Reader rahul asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Hey Ben, need help again to wade the AA award chart. Trying to get to Male and I would like to fly EY. I’m told 90k for F from USA to AUH and 25k for C to MLE. Even though the chart says 90k to MLE. How do I get that rate?

While his question is regarding a specific issue, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to post a quick refresher of the best way to redeem American AAdvantage miles for travel to the Maldives, given that quite a few factors have changed recently.

First of all I think it’s worth recapping American’s award routing rules, since they can seem to contradict themselves at times.

  1. American will let you exceed the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for a city pair by up to 25%, but simultaneously says that you have to take the most direct routing. In practice that means you can usually route creatively, and when you get an agent that insists on taking the most direct routing you just hang up and call again.
  2. The transoceanic airline you’re flying has to publish a fare between your origin and destination. In other words, if you want to fly from Los Angeles to New York on American and then New York to London to Rome on British Airways, British Airways would have to publish a fare between the origin and destination. More on that later.
  3. With few exceptions, you can’t transit a third region on an award ticket. The Maldives is considered part of “the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent” on American’s award chart, so per the AAdvantage exception chart, the only region you can transit enroute to the Middle East is Europe.

To start, per American’s partner award chart, they charge 45,000 miles for one-way coach, 67,500 miles for one-way business class, and 90,000 miles for one-way first class between North America and the Middle East.

American-AAdvantage-Awards

With that in mind (and I promise it’ll make more sense shortly), let’s quickly talk about which of American’s partner airlines fly to the Maldives:

  • Etihad Airways: 1x daily from Abu Dhabi
  • Qatar Airways: 2x daily from Doha
  • Cathay Pacific: 4x weekly from Hong Kong (the service actually launched today)
  • Malaysia Airlines: 1x daily from Kuala Lumpur
  • British Airways: 3x weekly from London Gatwick

Maldives

With that in mind, I figured I’d quickly cover the pros and cons of using AAdvantage miles for travel on each of the above five airlines to the Maldives:

Etihad Airways 

North American gateway cities: 

  • Chicago (no first class)
  • Los Angeles (as of June 1, 2014)
  • New York
  • Toronto (no first class)
  • Washington

Many people consider Etihad Airways the best option for travel between the US and the Maldives, given that they offer a first class product on many of their US routes.

Etihad-First-Class
Etihad first class

The challenge with booking an AAdvantage award for travel on Etihad to the Maldives involves rule #2  – the transoceanic airline you’re flying has to publish a fare between your origin and destination. And Etihad Airways doesn’t publish fares between most cities in North America and the Maldives.

You’d  think they’d publish fares on their own routes, but this is sadly not the case. While Etihad publishes fares between Chicago, New York, Toronto, and the Maldives, for some reason Los Angeles and Washington don’t have published fares to the Maldives. That means if you’re originating anywhere other than Chicago, New York, or Toronto, you’ll need to book this as two separate awards.

This gets at the issue that rahul was facing. It’s a ridiculous policy, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about it.

Qatar Airways

North American gateway cities:

  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Miami (as of June 10, 2014)
  • Montreal
  • New York
  • Philadelphia (as of April 2, 2014)
  • Washington

Even though Qatar Airways is only officially joining the OneWorld alliance as of October 30, they’ve already begun a reciprocal mileage agreement with American. They have pretty decent award availability as well, from what we’ve seen so far.

Qatar-Airbus-A321
Qatar Airbus A321 in the Maldives

The catch is that Qatar doesn’t offer a first class product on any of their flights to the US. They have several other things going for them, though. First of all, they publish fares between most cities in the US and the Maldives. This means that you can redeem AAdvantage miles for a single award on Qatar Airways to the Maldives not just from one of their gateway cities in the US, but from most other cities that American flies to, which is really convenient.

The real selling point, though, is that once they join OneWorld on October 30 you’ll be able to book  Qatar using distance-based AAdvantage awards. While you’d ordinarily pay 135,000 AAdvantage miles for roundtrip business class between North America and the Maldives, through a distance based award you pay just 130,000 AAdvantage miles for up to 20,000 miles of travel. The only “catch” is that you have to fly at least two OneWorld airlines on the award, though that shouldn’t be too tough. So not only will you be able to save 5,000 miles when traveling to the Maldives from most places in the US, but you’ll also be able to have unlimited stopovers.

Cathay Pacific

North American gateway cities:

So in theory Cathay Pacific is the most tempting airline to fly from the west coast to the Maldives. They fly an Airbus A330 with a fully flat business class product from Hong Kong to the Maldives, while Etihad and Qatar fly regionally configured planes.

Cathay-Pacific-Business-Class
Cathay Pacific A330 business class

The catch involves American’s routing rules which I listed above — with few exceptions, you can’t transit a third region on an award ticket. While you can transit Europe enroute between North America and the Maldives, you can’t transit Asia.

This means you have one of two options:

Option 1: Book it as two separate award tickets. For one-way business class travel between the US and “Asia 2″ American charges 55,000 miles for business class or 67,500 miles for first class. Then for travel between “Asia 2″ and the Middle East American charges 30,000 miles for business class. So one-way you’re looking at paying 85,000 miles for business class or 97,500 miles for first class. That’s a premium of only 17,500 miles for business class over the “direct” routing, or 7,500 miles for first class over the “direct” routing.
That’s a reasonable price to pay for direct one-stop service from many places, in my opinion. Especially since you can do a stopover in Hong Kong since these are suddenly two separate awards.

Option 2: Book it as a distance based award, much like with Qatar Airways above. You can fly up to 20,000 miles in Business Class for 130,000 American miles, which can be a tremendous value.

Malaysia Airlines

Generally speaking I’d shy away from Malaysia Airlines. Much like with Cathay Pacific, flying Malaysia requires two awards, though you don’t get all the other benefits you get from flying Cathay Pacific:

  • Malaysia Airlines only flies 737s to the Maldives with regional business class, while Cathay Pacific flies A330s with fully flat business class seats
  • Malaysia Airlines doesn’t have nonstop service to the US, but rather only a single one connection flight through Tokyo Narita. Their business class on that flight isn’t even fully flat, so why do a double connection in an angled flat business class product?

British Airways

Generally speaking I’d only use British Airways as an absolute last resort. That’s because American imposes fuel surcharges for award redemptions on British Airways, while they don’t for travel on any of the other four partners listed above. For example, a one-way redemption between the US and the Maldives on British Airways alone would run you 67,500 miles plus ~$800 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.

British-Airways-Maldives1
British-Airways-Maldives2

Beyond that, their service to the Maldives goes out of London Gatwick, while most of their flights from the US arrive at London Heathrow, so you have to transfer airports as well.

British-Airways-777
British Airways 777 in the Maldives

Add that to the fact that award space on their flight to the Maldives is fairly limited, and it’s not exactly a “winner” of an option.

Conclusion

For the reasons stated above I’d generally shy away from trying to redeem on British Airways or Malaysia Airlines for travel to the Maldives.

Etihad Airways is a great option if you’re looking to fly first class, though keep in mind since they’re not a OneWorld airline you can’t do a distance based on them. Furthermore they only publish fares in select markets, which means that originating somewhere other than Chicago, New York, or Toronto will require two separate awards.

Qatar Airways is one of the most attractive new options given how efficiently they can be used on a distance based award and also because if you’re booking a partner award they publish fares in most markets.

Cathay Pacific is also a great new option, though keep in mind it will require two separate award tickets, so will cost a bit more in miles.

But you don’t necessarily have to fly one airline. For example, you can book a distance based award in business class from New York to Hong Kong to the Maldives to Doha to New York, which is roughly 19,800 flown miles. That would cost just 130,000 AAdvantage miles in business class, less than a standard partner award… and you could stop in each city along the way!

Maldives1

  1. October 27th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    elsie said,

    I only see CX MLE service for the winter season only… will it be around next summer?

  2. October 27th, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Elizabeth said,

    Another option is 67.5k for CX F to CMB via HKG & SIN and then taking a cheap revenue flight for the last 483 miles to MLE.

  3. October 27th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    lucky said,

    @ elsie — Hmm, very odd, this was supposed to be year round service as far as I know. Looking into this now.

  4. October 27th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    SgFm said,

    This is somewhat helpful in thinking about travel to the Seychelles as well, albeit with only one option that I can see using Etihad, since Qatar no longer flies to SEZ. The mileage is also greater since SEZ is in Africa. We have miles in all the Alliances and Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards and Starwood. Maybe there is a better option than AA/One World?

  5. October 27th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Chris S. said,

    Being the cheap guy I am, I flew to Maldives in Economy just over a year ago. During the “off-peak” season, this can be done from any city in the US for 80k miles, booked separately as US-Europe and Europe-AUH-Maldives. We chose CDG as our European connection, and spent 10 days driving around the country before heading out to MLE.

  6. October 27th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    AC said,

    Hey Ben, do you think Etihad will ever publish fare between LAX-MLE when the service starts? Now I’m worried it will never since Washington doesn’t have a published fare.

  7. October 27th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    lucky said,

    @ AC — That’s a great question and one I’ve wondered myself. Can’t for the life of my rationalize why they wouldn’t publish a fare for a one stop service operated exclusively by them. Not sure if it’s an oversight or what, but it makes no sense.

  8. October 27th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    lucky said,

    @ SgFm — The issue with redeeming American miles is that you can’t route from the US to Africa via the Middle East, so it would require two awards. And since Etihad isn’t a OneWorld member, you couldn’t book a distance based award on them.

    One other option using Membership Rewards points would be to book Etihad through ANA, since they have a distance based award. The catch is that they impose fuel surcharges.

    Another option would be to redeem for travel on Emirates through Alaska, as they fly to SEZ and allow it as one award.

  9. October 27th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Jake E. said,

    I’m not sure CX flies from IAD to HKG. Unless by Washington you mean Seattle??

  10. October 27th, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Jake E. — Whoops, typo, fixed. Thanks!

  11. October 27th, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Jef7 said,

    I’ve done Elizabeth’s idea myself. CX F from JFK-YVR-HKG and then HKG-KUL-CMB on MH. Very quick hop to MLE from Colombo, all for 67.5 K.

  12. October 27th, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    MFK said,

    Thanks for the post. Very helpful info. New Etihad service to LAX in 2014 will fit nicely into my plans.

  13. October 27th, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Max johnson said,

    A really interesting piece; sadly, there are no OneWorld partners that serve much of Canada. However, for those cities that are served, it is worth noting that Etihad publish through fares from Canadian off-line points to Male, usable from Calgary, Montreal and Toronto via the US with AA connections.

  14. October 27th, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    rick b said,

    For cheapskates like myself, the best option is off-peak routing through Europe in coach. The two awards cost 5k less than one, and you can visit Europe on both legs.

  15. October 27th, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    where is rahul said,

    Ben you are the best. Thanks for devoting a whole post to my question. Now I just need to decide if we should slum it in C or fly in F. First world problems I know.

  16. October 27th, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    John said,

    @Ben What do you recommend using to check if a carrier publishes a fare between two cities? I’ve got KVS, is there a way to do it using KVS?

  17. October 27th, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    TravelinWilly said,

    Ben, you say this: “Malaysia Airlines only flies 737s to Kuala Lumpur with regional business class…”

    I think you meant to say “Malaysia Airlines only flies 737s to *MALE* with regional business class…”

    Thanks for the summary, very helpful.

  18. October 27th, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Andreas said,

    What are the best options using BA miles?

  19. October 27th, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    TrAAveller said,

    That’s strange Etihad has stopped publishing fares between IAD-MLE. Just 3 months ago I booked an award for April 2014 MLE-AUH-IAD for 90k First one-way. To get home to DFW I had to book the final IAD-DFW flight with additional miles since there was no MLE-DFW published fare on Etihad.

  20. October 27th, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    KG said,

    Hello Lucky – I am looking to fly EY F at some point (once I accrue enough vacation). With Qatar joining One World do you see Etihad leaving at some point since they are direct competitors? If so, any educated guess as to when this might happen?

    Thanks
    KG

  21. October 27th, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    lucky said,

    @ John — I use ExpertFlyer and don’t have KVS so am not sure if it’ll show you, to be honest. Generally speaking though if you just look up a fare on ITA Matrix (or just about anywhere else), when you look at the fare breakdown look at whether it shows you a fare the whole way through (like IAD-MLE) or whether it shows two different fares for the one way (one for IAD-AUH and one for AUH-MLE). Generally that will tell you if a fare is published in the market or not.

  22. October 27th, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    lucky said,

    @ TravelinWilly — Thanks, fixed!

  23. October 27th, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    lucky said,

    @ KG — I’ve asked myself the same question. Etihad isn’t part of OneWorld so I don’t see why American couldn’t continue a partnership with both airlines. At some point Qatar may try to pressure American to discontinue their relationship with Etihad, though I don’t think it’ll necessarily happen anytime soon.

  24. October 27th, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    beachfan said,

    What I’m doing in February is doing CX F LAX-SIN and then SIN-MLE on SQ using a usair award which is only 30k miles in business class. Besides getting a nice 24 stop in SIN each way (a great place to spend 24 hours, the connections worked out better then going all the way to MLE on CX.

    I’m assuming I will love it so much that I’m thinking of booking another trip for Feb 15. What I will do then is probably combine it with a visit to Sri Lanka. With Sri Lankan airlines joining One World, and the CMB-MLE distance being so short, a one way business class ticket on Sri Lankan using BA miles will be a huge bargain.

    Then in the other direction, I”ll go MLE-HKG direct on CX.

  25. October 27th, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    lucky said,

    @ beachfan — Sounds like a smart decision! Keep in mind that British Airways actually flies from Male to Colombo 4x weekly, so that’s a good use of 9,000 Avios in Club World.

  26. October 27th, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    BTM said,

    I have never done distance based award with AA, so this is a beginner question. Do you still need to find available award seat like a regular AA zone based award in order to book a distance based award?

  27. October 27th, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    lucky said,

    @ BTM – That’s exactly right!

  28. October 27th, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    worldtraveller73 said,

    I believe that Etihad service between AUH-MLE is in a two class Airbus 320 business/economy.

    If you’re looking for a first award, you’ll have to try a different carrier.

  29. October 28th, 2013 at 2:45 am

    Romuald said,

    What will be the best option from Europe to the Maldives with AA partners ?

  30. October 28th, 2013 at 3:18 am

    lucky said,

    @ Romuald — Etihad and Qatar are generally still the best options from Europe, and they do both publish fares from most European cities to the Maldives. Otherwise for the convenience the British Airways nonstop from London can be worthwhile despite the fuel surcharges, in my opinion.

  31. October 28th, 2013 at 4:04 am

    Romuald said,

    @Lucky – Thank you !
    So the fare is 30k in business and 40k miles in First with Qatar from Europe. Am I right ?

  32. October 28th, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Bgriff said,

    In your experience is the “must have a published fare between origin and destination” rule always enforced? I know AA agents are a bit more on the ball than DL/US agents but that is such a specific and odd rule that it seems like you might be able to sometimes find someone who would unwittingly break it? Or do you find they really do all know that rule?

  33. October 28th, 2013 at 7:29 am

    WanderingEntrepreneur said,

    You’re a beast Ben. This is an amazingly detailed walk through of not only his trip plan but also of OneWorld award ticket policies. As I need to help someone with a very similar issue, this has been very helpful. Thank you!

  34. October 28th, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Rajnish said,

    @Lucky, I was looking to book BLR-PDX. They allowed me to book BLR-DOH-ORD-SEA, but did not allow me to extend it until PDX because SEA-PDX route was served by AS, and not AA. Is that right?

  35. October 28th, 2013 at 9:54 am

    hillrider said,

    The writer said that AA itself lists 90k to MLE on its website.

    You respond to him with a bunch of rules (and amazing options, thanks!), yet I cannot find them anywhere on the website.

    If AA publicly says it’s 90k, and AA does not detail any restrictions, shouldn’t he be entitled to get the award for 90k? Wouldn’t charging more be an outright fraud?

  36. October 28th, 2013 at 10:04 am

    lucky said,

    @ Romuald – That’s exactly right!

  37. October 28th, 2013 at 10:05 am

    lucky said,

    @ Bgriff – The published fares seem to be programmed into the pricing engine, and non-published fares just won’t price. At that point the ticket would go to the rates desk, and at American at least they’re extremely savvy.

  38. October 28th, 2013 at 10:06 am

    lucky said,

    @ WanderingEntrepreneur – Hah, thanks!

  39. October 28th, 2013 at 10:07 am

    lucky said,

    @ Rajnish – It could be that there wasn’t saver availability on the Alaska flight, in which case American wouldn’t have access to that space.

  40. October 28th, 2013 at 10:12 am

    lucky said,

    @ hillrider – Which restrictions are you referring to specifically? The AA award chart notes travel to the Middle East has to be via the Atlantic, and also that “If no participating carrier offers direct service between origin and destination zones, certain awards may be unavailable or multiple awards may be required.”

    Combined with the footnote providing contact details for those wanting the full Terms and Conditions, it would probably be pretty difficult to argue for fraud, in my opinion.

  41. October 28th, 2013 at 10:19 am

    John said,

    Ben- In the Cathay example isn’t the premium 17,500 for bus cl vs the direct routing? 55,000 + 30,000= 85,000 – 67,500= 17,500 Is that correct?

  42. October 28th, 2013 at 10:36 am

    lucky said,

    @ John — You’re absolutely right. Fixed.

  43. October 28th, 2013 at 11:32 am

    beachfan said,

    @Lucky

    Great tip on BA CMB-MLE. Don’t need to wait until Sri Lanka joins one world.

  44. October 29th, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Paul said,

    @Lucky (or anyone else that may know),

    Does AA count as one of the oneworld partners on an explorer award? Could you do NYC to Europe on American Europe to MLE on Qatar and then back on Qatar? Or do you have to fly two oneworld partners other than AA?

  45. October 29th, 2013 at 8:42 am

    lucky said,

    @ Paul — You have to fly two OneWorld partners other than American.

  46. October 29th, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    SgFm said,

    @lucky, I found an even better option to SEZ. Using the JAL mileage based redemption, BOS-SEZ in business is 100K RT (I will transfer 80K from Starwood to JAL). Now I just need to figure out how to work in a stopover somewhere, since I can have two, but the entire itinerary has to be on EK.

  47. October 30th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Torsten Jacobi said,

    Great post!

    @lucky @AC Etihad has started to publish fares from LAX- MLE from on June :)

    http://imgur.com/Xea77dr
    http://imgur.com/wecR8AI

    Now I’m dreaming of an SFO fare too :)

    http://www.mightytravels.com/13232755/how_to_get_to_the_maldives_using_aadvantage_miles_using_oneworld_partners.php

  48. October 30th, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Torsten Jacobi — Unfortunately best I can tell they still haven’t published a fare. If you look at the screenshots you took you’ll notice it lists a difference fare basis between Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi as it does between Abu Dhabi and the Maldives. That means it’s two separate fares unfortunately.

  49. October 30th, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Torsten Jacobi said,

    @lucky damn – you are right – 2 fares for that trip are combined at ITA. My fault!

  50. December 1st, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Nat C said,

    @ lucky – Were you able to get to the bottom of the missing availability of CX MLE service next spring (2014)? My sister is planning to honeymoon there in May so sure hope it’s not cancelled!

  51. December 29th, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    David said,

    Im booking an F ticket ORD-JFK-AUH-MLE with the last two legs on EY. The last leg is a day later…once UL joins oneworld, can i change AUH-MLE to AUH-CMB-MLE (arrives half a day earlier) and still pay only 90K in F?

  52. December 30th, 2013 at 5:32 am

    lucky said,

    @ David — CMB is in “Asia 2,” and you can’t route via Asia 2 when flying from the US to the Middle East, so that wouldn’t be possible unfortunately.

  53. January 28th, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Amol (@PointsToPointB) said,

    Ben, JFK-AUH arrives Abu Dhabi at 9:20am while AUH-MLE departs at 9:25am. How can you make that connection if you can’t have a stop over 24-hr?

  54. January 28th, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Amol (@PointsToPointB) said,

    Ahh, never mind, the dates I’m looking for, only EY 102 is available while EY 100 isn’t (but would work).

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