8 ways to travel the world without leaving your sofa

Stuck inside for the foreseeable future? Us too.
While we at TPG are avid travelers and supporters of the travel industry, now is simply not the time to be traveling, due to the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic. Health officials agree the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others, and sadly, that means ceasing any nonessential travel.
Instead of traveling right now (sorry, that probably means no spring break this year), we suggest you use this time to plan your next vacation. Or, at the very least, satisfy your wanderlust by taking an unforgettable armchair vacation.
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We rounded up some of our favorite ways to travel the world without leaving the comfort of your home. So, break out your comfiest sweats and buckle up for your next adventure.
Discover a museum
The Guggenheim Museum in New York City. (Photo by Luis Davilla/Getty Images)
Iconic museums from the Guggenheim in New York City to the Louvre in Paris are available through Google Arts & Culture, a platform that allows you to take digital tours of some of the world’s most famous museums. You can browse through all the available museums, and even see some of the most famous pieces of art up close. Historic sites, such as the Palace of Versailles, are also available to tour through Google. The best part? Access is 100% free.
Read more: No travel required: 10 iconic museums you can tour online
Take a cooking class
(Photo by Jorge Zapata/Unsplash)
Is there anything better than having a home-cooked meal from an Italian grandma? We don’t think so. While Italy is on lockdown right now in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, that doesn’t mean you can’t get your fix of some incredible Italian cooking.
Nonna Nerina, an 84-year-old Italian grandmother in Palombara Sabina, Italy, has set up a virtual cooking class on Airbnb Experiences. Here, she’ll virtually teach you how to make Italian classics such as ravioli, gnocchi and fettuccine. Just note that she only teaches classes on weekends; the weekday classes are taught by her granddaughter. Plus, if you enter your email, you can get 25% off the $50, 2-hour class for a limited time.
Go on a ride at Disney
(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
The magic isn’t over just because all Disney parks around the world are closed until further notice. You can stream virtual Disney rides from parks around the world, from Florida to France, in the comfort of your own home. How’s that for a bargain on a Disney vacation?
Related: How to take your kids on virtual Disney rides around the world
Explore Parks and attractions
Alcatraz Island. (Photo by Aldric Rivat/Unsplash)
Take a trip to the great outdoors from, well, indoors. You can virtually explore national parks and famous attractions around the country, all courtesy of Google Arts & Culture. Think: the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park and Alcatraz Island. Better yet, they’re all accessible for free and you won’t have to wait in a single line.
Visit a botanic garden
The Bronx Botanical Garden. (Photo by Hiroyuki Matsumoto./Getty Images)
A handful of botanic gardens around the country are also offering virtual tours for travelers to enjoy. The indoor conservatory at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., for example, is temporarily closed to the public until at least April 1. In the meantime, though, you can take a virtual tour of the gardens and soak in all of the beautiful scenery.
Take an art class
(Photo by Dean Mitchell/Getty Images)
A handful of universities are hosting free, virtual art classes, according to Artsy, and many have a global perspective. You can study the history of Japan through images or discover ancient Egyptian art and antiquities. You know what they say: If you can’t travel, you might as well spend a few hours every week looking at pictures of places you wish you were. Right?
Listen to live music
(Photo by Mark S/Unsplash)
Did coronavirus derail your plans to travel to a major musical event like South by Southwest (SXSW), the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or Coachella?
Fortunately, a number of bands and musicians are performing “couch tours,” as many of their concerts have been canceled due to new restrictions regarding social distancing. For example, Dead and Company will host a weekly, free concert on Facebook. The concert will feature past performances that fans can watch for free, Live for Live Music reported.
And according to NPR, travelers can also catch live, virtual jazz performances, electronic festivals, classical concerts and more.
Watch a movie
(Photo by Jens Kreuter/Unsplash)
Give yourself a much-needed break from all the craziness out there and curl up on the sofa with one of these feel-good and wanderlust-worthy films this weekend. Some of our top picks include “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Mamma Mia” — but there are plenty of classic flicks and television series to choose from.
Related: Stuck at home? Stream these 7 movies to cope with travel wanderlust
Featured photo by Martin Pechy/Unsplash.

Should you go on spring break? Absolutely not.

Hello from my parents’ house where I am writing this article in an effort to “flatten the curve” and social distance myself from others. The deadly coronavirus is still spreading fast, and we all need to do our part to free up valuable medical resources for those who need them the most.
This adjustment, of course, hasn’t been easy for so many of us. Life as we knew it just a few days ago seems like a relic from an ancient past, and we’re all adjusting to relative solitude as our new normal.
Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates
It seems like the entire world is in a constant state of anxiety: People are losing their livelihoods, airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy and entire countries are on lockdown.
And yet, it’s come to our attention that many of you — against the advice of health experts, government officials and, hopefully, even your friends and family — are considering going on spring break.

“If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I'm not gonna let it stop me from partying”: Spring breakers are still flocking to Miami, despite coronavirus warnings. https://t.co/KoYKI8zNDH pic.twitter.com/rfPfea1LrC
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 18, 2020

We cannot stress this enough: You should not go on spring break. Should not!
Let us explain.
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You should only travel if it’s urgent and essential
We support the travel industry, but now is not the time for nonessential trips.
Instead of traveling right now, we suggest you use this time to plan your next vacation. You don’t have to book yet, but figure out where you want to go and map out the right strategy for building up the points and miles you need to take those trips.
TPG can guide travelers through this process. We’ll share the news when it’s time to start booking, but at least for the short term, let’s all do as much as we can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That includes hitting pause on travel.

I tell my daughters: Make decisions based on risk versus reward.
For young people to go out in crowds on spring break — is so unintelligent and reckless, I can't even begin to express it.
Stay home. Stop the spread. Save lives. pic.twitter.com/hHGZKcvZBz
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 19, 2020

In fact, on March 19, the U.S. State Department issued a level 4 warning against all international travel. Officials are encouraging U.S. citizens not to go abroad and to return home if they’re currently traveling.
Only you can make the very personal decision about whether or not to keep, postpone or cancel upcoming trips, but spring break is almost certainly off the table. Instead, we encourage you to get a list going of all the places you want to see when we emerge from the immediate crisis.
Young adults are still at risk of COVID-19
When reports of the novel coronavirus started to surface, it was widely believed that healthy, young adults weren’t at risk of serious infection — though they could, even unknowingly, spread it to immunocompromised and elderly people. These people are at serious risk of death if infected with COVID-19.
Now, though, reports are surfacing that 40% of people hospitalized due to the virus are younger than 54 years old.
While you might think you’re young, healthy and invincible, this virus will effect us all, in one way or another. You might think you’re not at risk, but that’s even more reason to take every precaution necessary. Protect yourself and those around you by staying home.
You shouldn’t have a beach party
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis isn’t closing popular Florida spring break beaches, NBC News reported, but recently signed an order limiting parties on beaches to 10 people or fewer. Local governments, however, have stepped in. The mayors of Miami and Fort Lauderdale have issued orders to close their beaches due to the severity of the situation.
So even if you want to kick back, relax and grab a spot in the sun … well, you might be out of luck.
Sure, some beaches are still open, but this isn’t the time for going out and partying with your friends.
Related: Is now a good time to plan a trip to the beach?

Restaurants have also been mandated to reduce their capacity by 50%. This follows moves by other states, such as New York and California, that have recently shut down dining in restaurants altogether. Plus, wouldn’t you want to experience these destinations and all they have to offer when they’re at their best? Now isn’t the right time for that.

Instead, stay at home with loved ones. It will make a difference. The faster we can all get through this, the faster things can get back to normal — and that daiquiri on the beach will be even more worth it.
Featured image courtesy of Jim McKinley/Getty Images.

Not traveling? You might want to put these subscriptions on hold

Along with almost the entire world, we aren’t flying during the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways, it feels like our lives are on hold — so it might be time to consider putting certain travel subscriptions on hold, too.
Related: Should I travel? Advice for the coronavirus outbreak
Some, like Clear’s expedited airport security, are billed once a year. But other tools and services come with a monthly fee, making it easy to avoid paying for them until it’s time to start traveling again. Here are the five subscriptions you might want to freeze until this crisis has passed.
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Inflight internet

If you aren’t flying right now, this one’s a no-brainer. Road warriors can ordinarily save a tremendous amount of money by purchasing an inflight internet subscription, either directly through the airline or with a service like Gogo, which offers a variety of plans depending on how many devices you want to connect and where you typically fly. Be sure to confirm that your plan isn’t set to auto-renew, or you could get stuck paying for a service you simply can’t use.
Related: Credit cards that offer free and discounted inflight Wi-Fi
Commuter benefits
They can vary drastically from one employer to the next, but generally, these plans let you use pretax funds to pay for subway fares, shared rides and even parking. If you’re currently set up to receive a fixed amount each month, you could choose to continue paying into the program now, and scale it back to balance things out later in the year, but you will want to put unlimited transit cards on hold, especially if they’re only valid for a specific month.
Ride-hailing subscriptions
Photo by d3sign/Getty Images.
As many people are doing their best to stay isolated, there isn’t as much need for ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft right now — after all, for many of us, the usual cross-town commute has been replaced by a walk between the sofa and the bed. Uber Ride Pass, a $25 monthly program, and the $20 per month Lyft Pink are two that come to mind, but there may be a local program you’re subscribed to as well. Also, keep in mind that Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can activate a year of Lyft Pink for free — so you might want to wait until travel resumes to get that done.
Related: Frequent Uber or Lyft passenger? These credit cards are for you
ExpertFlyer
ExpertFlyer has long been a favorite expert-level travel search tool among the TPG team, even before it was acquired by our parent company, Red Ventures. In fact, I was an ExpertFlyer member prior to joining TPG, and I’ve even used the resource as recently as this week to search for award availability (for travels much later in the year, of course). My favorite feature — setting alerts so I see when the best seats open up — hasn’t been necessary while I’ve been grounded, but it’ll definitely be a go-to as soon as I get back in the air. Still, if you aren’t taking full advantage of ExpertFlyer right now, it could be worth pausing your service, or downgrading to the $4.99 per month Basic plan. You can always upgrade when we’re all able to travel again.
Cellphone plans

Plenty of casual travelers now take advantage of the $10 per day plans provided by a number of top carriers. But those of us who travel abroad often may also have a secondary subscription — which, ordinarily, results in significant savings. For several members of the TPG team, that’s Google Fi, which lets us connect all around the globe for a fraction of the price. Fortunately, it’s easy to put this service on pause — either online or via the app — and suspend billing for a period of up to three months.
Bottom line
As with frequent flyers all around the world, we’re hopeful the coronavirus pandemic is soon brought under control. In the meantime, it’s essential to avoid unnecessary travel — after all, when dinner at your favorite local restaurant isn’t even a possibility, it’s hard to imagine chowing down on the other side of the world. Still, we’ll eventually return to the skies and, when we do, we’ll restart our favorite subscriptions, too.
Featured photo by Olly Curtis/Future via Getty Images.

Change of plans? Use this negotiation strategy to get customer service on your side

If you’re a frequent TPG reader, your life has likely been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting impact on travel.
Numerous TPG readers have told us that they booked nonrefundable reservations because they didn’t plan to cancel their trip. Others purchased travel insurance, but most trip insurance doesn’t cover epidemics so they’re still out the money. In many such cases, your best bet is to reach out directly to the airline or hotel in question and ask for help.
Related: Will “cancel for any reason” insurance protect your trip?
TPG has covered how to reach customer service as quickly as possible — but what should you ask for once you get on the phone?
Be clear about what you need
Before you get on the phone, know where you want to go before you reach out to your airline to make any changes. A customer service representative can’t tell you whether or not it’s best for you to go home to your own apartment, or shelter in place at your parents’ house in another state, and it isn’t their job to wait on the line while you draft up a pros-and-cons checklist.
Related: A number of airlines have suspended all routes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic
Have your desired airport code, travel times and dates, your passport number and record locator, and any other personal information ready on hand before you reach out. And be prepared for long hold times, or try reaching out via Twitter or text.
Be flexible on how you accomplish your goal
It’s great to have a specific plan in place, but keep your big picture goal in mind. Right now, your top priority should be safety and speed, not necessarily convenience or efficiency. If you’re trying to get home to Brooklyn or Queens, be willing to consider flying into Newark, Philly or even Boston. Similarly, flying into Oakland, San Jose or even Sacramento could be a good alternative to San Francisco if you need to get back to the Bay Area.
Alternatively, consider renting a car and driving where you need to go if the journey isn’t too long — or if you’re up for taking the scenic route home. The main goal of social distancing is increasing the amount of physical distance between you and other people, and a road trip fulfills most of the criteria. Keep in mind that most hotels and stores along the way may be closed or operating under limited hours, so stock up on gas and supplies well before setting out. 
Negotiation strategy: Big ask, little ask
If you know that you can’t or won’t need to travel any longer, you’ll probably want your money (or points) back instead of rescheduling your trip for a later date. But just because your friend got a full refund on an international flight through Delta Airlines doesn’t mean you’ll get the same result for canceling a domestic flight on Spirit.
Related: Your complete guide to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak
Here’s where a sales negotiation strategy called “big ask, little ask” could help you accomplish your goal.
The concept here is to have at least two satisfactory outcomes in mind, and to ask for the bigger favor first. If that fails, then ask for the smaller favor. In contrast, the smaller request will seem easier to grant, and you’ll be more likely to get what you ask for.
Your success will vary based on a lot of factors, but it never hurts to try — and it really pays to be as polite as humanly possible.
Let’s say you purchased a $400 nonrefundable ticket, and your airline is offering you free changes for the travel dates. But the event you wanted to attend was canceled, so you no longer plan to take this trip. When you reach out to customer service, go for the “big ask” first: A full refund. Be polite, explain your circumstances, and nicely ask if the agent can help you out. If the answer is yes, then great; if no, then switch to your “little ask”, which could be a voucher toward future travel instead of rescheduling your flight.
Related: I booked my canceled trip using an airline voucher. Will the airline issue me a new one? 
Chances are, you’ll find some leniency from the representative. And even if you don’t, you can walk away knowing you did your best.
Priority goes to travelers who need immediate assistance
Trying to cancel a spring break trip in April? Don’t get on the phone; save customer service hotlines for people who need immediate help resolving their travel issues.
Related: Use Chase’s online tool to rebook or cancel your Ultimate Rewards itinerary
Instead, reach out to your airline or online travel agency (OTA) via email, Twitter or text. You can avoid long hold times, possibly increase your chances of getting a favorable response, and know that you’re doing your fellow traveler a favor by freeing up the phone lines.
Remember that you’re on the same team — and be kind
These are stressful times with little to no prior precedent, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Remember that you and the customer service agent share the same goal of getting you where you need to go, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
Also keep in mind that these agents have been dealing with frustrated customers for weeks, and are facing job uncertainty themselves. Be kind and thoughtful to the person helping you — a “thank you” or a “How are you doing?” goes a long, long way right now.
Featured photo by Getty Images.

15 travel essentials to buy during Nordstrom’s 25% off sitewide sale

Things are weird right now — there’s no way around that. Airlines are slashing flights, restaurants are closing and entire countries are on lockdown trying to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
We’re all doing our part to “flatten the curve” by staying home so that life can return to normal as soon as possible. Sadly, this includes hitting pause on travel.
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So, while we’re all not leaving our house for the next, well, who knows, it might be a great time to do some retail therapy and start building up your points and miles balances so they’re in great shape when it’s time to travel again. Trust us, that time will come.
If you’re in the market for a few new items, Nordstrom is having a major sale with up to 25% off sitewide on a majority of its inventory (with a few exclusions). We know a lot of these items are not priorities for everyone right now, but for those of you who are still in a position to stock up for the future, this is your chance.
We’d also tell you to use a shopping portal to get even more points and miles on your purchases, but unfortunately, you won’t find Nordstrom on any of them. All is not lost though: Use a credit card that earns bonus points on shopping purchases, and you’ll be racking up the points and miles for your future travels in no time.
Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates
Aesop Travel Kit
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $26.25, originally $35.
You can never go wrong with new Aesop products. Whether you’re storing them away for your next trip, or trying to make your home feel more like a Park Hyatt, add this to your cart sooner rather than later.
Adidas Tiro Soccer Training Pants
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $33.75, originally $45.
These pants just scream “airport mode,” don’t you think? Grab yourself a pair while they’re on sale. If we had to bet, we’d say you’re going to get pretty solid use out of them once travel picks up again.
Drybar Baby Buttercup Travel Blow Dryer
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $101.25, originally $135.
Never be disappointed by a hotel hairdryer again. Ever. This one is easily foldable and packable, so you can ensure your hair always looks runway ready … even if you’re just walking to your kitchen.
Calpak 22-inch Rolling Spinner Carry-On
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $123.75, originally $165.
If you’re in the market for a new carry-on, might we interest you in this sleek looking model from Calpak? It comes in a handful of shiny metallic colors, and is beloved by frequent flyers around the world. It has a TSA-approved lock to give you peace of mind, too.
Antica Farmacista Iron Wood Diffuser
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $21, originally $28 (3.3 oz).
While you’re stuck at home, you can make your home feel (and smell) like a high-end hotel. Antica Famacista makes fragrances for some of the top hotels and airlines in the world, including Alaska Airlines, the Beverly Hills Hotel, Hotel Bel-Air and Four Seasons Anguilla.
Beis The Passport & Luggage Tag Travel Set
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $25.50, originally $34.
When the time is right, we know you’re going to want to hit the road — and your passport case could use an upgrade in the interim. Prepare now for all of the mileage it’s going to get when this is all over.
Le Labo Santal 33 Travel Tube
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $123.75, originally $165.
It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular fragrances on the market. Better yet, this set comes in a package of three, so you’ll never go without a spritz. One of these bottles will fit perfectly inside your toiletry bag and make the TSA very happy.
V3 International 22-inch Expandable Wheeled Carry-On
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $476, originally $595.
If you want to splurge, you can still save over $100 off this sturdy yet stylish Tumi bag. Its polycarbonate shell makes it lightweight and durable. Business and leisure travelers alike love Tumi, and for good reason.
MZ Wallace Metro Backpack
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $183.75, originally $245.
There’s plenty of storage to fit all your essentials in this MZ Wallace backpack, especially if you’re going on a quick trip. Even if you don’t have any travels on the horizon, this will take you from work to happy hour just fine.
Nike Blazer Low Leather Sneakers
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $56.25, originally $75.
Imagine how great your sightseeing is going to be in these comfortable, yet stylish, sneakers from Nike. If you close your eyes hard enough, you can picture yourself strolling around the plazas of Italy in them.
Trisilk Travel Pillow
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $56.25, originally $75.
Say goodbye to your airport “bean-bag” travel pillow and hello to this one made from silk. Those 13-hour flights will be no match for you.
Tory Burch Zip Leather Card Case
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $73.50, originally $98.
Your credit cards deserve to have a nice little home, especially while you’re traveling. This will keep all your cards and cash organized and easily accessible while on the go.
Patagonia Nano Puff Water Resistant Jacket
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $149.25, originally $199.
You could use a new jacket to brave the elements, and this one from Patagonia is available at solid price. It comes in black, silver and blue, making it a versatile addition to your travel uniform.
Native Shoes Jefferson Water Friendly Slip-on Vegan Sneaker
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $26 – $30, originally $35 – $40.
These are one of the best kid-friendly travel shoes on the market, and for good reason. Not only are they colorful and comfortable, but they’re sure to keep little feet happy. (Note that while many kids love them, they aren’t perfect for all feet shapes.) You can wear them with or without socks, they work in and out of water, and they’re easy to clean and dry quickly.
Nordstrom Rib Ruffle Cashmere Scarf
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $48.73, originally $169
You can’t say no to this cashmere scarf — especially now that it’s 70% off. Wear it as a cozy wrap on your next long-haul flight, in the office or even around the house. We have a feeling it’s going to be one of your new travel staples.
Stoney Clover Lane Small Nylon Makeup Bag
(Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)
To buy: $67.50, originally $90.
You’re not imagining it when you see everyone on Instagram traveling with one of Stoney Clover’s Instagram-friendly pouches. Get one for yourself at this discounted price. Your makeup will thank you later.
Featured photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images.

Ski season ends early at many mountains due to coronavirus

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information on the closing of additional resorts. 
It’s no secret that coronavirus (COVID-19) has essentially brought the travel industry to a temporary halt. The calendar says we are approaching what was planned to be peak spring break travel time for many. But now, the reality is that the local grocery store is about as far as most of us are traveling.
When it comes to ski resorts, the solitude of an almost empty run sounds like a perfect socially distanced activity, but there’s more to the story. The lifts, gondolas, rental shops, ticket offices, lunch breaks, apres ski and more still bring people together in groups larger than the currently recommended numbers. 
So while ski resorts first tried to integrate new distancing and cleaning recommendations in light of coronavirus, that was quickly followed by a temporary pause in operations. Now, many major ski resorts have called it quits on the 2019–2020 ski season.
Here’s a look at what’s happening at ski resorts around the country and a peek at how this may impact those ski passes that you weren’t quite done using.
Complete guide to traveling during the deadly coronavirus outbreak
Vail Resorts
The operator of 37 ski resorts around the world (including Vail, Park City, Heavenly, Whistler and more) and the creator of the Epic Pass, Vail Resorts stated as of Tuesday that all North American ski resorts will remain closed for the 2019–2020 ski season, due to the fast-moving situation involving COVID-19.
However, Vail also stated it would consider reopening Breckenridge, Whistler Blackcomb and Heavenly in late April/early May, dependent on the situation with COVID-19, as well as weather conditions. Last season, many ski resorts operated until late May — with some going all the way until the Fourth of July weekend. 
You can request refunds on certain prepaid Vail Resorts expenses online, however, thus far that does not extend to Epic Pass products. Eligible refund requests include:

Lift Tickets
Ski & Ride School
Lodging and Vacation Packages
Winter Activities
Childcare Bookings
Equipment Rentals (booked on RentSkis.com or SkiRentals.com)

Can I cancel or change a ticket booked through the Amex or Chase Travel Portal due to coronavirus?
Alterra Mountain Company
Alterra is the owner/operator of 15 North American mountain destinations, including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain and Big Bear Mountain Resort in California; Stratton and Sugarbush Resort in Vermont; Snowshoe in West Virginia; Tremblant in Quebec, Blue Mountain in Ontario; Crystal Mountain in Washington; Deer Valley Resort and Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah; and CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures in British Columbia.
Skiing in Mammoth in mid-March (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Alterra resorts are included on the Ikon Pass and the group decided to close starting the morning of Sunday, March 15, until further notice citing the best interest of “guests, employees and local communities.” (CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures will continue to operate through Tuesday, March 21.)
In terms of refunds, CEO Rusty Gregory said that “Each resort will work directly with guests in canceling their visit and will provide refunds to those who have hotel and other bookings during this closure period.” He added that heavy call volume is anticipated over the next several days, and that “guests’ patience as we work hard to respond to all inquiries” is appreciated.
While there is talk of some of these mountains calling it quits on the season, others have said they will reevaluate late-season operations at a future date.
Aspen Snowmass
Aspen Snowmass has closed “by the order of the Governor of Colorado.” They have not yet committed to remaining closed for the season and state that, “the plan is to conduct some limited on-mountain maintenance to potentially have a limited late-season opening if circumstances allow.”
Aspen skyline from an overlook in the winter (Photo by Jonathan Ross/Getty Images)
In terms of refunds, lift tickets, Ski & Snowboard School lessons, Four Mountain Sports equipment rentals and activities reservations are fully refundable. To process your refund, you have until April 30, 2020, to call 1-800-525-6200 and have your order confirmation number available.
For season passes, Aspen Snowmass states: “We will have answers to season pass refund requests once we know if we are reopening or not.”
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Like so many of the others, the iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort closed for the remainder of the season effective March 15. Its decision to close the resort follows a Health Order directed by the Wyoming State Health Officer and issued by the Teton District Health Officer.
The resort will work with guests and passholders to “provide recovery assistance regarding refunds or future credits.”
Epic, Ikon and Mountain Collective passholders
Usually, holding a ski season pass is a good thing. However, in this case, passholders are still in limbo whether they’ve used the pass 20 times or zero times, while holders of unused lift tickets can largely request refunds.
On the one hand, the majority of the ski season was behind us at most resorts when the unexpected closures happened. On the other hand, spring break skiing is a big factor when choosing a ski pass, so many ski passholders had planned skiing yet to occur.
Technically, ski passes are nonrefundable and nontransferable. In fact, one goal of a pass is to level out income in the event it’s a bad snow year or similar. However, poor snow is one thing, but no one really could have predicted a global pandemic shutting down basically every ski resort in the country.
(Photo courtesy of Epic Mountain Express)
At this point, there has been no communication from the major pass programs on potential refunds or future discounts. However, there are clues for what may be done on their respective social media accounts.
Ikon’s Facebook page responses state that “We are working through new policies and protocols and will post new information as it becomes available.” That reads to me that some discounts or credits haven’t been ruled out.
Mountain Collective’s response on social media reads, “We will be reviewing refund and credit policies and providing any updated guidance in the coming weeks. We very much appreciate your patience as the fast-moving situation evolves.”
Epic’s response to date on social media has been, “Pursuant to the terms of all season pass and Epic Day Pass products, they are nonrefundable and nontransferable to another season. We will be reviewing these policies and providing any updated guidance in the coming weeks. We appreciate your patience during this unprecedented time.”
Visit our hub here for full coronavirus travel coverage.
Bottom line
Now is not the time to travel but it is, of course, unfortunate that even outdoor ski resorts cannot safely operate for the time being. In fact, some of the major Colorado ski country counties are COVID-19 outbreak hot spots.
Right now, some mountains are expressly prohibiting even uphill skiing (where you climb up yourself), while others are allowing that process at your own risk.
Additional reporting by Katie Coakley
Featured image by Adventure_Photo/Getty Images

The stark differences in coronavirus screening at airports in Shanghai and Washington, DC

For the past week, travelers from around the globe have scrambled to make last-minute return flight arrangements from work trips or vacations that were cut short. As the threat of coronavirus becomes more real, people want to be sure they can get home — or travel to their loved ones to help them weather these unpredictable times.
Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates
It’s been fascinating to hear travelers’ stories about their different experiences as they arrive at various airports around the world. Some airports, including many in China, are meticulously screening passengers before even letting them on flights, and as they arrive back into the country. At airports in the United States, the “welcome home” has ranged from absolutely no questions asked about recent travel to hours-long lines dangerously crowded with travelers, all so they can have their temperature taken before being allowed off the property.
Today we’ll hear two stories: One from Fei Cao, an American living in Shanghai, and another from TPG contributor Ethan Steinberg. Ms. Cao was on vacation and traveling back to Shanghai, while Steinberg, who lives in Shanghai, was returning to the U.S. to be with family.
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In This Post

Traveling to Shanghai
Fei Cao, a long-time TPG reader, is a U.S. citizen who relocated to Shanghai in September with her husband. Just before the big move, they took a two-month-long vacation funded entirely by points and miles.
They were visiting the U.S. with plans to return to Shanghai on March 11. Here’s how that unfolded.
The U.S. leg of the trip
The first leg of their trip was on American Airlines, in economy, from Miami (MIA) to Houston (IAH).
“From IAH, we took EVA to Shanghai (SHA) with a layover at Taipei (TPE). Our EVA flight was booked in premium economy and upgraded to Laurel Business class with points transferred from our Citi account,” Cao said.
The mood on the aircraft “was a mix of nervous [and] nonchalant,” she observed. “The couple next to us wiped their seat prior to sitting. However, no one wore masks or took precautions. Overall, the domestic portion of our flight was not very different than our previous flights.”
“We did use the Amex [Centurion Lounge] in MIA; it was relatively empty compared to our previous visits,” said Cao, who couldn’t recall if there were hand sanitizers at the front desk. At the EVA lounge in Taipei, on the other hand, Cao and her husband said, “attendants enforced strict hand hygiene and did not check us in until we cleaned our hands.”
Related: How to ward off coronavirus in a hotel room
Boarding an EVA flight for Shanghai via Taipei
The couple began to notice upgraded precautions at IAH when checking in for their long-haul flight. “At IAH, all the EVA crew and staff wore face masks and gloves. The business class check-in staff member was wearing a mask but she had a runny nose and was coughing, which really horrified us.” Cao said that, of the entire trip, this caused the most anxiety.
“Our flight from IAH to TPE was about 80% filled in the business-class cabin. We estimate that the economy-class cabin was about 70 to 80% filled as well,” she estimated.
“The economy-class cabin from Taipei to Shanghai was about filled. We think it’s because many Chinese nationals are returning to China due to worsening viral conditions elsewhere, and TPE was one of the few ports that did not require quarantine in China. However, this policy has changed since we took our flight — when we landed in SHA, Beijing changed the rules to have mandatory quarantine for all international inbound passengers.”
Cao said the passengers were generally not nervous. “We saw a lot more passengers wearing face masks and gloves on this flight, as compared to our domestic flight. In business class, almost everyone wiped down their seats before sitting. Once the flight took off, we didn’t feel much different.”
“We had a 10-hour layover in Taipei and, during our transit, we exited the airport (the screening was not very extensive and exit was extremely smooth) and stayed at a nearby Novotel a subway stop away. Our reentry to the airport was also extremely easy because the airport was pretty empty.”
The next part of the journey is when the couple again felt a sense of anxiety.
“On our flight from Taipei to Shanghai, people were more nervous. Everyone was in gloves and face masks. The majority of people also had goggles. Some people wore ‘hazmat suits’ that ranged from raincoats to overalls.”
“We felt more anxious about this trip than our previous travel experiences,” Cao said. “Our anxiety was mainly because if we were to contract the virus during our travel, we would be forced to stay in a government quarantine facility and not be able [to] self-quarantine at home.”
Related: These are the global coronavirus travel restrictions by country
Changes to inflight service
TPG was curious if it was business as usual in the air, or if the couple noticed any differences from previous travels.
“We flew business class on EVA from Paris (CDG) to Taipei before, so [we] had a point of reference,” Cao said. “Our IAH to TPE flight was very similar to our previous experience, with the exception that all the flight attendants wore face masks, gloves and some even wore eye goggles. The level of service was still excellent … we were offered a welcome drink, snacks, turndown service [and] cabin crew would often check in on us when we were awake. Same as amenities: We were offered pajamas as well as amenity kit.”
But, “the flight from TPE to PVG was completely different,” Cao noted. “There was no meal service available, we were told this is due to the virus situation in China. In flight, the cabin crew gave us a prepackaged bag with water, apple juice, cake and cookies.”
Cao said there weren’t amenity bags, blankets or slippers waiting for her and her husband in the business class seats. “To get them,” Cao said, “we had to specifically request them. The overall service from TPE was totally different. We chalked it up to the airlines wanting to decrease the amount of contact between the crew and passengers.”
Landing in Shanghai
Upon arrival in Shanghai, the couple witnessed the lengths the Chinese government is going to in the hopes of curtailing the spread of coronavirus. They were asked to fill out an extensive health declaration form.
China exit/entry health form. (Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
And, here’s more information about the entry process into Shanghai as of March 17:
Shanghai re-entry guidance as of March 17, 2020. (Image courtesy of Ethan Steinberg)
“When we landed in Shanghai at 6 p.m., our captain made an announcement saying that health inspectors will come on board,” Cao said.
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
“All the inspectors were in hazmat suits — every official [we] encountered from this point [wore] complete hazmat suits,” recalled Cao. “One inspector walked around the cabin (we think to look over passengers to make sure no one was visibly sick) while the other inspectors reviewed the manifest. They made an announcement in Chinese and English for all passengers to go back to their seats and wait to be called. During this time, the first inspector came back and told his colleagues in Chinese that there was a passenger from the U.S. who had a cough; they conferred a bit and led her out by herself.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
“After that passenger was led out, they called a series of names to line up and be inspected. The first group of passengers all had travel history in Europe within the past 14 days,” said Cao.
“We were called as part of the second group: all passengers who had travel history in the U.S. We assumed the order was by the severity of virus infections in the passenger’s countries of travel. When we got to the front, the officials looked at our health declarations, measured our temperatures (one of many times) and asked us if we were symptomatic. They recorded our temperatures and we went off the plane and waited near the gate with the rest of the people [who] were called up with us. According to the health officials, we were to wait there until the first group cleared the next phase of the health exam.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
Cao said they waited about an hour before arriving at the health check area. “There, we underwent temperature monitoring (second temperature check) and had to wait in line to be individually interviewed by health officials. While waiting for our extensive health check, multiple officers in hazmat suits walked around to give QR codes to scan on the Chinese messaging program WeChat to fill out additional health info, travel info as well as information on our hotel [or] place of residence. For foreigners who don’t have the app, it would be difficult to do a lot of this.”
“The line moved slowly, but after about another hour, we got to the front and we were individually interviewed by an official who asked us in-depth questions about specific cities we were in, sick contacts, occupation contacts, symptoms within the past 14 days. They also asked about our living arrangements (hotel, apartment, lease, etc).”
Cao said officials then gave every passenger a sticker. “[A green sticker] for anyone who hadn’t visited a high-risk country, yellow sticker for anyone who was low risk but had been to a high-risk country (we were yellow due to being in the U.S.), a red sticker was for anyone who was symptomatic or high risk. Green sticker travelers were able to exit as normal and return home, red sticker travelers went to automatic government quarantine.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
Since the couple’s passports were labeled with yellow stickers, they went to a special customs area to have another temperature check. Then, they proceeded through customs as normal.
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
Cao said, “Because we’ve been in and out of China a lot, our process was fast since they have our fingerprint and face recognition in their system.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
Cao felt good about the process — even if it delayed their re-entry into China. “While extensive and really inconvenient, we felt confident that because the Chinese government enforced these measures, they were able to keep the virus rate in check. The amount of manpower and coordination that went into this is pretty incredible and we feel relatively safe.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
“Due to our yellow sticker, we couldn’t leave the airport on our own and had to have a police escort,” Cao shared. “Here, the police questioned us extensively about our living situation, address, travel history and recorded everything. Travelers whose apartments are not adequate for quarantine, have roommates or don’t have any lodging are required to go to a designated quarantine hotel. Those whose housing is suitable for quarantine can be picked up by a family member or taken to their residence by police. Due to being a yellow sticker traveler, we were not allowed to take commercial transportation to decrease the exposure risk of other people.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
Once at home, the couple’s self-quarantine began.
“When we arrived at our apartment, we were met by a local health official who examined our apartment to make sure was suitable for quarantine,” Cao said. “He then administered a health check as well as measured our temperatures. At this time, we also signed a form declaring that we will abide by quarantine regulations and not leave our apartment for 14 days. He notified us that he will come back daily to administer a temperature check and health check. When everything was set and done, it was around midnight when we were finally able to unpack and relax.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
“China has an extensive delivery service where anything can be bought and delivered,” Cao said. “Our apartment has a front desk that’s always staffed and will bring us everything we ordered so we adhere to quarantine.”
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
(Photo courtesy of Fei Cao)
So, how does Ethan Steinberg’s account of arriving in Washington, D.C. from Asia during this same period compare to Ms. Cao’s experience returning to Shanghai from the U.S.?
Arriving in Washington, D.C.
Steinberg is also an American who lives and works in Shanghai, but his family is here in the U.S. He wanted to return home to be with his family during the coronavirus scare — and his arrival at a U.S. airport was markedly different than Ms. Cao’s.
He booked his travel from Shanghai to Washington, D.C. via Tokyo on separate tickets. He flew ANA first class for the Tokyo to D.C. leg of the trip. When asked if there were any health screening measures to get into the Asian airports, Steinberg said, “of course.”
“Both Shanghai and Tokyo Narita (NRT) had multiple temperature checks before you could even enter the airport, let alone clear customs,” he said.
When he boarded his ANA flight, Steinberg realized he was the only passenger in first. “Looked like 100 passengers, maximum, on the Boeing 777-300ER. The day before, when I flew Shanghai (PVG) to Narita, we had 15 total passengers on a 767 — yet weirdly enough, the eight of us in economy all sat in the first two rows.”
We were curious about any health checks that might have been performed, or if any health officials met the aircraft at the gate. Steinberg said there were none.
“I arrived on Sunday, March 8,” Steinberg said, “and no one met us at the plane.” He added that while he did end up experiencing a health check later in the entry process, he believes it was just because his Global Entry receipt was X’d out.
“A customs agent asked about my travel history and seemed shocked, and sort of taken off guard, when I said I’d been in China just 35 hours ago,” Steinberg explained. “He led me over to another desk, where I was apparently the first passenger that the customs agents had to train on the new system. They redirected me to a small CDC health screening area, where they took my temperature and gave me an info packet to take home.”
Steinberg said the screening probably should have only taken about five minutes, “but the customs agents were going slow while they learned the system.” All in all, it took about 20 minutes to go through the process. During the health screening, he was told that there might be additional follow up and that he should check his temperature twice daily and log it. But, Steinberg says no one has contacted him since arriving back int he U.S.
“It’s scary that the process to leave China is 10 times stricter than the process to get into the U.S.,” Steinberg confided, “and it’s scary going from a city that has this under control to one that absolutely doesn’t.”
Featured image by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Should you really book that incredible travel deal right now?

Want to fly between Houston and Newark for $30? How about a $22 transcontinental flight? And a flight from the New York City area to London? That starts at a cool $111 all-in.
You don’t have to be an aviation analyst to know that that those prices are significantly lower than normal. You can also probably guess why with 100% certainty. In many cases, the low fares extend into the normally peak summer months, if not beyond. While no one knows how long coronavirus will have an affect on daily life around the world, the hope is that it will, at some point, lessen its grip.
So, should you be guessing when the situation will improve and taking advantage of some of the outrageous travel deals available right now?
Maybe. But also, maybe not.

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Avoid near-term travel
I don’t care if an airline is offering free flights right now: Unless you absolutely must travel to relocate to a better location for the duration of the outbreak, or for a medical reasons, no price is worth a leisure trip at the moment due to the priority of social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus.
If you’re curious, here’s TPG’s official stance on travel at the moment:

The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips.
Health officials note the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel.
We support the travel industry and want to be there for it and encourage more trips, but only when the time is right.
Instead of traveling right now, we suggest this is the time to plan your next vacation. You don’t have to book yet, but figure out where you want to go and map out the right strategy for building up the right points and miles for those trips.
TPG can guide travelers through this process. We’ll share the news when it’s time to start booking, but at least for the short term let’s all do as much as we can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that includes hitting pause on travel.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates
Know the change policies
Once you start looking at potential travel deals further out on the calendar, you still need to be mindful of change and cancellation policies.
While no one knows when “normal” will return, if you spot an appealing travel deal for later in the year, just be sure it’s either so cheap you won’t mind walking away, or there’s a generous change or cancellation fee waiver in place. When it comes to booking airfare, most U.S. airlines are waiving change fees on future travel booked right now. I recommend booking directly with the airlines to cut down on the extra hassle you might encounter when reserving travel through a third-party site.
The change policies, however, aren’t consistent across the industry. They vary from airline to airline, from one hotel chain to the next, and you’ll find them to be vastly different from cruise lines to vacation rental sites. So, read the fine print before swiping your travel rewards credit card on a future travel deal.
Related: The best credit cards that offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage
Can you tie up more money in travel?
Even if the travel deal you want is changeable, think long and hard about whether now is the time to tie up more of your funds in travel. Changeable and fully refundable aren’t the same things, so carefully evaluate your personal situation in these ever-changing times before giving a travel company more of your cash.
If you’re using points or miles to book an incredible deal, that equation shifts since you can’t typically eat your miles or use them to pay rent — well, unless you’re cashing in for a fancy premium cabin award where the airline may indeed feed you pretty well once this event is over. If you’re using a travel voucher, miles or have the budget to put aside funds for future travel, that’s a very different scenario than if you are struggling to stock up your pantry with necessities.
For example, those normally almost impossible to book premium cabin awards might be more bountiful than ever at the moment. There’s probably nothing wrong with scooping up some of those awards for travel later this year as long as you’re comfortable with the change and cancellation stipulations.
Air Tahiti Nui business class awards are wide open (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Do you know where you want to travel?
Six weeks ago, most of us were probably avoiding trips to Asia, as COVID-19 intensified there first. Then we canceled trips to South Korea, Japan, Iran, and later Italy and other parts of Europe.
Now, the U.S. has growing hot spots of its own, while some parts of Asia are (hopefully) beginning to round the corner of this crisis. Disney World in Florida, for example, just closed its doors to the public on Sunday night, while Shanghai Disneyland has been closed since Jan. 25. But as Cinderella Castle in Florida enters its period of darkness, Shanghai Disneyland is showings signs of a phased reopening. As the first step toward welcoming back guests, the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, Wishing Star Park and some shopping, dining and recreational experiences have recently resumed limited operations.
Disney’s castle in Shanghai. (Photo by Dia Adams)
This one example shows that it’s hard to guess which parts of the world will be ready for tourists before others. So, before you book a travel deal, just think about whether you really know where you’ll want to travel. Of course, if you make very flexible plans, you may not need a crystal ball to start booking future travel.
Related: Should I travel? Advice for the coronavirus outbreak
Bottom line
I’m a deal hunter. I love the thrill of finding and booking a travel bargain. I’m also a serious supporter of the travel industry and want to see it emerge from the other side of this crisis in one piece.
But even I am being very conservative about booking new travel at this juncture, despite the tempting deals. There are just so many unknowns. There’s also the reality that I still have some travel already booked for later in 2020, so I’d rather wait and see if that happens as planned and apply those travel credits elsewhere if needed, than put any substantial amount of additional dollars on the table. That said, you may find me speculatively making some future award travel plans that I’m OK with changing if the situation warrants.
I’m not 100% opposed to picking up very inexpensive or truly refundable deals later in the year, and I’m much more likely to use miles or less flexible points to book some award travel deals than spend large amounts of cash — at least until we’re closer to the other side of this trying tunnel.
Featured image by SasinParaksa/Getty Images.

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

Booking
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.
Location
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.

Check-in
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.
Property
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.

Room
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.
Amenities
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.
Service
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.

In This Post

Booking
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.
Location
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.

Check-in
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.