My partner and I recently went through the process of booking our Maldives honeymoon. This website proved invaluable in informing the process so we thought we too would share our experiences so far so that other people can benefit from what we have learnt.
If I had to sum up our lessons learnt they would be:
• Do your own research, travel agents are great if they have been to resorts but if they haven’t been there they know as little as you do.
• Get multiple quotes and also contact hotel directly.
• Find people on this forum who have been to or have recently booked the resort you want and ask them which travel agent offered them the best deal. Follow up with those travel agents.
• If it sounds too good to be true just contact the resort directly, they can tell you if the agent is legitimate or not.
• Consider issues such as insurance, liability and exchange rates
And here goes the full story……
We initially went to see our Australian travel agent, she is a lovely lady and has over the years been very good to us. She had however never been to Maldives so she could not recommend any particular resorts. We started looking though the brochures. So glossy and so photoshoped! We had no idea where to go, they all looked great. Our travel agent then said she would make some calls and find us some resort options. She came back with 3. We almost ended up booking Vivanta by Taj, everything looked great and the price was good. We then discovered this website and read some reviews. We found out that they were still in the process of constructing/fixing retaining walls (which were conveniently photoshoped out of the photos). I ended up trying to contact the resort to enquire when the construction was scheduled to be complete but never heard back from them. We decided not to book any of the resorts that out travel agent put forward, wishing we had a travel agent with more Maldives knowledge.
In the meantime, having discovered Trip Advisor we reviewed just about every resort in Maldives. Alila Villas Hadahaa immediately struck as our dream resort, good reviews too. However, looking at their online rates we figured we could not afford a whole week there so we decided to settle for 5 days (better 5 days someplace perfect that 7 someplace with construction works). Having our hearts set on this resort we approached 2 travel agents: our local Australian agent and Atoll Paradise (Maldives based). We also approached the hotel directly. What ensued was beyond belief. The Australian price was comparable to the hotel’s quote. Atoll Paradise came back saying that they had this great promotion where every second day was free but they actually came back with a quote more expensive than the Australian Agent (the service though I have to say was good). At this point we were pretty much ready to book with our Australian agent when franciscoN from this forum suggested I contact Linara Travel (BIG thanks to franciscoN!). I cannot recommend these people enough. I dealt with Justin Parkinson, excellent service, very easy to deal with and outstanding rates. First of all he said that we could book 5 nights but that the hotel actually had an offer for 2 nights free if you book 5, plus additional discount. This meant that 7 night stay would actually be cheaper than 5 nights! It all sounded a bit suspect, well it really sounded too good to be true. I couldn’t find any bad reviews on these people but I kept digging to assure myself that they were legitimate. I re-contacted the other two travel agents to see if they too had 7 nights for less or about the same as 5 nights and sure enough they did, not that they told us about it when we first enquired. Plus they were still about $1,500-$2,000 more expensive than Linara. I then contacted Alila Villas Hadahaa directly asking whether Linara was the real deal. They responded saying that Linara is one of their preferred agents and as such really do have access to exclusive rates. So we then decided we were going to book with them.
But that was not the end…. our local travel agent advised against it (probably partly out of genuine concern and partly because she wanted to get the commission fee). Basically if you are in Australia and you use an overseas travel agent you are not covered by the Travel Compensation Fund, meaning that if the agent goes bankrupt you have no way of getting your money back. The travel insurance in Australia does not cover this either. At this point I spoke to Justin about this directly and we decided that we would book provided we could pay fully in advance and that they would pay Alila Villas straight after they received the payment from us. This is because travel insurance in Australia does covers us if anything goes wrong with the resort. It was also good timing as Australian Dollar was very strong. So we did, we booked, we paid and we have since received a copy of confirmation from Alila which says that our account has been settled in full. Now we are just waiting for February so that we too can experience what this wonderful country has to offer
Before I forget, just before we booked with Linara, Atoll Paradise came back to enquire if we were still interested. I told them we had decided to go with Linara. They then asked what Linara had offered us so I told them. They came back saying that they would love the opportunity to match it but we were not interested. Would anyone in their right mind be interested? They were basically saying that they were happy to overcharge us by $2,000, let alone not telling us about the special 7 days deal.
So this ended up being a lot longer than I expected but if at least one person finds it useful it hasn’t been a complete waste of time.