Options for Getting to the Maldives Using Miles

john said,

I have an upcoming trip to MLE on CX using AA award. I’m having a hard time getting excited as the HKG to CMB leg is in old school regional business class and arrives in CMB at 23:00. There is a 9 hour layover in CMB before the morning flight to MLE. What do you do in CMB with a 9 hour layover in CMB? I wish there was a better way to get to MLE.

John is using his American Airlines miles to fly Cathay Pacific to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

He actually wants to go to the Maldives, but that can be a bit of a challenge. There aren’t that many flights in and out of Male, the capital, on ‘alliance’ carriers — those you can use your miles for most of the time.

So many people do wind up flying to Colombo instead. It’s less than 500 miles from the Male, and also one of the lease expensive places in the world to buy airline tickets from. But it’s n extra flight, and not always a convenient place to transit.

In this case, Cathay flights arrive quite late (or even, 3 days a week, after midnight). Personally I’d grab a hotel room for the night instead of hanging around the airport.

There’s been a pretty good increase in options to the Maldives, though, that would actually now discourage me from the Colombo route unless absolutely necessary.

Last year I flew to the Maldives from Singapore on Singapore Airlines. Business class availability is great using Singapore’s own miles (which can be transferred in from American Express Membership Rewards and from Starwood, but awards do entail fuel surcharges).

I plan to take another trip there, this time using American Airlines miles to fly Etihad. Oddly, American will only allow you to fly to the Maldives from the US originating in certain cities. American’s routing rules are somewhat odd, the ‘overwater carrier’ has to publish a fare from your origin to your destination in order to book the trip without spending extra miles, and Etihad doesn’t publish Male fares from all North American cities.

Oneworld is getting a whole bunch of new options to the Maldives since both Malaysia Airlines (which serves Male from Kuala Lumpur) and Sri Lankan will be joining the alliance. Qater is expected to join oneworld as well, and the Middle East is a great way to transit enroute to the Maldives. You’ll be able to use your miles in a whole bunch of new ways to get all the way there. It isn’t just three times a week service on British Airways from Gatwick anymore!

With Delta miles you’ll likely lose the ability to fly Malaysia once it joins oneworld but there are new flights to Male three times a week on Korean via Seoul. And there’s twice a week service on China Southern via Guangzhou (and there’s good award space to Guangzhou from Los Angeles, albeit with fuel surcharges).

Using United or US Airways miles (or Aeroplan miles, etc) in addition to the Singapore option I flew last year there’s now Turkish via Istanbul. And there’s still the possibility of flying Thai Airways to Colombo. There’s an Austrian flight from Vienna to Male, but I have never seen award seats available for it.

The Maldives isn’t easily reached, but in many ways that’s the point, when you are there you are very much secluded. Not a place for being very active, many resorts are on their own atoll and you’re very much stuck. What’s more, the remote location means that it’s often quite an expensive destination. But it’s also a beautiful place, and a wonderful way to really unplug.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thanks. It will be interesting to see if the KE availability ever opens up to Delta. Also found Singapore Air had pretty good availability to the Maldives using United miles last time I checked few weeks ago.

  2. I didn’t think there were any Eithiad flights to MLE from the US. What cities do they publish fares for?

    It might be very cool to fly CX from LAX-HKG-CMB (via SIN or BKK), and then CMB-MLE (I want to see Sri Lanka too) and then continue MLE to US on Eithiad (assuming I can do one ways on Eithiad using AA miles). I’d be knocking off 3 bucket list items (Sri Lanka, Maldives, RTW) in one trip!

    Thanks for the very useful post.

  3. I just booked China Southern’s service to MLE. The connection time is not the best (10h layover in CAN) but it’s a nice option with just one stop to MLE.

  4. I currently have LAX-ICN booked with Skymiles on KE. Several DL agents on several calls maintain they cant even see ICN-MLE on KE in their system for a revenue ticket, let alone a Skymiles ticket. They say it hasn’t been loaded yet. Any thoughts on this Gary? Do you think this get’s loaded after the flight begins in March?

  5. Off topic, but I was wondering if there’s any way to use my AA miles to get to Germany without paying the huge taxes? My daughter and family are being deployed to Germany for 4 years and while I do have a good supply of UA miles and UR points I’ve got a boatload of AA miles that I’ve used to Asia but I’d really like to send more family over there using these miles too. I’ve looked on Expert flyer and the AA site but all combinations out of ORD going east seem to come up with the big tax hit. Any suggestions?

  6. Don’t forget another great option – Emirates! They fly to Male (twice daily on some days) via Dubai. You can book Emirates award tickets using Korean Airlines (UR transfer) or Japan Airlines (SPG transfer).

  7. Joediver,

    Did you checked for Airberlin flights? They offer to 2 flights per day (1 to DUS and 1 to TXL). Thay do not charge fuel surcharges.

  8. @Gary

    There is one (and possibly only one) saving grace about routing through CMB: CMB is an Asia 2 award, MLE is an Indian Subcontinent award. The difference? 45,000 miles/pp. You could get an add-on flight on Sri Lankan using BA miles for 9000 miles r/t in coach.

  9. @Joediver: You can use Air Berlin to Fly to Dusseldorf or Berlin Tegel using AA miles. Also currently its an off season so one-way economy is just 20k miles from US. Also you can book it at aa.com

  10. Gary- thank you for the very informative post. I will try to research some of the options you outlined to see if there is an easier way.

    I have one question about your comment on getting a hotel instead of staying in the CMB airport for 9 hours. I understand that there is a day hotel within the airport that I believe sells rooms in 6 hour intervals. Would you stay at that hotel or leave the airport premises? I haven’t never been to COL, so I do not know if there are any other reasonable options in close proximity. THANKS

  11. TJ- Did you use Korean miles for the China Southern flights? I believe Korean does not allow one way awards. Is that what you found as well?

  12. +John B I used Delta miles as a mini-RTW SJC-LAX-CAN-MLE(OJ)DXB-SVO-LAX-SJC. Takes some convincing. Fuel surcharges are about $200.

  13. +Kadence you can use Ethiopian/ Etihad and Kenya Airways for the Seychelles.

    KQ is really hard to find availability and even harder to get Delta to book it.

    EY is expensive if you are using AA miles for a regional award (a bit better for US originating awards).

    ET rarely has business class and ADD is not such a great airport.

    So I’m actually flying to MLE just to get to CMB and then continue in EK to SEZ 🙂

  14. I am using miles to get in/out of the Maldives:

    JRO-DOH-MLE (Qatar using United miles, option no longer available)

    MLE-AUH-DUS-JFK (Etihad to Air Berlin using American miles)

  15. I really don’t get all the hype about the Maldives. The overpriced overwater bungalos are a rip-off from French Polynesia (where they originated) and without the beautiful mountains or the culture. If you’re into islands in that part of the world, there’s also Mauritius and the Seychelles, among others. I get that the Maldives is a tropical oasis and a divers paradise, but so are a lot of other places in the world that don’t cost nearly as much and are far easier to get to. Maybe that’s just the part I don’t get and what people are willing to pay for- the “exclusivity”.

  16. From the East Coast, you could also go IAD-DXB on United and then either use AA miles with Etihad or buy a cheap fare on Sri Lankan. If you have a relationship with either Qatar or Emirates, that works too.

  17. In response to John’s query about what to do with a hotel, I recommend strongly that he not trek into Colombo for a hotel. Colombo traffic is atrocious at almost any time of day, and the airport is very far north of the city. Instead, I would recommend leaving the airport to stay at one of the Jetwing hotels in nearby Negombo. (Jetwing is a Sri Lankan hotel company that owns quite a number of plush, design-savvy hotels around the island.) Sleep in the room or nap on the beach. On your next trip, plan a stopover in Sri Lanka — stay on a tea planation at Tea Trails, stay in the old Dutch fort city of Galle (Amangalla is easily one of the world’s best and most historic, hotels), visit the temples of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, and go on safari in Yala.

    BTW, Colombo airport is shockingly shiny-new and efficient. Immigration took 10 minutes. Bags were on the belt by the time we exited immigration. What an amazing contrast with any airport in India.

    As for hulagrrl210’s comments, I agree completely. The Maldives resorts are entirely cut off from anything involving Maldivians or Maldivian culture. If you want a posh, anonymous, western-oriented beach vacation — and many expats living in south Asia want just that — or if you care only about diving, the Maldives is your place. If you want an exotic beach vacation immersed in local food, wildlife (leopards, elephants, blue whales, and amazing birds), Buddhist temples, and incredibly scenery, go to Sri Lanka’s south coast. You can take the new expressway to the south coast (what was a 4-hour trip is now a 75-minute trip) and bypass Colombo entirely.

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