My Favorite Starpoints Redemption Ever

In mid-September I wrote about the SPG “Paradise Just Got Closer” promotion, whereby select Starwood resorts can be booked for 35% fewer Starpoints. The promotion is valid for stays through March 8, 2016, and seems to be an annual promotion offered by Starwood.

SPG-Resorts

These are resorts which are otherwise quite expensive when redeeming points, as they typically cost anywhere between 40,000 and 90,000 Starpoints per night.

One property which has always intrigued me is Al Maha, the desert resort not far from Dubai. It’s ordinarily 60,000 Starpoints per night, but through this promotion can be booked for 39,000 Starpoints per night. That’s still a lot of Starpoints, given what a valuable currency they are.

But this property is really unique:

  • All rooms are standalone villas with plunge pools
  • All rates at this hotel include full board (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
  • All rates at this hotel include two activities per day, like dune bashing, camel riding, falconry, etc.

I decided to book a two night stay here, and outlined my reasoning and the booking process a couple of weeks back. The cheapest paid rate over our dates was ~$1,700 per night, so at 39,000 Starpoints it was quite a deal.

Al-Maha-Rate

I’m about to wrap up my stay, and while I’ll have a full trip report soon, I just can’t help myself in at least sharing my initial thoughts.

Wow, wow, wow, WOW!

WOW!

This is my new favorite SPG property anywhere in the world. I’ve had some amazing SPG redemptions over the years (like taking my parents to the St. Regis Bal Harbour over Christmas), but this hands down ranks as my favorite ever. By a long shot.

Where do I even begin?

The rooms

The hotel has slightly over 40 villas, all of which are private and feature plunge pools. The rooms are gorgeous, and the hotel’s website really doesn’t do them justice.

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Not only are the villas gorgeous and authentic-feeling, but they’re well appointed. The bed was massive (I’d have to guess it was even bigger than a California King), and one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in. Not something you expect in the desert.

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The bathroom was equally gorgeous, and well appointed. It was stocked with BVLGARI toiletries.

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And then there was a large plunge pool overlooking the desert, with a huge deck.

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We had a direct view of the sunrise every morning. Absolutely heavenly.

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There are gazelles roaming around the entire property. Hundreds of them. They’re so adorable, and aren’t shy about paying you a visit on your patio.

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The rooms were just fantastic.

The food

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included. You can choose to have any meal either in the hotel’s restaurant, or via room service at no additional cost.

And the food was top notch. We had breakfast in the restaurant both mornings, which consisted of a buffet, and then you could order as many things as you wanted from the menu.

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We had lunch via room service both days, and you could order anything you wanted from a huge menu, with up to three courses.

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Our gazelle friend quite seemed to enjoy the bread basket as well!

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And then you could have dinner at the restaurant, with great views of the desert.

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The dinner consisted of five courses, and the food was excellent. Not only was there a huge menu, but if you wanted something else the chefs were happy to oblige and prepare it for you as well.

What kind of food was on offer? They had sashimi grade fish with caviar as a starter, for example.

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And then a pretty great lobster thermidor as a main course.

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And that’s just two of the five courses.

Generally all inclusive resorts aren’t exactly known for the quality of their food, though this one was an exception.

The activities

Two activities are included per day, and you can choose from all the “traditional” desert options.

There were camel rides…

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Dune bashing…

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And a pretty amazing falconry show (including one of the falcons flying away and not coming back, which added to the entertainment value).

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While I wasn’t really into holding the falcon, Ford quite enjoyed holding Khaleesi, the Peregrine Falcon.

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The service

The service was incredible. I’m a tough critic of service, but it was just about flawless. Which is sort of incredible, given how involved everything is. The villas are so spread out that you need golf carts to get between everything. They were always on-time, room service orders were always correct and prompt, and the execution on everything was sublime.

For example, Tiffany and her husband overlapped with our stay, so we had dinner for four one night. Our dishes were brought out by four servers, and all placed on the table in unison. They all had lids, and all four of them were removed at exactly the same millisecond.

Bottom line

I’ll have a more detailed trip report soon, but I wanted to get this post out as soon as possible to encourage people to stay here. This property is gorgeous, and even at 39,000 Starpoints per night (which is more than I’ve otherwise ever spent for one night at an SPG property), it was an absolute bargain.

The resort is gorgeous, the views are amazing, the wildlife is beautiful and integrated into the resort, and the food was great.

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And perhaps best of all is how easy Al Maha is to get to. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Dubai.

I’d return in a heartbeat, and can’t recommend this hotel enough. Perhaps along with my stays at Amans in Bali, it’s the most perfect hotel stay I’ve ever had.

Has anyone else stayed at Al Maha, or have plans to visit it soon?

Comments

  1. Ah!…a pic of the boy. Congrats, he’s handsome. On a side note, any issues with two men sharing a room at this resort here given that it’s in Dubai? Hubby and I would love to check it out sometime.

  2. Any problems as a couple? I’m debating this resort with my husband, but I’m a little nervous about local laws re being gay. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  3. I have the same question as DP and Chad. I’ve traveled pretty extensively in the Gulf, but always by myself, on business. Never thought of it as the kind of place I could take my partner. If you guys could share a bungalow in the desert, maybe I need to re-think? Would love to hear more about your experience in the Gulf as a same-sex couple.

  4. This sounds amazing. I’m looking forward to reading about the activities, etc. I might have to do this too.

  5. I’ll take your word for it that pictures doesn’t do this place justice, because based on the pictures, it looks rather blah. I’d much rather have an awesome ocean or city view over that barren desert view. And the bathroom doesn’t look great by any means.

  6. is alcohol included as well or is it extra? you would think it would be included at 1700$ a night but it is a country where many do not drink.

  7. The web site states children are welcome. Any info on how they would charge on points for a teenager sharing with parents would be greatly appreciated. It looks wonderful…hope to go some day!

  8. Lucky

    The trip looks amazing, but damm that was super expensive. Even on points

    40k= 5 nights (any spg cat 4) Street value $960
    or
    80k= 2 night (Al Maha Cat 7) Street value $1920

    Just curious why didnt you choose another SPG property to compare experiences? I think the W or le Merdian would be great, thanks

  9. Just saw that SAS will start service from Boston to Copenhagen on there 737-700. 20 biz class. 66 economy

  10. Which one is better for a 3 night stay: Qasr Al Sarab or Al Maha? I haven’t been to either but we’re going in March and I’ve been planning on going visiting Qasr Al Sarab.

  11. This reminds me quite a bit of the villa where I stayed in Bali. Just replace desert with rice terraces.

    That’s a heck of a lot of starpoints, but it does look great!

  12. I love stargazing and have often wanted to try a desert resort that featured some sort of astronomical activity. Did you notice any stargazing activities going on? How clear were the night skies given Al Maha’s proximity to Dubai’s light pollution?

    I would revert to an exuberant 8 year old boy if I got to interact with gazelles and falcons!!

    I would also be curious to hear how Al Maha reacted to a gay couple.

  13. Thanks for the awesome review. We’re so excited about our own visit to Al Maha — just a few weeks away. Yeah, it was a crap-ton of points (saved up over years), but from reading this review, it sounds like we made the right choice to take advantage of the sale.

    We already had a positive service experience with SPG and Al Maha after a mix-up with booking, and we’re not even there yet!

  14. All the questions!

    How did you find this resort compared to Qsar Al Sarab?

    The scenery looks better at Qsar al Sarab, but the proximity to Dubai and the nicer villa might make up for it. Maybe.

  15. No problem staying here as a gay couple, me(A&F-collegiate) and husbear stayed together and no weird questions or looks by staff. Only at one excursion were we adressed as father and son by another guest .

    Besides dune bashing, falconry, there is also horse riding, desert/wildlife drive, nature walk, sundowners/camel trek, archery.

    The distances between the bungalows are quite even spread and at night perfect for looking at the stars or swim as nature intended. Much better then taking a golf cart everywhere, it is great to walk with camera in hand and spot the Arabian oryx leisurely walking in the resorts common grounds. And the bungalows have Nespresso coffeemachines.

    Transport is usually included to/from the city and you will personally welcomed and get a tour of the resort. The guides i found very knowledge able, they can tell you how they re-introduced species, got rid of non-local vegetation and how they manage the upkeep and balance of nature/environment.

    While breakfast is buffet and cooked to order, lunch/dinner is choice from appetiser, main and dessert. It has ofcourse no pork but there is a wide choice for everyone. Everything is served with complimentary ice water and they keep it topped up.

    Conclusion: it’s interesting to try this resort. It might be too remote and secluded as you can’t escape it but i think it is impressive how they could make 5star luxury in the middle of the dessert. The cost in AED/USD is high but i found the property in good condition and very conscious about the environment.

  16. I really REALLY try to avoid commenting on this issues ( I really appreciate the value of you blog for all the content), but my personal opinion is that going with your same sex partner in that conditions is really like pushing the limits, or forcing the situation.. you know what I mean.
    You have plenty of places in the world that are more appropriate and you already know this.
    Hope you played smart and got separate villas.

  17. How many nights would you recommend staying at this hotel? Since you’re really bound by hotel activities and what’s on offer there.

    Looking forward to the full review!

  18. We have a 2 night stay coming up… absolutely can’t wait. Will post up pics on Instagram. Thanks for the trip report, am super excited now!

  19. Having lived in the GCC for 8+ years and good friends with a same sex couple for many of those years, most high end properties in the UAE (I think) are evolved enough that I doubt this is even a question. Also, this has been a dream property to visit (and how did I not realize it was all inclusive!??). I wonder how you would compare it to the Banyan Tree in RAK or the Six Senses in Zighy Bay.

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