Maldives Destination Guide: Getting There

Information on flying to the Maldives is grouped by airlines, alphabetically, that serve the main airport on Male (MLE). Under each airline I give some basic information on which points program you can utilize to get there via that particular carrier.

Aeroflot Have twice weekly service between Moscow (DME) and Male (DME-MLE on Wed and Sat, MLE-DME on Thu and Sun). You can connect on from DME to a multitude of major European (London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam Schipol etc), North American (New York Kennedy, Washington DC Dulles, Los Angeles LAX) and Asian (Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo etc) destinations. Aeroflot is a member of the SkyTeam alliance meaning you can use miles from programs such as Delta SkyMiles or AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue – both of whom are 1:1 transfer partners of American Express Membership rewards. Availability can be checked using a tool like ExpertFlyer, and business class books into O class which may not mean much but is the “standard” business booking class for many SkyTeam partners and means it will be a little easier for the average Delta customer service agent to book. I have not researched availability extensively but it looks like coach is readily available, but not so much in business on the DME-MLE route. But there was some availability so with flexibility this can well work out. Aeroflot use an angled lie-flat seat product in business on a 767 for this route (they use Airbus A330’s with a similar product for the US)

So a great sample itinerary would be a one-stop connection to Maldives from New York flying Aeroflot JFK-DME-MLE for 120,000 Delta SkyMiles (SkyPesos indeed!) in business class or just 60,000 in coach. You could even add a stop-over in Moscow en route.

Air India Serve MLE from a few destinations such as Thiruvananthapuram (TRV), Chennai (MAA) and Bangalore (BLR). Air India are not a member of any alliance and I am not familiar with their program but they are listed as partners with Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. Now I cannot for the life of me imagining ever using Singapore Airlines miles to fly on Air India (maybe vice versa!) but including this for completeness sake as it may fit a niche. Info on using SQ miles (again an Amex transfer partner) can be found here.

Bangkok Airways (PG) has 4 times a week service from, er, Bangkok to Maldives on an Airbus A319. They have their own frequent flyer program FlyingBonus which has some bank and credit card affiliates but that is likely a very narrow niche. However they do partner up with AirBerlin and Etihad. While again if I had Etihad miles I’d probably want to use them on Etihad itself not Bangkok Airways but that said if I was stuck in Bangkok and it was my only way out it’s an option worth knowing about.

British Airways fly from London Gatwick three times weekly to MLE. That makes it less ideal for those wanting to connect from the USA as most flights get into London Heathrow, although there are some exceptions primarily in the popular vacation destinations in Florida like Orlando and Tampa. BA use their 3-Class 777 on this route so no first class but they do have an excellent fully flat bed business class product. The big gotcha for BA is the extortionate fuel surcharges that apply on award bookings, regardless of which mileage program you try to book through. Availability is a mixed bag – in off season it is quite accessible with sometime 6 or 7 business class seats available on several flights, but inside the UK school holiday periods such as April and August it is virtually impossible to get an award.

Good availability – sample for two in June 2013

Flight times are nice and see “only” 6 reward seats left!

Ouch! This is where it all goes wrong… 200k PLUS $1,721? Not so free…

Because of the high fuel surcharges and awkward connections from Gatwick I struggle to recommend this option, but it may make sense for some particularly if you live in or around London. Also you can use AA miles to book on BA – the mileage requirements are generally better (the above trip would be just 120k miles round trip from LGW for two people) but the surcharges are about the same.

 

 

Cathay Pacific offers 4 times weekly service between Hong Kong and Male, with flights departing Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday in the early evening Hong Kong time, arriving around 9pm local time, and then turning around and arriving back in Hong Kong the following mornings (Monday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday). The route is served with Cathay’s internationally configured Airbus A330-300 planes with their excellent business class product, along with economy plus and regular economy.

Availability is generally very good with 2 seats in business class regularly available (even more as you get closer in if the flights are empty), and several seats in economy plus and coach. BA charge fuel surcharges of around $275 per person round-trip to HKG (in all classes), AA do not.

This provides a great option for one stop service from any of Cathay’s North American gateways (New York/Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver, or even Dallas when American launches service) using AA or BA miles. However AA’s archaic routing rules mean it would require two awards to do a one stop, one from America to Asia and another from Asia to Middle East. Similarly BA miles are priced segment by segment. For this particular routing one of the best options is going to be AA’s “OneWorld” awards. These awards are distance based and allow stopovers. However you do have to incorporate at least two OneWorld carriers not including AA itself. So you could combine with one of the other carriers such as Malaysian or even Qatar to create a great mini round the world trip. By way of example you could fly JFK-HKG-MLE on Cathay with a stopover in Hong Kong and then MLE-DOH-JFK with a stopover in Doha on the way back for just 130,000 AA miles in business class. That is fantastic value! You could even use Avios to add some additional city-hopping around DOH and HKG.

China Eastern has three times a week service between Male and Colombo in Sri Lanka and on to Kumming (KMG) in South-West China and on again to Shanghai PVG. China Eastern is part of SkyTeam so you can use Delta miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards converted to Korean Air, or Amex Membership Rewards converted to Air France/KLM FlyingBlue to book.

For those of us in the USA this option is of limited value given the number of connections to get to Shanghai, but it may have it’s place for some of you. It does show how China is now a BIG market for Maldives tourism.

Availability can be checked on ExpertFlyer and appears to be wide open with 4 business and 9+ coach seats available on many dates.

China Southern (CZ) has twice weekly from Guan Zou (CAN) to MLE. Interestingly they also have A380 service from CAN to Los Angeles (LAX) and so this could be a very interesting option for those on the West coast. The flight into MLE is on a regional 777-200, which has a pretty old looking business class product.

China Southern is a SkyTeam member so this means you can use Delta SkyMiles or KoreanAir SkyPass miles (converted from Chase Ultimate Rewards) or Air France/KLM FlyingBlue (converted from American Express Membership Rewards) to book this option. This looks another interesting option for using Delta SkyMiles.

Availability can be checked using ExpertFlyer, and appears to be pretty good (and availability on the A380 service from LAX is wide open). Business books into I class and coach into O, so be careful booking with Delta as many Delta agents think all business class books into O class:

A round trip from the USA should cost 120,000 Delta SkyMiles in business class with the ability to a stopover in China on the way. This could be a useful option for European travelers too, with CZ now having thrice weekly service from London Heathrow. In theory this should only cost 80,000 Delta SkyMiles. Delta do charge a fuel surcharge on CZ, but I understand it is not outrageous. With one-stop service from LAX to MLE, with the long leg on a nicely kitted out A380, I think this is one of the most attractive routings for West Coast based travelers to the Maldives

Emirates has two daily direct flights from it’s home hub in Dubai and MLE, along with two flights from Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB). The DXB flights provide three class (First, Business and Coach) into MLE so Emirate is one of only two airlines (the other being Korean Air) you can fly to the Maldives to in First Class. Availability can be checked using ExpertFlyer and generally seems to be pretty decent as long as you are flexible with dates.

The best options for US based travelers to redeem on Emirates are either through their partnership with Alaskan Airlines, or by converting SPG points into JAL Mileage Bank miles. The latter has a particular attractive award for flying to the Maldives from the USA:

jal_mileage_partner_awards

Of particular interest is the total trip distance bracket of 14,000 to 20,000 miles. This would cover both the shortest (JFK-DXB-MLE) and longest (SEA-DXB-MLE) routings from the USA to the Maldives, all one stop from Emirates’ numerous US gateway cities. Business Class on any of these routes is just 100,000 JAL Mileage Bank Miles, which would only require 80,000 Starwood SPG points. For the more frugally minded coach would be an exceptionally cheap 60k JAL or 48k SPG, and for the more lavish 124k SPG would get in you in that 160k First Class cabin complete with closed-in suites and in-air showers. JAL Mileage Bank partner awards also allow stop-overs, so this could be a great way to combine a Maldives and Dubai two-center vacation.

For Alaskan Airlines, redemptions are 85,000 round-trip in Economy, 145,000 in Business and 180,000 in First Class. This is a pretty reasonable option for those of you with lots of Alaskan miles (think those who have churned multiple Bank of America Alaskan credit cards) but not quite as attractive as the JAL Mileage Bank option. Alaskan does allow for one way awards for half the price.

You can read my trip reports of flying Emirates to the Maldives here and here.

 

Etihad has daily service to MLE from their home in Abu Dhabi (AUH) in the United Arab Emirates, with an extensive network on from AUH to the Americas, Europe and Asia/Australasia. From North America they fly to and from New York, Chicago, Toronto, Washington DC and Los Angeles. The flight between AUH and MLE is on a two-class regional A320. Awards can be redeemed either through Etihad’s own Etihad Guest program – which is a transfer partner airline with Starwood Preferred Guest – or through their partnership with American Airlines, or by transferring SPG or Amex Membership Rewards to ANA, who are also a partner.

Availability can be checked by signing up for their Etihad Guest program. Etihad Guest can show two types of availability, “GuestSeat” which is what you are looking for, and “OpenSeat” which is only available to Etihad Guest redeemers and is generally very expensive. See this sample search between New York and Abu Dhabi in First Class for four people:

Now while 888,016 miles (which would mean transferring some 710k SPG points!) may be a lot of miles, it is amazing how much first class availability Etihad open up. And they have a phenomenal First Class product with full close-door suites:

Coach availability is also excellent and business is good, but I have found it hard to find more than two seats in business on the same flight.

Redeeming using AA miles is somewhat complicated by the fact that you have to use what are called AA All Partner Awards, and one of the odd rules of those awards is that the carrier that you use to fly over the ocean must publish at least one fare between your origin and destination. What does that mean? Well say I wanted to fly from Raleigh to Maldives, that would be something like RDU-JFK on AA, JKF-AUH-MLE on Etihad. However in order to be valid, Etihad (the carrier on the JFK-AUH transoceanic segment) must publish a fare RDU-MLE. And in this case, they don’t. They publish a fare RDU-AUH so you end up having to book two separate awards. In fact in general Etihad do not publish fares between USA cities and destinations like the Maldives or Seychelles other than the cities they serve directly. It may make sense if you wish to fly to the Maldives from the USA to book a separate AA flight using BA Avios to get to an Etihad gateway city like NYC, and then book NYC-MLE using AA.  Etihad do now publish fares between MLE and their USA gateways. Another workaround is to fly via London on British Airways (as BA do publish more fares from MLE) but that will add huge amounts of fuel surcharges and taxes, as well as making a longer trip.

Alternatively, transfer SPG or Amex Membership Rewards to ANA and you can book a round trip between the US and MLE without such a restriction, and you can even include stopovers on the way there and back. However the only restriction here is you can only book an award on Etihad (or Etihad plus ANA) so if you do not live at an Etihad gateway city you will either need to buy a ticket to get there or combine with another word (say for example a cheap Avios connection on AA). However ANA also charge fuel surcharges, and they are also huge. They run approximately $450 each way. So using American Airlines miles is far more attractive.

You can read my trip report of traveling on Etihad from the Maldives here and here.

Korean-Air

Korean Air: Have three-times-a-week service from Seoul Incheon (ICN) to Male via Colombo in Sri Lanka, and using a three-class Airbus A330 joins Emirates in providing First Class services to the Maldives.

To book in First Class you will need to use Korean Air miles, which can be obtained converting Chase Ultimate Rewards.

To book in Business or Coach you can use Korean Air miles transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Air France FlyingBlue miles converted from American Express, or Delta points.

Availability in First Class can be checked using ExpertFlyer but for coach or business you will have to work with the phone agents of whoever you are trying to book with.

Korean Air Regional First Class

Korean Air Regional First Class, courtesy of KoreanAir.com

 

Malaysia Airlines: Have daily service between Kuala Lumpar (KUL) and MLE on a regionally configured 737. Availability can be checked on their web site or via ExpertFlyer. Availability is pretty good, though the return flight MLE-KUL is an overnight flight which I don’t think I’d be that attracted to on a 737. It would be similar to a typical West-East coast US red-eye flight.

Malaysia Airlines joined OneWorld on 1st February 2013 and can be booked with AA AAdvantage miles or with BA Avios. AA do not currently levy fuel surcharges on award bookings, but BA does. However to get from the USA to the Maldives on Malaysia will require two awards, one from the USA to Kuala Lumpar and then another form Kuala Lumpar to Maldives.

To do KUL-MLE roundtrip would cost:

45k AA miles in coach or 60k AA miles in business
50k Delta miles in coach or 70k Delta miles in business
20k BA Avios miles in coach or 40k BA Avios miles in business plus fuel surcharges of ~ $300 per person

Qatar: Qatar has twice daily service to and from MLE from their home in Doha (DOH). They use a regional configured Airbus A320 for the   2,056 mile journey. From DOH there are excellent onward connections to much of the world. For North American passengers there are flights to New York JFK, Washington DC IAD, Philadelphia, Montreal YUL and Houston IAH.

Qatar is now a OneWorld alliance member and you can use either AAdvantage miles or BA Avios points to book award travel.

Qatar’s excellent looking 777 Business Class, courtesy of theage.com.au

Availability is generally very good and I have been able to find flights from all the North American cities to DOH throughout the year and the onward connections to MLE are good too, though often that last leg is only available in coach but that is not too bad for a relatively short hop across the Indian Ocean. Availability can be checked using British Airways website www.ba.com.

Singapore Airlines has twice daily service from it’s home in Singapore (SIN)  to MLE. They use a mid-haul configured Airbus A340 which is actually a really nice product, very similar to what the likes of Air France or American Airlines use for their long haul business class.

I have taken this routing myself twice and can say it is a very good flight with a very comfortable seat along with Singapore Airlines famous top class service and in flight entertainment. It is probably second only to Emirates or Korean First Class in terms of quality of product flying directly into MLE. You can read my trip report on this flight here.

Until recently booking this flight with points meant using Singapore Airlines’ own KrisFlyer program (an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner) but SQ has now opened up this flight for partner awards and availability is generally quite open in both Business and Economy. It is often possible to get four or more seats in either class on the same flight. Availability can be checked on-line using the ANA award tool.

Tip: One real bargain  is if you just want to book SIN-MLE roundtrip it only costs 30,000 US Air miles in Business class. We booked this exact trip in 2010 and it was a great value. This option will sadly end when US exits Star Alliance


SriLankan has multiple daily flights between MLE and Colombo (CMB). Many people have used miles to fly to CMB and then paid cash for the short hop flight down to MLE. SriLankan is now also a member of OneWorld and as such you can use American AAdvantage Miles or BA Avios to book award tickets.

Turkish Airlines begins 5-days-a-week service from Istanbul to Maldives on November 24th 2012. This gives a new one-stop service option from Chicago, New York and several European cities for Star Alliance flyers. The flight to MLE is an overnight flight leaving at 8:25pm arriving just after 7am local time, and the return turns around at around 9am getting back into IST in the middle of the afternoon. They are using Airbus A330’s on the route which have a  decent looking angled lie-flat business class product, though it’s a lengthy 3,751 mile trip so similar to an US East Coast to Europe red-eye.

Availability is pretty good and can be checked online at various sites, my favorite being United.com:

 

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  • Your #1 Fan

    Besides BA, which bends you over with fees, none of these airlines are ones that are easily to accumulate points on. Would be great to see a section that shows you how to get there with AA, UA or even Delta miles. How would you recommend someone w/AA and UA miles to get there?

    • MilesAbound

      If you read through the detail you will see I do explain which programs you can use for each airline, but it’s a good suggestion and I will add a table summary. For UA I think the best option is Turkish Airlines via IST. For AA the best option is Etihad via AUH

  • Your #1 Fan

    Figured it was there if I read it all, but was too lazy when I didn’t recognize the airlines, but thanks for the tips!

  • AAP

    Very thorough, thank you for putting this together. I used 120K United Miles for business class LAX to DEL to MLE roundtrip. I had to pay for cheap flights within India as part of my travel.

    My routing:
    United LAX > EWR > DEL (open jaw)
    Singapore MLE > SIN (connection)
    ANA SIN > NRT (connection)
    United NRT > LAX

    It’s a long way to the Maldives from the US, so ideally you can break it up and visit other parts of Asia along the way.

    • AAP

      I should have mentioned this was not hassle-free. The toughest award segment was 2 seats (business or economy) from MLE to SIN on he same flight. Singapore Airlines has 2 flights on some days, so initially I booked 1 seat on each flight. I checked daily to see if a 2nd seat would open up on either flight for 2 months. Just 3 days before our date of departure, the 2nd business class seat on the same flight opened up. Had to call UA from the Maldives using my computer and Google Voice, wait on hold for 60 minutes, while they dealt with Singapore. When we got on the plane, only 3 of us in business class and 21 empty seats. No idea what Singapore was thinking. Better to fill those seats with award travelers than no travelers.

      • MilesAbound

        Thanks for the info AAP. Singapore are generally very protective of their premium cabins, preferring to fly them empty than with mileage redemptions. Given their financial results, I am not sure it is that wise. They tend to release a lot of coach awards between MLE and SIN but business is hard though not impossible to find.

  • MilesAbound

    I just updated the Etihad and Qatar sections.

    Etihad because I just realized they are also an ANA partner, so you can use SPG or Amex Membership Rewards transfered to ANA to book them. And with no YQ and a good reward chart, this is probably the single best option in my opinion for redeeming from East Coast USA to the Maldives (105k in business or 160k in first class round trip with ability to do stopovers on the way and back in Abu Dhabi)

    Qatar I updated because I had forgotten to mention they charge hefty YQ fees and right now the only way to book them is the same trick with ANA. As far as I know ANA does charge YQ where the carrier charges it so this makes this option far less attractive. Let’s hope when they join OneWorld that AA don’t pass on the YQ fees (fingers crossed!)

  • MilesAbound

    Edited Malaysian Airlines to confirm OneWorld membership as at 1st Feb 2013

  • MilesAbound

    Added China Eastern. I did not realize they flew there until I flew back from Maldives and one of their very colorful planes was next to us at the gate 🙂

  • MilesAbound

    Actually looks like ANA do charge YQ on Etihad, and it is very expensive. So updated that section. It is rather complex as it is not listed under “YQ” under the fare breakdown but it is listed as a separate fuel surcharge and ANA have wised up and now charge it 🙁

  • Julian

    This is awesome. Thanks so much for putting this together!

  • Andrew

    Very very nice article – thank you for putting it together. One possible, and minor update: I believe it’s possible to check Korean award availability on their own site. While the drawback is that it doesn’t show you exactly how many seats remain, I find it quicker and much easier to “see” than EF (which admittedly I have little experience with). Go to Skypass -> Award booking and then choose your segment, where it allows you to choose class of service also. From there it shows you high/med/low availability, and then further the availability on each day/flight (but not # of seats available). I hope I’m seeing this right, please correct me if I’m wrong 🙂 Thanks again.

    • Andrew

      Ah. Nevermind – I now see the error in my ways. The link I describe is for “bonus awards” – which I’ve come to realize are not the standard award bucket. I knew I was “missing” something and surely it wasn’t that easy. Carry on…. 🙂

  • HK

    How about Maldivian airlines?

    • MilesAbound

      HK – I did not include them as there is no way I know of to use points to book them.

  • Julian

    You should add Cathay Pacific to the list, now that they fly into MLE directly.

    • MilesAbound

      Good catch Julian – will get this great new option added.

    • MilesAbound

      I’ve added details of Cathay Pacific. While the “traditional” AA awards are bad value due to the routing rules, this is a great route to combine with Qatar for a round-the-world for 130k!

      • Julian

        Sweet. I think combining it with Avios is a good option too. 12.5k to get to HKG, then use AA miles from there.

      • John talstad

        is this 130k rt? Do you have an example itin? Thanks!