Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 1: Sri Lankan Airlines UL502

Sri Lankan Airlines arrival

We’re back! We always make a point of going to a new island each visit. It keeps a sense of exotic adventure and discovery alive even though we have now been to 8 resort islands. We’ve just arrived for what promises to be adventure on steroids. 8 islands in 7 days. Now that the kids have grown up, we have more mobility. Most importantly, it provides a huge opportunity to scour new treasures and gems for MaldivesComplete.

The adventure started with our flights today on Sri Lankan Airlines (flight UL 502). As noted in our trip last year, we have always bought ‘package’ with the flight included. But last year’s ‘DIY’ trip planning worked really well. So well that you would wonder why we flew Sri Lankan Airlines instead of BA. BA did a great job last year and I have my frequent flyer miles with them, so why the switch?

  • Convenience – My wife Lori had fixed dates that she could accompany me that could not move. Sri Lankan had more choices of direct flights and two of those flights fit our needed perfectly. In fact, schedule constraints is the primary reason to book yourself rather than opting for a tour package since the packages typically have very fixed dates.
  • Cost – Sri Lankan Airlines was about £100 cheaper than BA and about £200 cheaper than Emirates (the other direct carrier who also happened to have fewer flight options).
  • Curiosity – I have been flying the UK national carrier for the past two decades since we arrived in the UK and I was curious about the service and approach that the local national carrier performed and approached the route.

The flight was fine. Pretty conventional amenities. The in-seat entertainment system was modest, but at least there was one. The service was especially cheerful and the colourful uniforms of the flight attendants helped set the tone for a trip to paradise.

Halloween Treat – On a 10 hour long haul flight, the first concern is seat comfort. I immediately noticed that touch extra leg room (32” versus BA’s 31”) as well as the surprisingly helpful extra seat width. Then I also quickly noticed the ‘SICMA seats and lumbar-support’ tucking into the small of my back. Along with a neck pillow, this support made it the easiest flight to sleep in the sitting position that I have ever experienced.

 

Halloween Trick – I had bought the ticket on the Internet and like many places was supposed to present the card that I bought the ticket with to the check-in desk. The only thing is that last week we lost one of our Mastcard cards and had to have it replaced (and new number issued). As a result, when I showed up with the replacement card to the check-in, Sir Lankan Airlines made me reissue the ticket on the card at an extra cost of £30. Lesson – If you have to have a new card, still keep the old card if you need to present it in order to check-in to an online purchased flight.

Tip – Get left side of plane window seat (not over wing) going to Maldives and right side departing. This way you are positioned best for one of the most spectacular aerial views as you first hit the archipelago (see below).

airline wiindow shot of Maldives

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Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 1: Flying BA’s new non-stop service

BA 2043 to Male

Hmmm. For the longest time I swore off booking separate resort bookings and commercial flight bookings. Such an approach gave one much more flexibility, but I could never get a deal that matched the complete package prices and the fine service of the tour operators. They got (a) special pricing from the resorts, and (b) flew cut rate charters like Monarch. Furthermore, my loyalty was secured a few years ago by great customer service from Kuoni. The Iraq War had started messing up air space in the Middle East and wreaking havoc with the flights. It could have been a situation of high stress and inconvenience (waiting interminably at Male airport). Instead, the local Kuoni rep was on top of everything and called us to reassure us and tell us to just relax by the pool until the update plans were sorted. It turned a potentially stressed situation into an extra free day of holiday and earned us loyalty for life.

This time, however, we were finding it difficult to locate a deal that left and returned on days which suited the somewhat less flexible family members this go around. The clincher was BAs new direct service to Male which I am flying on as I write this sentence. Today’s flight is the third one flown as it was just launched this week. BA has a number of attractive deals which made the flight portion reasonably attractive – about £500 per person.

That just meant finding a resort. I thought that this would be the easy part and was stunned at how difficult it was. First the web sites. Amazing how clumsy, awkward and difficult many of the resort’s websites were to book dates. I quickly abandoned this approach and thanks to Skype could make inexpensive phone calls to speak directly to a human being. This is where the language barrier came in. The Maldivian (and other nationality staff who often work at resorts) speak fine English for basic questions on familiar areas (“where is the restaurant?”, “how do I book and excursion?”). For more complicated subjects like discussing booking options, the conversations actually became quite laboured. In the end, I turned to Destinology which was recommended by a TripAdvisor forum member. They provided excellent service in finding a great rate for a resort and sorting out all the paperwork and logistics (eg. transfers to the island).

We are going to the 5-star resort Kurumba which also came to about £500 per person for room and board. So the whole deal comes to about £1000 per person (closer to £1200 when all the taxes, charges, etc. are loaded in) which is about a low a price as I could find for any resort. And those other resorts had a lot more constraints when I was researching the package route.

Now that I am on the BA flight, I’m not sure I will ever do package again. If the prices can stay comparable and the web makes the booking logistics relatively easy, then the commercial flight is soooo much better. More comfy seats, more service (advance online check in – no queues), frequent flyer points, in flight on-demand entertainment, amenities, free snacks and drinks. The whole experience is more relaxed and comfortable.