower, which they willingly did.

The toilet, while hidden behind a door, is open to the rest of the cabana. This means that no matter how much you love your roommate, things might get a little more intimate than you’re used to. The hotel did provide incense sticks and matches atop the toilets to help rectify this problem.
I was worried about bugs after reading some reviews from previous guests. However, I can safely say these worries were groundless. Did I find a huge horrific cockroach in my snorkel mask? Yes. But the island provides bug spray and bug killer everywhere on the island, so you don’t really need to worry.
Each cabana also features an outdoor patio, hammock and beanbag chairs.
My hammock and beanbag chairs.
Although there are only four rooms in the entire resort, they are all located along the same strip of beach. To combat accidental creepiness, the hotel asks that you use the back doors located inside each cabin to get anywhere you need to go.
Food and Beverage
Calala Island calls itself an “ultra all-inclusive” resort. Nearly all drinks are included, all your meals are free and most every activity costs nothing out-of-pocket.

Fish tacos at lunch.
Our first meal at the property was a lavish four courses. Because there were only four guests, the entire event took less than an hour, despite the decadence of the meal. The hotel is very good about dietary preferences and will make basically anything you’d like to order if they’ve got the ingredients.
The main dining area.
Barring special needs, your meal comes either prix fixe or available from a menu.

Unlike many other all-inclusive resorts, Calala Island has specific dining hours. Generally, you can expect to eat breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch from noon to 4 p.m. and dinner from 7:30 p.m. on.
Lunch-time steak.
The food is some of the best I’ve ever had at an all-inclusive resort. No, it’s some of the best I’ve had, period. I’ve traveled to the Maldives and enjoyed resorts in Tahiti, but Calala’s chefs served up some of the tastiest food I’ve ever had.

Everything is fresh, skillfully prepared and arranged with care. Our fresh fruit was perfectly ripened. My steak was as tender as could be and if you felt the desire to fish for lobsters, they’d cook them for you perfectly.
Dessert during our four-course meal: chocolate cheesecake and peanut butter sponge cake.
Calala Island is tiny, so the activities are focused on the water. If you don’t like water sports, you should head elsewhere. For everyone else, there are a host of activities to try. Want to picnic on a deserted island? Go spearfishing? The hotel has you covered, at no additional cost.

There’s a spa on the island, though it’s also outdoors, so if you’re looking for soothing music and air-conditioning this isn’t your jam.

There’s the infinity pool, of course, which is guaranteed to be uncrowded with a maximum of eight attendees at any given time.

In fact, we felt alone for the majority of our trip. There was no fight for pool chairs, our cellphones could be left unattended and our cabanas had a key that never needed to be used. The whole island feels safe, private and exclusive.

On our second day, we opted for island-hopping with our fellow guests, which meant we jumped back into the speedboat and motored out to our neighboring islands. This was one of my favorite activities. Surprisingly, I felt like an urban explorer. Yes, urban. The islands nearest Calala are filled with failed resort startups, and we saw the decaying buildings amid lush tropical vegetation.

Baboon Cay, a former resort.
Keep an eye out for the local wildlife, including sloths, iguanas and parrots.
It’s also true, however, that you can complete a walking lap of the entire island in two minutes and 30 seconds, so if you get island fever, the hotel may be a little small for you.
Although the rooms are nice and the food is exquisite, what really makes the property stand out is its people. From the moment we arrived, we received unparalleled attention. There are 25 staff members for just four guests, and these people were overwhelmingly great.
Let me give you an example. At breakfast, I had ordered a mimosa. Nearing the bottom of my drink, a staffer made eye contact with me and hurried forward to mix up another mimosa, no words asked, complete with freshly squeezed orange juice. At any given time, there are at least two staff members waiting unobtrusively to help you with whatever you need.
The message-in-a-bottle left in our room.
Even better, absolutely everyone can help you with absolutely everything. On my first day I asked my in-pool bartender for help with my shower. I then asked the maintenance man for a freshly chopped coconut. Regardless of your request, you’ll receive smiles and prompt, helpful service.
Overall impression
Calala Island is a tiny property with big heart. From personalized doodles from the staff to the anything-you-can-think-of resort request system, everyone on the island is there to make your stay memorable.
If you’re looking for an authentic adventure with high-end touches, Calala Island is where you should be. Expect little, receive much and take advantage of all the amenities for an unforgettable experience.

There are a few downsides. The trip to the island felt very long, and there was the odd cockroach in my snorkel mask. Calala Island isn’t one of those perfectly manicured resorts you’ll find in the Maldives or Bora Bora. Instead, it’s an homage to unspoiled island beauty. With its luxe touches and attentive staff, Calala is a perfect paradise for blending a little bit of nature with a beach vacation.
Is it worth its rate in cash? Not to me, but on points it’s an absolute steal.
I’m already looking to return.
All photos by the author.

Proposal in paradise: A review of the Stella Maris Villa at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi

Every trip to the Maldives is special, but my most recent visit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience — I used the Indian Ocean archipelago as a backdrop to propose to my then-boyfriend.
On past trips, I’ve tended to go alone; it’s the perfect place to unwind and disconnect from the hectic world around us. During my last four trips, I’ve been lucky enough to stay at such resorts as the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, Baros Maldives and the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa.
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Since I was planning such a special occasion on this trip, though, I wanted to go the extra mile to ensure everything would be perfect — including the resort. Originally, I thought I’d stay at the new JW Marriott Maldives Resort and Spa, but I grew concerned when I saw that the opening kept getting pushed back. Being one of the first hotel guests at a resort can be exciting, but it can also be frustrating to deal with new hotel kinks (you can read all about my prior experience with this at The St. Regis Venice or Summer Hull’s experience at the Hyatt Zilara Cap Cana). And, of course, this is all assuming the hotel even opens on time.
Ready to plan that bucket-list trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there. 

Because I knew I’d be proposing on this trip, I wanted to leave zero room for error and aim for a new resort, but not a brand-new resort. But this is TPG after all, so we decided to bring along other team members in order to check out several newly opened properties as well as the tried-and-true properties that have been around for years. With more people coming on the trip, it was decided that I’d check out the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi and Nicky Kelvin of TPG UK would stay at the JW Marriott.
But, given the extra-special nature of my trip, I wanted an extra-special room — which I found in the form of the Stella Maris Ocean Villa, located on its own island within the resort. I’d also be the first guest to stay at this particular villa, which was completed recently before my stay.

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Beach villas are the base rooms at the Waldorf Astoria and you can book them starting at 120,000 points per night or upwards of $1,500 per night. If you choose to redeem your points here, it’s not uncommon that you can get at least double the value that we assign Hilton Honors points in our monthly valuations.
Oh, and don’t worry about the phrase “base room” at this property — they are stunning. Staying in an overwater villa is a unique experience, but I love the privacy and space you get on land, as well as being able to walk along the beach. Often overwater villas are located far from the beach and all the action on the resort.
But in this case — my proposal trip — I wanted something that truly felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enter the Stella Maris Ocean Villa, one of two exclusive villas on the property that were going for 2.2 million Honors points per night.
Related: Short on Hilton points? Top off your account with this Amex promo
When booking, I considered using the fourth-night-free benefit from the Citi Prestige® Card, but the rate was really high with lots of added fees, so it really wasn’t a money-saving option. Using this fourth-night free benefit can often be hit or miss, depending on how Citi prices the hotels in its own portal.
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
But in the end I decided to book directly with Hilton, which actually had the cheapest rate at about $5,000 per night using a AAA discount. The total cost was about $20,000 for my four-night stay. Instead of paying with my Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, I ended up paying with my Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Thanks to the spend that I put on this card for my business, as well as the Capital One® Spark® Miles Business, I had a high balance of Capital One points (over two million, to be exact), which I used to effectively “wipe off” the cost of the accommodation from my statement, making what was a huge splurge a lot more affordable — free, to be exact. Although it may seem crazy, I use those cards for a huge amount of business spend — one million in spend had given me two million in points, which in turn paid for my stay.
If I didn’t have all those Capital One points, I would have paid for my stay with my Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express to get 34 points per dollar spent — 14 points for using the Aspire and 20 more points for having Hilton Diamond status.
TPG Director of Video Tom Grahsler was part of this massive office trip to the Maldives, and I booked him a beach villa using the previously mentioned 120,000 Honors points for a one-night stay. Thanks to my Diamond status, he got upgraded to a Queen Grand Reef Villa with pool — and was entitled to my Diamond benefits:

Free breakfast
Complimentary Wi-Fi
Complimentary late checkout
Complimentary two bottles of water daily
In-villa VIP welcome Champagne and sweets
Complimentary additional 30 minutes added to a booked 60-minute massage at the spa
Complimentary happy hour from 4-5 p.m. at Peacock Alley
50% off selected beverages at Nava Beach Club from 10-11:30 p.m.

His impressions from his brief stay are included at the end of this story.
The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi has 122 villas across three private islands. There are two separate Stella Maris Villas, each set out in the middle of the sea between the private island and the overwater villas. These villas are only reachable by boat.

Although my stay was only four nights, I wanted to maximize the time I had. So, I booked an inbound flight which arrived in Male around 6 a.m. on the first day of my trip and then departed Male at around 10 p.m. on the last day. Something that I immediately loved about this hotel was that it does the airport transfers with a speedboat, which allowed me to have more time at the property.
Related: Your guide to seaplane and speedboat resort transfers in the Maldives
The biggest downside to taking a seaplane is that they don’t finalize the schedules until the day before the flights depart. If I had stayed at a seaplane resort, I could have lost an entire day as I would have been at the mercy of the flight schedule. So, if your flights arrive at Male early in the morning and then depart late at night at the end of your vacation, you may want to consider the Waldorf Astoria solely based on all the extra time you’ll have to enjoy the resort, which is, after all, the whole reason to go to the Maldives in the first place.
Arrival via private yacht gave me the flexibility to organize my transfers at the times I wanted them. I spend a lot of time in airports, so I was happy to spend less time waiting for my flights and more time enjoying the resort. The yacht runs 24/7 and takes about 50 minutes to get from the airport in Male to the hotel. Although it’s a pricey $862 per person round-trip, it came with a private bedroom (first-come, first-served) where you can relax or nap, Wi-Fi, coffee, Champagne and snacks.

The service was great — the boat was waiting in Male and I left promptly after my flight arrived.
For departure, the plan is usually to arrive at the airport about three hours before your flight is scheduled to depart, which means that I would have had to leave the Waldorf Astoria around 6 p.m. to arrive at the airport at around 7 p.m., three hours before my 10 p.m. departure. However, the island on which the Waldorf sits is actually one hour ahead of Male (some resorts in the Maldives change the time to offer guests an extra hour of daylight), so I actually went “back in time” during the boat ride, and arrived at the airport at 6:45 p.m. after leaving the hotel at 7 p.m. I highly recommend factoring in the time change when organizing your trip in order to have as much time at the resort as possible.

After the boat ride, which was great, albeit slightly rainy, I arrived to a team of staff members waiting for me. There was even a large gong that was rung to signify my arrival. Now that’s an entrance.
The reception hall featured beautiful, understated tropical elegance. I was checked in in no time at all, too.
Since I knew I’d be arriving around 10 a.m., I had prebooked massages while staff prepared my room. I definitely recommend prebooking spa treatments if you know you’ll be arriving early. After 24 hours of travel, heading straight to the spa was the ideal way to deal with jet lag. Remember, Hilton Diamonds get an extra 30 minutes added onto their massages here.
The Stella Maris Villa is only reachable by pontoon boat, so after my massage, it was back on the water again. Five minutes later, I was climbing a small set of stairs up to the villa’s entrance.

The Stella Maris Villa
I fell in love with the Stella Maris Villa before I even walked in. I actually had chills when I spotted it from the boat.
Upon entering, I realized that this was probably the most beautiful villa I’d ever seen — a modern masterpiece, yet still comfortable and cozy. The sleek design scheme, heavy in marble and glass, inspired comfort and relaxation. I was blown away by the shocking amount of marble in the villa — this space definitely wasn’t going anywhere in a storm. Everything looked shiny and new, and it was clear that I was the very first guest to stay in the villa.

Although the villa was positively huge, the bedroom felt cozy, and featured a beautiful king-size bed.

The floor-to-ceiling windows let in an enormous amount of light, and I caught myself staring out onto the stunning sea views. The main living area was huge, with three glass walls and a small kitchenette. Here, I had a Nespresso machine and a big drawer of capsules.
The outdoor space was where the villa shone even brighter.

The first-floor deck had a large infinity pool and two overwater net hammocks which were made for Instagram photo shoots.


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Excited to spend the rest of my life with this one. But seriously, where does one honeymoon when you propose in the Maldives?!
A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on Dec 15, 2019 at 5:15pm PST

There was just so much space outside, with a variety of lounge chairs and sofas and beds to relax on as well as a table and chairs for al fresco dining and even a private bar area upstairs.

A spiral staircase led up to a small half-outdoor/half-indoor upstairs deck area with a second, smaller infinity pool with jets, a barbecue grill and dining area. There was also a roof deck where I did yoga one day.
Admiring the sublime sunsets quickly became a nightly routine too.

Every single villa gets a butler — called a concierge —  at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives. Concierge unpacking was offered, which I happily took advantage of. Our concierge Camille was wonderful. She helped us immensely throughout our stay, especially with things like reservations.
The bathroom was enormous, with a chic metal and marble design scheme and double sinks.

One day, I came back to the villa and they had run a bath with rose petals in the huge soaking tub, which looked out through a huge window to the ocean and resort.

The main shower passed the TPG shower test, though the one outside came very close. I’ll give it a pass.

The privacy of the villa was really special. I could see the other Stella Maris Villa from the rooftop, and other parts of the resort from some areas of the villa, but couldn’t reach anywhere else on the resort without a boat, so it felt very secluded. I thought this might bug me, but the tranquility was amazing. Whenever I needed a transfer, I called and the staff arrived promptly with the pontoon boat.
Amenities and dining
The Maldives is all about relaxing. In fact, I got three massages while I was there and they were all fantastic. They definitely weren’t cheap, but I knew that in advance and they were well worth the cost. The spa, which has 10 treatment pavilions is completely overwater, which meant I could watch the fish swim during my massage through glass-bottomed floor sections.

One morning, I did sunrise yoga on the rooftop of the villa with a private instructor, an incredible way to start my day. It was also an expensive way to start my day — the private rooftop class cost $550.


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Sunrise yoga with resident fitness guru @ilove2move ???????? One of my resolutions is to stretch and do more yoga! Best way to combat too much sitting on metal tubes #maldives #sunrise #serenity
A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on Dec 16, 2019 at 6:25pm PST

There was a large fitness center on the property too, as well as a pool (but I had a few of my own, so I never went to the main one). The resort grounds were beautiful (and large) but most of the time I spent on the resort was in the villa, or underwater, diving.

The house reef was just OK, unfortunately. Any time an overwater resort is built, the reef is drilled. The house reef here was damaged from the drilling and will take some time to recover. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the reef at Baros. I did a refresher dive at the house reef and didn’t see much marine life. But just a 15-minute boat ride away, there was a small chain of islands where the diving was fantastic. I saw a manta one day even though they weren’t in season, as well as many fish, eels, turtles and even a silvertip shark (my favorite kind of shark).

I also chartered a boat one day to go swim with nurse sharks which was amazing (but also not cheap at $2,800 for four hours). I also saw whales one day and helped save a sea turtle named Olive Ripley — I really got into the marine life this visit. There was a marine biologist, Emma, on the resort who was really friendly and interesting to talk to. It’s possible to do a group tour and see wild dolphins in a natural lagoon area or charter a private boat with the on-site marine biologist and snorkel with the dolphins.
Even though the resort has 122 villas, my (almost) fiancé and I were the only people on the diving boat each day. In general, I never felt the resort was crowded, although I did run into a few TPG readers at one point.
The internet worked well, too, though I have to say, it was nice to have a small digital detox during this trip.
The villa rate included free glass-bottled water, but other than that, you’re on your own for food costs. Luckily, thanks to my Hilton Diamond status, we got free breakfast daily. Each day, we ordered from the menu and the charge would be wiped. Because dining is so incredibly expensive, we really loaded up on breakfast each day. we never went to the breakfast restaurant — or left the villa for lunch either. It was hard to justify leaving, so I just had everything delivered there. I can’t imagine a breakfast restaurant could top dining at the Stella Maris Villa.

In addition to the usual breakfast foods, we ordered a Middle Eastern mezze platter with hummus etc., which we’d stick in the fridge and then eat after we got back from scuba diving each day as a lunch snack. The interesting thing about breakfast was that I’m sure there were different chefs each day. The first day, our omelets were fantastic and the next day, just average, and the trend continued. And having a floating breakfast was fun … until I spilled Champagne in the pool.


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Checked off my influencer bucket list. FYI warm champagne in a cold pool at 8am isn’t a thing (but a handsome pool boy is) ???? #maldives #paradise #thepointsguy
A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on Dec 17, 2019 at 7:20am PST

Overall, the food was great, but it was just so expensive. We paid $110 for lobster curry and $32 for a basic green salad, which is one of the priciest room service lunches I’ve had in a while (maybe ever).
Although the food was expensive at the Waldorf, they really did work hard to offer an authentic dining experience. In total, the resort has 11 different dining venues. In the Middle Eastern restaurant Yasmeen, there was even imported Lebanese stone — it was a full experience.

Although your concierge can assist with hotel reservations, I highly recommend looking online and making dinner reservations in advance to ensure you get a table at the restaurants you want. Make sure to book Terra, which has private dining nests made from bamboo, a really fun experience.
Since I had let the staff know in advance I was proposing, they went above and beyond to help make the occasion a perfect one.
Post-proposal (he said yes, whew!), the hotel informed us that dinner was on them that night and they’d be organizing something special. But I was amazed when they shut down the beach just for us and created a special Maldivian sandbank dinner, which is something special they do to celebrate important events in the local culture. They actually dug out a section of the beach to create a special dinner table surrounded by candles, which was so romantic. Even though the Maldives is a traditional Muslim country that doesn’t recognize gay marriage, the staff couldn’t have been happier for us. I have always felt that Hilton is a very inclusive brand and we were treated with the utmost respect during our stay.


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Huge shout out to everyone at the @waldorfastoriamaldives. Simply put- they have treated us like kings. This is what hospitality is all about ????
A post shared by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) on Dec 16, 2019 at 8:03am PST

After our surprise sandbank dinner, I continued to celebrate during a wine tasting with my new fiancé in the Rock, a 12-person wine vault built into boulders.
The Queen Grand Overwater Reef Villa

TPG Video Director Tom Grahsler spent one night in the Queen Grand Overwater Reef Villa. Here’s what he had to say:
“My reef villa was stunning! The overwater terrace had a private infinity pool, as well as an overwater hammock, daybed and an outdoor shower. Unfortunately, my stay was only one night long and I spent most of the time in Brian’s epic Stella Maris Villa filming, which didn’t leave me much time to enjoy the reef villa. But it felt very private and I loved the daybed/outdoor swing that overlooked the sea.

The bathroom was huge, and I loved how the bathtub was positioned right by the window.

I did take a quick dip in the infinity plunge pool, and while it was not quite the Stella Maris, it was certainly pretty amazing. I took advantage of the fact I was in an overwater villa and swam in the ocean below my villa, peeking up through a glass window in the floor of my room. This was a must-do activity when staying in an overwater villa, after all. I got a comfortable sleep in one of the two queen beds, and waking up to the sunrise was gorgeous.”

The new king of Maldives points resorts?
In my opinion, the only other points property that can compete with this new Waldorf is The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, which is now a few years old. The St. Regis is spectacular but at the end of the day, my vote goes to the Waldorf Astoria. Yes, it’s more expensive overall, but the convenience of the yacht transfer which allowed me to spend less time in the airport and more time in paradise, plus its varied and delicious dining options and incredible sea life just minutes away make it the winner for me. This property flawlessly embodies what it means to have a Maldivian vacation.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with a stay at The St. Regis. I visited the resort a few years ago and had an amazing stay, and each time a TPG staffer has gone, they’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences.
Overall impression
The Stella Maris Villa at the Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi was a stay I’ll never forget. The spa experiences were perfect and the property itself is exquisite. The villa was gorgeous and the staff was excellent — including the concierge and yoga teacher. The Waldorf really takes it to the next level with dining too. Each of the restaurants is a truly special experience, not just a meal. Unfortunately, four nights just wasn’t enough — I could have stayed a full week. It was the perfect spot for my engagement, and I’m sure honeymooners would also have a very romantic and special time here.
I’d love to return to the Waldorf Astoria, but I would stay in a beach villa or regular overwater villa. The Stella Maris was a once-in-a-lifetime stay — and an extra-special one because he said yes.

Time for a polishing: A review of the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa

At the end of last year, the TPG team decided it was time to re-visit the Maldives, one of the world’s most aspirational destinations, especially for those with hotel points to burn. The island nation has a dizzying number of high-end points resorts to choose from, with many having opened in the last couple of years.
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But the new properties aren’t the only ones worth your attention — the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa has been a mainstay in the island nation for years. The Points Guy, Brian Kelly, and many other staffers have used their points to visit the property numerous times over the years.


I really enjoyed my stay at the all-new InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort, so I was eager to see how this older Hyatt would stack up, especially considering the praise it’s garnered over the years from TPG staff and readers.
Ready to plan that bucket-list trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there. 

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The Park Hyatt Maldives is a Category 7 World of Hyatt hotel, meaning you can book rooms for 30,000 Hyatt points per night. Hyatt will soon introduce peak and off-peak awards, so the points rate will vary from 25,000 to 35,000 points per night when that change takes place.
If you don’t already have World of Hyatt points, it’s easy to get them. First, you can earn Hyatt points via the World of Hyatt Credit Card, which is offering a total of 50,000 welcome bonus points: 25,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening and 25,000 more bonus points after spending $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months of account opening.
The Hyatt program is also a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards; you can instantly transfer those Chase points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. If you open a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which is currently offering a 60,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, you’ll have enough points for two nights at the Park Hyatt after completing the minimum spending requirements.
Related: How to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt
We used 90,000 World of Hyatt points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards to book my three-night stay in a base room, a Park Villa. Cash rates during my dates were right around $630 per night. As is the case with just about every Maldives resort, I had to pay for a mandatory round-trip airport transfer, which at this property costs $520 per person.
The Park Hyatt Maldives is in North Huvadhoo, one of the largest natural atolls in the world, but pretty far from Male Airport (MLE). The $520 charge wasn’t just for a simple round-trip seaplane flight. Since the Park Hyatt is so removed from Male, it involves a commercial flight on a turboprop aircraft, a buggy ride and then a 30-minute boat transfer. No one said getting to paradise was easy.
When I arrived at MLE, I was met by a Park Hyatt representative who took me to the domestic departures terminal and assisted me with check-in for my flight to Kooddoo (GKK), an island south of Male.
Related: Using miles to get to the Maldives

At Kooddoo, another Hyatt representative was waiting for me at arrivals. He helped me with my luggage and I hopped in his buggy (similar to a golf cart) for a short ride to the boat.

A crew of three helped get my luggage from the buggy into the boat, which was clean and comfortable. I was welcomed with cold drinks and towels, and we sailed for just over a half-hour to get to the hotel.

The whole trip from Male Airport to the Park Hyatt took close to three hours, which wasn’t terrible in the grand scheme of things, but after a long international flight, it seemed to stretch for ages. However, there was always a Hyatt staff member getting me where I had to go next, so I never felt lost or uncomfortable, just tired.
The one upside to this arrival system is that it can be done after dark. Seaplanes aren’t allowed to operate after dark, so for some of the hotels in Maldives, you have to spend the night in Male if your flight arrives late, then catch a seaplane the next morning.
I completed a few check-in necessities on the boat. Once I arrived at the resort, there was no paperwork, no stress and no waiting to see if housekeeping had prepared my room yet. Instead, upon stepping out of the boat, I was welcomed by my host, who drove me straight to my room.

For any transactions related to checking in or out, there is a small desk, which I only noticed during my checkout. A semi-open-air traditional lobby had seating and tables.

This resort itself is small, exclusive and lush — it certainly gave me a private-island feeling.

The Park Villa

The buggy ride to my villa was bumpy, along a rough and uninviting road. I still can’t decide if the raw, natural beauty on the way was impressive or represented a worrisome lack of infrastructure for the hotel. The road was full of sand and mud, tree trunks, fallen leaves and huge potholes which would fill with water after every rain, making it difficult to walk around the resort.

But after that brief, final part of the journey, we arrived to my park villa — number 28.

I entered the room full of anticipation and it was … a room. A dark and dated room, not particularly tropical or luxurious.

A massive empty space separated the bed and the glass door that opened to a spacious balcony set among the tropical foliage.
The bathroom was the nicest part of the villa.
The space was large, bright and clean, with double sinks, shower and toilet, and big, fluffy white towels, plus an outdoor soaking tub that looked like it could use a thorough scrubbing. It was dirty and covered with wet leaves — and it stayed like that throughout my stay.

However, the outdoor shower was inviting,  and I loved getting to shower outside while watching the wildlife circle overhead and all around me.

Except for the shower, the whole outdoor area was unkempt and not at all what I would expect from a five-star property. The indoor bathroom didn’t seem particularly well-maintained either, but it had lots of amenities — a toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, razor and more.

The biggest letdown of this room, however, was the outdoor space and “beach access.”

Living in an apartment in London, I dream of a hotel with beach access, but this was no dream. The beach was a few inches of bleak-looking gray sand with two stained and dirt-covered lounge chairs, which — just like the bathtub outside — remained uncleaned and covered with debris throughout my stay.
Although the room had an espresso machine and a fridge, as well as a nice desk/workspace, it was poorly lit with flickering old lamps. There was no pool with this villa, though some of the villas on land do have pools.

For anyone considering a honeymoon in the Park Villa, I would advise against this room type and to pick a different room category.
A large, sexy hotel swimming pool was where I spent most of my time. The area was chic, but the poor service spoiled the experience. Each chair by the pool had a white flag. The concept was that a staff member would come to you if the white flag was up.

After I raised my flag, it took 45 minutes before a staff member arrived to hand me a menu. Another 20 minutes later, someone came back to take my order. After 35 minutes more, I received my coconut.

There was really only one usable beach at the hotel. While the whole island is surrounded by beach, I found most of it to be dirty and unkempt. The only beach area that was clean was the main beach opposite the restaurant. There, the water shone a brilliant turquoise, perfectly complementing the white sand. This was the Maldives I had imagined.

I enjoyed relaxing here, especially on the very Instagrammable swing.

The gym was on the smaller side, though the equipment was state of the art and free water and towels were offered.

The Vidhun Spa blew me away, though — and in a good way. It was a beautiful space, with five treatment rooms and its own adults-only swimming pool facing a forest of wild trees.
Related: Best spas in the Maldives

The outdoor loungers were perfect for chilling out and the treatment rooms are large and comfortable. Although spa treatments aren’t cheap (starting at about $250), it was still a wonderful place to hang out.

I did test a body treatment, which was fine. I’m not sure I’d do it again, but I was pleased with the service, which included the application of aloe vera, perfect for my sensitive skin.

The Wi-Fi was complimentary but slow throughout my stay.
Food and beverage
There were only a few restaurants at the Park Hyatt Maldives — a surprise after the InterContinental Maldives with its six restaurants.
I tried both of the main restaurants during my stay — the Dining Room, which offered breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Island Grill that is considered fine dining. I was not impressed with either and both are extremely overpriced.
Since I don’t have elite status with Hyatt and had booked a room-only rate, my stay didn’t come with extras like breakfast. However, if you have Hyatt Globalist status — or have your award stay booked as a “Guest of Honor” stay by someone with Globalist status, then you’ll save a bunch by not having to pay for breakfast. Options on the a la carte menu cost around $20 per entree and the buffet price was $35++. Pretty much everything in the resort comes with the double plus sign after the dollar amount just to make sure guests know that things are never quite what they seem and that taxes and service fees are additional.

I had the combo option (the buffet plus two a la carte items), which came to about $45.

Breakfast options varied from eggs to Asian curries to tropical fruits. However, the buffet was limited and the food was just average. Some of the fresh juices were extra, and when I asked for a fresh coconut, I was told it would cost $13, which was absurd since I probably could have gone outside of my villa and picked one up off the ground. (I didn’t, but I thought about it.)
The Island Grill is right next to the Dining Room, which made it seem less high-end. The two eateries were so close I could hear people in the other restaurant.

With high ceilings, the Island Grill is intimate but airy and the floor is sand, so guests were wearing dressier outfits but also barefoot. Island Grill had a seafood buffet for dinner the evening I went, priced at $145++ per person (a glass of Chablis cost $17++). My bill came to slightly over $200 — the magic of those extra plus signs. (It’s common to see food dishes and services listed with “++” following, which signifies taxes and government service charges.) I’d certainly never spent $200 while dining barefoot before!
The buffet allowed guests to choose both their seafood and the way it was prepared. I had freshly grilled squid, steamed lobster and fried prawns. The seafood was delicious, but the rest of the buffet was unappetizing — some sad-looking pasta and other small bites that didn’t pair well with the fancy seafood. I only ate seafood.

Looking back, I might have been happier with one of the all-inclusive packages that were available to prebook on the website. Full board starts at $200 per person, per day, but if you’re considering this, beware, as there are many restrictions so learn the details or risk a +++ situation.
Overall impression
The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa is an older resort and during my stay, I didn’t find it to be particularly well maintained or updated. There’s no denying its location is stunning and its impossibly blue waters are full of sea life.
But, my room was dark, dingy and not properly cleaned. Slow — and at times unprofessional — service let down the experience for me. Perhaps if I had splurged for an overwater villa, it would have been a different experience. In any case, I’d rather save up and head to a fancier Maldives resort or have a much more affordable island experience in Thailand or Indonesia.

Although the Park Hyatt Maldives can be booked with 30,000 Hyatt points for an award night, the extras like meals, spa treatments, airport transfers and even coconuts are very expensive. That can still be an overall good offering for a special trip, like a honeymoon, if your expectations are met with high-end service and hard product realities on the ground.
But in this case, despite the location, the resort just wasn’t pristine enough to justify the prices.
All photos by Jean Arnas.

Pray for clear skies: A review of Alaska’s Borealis Basecamp

You can see the northern lights from time to time from the continental United States, but the best place to catch the aurora borealis is above (or at least near) the Arctic Circle, which can mean crippling temperatures in winter, especially once the sun goes down.
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So cool! A tour of my igloo at Borealis Basecamp, a bit north of Fairbanks, Alaska (don’t miss the toilet!). Full @thepointsguy review coming very soon!
— Zach Honig (@ZachHonig) January 27, 2020

I decided to head to Fairbanks, Alaska, early in the season in the middle of October, hoping to catch the aurora while avoiding the bone-chilling temperatures you’d experience in the dead of winter. Turns out, checking both of those boxes proved more challenging than I had hoped.

In This Post

I began my aurora adventure at Borealis Basecamp in a remote part of Alaska, roughly an hour-long drive north of Fairbanks International Airport (FAI).
Related: Best cards for hotel stays
Borealis Basecamp has a total of 10 rooms and an off-the-grid design that requires everything to be shipped in (and out), so the rates are understandably expensive.

Borealis Basecamp doesn’t participate in any loyalty programs, so I booked through
Light pollution doesn’t make for clear aurora viewing — the best spots are far outside the city, which explains why Borealis Basecamp is so remote. You’ll need to make your way about 27 miles up the Elliot Highway before driving another three miles on a dirt road, which will likely be covered in ice and snow.

I recommend renting an SUV and driving yourself, but you could also hire an Uber XL at a cost of $200-$300 round-trip. Confirm that the driver has an SUV and is comfortable making the off-road trek before you begin your journey.

Once you arrive, you’ll spot the hotel’s 10 stand-alone igloos. Because they’re usually booked, Borealis Basecamp is working to add five more in the future.

I arrived right around the published check-in time of 4 p.m. and was shown to Igloo #2.

I was given an igloo tour, which included instructions on the workings of a special heater and toilet. The base-camp representative also mentioned that dinner would begin at 5:30 p.m.
Although the igloos aren’t much to look at from outside, I was impressed with the interior layout and design.

The 12-foot ceilings and gigantic, clear ceiling panel made the room feel spacious.

I had hoped for clear skies. (If everything goes according to plan, the aurora lights up the sky just a few hours after sunset.) However, I ended up having nothing but clouds and rain during my stay.

My room was nicely warmed by the fancy Toyo Stove. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as quiet as I would have hoped — every time it turned on, it sounded like the dome was being pelted by rain.

Given the roughly $400 price tag, I had high expectations for the space, and the hotel delivered.

I mean, look at this bathroom! No outhouses here.

There were L’Occitane products in the shower, but the hot water wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked. It was only warm for a minute, and a cold shower in Alaska is just as unpleasant as it sounds.

Still, it was easy to forget just how remote and off the grid we were out there.

Food and beverage
As the hotel explains on its website, “Guests at Borealis Basecamp dine in a craftsman-built yurt with plenty of space to look out upon nearby Wickersham Dome and the White Mountains. Linger with a cup of coffee or glass of wine, savor each meal, and enjoy a sense of home away from home. The yurt is ‘home base’ for guests, providing a 24-hour space to visit, play board games, or read a good book.”
The property’s liquor license was pending during my visit, and unfortunately that’s still the case — anyone hoping to linger with a glass of wine will need to grab a bottle in Fairbanks. Otherwise, you’ll be out of luck once you arrive.

The food was a different story — there was a mix of appetizers and entrées, with a menu that changes depending on what’s fresh that day.

I was really looking forward to having some Alaskan king crab, but I was blown away by the $95 entrée price tag, for a pound of crab. I ordered a half pound as an appetizer for $55, instead, though I’m pretty sure I ended up getting a bit more than that. I also ordered the sockeye salmon entrée, priced at a more affordable $40.

Breakfast was included with my rate, but I needed to leave before the 8 a.m. start time. That wasn’t an issue for the incredibly friendly chef, though — I mentioned my departure time the night before, and he was more than happy to whip me up whatever I liked nearly an hour before the service was supposed to begin.

Although the igloo rooms are large enough to sleep comfortably, and presumably watch the sky, some guests stay for several days, so there’s a large communal space to hang out in, too. A man — who I later learned was the owner — was chatting loudly on the phone, so I didn’t stay long.

Wi-Fi was free, and worked well enough for me to download some Netflix content overnight and give my family a FaceTime tour of the room. There’s also free coffee, tea and hot cocoa available throughout the day.

At night, guests can hang out by a fire pit but, given how chilly it felt in October, I doubt this is a hot attraction during peak season.

Aside from the check-in clerk, most of my interactions were with the chef and my waiter at dinner. Both were incredibly outgoing, and more than happy to talk about life in that part of the world.

I learned that the hotel is incredibly popular during peak season, with a number of Chinese tourists — apparently, many guests tend to visit from Australia and Mexico, too.
Overall impression
Although there are certainly cheaper places to stay in the area, Borealis Basecamp is remarkably comfortable, given the location. Everything from propane gas to drinking water is trucked in, and all waste — including water from the shower — is driven out. That makes operating a 10-room hotel especially expensive, and, in my book, serves to justify the price.

According to the hotel’s website, “it’s easy to view the famous aurora borealis, with around 250 nights of swirling green, red, and purple lights each year.” Clearly, my visit happened to coincide with one of the few fall nights with complete cloud cover — hopefully, you’ll have much better luck whenever you decide to stay.
All photos by the author.

Not just for honeymooners: A review of the InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort

At the end of last year, the TPG team decided it was time to re-visit the Maldives, one of the world’s most aspirational destinations, especially for those with hotel points. The island nation has a dizzying number of high-end points properties to choose from, with many having opened in the last couple of years.


One of these new properties is the the three-month-old InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort, which I was lucky enough to review during our team trip to the island nation late last year. Three months seemed like an adequate amount of time for a resort to work out all the kinks that are typical to new hotels but still maintain that brand-new feeling.
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I was also interested to see if the special room rate I had booked, which was half-inclusive, would feel weird, or actually the perfect way to avoid some of the high-priced dining that the Maldives is (in)famous for. Read on to find out.
Ready to plan that bucket-list trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there. 

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I booked a Sunrise Overwater Pool Villa for $850 per night on I paid with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Booking this way allows you to “wipe off” charges from your statement, which greatly lowered the total cost of the stay.
Related: Best cards for hotel stays
Reward rates for the base room category, the Beach Pool Villa, are higher than any other property in the IHG portfolio right now at 100,000 points per night, and there is a two-night minimum on reward bookings. Once IHG fully integrates the Six Senses and Mr & Mrs Smith brands into its portfolio, that could change, though.
My room rate came with Club InterContinental benefits, which included:

Daily breakfast from either of two restaurants, Cafe Umi or The Retreat
Daily afternoon tea from 3-5 p.m. daily
Evening digestif, which was wine and cheese at the Retreat or a non-alcoholic selection at the Pool Bar
Complimentary water and soft drinks at the Retreat, the Collection and the Pool Bar

My rate also included dinner at Cafe Umi, with choice of starter, main course and dessert, but no drinks. I was disappointed that drinks were not included with dinner, but I was still pleased to see my room rate would include breakfast, dinner, some snacking options and refreshments, as I knew how expensive dining at Maldivian resorts is.
The InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort is located within the Raa Atoll on a secluded private island. The resort is just a short speedboat ride away from the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Hanifaru Bay, which is famous for its sharks and stingrays, and is one of the few places in the world where whale sharks congregate for mating.

Guests who arrive in Male (MLE) after 3:30 p.m. must take a 20-minute domestic flight to the Dharavandhoo Domestic Airport and then take a 35-minute speedboat ride to the resort.
Related: Can you earn points on seaplane transfers in the Maldives?

I arrived before 3:30 p.m., meaning I was able to arrive via seaplane transfer, which took about 35 minutes and cost $600 roundtrip. A representative from the resort met me at the International Arrivals area at Male Airport (MLE) and escorted me to a check-in desk for the seaplane.
Related: Does credit card travel insurance cover transfers in the Maldives?
I waved goodbye to my luggage, which later appeared in my room, and I was taken to a lounge by private shuttle where I waited for other passengers who would also be going to my hotel. About an hour later, the seaplane took off and the views were incredible. Upon landing, I had to take a short boat ride to the hotel, where I was greeted by smiling staff members.
I was able to get all the check-in paperwork done at the lounge in Male while waiting for the seaplane. It was so nice to be able to head straight to my room when I got to the island.
Upon arrival at the resort, I learned that I’d been upgraded from an Overwater Villa to a Lagoon Villa because of overbooking. At first I was disappointed because I was looking forward to my first overwater villa experience. But I later realized that the Lagoon Villa is actually more desirable, as you get the best of both worlds: It’s still set over stunningly clear seatwater filled with fish, stingrays and even baby sharks, but it also has direct access to a private secluded lagoon and beach.

Once I got to the resort, I was given a welcome drink of cold water and a cold towel. The resort lobby is airy and beautiful, set in the middle of a lagoon with sofas, chairs and even swings. The only thing that distracted me from total tropical bliss was the somewhat cheesy Christmas decor haphazardly decorating the lobby and resort, a blot on the natural beauty of the place. I headed straight to my room, where my luggage was waiting for me.
Sunset One-Bedroom Lagoon Pool Villa
Put simply, the Sunset Lagoon Pool Villa was a dream.

It was a two-floor villa flanked on one side by a private infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean, and on the other side by a sandy beach overlooking a lagoon full of marine life. My neighbors were a family of stingrays that I watched come and go.

The first floor of the villa had a large sectional sofa adorned in one corner and large, inviting lounge pillows in the other.

There was a half bath and a minibar with all the essentials: espresso machine, cocktail shaker, cocktail glasses, Champagne glasses, normal glasses, ice and four complimentary bottles of water.

Outside, a large wooden bench and a modern sofa overlooked the private pool. It was perfect for sunbathing.

The pool was large — it could easily have fit 10 people. And, at the touch of a button, it turned into a whirlpool. An outdoor shower was next to the pool. A second outdoor area on the opposite side of the house featured a veranda with four beach chairs and a table, surrounded by lush greenery and white sands. I felt like I could just hop off the balcony directly onto the beach.

Upstairs, the bedroom had a huge, comfortable bed covered with pillows of varying softness.

A small workspace alcove was the only spot that didn’t have a window. When I needed to work, I could get down to business without those beautiful views as a distraction.

The bathroom featured a very tall shower (it definitely passed the TPG shower test) and a separate area for the toilet.

The highlight was the gorgeous standalone bathtub that overlooked the sea.

I love bathrooms in which everything has its own space.

Even though I was traveling alone, I always appreciate a bathroom with plenty of privacy. I also had plenty of extra amenities like a razor, toothbrush, Q-tips, etc.

I was thrilled to sit and enjoy the views (which were dreamy from both floors), overlooking the endless sea on one side or a calming beach and lagoon on the other. With windows in almost every area of the villa, including the shower and both of the bathrooms, I was never lacking for a gorgeous view. Except, of course, at the desk. But when you come to the Maldives, you shouldn’t be wasting your precious relaxation time at a desk anyway!

My first order of business, though, was to enjoy the welcome gift of a bottle of Moët Champagne on ice.

It’s worth noting that the decor of the suite was simple. Muted colors, shabby-chic rugs, woven pillow covers, wood and brass styling/fixures with nothing too wild to interrupt the calm. I liked it, but for anyone looking for opulence or glamour, this villa would could be too “simple.”
Each villa includes access to a dedicated butler to help you with anything you need, like electric golf cart transfers, restaurant reservations or bookings for activities. My butler Shijin was fantastic and professional — I was always greeted with a smile and a can-do attitude.

The resort grounds were tropical and lush, with two large infinity pools at opposite ends of the island, each with a bar and restaurant.

The gym was well-outfitted with equipment and there were also personal trainers for guidance and assistance during a workout.

The gym is a gorgeous and open space with glass walls facing the ocean. There were daily yoga classes at both sunrise and sunset in a beautiful half open-air yoga space above the gym. I would consider working out more if I could do so with those ocean views.

Bicycles were provided for guests to use free of charge. I loved using them to explore the resort.
I was given a 15-minute complimentary spa treatment at the AVI spa, a dreamy, rejuvenating space. It had six overwater treatment rooms with glass-bottomed windows in the floor so guests could admire marine life during treatments. There wasn’t a hair salon (I was told this would open soon), but the spa offered facials, massages and manicures and pedicures as well as traditional Chinese therapy treatments like acupuncture. My massage was excellent.
Wi-Fi was complimentary but rather slow, even though in theory I should have been relaxing, not working.
Food and beverage
The resort features six different restaurants, and I was able to sample three, plus room service. Cafe UMI is the main restaurant.  “Umi” means “ocean” in Japanese, and — not surprisingly — this restaurant was Japanese-themed. I had breakfast there three times, a combination of buffet and a la carte. The buffet was amazing, with over 20 different types of freshly cut fruit, baked goods, salads, cheese, fresh juices and more.

The a la carte menu was restricted to a single page, but had all the essentials — about four styles of eggs, including “eggs any style,” Asian dishes like curries, British porridge and more. On my last day I asked for eggs Florentine with avocado, which wasn’t on the menu, but they made it for me anyway.

There was also an espresso machine and freshly ground coffee available each morning. I love it when a hotel takes coffee seriously — it’s important to start the day off right! It really felt like the hotel was there to cater to whatever I asked for at any time, with no problem, a sign of a true luxury property.
Café UMI was also excellent for dinner, with an a la carte menu only. The cuisine was delicious: a combination of Japanese (sushi, sashimi, etc), Italian (pastas and pizza), international (burgers), Asian (curries) and freshly grilled seafood.

When I ordered beyond what was included in my rate, prices weren’t cheap, but not as insanely expensive as some of the other Maldivian hotels that TPG reviewers have experienced. Breakfast would have cost between $30-50 and dinner $50-75 here if it wasn’t included. But I certainly wouldn’t have been charged $45 for still water, as TPG director of video Tom Grahsler encountered at Ithaa, the underwater restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

One night, I did visit the Lighthouse restaurant (open for dinner only), which is considered a fine dining restaurant. It is actually a lighthouse where I could see the entire island from the top floor. My meal was delicious and the service was formal — beautiful plates, a pre-starter, the whole do.
My tomato soup and octopus dish were perfectly prepared but it was a terrible place to dine alone — I wanted to FaceTime my partner and set the phone across from me for company. I was given 25% off this dinner since I wasn’t dining at UMI, the restaurant that came with my half-inclusive rate at the resort. My dinner ended up only costing $56, which was actually cheap for fine dining, especially in the Maldives. Wine started at around $15 per glass.

I didn’t eat at The Collective, another resort restaurant which is a more casual lunch spot with a wood-fired pizza oven. I preferred to enjoy a meal in my beautiful villa instead of dining alone at a restaurant.
I did take the complimentary afternoon tea at Retreat, the lounge-style restaurant in the middle of the lagoon which had a beautiful swimming pool. It was lovely to enjoy snacks and refreshments in this relaxed, comfortable space. This spot got busy after 8 p.m., when it became the island’s main party spot.
I was happy with just about everything I ate at the resort — and grateful for the half-board rate that kept the total cost of all my extras relatively low. There were really no surprises when I got my final bill.
There was that distracting holiday decor, however.

Overall impression
The InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort took the risk of being different by looking a little less formal than many other of the chain hotels in the Maldives. It wasn’t what I would consider opulent or overly luxurious (no chandeliers here!), but I appreciated the barefoot beach, the sleek and comfortable design and its approach to dining and service. The resort was more than just a honeymoon spot. I felt comfortable being alone here (except perhaps at the romantic Lighthouse restaurant) and could see why families or friends traveling together would enjoy it too.
Even though the room rate was high, I got a lot for my money. Service was incredible and the resort was beautiful. I had a spacious, private villa and the included breakfast, dinner and other extras made the splurge bearable.
It was the perfect spot for a solo traveler to recharge his batteries. I would happily return.
All photos by Jean Arnas/The Points Guy.

Paradise, for a price: A review of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

At the end of last year, it was decided that it was high-time that the team organize a large trip to the Maldives to check out several of these new properties and also check in on some of the standbys that people have been visiting for years.
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I was assigned to stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, a Hilton property that a few TPG staffers have stayed at — and enjoyed — in the past, but that hadn’t been reviewed in a number of years. And, with most rooms on the property having received a facelift throughout the latter parts of 2019, we decided it was the perfect time to return to the resort and give it a full review.


Read on for my impressions of a deluxe beach villa at one of the Maldives’ most popular points hotels, made particularly famous thanks to its underwater Ithaa Restaurant and world’s first underwater villa, the Muraka.

Ready to plan that bucket-list trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there.

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The Conrad is spread across two private islands. The resort is only reachable by a 30-minute seaplane flight.

At Male Airport, a concierge met me and then walked me to the Conrad’s airport lounge that offered coffee, cold towels and a breakfast spread. I found it to be a comfortable waiting spot, with sofas and Wi-Fi. Peculiarly, it’s only free to enter between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. It costs $85 to enter between 5:30 p.m -11:30 p.m., and I can’t think of a reason I’d pay $85 to do so.
After relaxing in the lounge, I boarded the seaplane, excited for my first flight on this unique type of aircraft. I was given earplugs which I was grateful for as the engines were really loud. We landed to the sight of the hotel staff waving – a very warm welcome indeed.
I could have taken a short domestic flight to another island from Male (MLE) and then taken a speedboat to the Conrad, but it would have added a lot of hassle and time to my journey and wasn’t particularly affordable either.
Related: Everything you need to know about resort transfer fees in the Maldives
You have to take a seaplane to get to many of the resorts in the Maldives, so factor this cost into your budget. The thing that really annoyed me about the seaplanes, though, wasn’t the price. It was the timing of the planes, which the hotels scheduled the evening before. Even though I told the Conrad that my return flight to the U.S. wasn’t until 11 p.m., I was told on the evening before I left that my seaplane would leave at 3 p.m. the next day, cutting short my final day. and, this is common to Maldives resorts that utilize seaplane transfers, so plan accordingly, unless you want to fork over $5,000 for a private seaplane transfer at your preferred time.
It’s also important for your budgeting to understand that the Conrad Maldives is on an island, Rangali, that is literally in the middle of the ocean. No restaurants are nearby, you can’t just pop down to 7-11 for a soda or Uber to the nearest shopping mall. Your time will be spent at the resort (which is stunning, by the way), all your meals and activities will happen at the resort — and you’ll pay a lot for them.
Since I don’t have any status with Hilton, I booked my three-night stay at the Conrad through The total cost for three nights in a beach villa and daily breakfast was $2,510 for three nights, or about $837 per night. As with basically all Maldives hotels, there was a mandatory round-trip airport transfer that could only be paid in cash. At the Conrad, this seaplane transfer cost $590 per person after tax, which was paid upon checkout.
Related: The best credit cards for Hilton hotel stays
If you’re looking to burn Honors points at this property, you can often get a great value for them, as you can find award nights starting at 95,000 points per night. And, if you’re short on Honors points, consider applying for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, ($450 annual fee; see rates & fees) which is currently offering a welcome bonus of 150,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, the card gives automatic Hilton Diamond status, and offers up to $250 in airline-fee credits and up to $250 in Hilton resort credits, and I would earn 14 points per dollar spent on eligible Hilton purchases.
My check-in experience was seamless. I was met by my personal concierge Naim right after disembarking from the seaplane. I was graciously handed what may have been the most unique welcome drink I’ve ever tasted: a fruit slushie served in a really cool wooden bowl with a spoon.
It was nice to be able to land and immediately enjoy welcoming service and a refreshing drink. I also learned that I’d been upgraded from a Beach Villa to a Deluxe Beach Villa. Although the staff wasn’t aware I was reviewing the hotel, I’m pretty sure my request to film video around the resort (I’m TPG’s director of video) may have triggered the upgrade, especially considering I don’t have any Hilton elite status. The Deluxe Beach Villa, although the next-highest room category, is almost double the size of the regular Beach Villa and comes with a private plunge pool.

The lobby gave off a “barefoot luxury” vibe: Its white-sand floor instantly suggested Maldivian relaxation. I was given a map of the property and Naim walked me through it, explaining all the elements of the hotel and asking which restaurants I would like to reserve for dinner. I booked a couple of meals but not all of them, as I wanted to have some flexibility during my visit.
I’d never been scuba diving before, but if there’s any place that inspires diving, it’s the Maldives, so on the way to my room we stopped at the dive center where I scheduled a Discovery Dive.
The villa
The villa not only faced the beach but also had an amazing private outdoor garden area with a large daybed and swing in front.

The room was gorgeous – even better than I had imagined. The over-3,000-square-foot villa was flooded with light through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

I loved the attention to detail – things like a fresh flower on the bed immediately caught my eye. Speaking of the bed, it was huge and comfortable. I slept well during my stay.
I loved having a Nespresso machine and I also got two complimentary water bottles per day. The minibar contained all of the usual suspects like soft drinks and beer.
The bathroom was also spacious and beautiful, with a double vanity.
The shower spacious and beautiful, and the rainfall shower head would definitely pass the TPG shower test.

I also had a huge, inviting outdoor shower.

Bath amenities were from Molton Brown — another high-end touch.dfs
Although I’m not big into products, they smelled nice and weren’t overbearing. The closet was well-appointed, with a robe and slippers. A note was attached to a chic beach bag saying if I wanted one, they were available for purchase in the gift shop, but I assume I could have used it during my stay if I had wanted to.
I was pleased to notice my luggage had arrived in the room before I did.
Exiting out the back, I had a small private deck and my own infinity plunge pool surrounded by white sand.

The pool had jets that turned on. There were also two comfortable lounge chairs outside. A small path flanked by jungle foliage led me to a stunning white-sand beach. Although the beach wasn’t just for me, it was fairly empty and never felt crowded.

The snorkeling reef was right near my villa too. There’s nothing like waking up, strolling out onto your private pool area and then wandering down to the beach and snorkeling in just a few seconds.
Obviously, having my own private pool was a fantastic amenity in itself, but the resort also has a quiet-zone (read: adults-only) pool with music and bar. On the family island, there was another pool complete with a kids pool and another bar (parents need booze too).
Having the beach and snorkel reef right outside my door was truly amazing – I loved being able to snorkel each morning before breakfast. Although the beach wasn’t private, each beach villa had its own section of sorts with two loungers, an umbrella and tables. The sections are spaced relatively far apart, so it felt semi-private.

Wi-Fi worked well, with download speeds of 8.12 mbps and upload speeds of 9.48 mbps.
Although I didn’t manage to get to the fitness center, it was fully stocked with cardio/weight equipment and open 24/7.

Daily boot camp, circuit and yoga classes were offered, as well as beach volleyball, table tennis, power walking and stretching activities.

There was a tennis court, an on-site watersports center and an on-site dive center. The gregarious staff at the dive center made my first Discovery Dive a breeze. It was my first time diving ever, and I don’t think I could have had a better experience. I had a quick lesson in the classroom and then headed out to a gorgeous dive site under 10 minutes away where I saw all sorts of amazing underwater species.
I did get a massage at the overwater spa, but it was under construction, so only one small part of the spa was available. My massage was good (but not exceptional) and pricey at $253. I was disappointed that the resort didn’t have a hammam, steam room or relaxation area that I could lounge in after my massage — especially because I was told not to shower for an hour to let the oils work their magic. Instead, I was driven back to my room in my bathrobe, carrying my belongings in a bag, to wait out that hour. For a $250 massage, I would’ve preferred to spend that hour in the spa instead of being kicked out immediately. If I had realized the spa renovation wasn’t complete, I probably would have skipped the whole experience.
Food and beverage
I’ll start with breakfast, since one of my favorite things about hotel stays is testing out the first meal of the day. I love it when breakfast buffets include both Western and Asian options – and the Conrad Maldives came through. Almost all of the rates available on come with breakfast included — and my rate on did too.
Even if you don’t find a rate that includes breakfast, you can guarantee that perk by securing either Gold or Diamond status with Hilton, which you can do simply by signing up for a credit card. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers complimentary Gold status with Hilton as a perk of card membership, and, of course the Hilton Aspire card comes with Diamond status as a perk of just having the card.

The typical eggs, bacon, sausage and toast were available at the buffet and looked fresh and delicious. But the Asian section was really awesome, complete with congee, dim sum and a noodle bar. Of course, I had a bit of everything, tasting the rice congee, pork dumpling, a bowl of hotpot-inspired soup, sushi, a chocolate croissant, an omelet, toast and tropical fruits (don’t judge me for mixing) and it was all exceptional.

After my breakfast of champions, I ordered lunch from room service and came away disappointed. The menu was limited and it took about 30 minutes to arrive, which isn’t terrible but not speedy either. I ordered a burger, which tasted very average and was overpriced at $38.
Even though my burger wasn’t great, I was happy to be enjoying it the beautiful daybed area, though I could have also eaten indoors or out by my pool. It was so nice to have all that extra space.

The Conrad Maldives offers a unique dining opportunity: the underwater restaurant, Ithaa. I ate lunch there one afternoon and the wow factor was there. I walked down a staircase and through a hallway and I was suddenly underwater, surrounded by swimming creatures. I suspect they do a feeding right before each lunch and dinner turn, as there were lots of fish swimming when I first arrived, but the number died down a bit as lunch went on.

I chose to do the four-course, prix-fixe tasting menu ($200), which didn’t include alcohol. So, I stuck to water. But that still cost a whopping $45, which is insane. They refilled my glass several times, which was kind of them.
Interestingly, you can visit the restaurant as a non-guest, but you’d have to arrange your own transport and it’s only available for lunch. So, if you’re staying elsewhere but want to eat at Ithaa, inquire at your hotel about arranging a speedboat transfer there.There was also a $30 surcharge for non-guest diners.
But back to my meal. The main course was veal and I had a sweet corn soup and duck confit as appetizers with strawberry cake for dessert. The food was tasty, but I wasn’t impressed when my veal arrived lukewarm.

I realize that maybe the kitchen itself wasn’t underwater, and the food was probably cooked in the Sunset Kitchen on the same pier and then shuttled over. Still, for the price I was paying (my lunch bill came out to $245 without wine), my food should have arrived at the right temperature. Nonetheless, it was amazing to eat underwater and it makes for a unique splurge.

I ate dinner one night at the Mediterranean restaurant Vilu. I went with the special for the evening, risotto with sea bass, which was incredible. I got a mozzarella salad as a starter, complete with a small loaf of homemade sourdough, an entire clove of roasted garlic and roasted tomatoes, with Modena balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping. It was definitely my dining highlight at the hotel – though breakfast was a close second.
Now it’s time to repeat the warning that food prices are exorbitant. My bill came to $190 for two courses at Vilu with a glass of pinot grigio. Although this was an excellent meal, the quality of the food at the resort generally does not match the price. Yet be ready to really spend on food if you want to eat well. Or eat anything at all, really.
Staff members were friendly and helpful, without being overbearing, which I appreciated. Traveling solo, I thought I might be approached for small talk, but the staff let me do my thing while also making sure I knew they were there if I needed anything.
Overall impression

I had a relaxing, rejuvenating stay at the luxurious Conrad Maldives. I loved the light, the airy beach villa and the private outdoor space and direct beach access. The diving was fabulous, and the Maldives just feel exotic, a true escape. Just be ready to really splurge for this escape, as food is shockingly overpriced and seaplane transfers are expensive.
If you’re ready to throw down some serious cash, this resort would be a good place to do it, though it’s not quite as fancy as the Waldorf Astoria or the One&Only. Still, for honeymooners, families or even solo travelers who have the means, the Conrad Maldives makes for a truly memorable getaway.
Feature image and all photos by Tom Grahsler/The Points Guy.
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