In early August I traveled to the Maldives to check out several resorts, two of them being SAii Lagoon and Waldorf Astoria Maldives. Both of them are new Hilton properties bringing more options to the Maldives than just the Conrad Maldives. I wish I could say these new resorts are astoundingly beautiful destinations that make awesome additions to the Hilton Portfolio.
Unfortunately, two weeks prior to arrival, SAii Lagoon notified me saying they would be pushing the opening date by one month. Not a big deal, these things happen. SAii Lagoon arranged for me to stay at a different resort at not cost to me so I was still happy.
Waldorf on the other hand, all I can say is wow. I’ve been to 84 countries and hundreds of hotels. No hotel has caused me so much consternation, aggravation, frustration, and disappointment. How did I end up in such a state of mind while being surrounded by the beautiful azure seas of the Maldives? Well, because essentially I was told I would not be permitted to enter their resort, along with the added bonus of letting me know this one day prior to arrival.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives is located about 23km from Male, the main airport almost everyone arrives at when they travel to the Maldives. I’ve been to the Park Hyatt Maldives and Conrad Maldives, so I’ve gotten accustomed to paying about $500 dollars to take a round trip sea plane transfer to resorts up to 400km away.
So, when I booked my stay back in March, I made the reasonable assumption that a 23km boat ride would cost less than a plane ride 400km away. Well, I was way off on that estimation.
In July I stumbled upon a flyertalk thread that stated the transfer cost would be $862 per person round trip including taxes! Since almost no one travels alone to the Maldives, the cost per couple just to travel 23km is $1,724.80! Some may argue,“the Waldorf Astoria Maldives transfer is officially the world’s most expensive mode of transportation in the history of mankind.”
Maybe not, but compare the competition below. Even the Four Seasons, which from a brand perspective seems above Waldorf, has their boat transfer more than half the cost of the Waldorf Astoria Maldives.
SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton
Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort
Waldorf Astoria Maldives
Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
JW Marriott Maldives Resort
Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Transport: Domestic flight and speedboat
When you book this resort on their website or on the Hilton Mobile app, there is no mention of transfer fee anywhere. Its a mystery. However, the site certainly mentions the Mandatory Christmas Gala dinner costing $488 + 23.5% per person. At that rate one would assume the second coming was going to occur at the resort.
Furthermore, when I made this booking via telephone in March, the operator could not tell me the cost of the transfers.
By contrast, the Marriott and Hyatt websites clearly indicate the cost of the plane/boat transfers (including taxes, not this misleading ++ stuff)
All the other resorts I have stayed at in the Maldives usually contacted me around 30 days prior to send me an information packet and to ask me about my flight details. About 10 days prior I still did not hear anything from the Waldorf so I decided to email them.
Me (10 Days Prior): “I’m not sure if you already sent an email and it went into my spam folder, but wanted to reach out since we are due to arrive in about 10 days. Thank you.”
WA (9 Days Prior): “We normally reach out to our guests at least 07 days prior to the arrival date and you will receive a pre-arrival email from our front desk as well. Further to this, may I kindly ask for your arrival and departure flight details to arrange your transfers smoothly upon your arrival. Our luxury yacht transfer is a 30 minute ride from Velana International airport which can be arranged 24/7 according to your international flight arrival time. Transfer fee is at US$350+23.2% Tax and service charge per adult per way.”
This was the first time the resort had communicated to me (9 days prior to arrival) that the transfer fee would be “US$350+23.2% tax and service charge per adult per way”. Not including the tax and giving the price “per way”, I think is really underhanded and shady to me. Who is traveling in only one direction? Are people moving there to live? Just state the price in an honest way like every other resort!
The honest reasonable thing is to email guests 30 days prior and say the transfer will be $862. That way its prior to the 14 day cancellation window and guests can make bookings elsewhere and waste their money on boos and excursions instead of a boat ride.
Me (7 Days Prior): “Thank you for the email. We will be arriving from and departing to other nearby resorts via private transfer. Our prepaid transfer will arrive around 1500 on 9AUG and our departure will be 1600 on 12AUG.”
WA Front Desk (3 days Prior): “Greetings from sunny Maldives! Do you have any special preferences/ requests, which you would like to share with me? Do not hesitate to contact me, if you have any questions!”
WA Reservations (3 Days Prior): Thank you for your email. Third party transfer are not allowed to enter our resort to protect our valuable guests’ privacy and security.
Me (3 days Prior): “Can you tender us in outside the resort boundary? If not, can the reservations be refunded? During the booking process and for the past several months afterwards, I was not informed that transfers were not permitted. I do not understand why I am being told of this restriction three days prior to arrival. Had I been informed earlier, I would have made other arrangements with a different resort. The website prominently mentions a compulsory gala dinner on Christmas Eve, but no mention of transfers. Why? Seems like a critical piece of information. I just checked my booking confirmation emails and also no mention of transfer restriction. Please advise of boat tender and/or refund.”
At this point, I figured the resort would do the right thing and let me onto the resort via my non-refundable private boat transfer. I have never been to or heard of any resort restricting guests from a mode of transportation to their resort. Maybe the International Space Station, but not a hotel. I also thought I was going to be fine because they have previously been advising guests that private boat transfers were permitted.
WA (1 Day Prior): “Sadly we are unable to allow a 3rd party transfer for your arrival and departure, however we will allow to cancel the reservation. Once again, please accept our apologies and do let us know how you wish to proceed.”
Me (1 Day Prior): “Thank you for the delayed response and affording me one full day to find alternative accommodations. Your prompt, clear, and concise communications show how much you value your customers. Please urgently refund reservation”
For the next 10 hours, I was in constant contact with Hilton support via twitter to try and get the Waldorf booking canceled and rebooked at the Conrad. There was no way I was going lose the non-refundable private transfer fee ($600) AND pay the $1,724 Waldorf transfer fee.
While Hilton twitter support was very helpful and apologetic, they were not able to process the refund. For some reason, only the resort could process the refund and the resort was radio silent for 10 hours. Hilton twitter support called several phone numbers and sent several emails to the Waldorf without getting any response.
Me: “Hilton Honors support has been trying to call your resort all day to get the refund processed, but no one picks of the phone. What is the number Hilton can call to reach your resort?”
WA(10 Hours Later): “After a lengthy call with Hilton Honors, they have confirmed that the points were put back in to the account. We apologize for the inconvenience and since your first email this morning, we have been trying to reach Hilton Honors and Guest Assistance to get this solved as soon as possible for you. However we only reached them an hour ago. We will certainly put forward to management in order to review the pre-arrival setup as well as communication on the transfers in a more prominent way when guests make a reservation.”
So at around 6:00pm, after worrying all day about where I will stay the next three days, I finally was able to rebook at the Conrad. A great resort by the way that does allow third party transfers.
My unexpected visit to the Conrad went well. However, I just visited the Conrad a few months ago. I flew to the Maldives again to try something new, not to go to the Conrad again. Had I known this would have happened, I would have extended my time in Sri Lanka instead of going to the Maldives.
The Hilton website still does not make mention of transfer fees or private transfer restrictions when booking, even though they said they were going to look into making this more “prominent”.
The only thing I could find on the website required much digging around. To get to information about the fees and restrictions you have to follow the below three steps:
They added the part about the “outside boats” a few days after this debacle. Hopefully they are contacting guests sooner than 7 days.
Why I chose a Private Transfer
The cost of the transfer was just so absurdly ridiculous its almost an insult. I know some people will say, “You points people want everything for free and if you can’t afford it just don’t go.” Its not about affordability, its about the premise of not getting wildly ripped off. I could afford to buy the boat if I wanted to.
There are plenty of reputable boat transfer services in the Maldives, that I assume the employees use to go home. Why are guests forced to use this Yacht?
Also, if you read the reviews on Tripadvisor or flyertalk, there are several complaints about the price and quality boat transfer experience. No alcohol and few snacks along with waiting up to 50 minutes for the boat to arrive. While the resort states its a 30 minute ride, most folks report it take 50 minutes to get to the resort. Furthermore, this transfer is shared, not private.
I’m sure given the option, most folks would choose a speed boat going 55knots rather than a lumbering yacht, especially after flying 15 hours to get to the Maldives. Heck, even the helicopter ride to Hilton Seychelles Labriz is cheaper and way cooler. Anyone believe the below is worth $1,724 per couple? Unless Gordon Ramsey is on-board making beef wellington along with Ja-Rule screaming holla!, than I think this is far from being worth $1,724.
Between not putting all these fees and transfer restriction policies prominently on the website, along with claiming that its a “privacy issue” really has me questioning the integrity of those running this place. I mean, does this look private? I’ve read reports of random boats passing by the north side of this resort often.
The Maldives is not easy to get to and people spend a lot of time and money planning a trip there. To be surprising guests with this nonsense 7 days prior to arrival after hiding it from them is a disservice to the Hilton Brand and a breach of trust. In my case, telling me one day prior to arrival that under no circumstances could I take my pre-paid private boat transfer was the biggest middle finger I ever received, and I used to live in NYC.