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Not too long ago, it seemed like the Maldives was one of the most remote spots on earth; an island paradise reserved for honeymooners or empty-nesters on the trip of a lifetime.
In recent years, though, the island nation has seen a veritable flurry of flight options materialize as more airlines like the ME3 — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways — as well as Chinese and other Asian carriers have expanded their route networks to include Malé (MLE).
Not only that, but the islands are also home to a profusion of new hotels, including the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort where TPG scored a phenomenal award in December (check out his review here), as well as old standbys like the Park Hyatt Maldives and the Conrad Maldives. Check out this post on dealing with fees like seaplane transfers for getting to various resorts around the country.
Today we’ll focus on all the ways your airline miles and credit card points can help you get to the Maldives. Please note that the mileage amounts listed are for travel to/from the US.
Just a few brief comments on the Maldives in case you’re interested in planning your own trip there. The island nation lies due south of India, and its capital, Malé, is about an hour’s flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
There are around 1,200 islands total in the country grouped into 26 atolls spread out over 115 square miles, including a stretch that crosses the Equator. The country has about 300,000 inhabitants total.
High temperatures average 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, while the lows dip to 75-80 degrees. Sounds pretty perfect, right? Just keep in mind that starting toward the end of May through November or so is the monsoon season, and in September and October, it rains on average 16 days out of the month. So plan your visit for sunnier months like January-April to be able to take full advantage of your stay.
Airlines That Fly to Malé
Though tiny, Malé’s airport has become an international hub in recent years. Here are the major airlines flying there.
- Aeroflot from Moscow (SVO)
- Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
- Air France from Paris (CDG) starting November 2017
- Air India from New Delhi (DEL) and Thiruvananthapuram (TRV)
- Austrian Airlines from Vienna (VIE) – seasonally October-April
- Bangkok Airways from Bangkok (BKK)
- British Airways from London Gatwick (LGW) – seasonally
- Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong (HKG)
- China Southern from Guangzhou (CAN)
- Edelweiss Air from Zurich (ZRH)
- Emirates from Dubai (DXB) and Colombo (CMB)
- Etihad from Abu Dhabi (AUH)
- Korean Air from Seoul (ICN) via Colombo (CMB)
- Lufthansa from Frankfurt (FRA) seasonally
- MEGA Maldives Airlines from Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG)
- Qatar Airways from Doha (DOH)
- Saudia from Riyadh (RUH)
- Singapore Airlines and Silk Air from Singapore (SIN)
- SriLankan Airlines from Colombo (CMB) and London Heathrow (LHR)
- Turkish Airlines from Istanbul (IST)
Once you get to Malé Airport, you can take boats to the capital city, which is on a nearby island, or to dozens of resorts that are on nearby islands. If you’re staying farther afield, though, you’ll likely have to take an inter-island flight on Maldivian.
One quick note: If you’re having trouble finding award availability or cheap fares to Malé itself, you can consider flying to Colombo, Sri Lanka, instead and getting a cheap ticket (they’re usually around $200 round-trip) from there.
Now, let’s look at the various mileage and points currencies and the airlines to which they apply that you might be interested in flying to the Maldives. Note that I haven’t listed all the partners of each program, only the ones on which it would be possible to use these specific miles to fly all the way to the Maldives or as part of an award containing a mix of carriers.
|Miles/Points||Transfer and Airline Partners||Miles Needed Round-trip|
|Aeroplan (Air Canada)||Air Canada, Air India, Amex Membership Rewards, ANA, Austrian, Lufthansa, Singapore, Starwood Preferred Guest, Turkish Airlines, United||Economy: 100,000
|Alaska Mileage Plan||Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Starwood Preferred Guest||Economy: 60,000-85,000
Premium Economy: 70,000
|American AAdvantage||American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, JAL, Qatar Airways, SriLankan, Starwood Preferred Guest||Economy: 80,000
|All Nippon Airways (ANA)||Air Canada, Air India, Amex Membership Rewards, ANA, EVA, Singapore, Thai, United
*Just note you must transit through Asia per ANA’s mileage conditions.
|Delta SkyMiles||Aeroflot, Air France/KLM, Amex Membership Rewards, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta, Korean Air, Starwood Preferred Guest||Economy: 80,000
|Emirates Skywards||Amex Membership Rewards, Emirates||Economy: 85,000-90,000
|Etihad Guest||American Airlines, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards||Economy: 128,000
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||Aeroflot, Air France/KLM, Alaska, Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Delta, Korean Air, Starwood Preferred Guest||Economy: 90,000
Premium Economy: 160,000
|JAL Mileage Bank||American Airlines, Emirates, Starwood Preferred Guest||Economy: 60,000 -120,000
|Korean Air SkyPass||Aeroflot, Air France/KLM, Chase Ultimate Rewards, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta, Korean Air, Starwood Preferred Guest||Economy: 95,000
|Singapore KrisFlyer||Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Singapore, Starwood Preferred Guest||Economy: 72,250-110,000
Premium Economy: 141,950-177,000
|United Mileage Plus||Air Canada, Air India, ANA, Austrian, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Lufthansa, Singapore, Turkish Airlines, United||Economy: 85,000
|American Express Membership Rewards||Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways, Delta, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Flying Blue, Singapore KrisFlyer|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||British Airways, Flying Blue, Korean Air SkyPass Singapore KrisFlyer, United|
|Citi ThankYou Rewards||Flying Blue, Etihad Guest, Singapore KrisFlyer|
|Starwood Preferred Guest||Aeroplan, Alaska, American, ANA, Delta, Flying Blue, Emirates, Etihad, JAL, Korean Air, Singapore, United|
Airline and Mileage Options
So, with all that in mind, here are some of the best airline options for using miles and points to get from the US to the Maldives. This list is not comprehensive. Rather, I decided to include the best and most convenient options, and those for which there are actually award seats, without having to make too many stopovers or airline changes en route.
Also note that the taxes and fees cited are from specific awards I found, but they can vary here and there depending on where you transit and how many stops you make. However, they should be good benchmarks of what you can expect to pay out-of-pocket for each of these awards.
Here they are in alphabetical order.
The Russian carrier is a member of SkyTeam, meaning you can use your Delta SkyMiles and Flying Blue miles to book award tickets on it from the US to its hub at Moscow (SVO) and then on to Malé.
The airline currently flies to the following US airports:
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Miami (MIA)
- New York (JFK)
- Washington DC (IAD)
It uses an A330-300 for most of these flights, though it also uses a 777 from LAX and JFK on some dates. While the cabins don’t look amazing, award availability is actually pretty widespread.
Miles to use: Aeroflot is in SkyTeam, so you have a couple options here.
Though Delta removed its award charts from its site back in 2015, we’re still able to piece together just how many miles you’d need to fly its partners in economy or business class from the US to the Maldives each way, as you can see in the below examples.
As a reminder, Delta is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards as well as Starwood Preferred Guest. With SPG, you get a 5,000-mile bonus on 20,000-point transfers.
Delta will charge you the following amounts of miles to fly Aeroflot round-trip to the Maldives from the US. Just keep an eye on those taxes and fees.
- Economy: 80,000 miles + $501
- Business: 195,000 miles + $796
You could theoretically also use Flying Blue miles. That program is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. That said, the Air France site is not so good at finding awards on partners, so you will have to try to call in to book an award. It should cost you the following amounts…
- Economy: 90,000 miles + $432
- Business: 170,000 miles + $669
The taxes and fees are roughly the same, though the agents at Flying Blue tend to see completely different award availability than you’ll find through Delta.
Finally, the third SkyTeam carrier whose miles you might want to consider is Korean Air. The airline’s SkyPass program is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Now for the downside… even awards that I could find using Delta miles and Flying Blue miles, I couldn’t get to load on Korean Air’s online award search, and when I called in to customer service, they couldn’t see all the partner awards I had found either, so this might be a bit of a wild goose chase. Still, if it’s your only option, you’ll need the following number of miles (remember, Korean partner awards must be round-trip)…
- Economy: 100,000 miles
- Business: 170,000 miles
I would just warn you that I tried a lot of different dates where I had found awards via Delta.com and the Korean agents couldn’t seem to see them, so this might be a lost cause.
2. Air France
In February, Air France announced it would begin twice-weekly flights to/from its hub at Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Malé beginning November 1, 2017. The Paris-Malé flights depart on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the Malé-Paris returns depart on Thursdays and Sundays.
The flights will be operated by a 777-200 with the airline’s new business-class seats, making this an especially interesting redemption option. As of now, the airline flies to nearly a dozen US airports from its base in Paris including Boston (BOS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington, D.C. (IAD).
Where to search: It will depend on the type of miles you hope to use, but I’d suggest looking either on Delta.com or Air France’s site.
Miles to use: Your best bet will be Air France’s own Flying Blue miles since the airline releases more award space to its own members than to partners. The good news is that, though I couldn’t nail down a single Air France-only award using Delta’s search engine, there were award seats available nearly every day Air France’s new flight will operate when searching on the Air France site. The bad news is that if you want to fly business class, it’s extremely expensive.
Though that does limit your options, keep in mind that Flying Blue is a partner of all four major transferable points programs, so there are lots of ways to top up your account. Here’s how many miles you’ll need round-trip…
- Economy: 90,000 miles + $389
- Premium Economy: 160,000 miles + $601
- Business: 600,000 miles + $634 (yes, you read that right)
Note that business awards cost 200,000 miles round-trip at the saver level, but I couldn’t find any flights offering this rate as of publish time.
3. Cathay Pacific
The Hong Kong-based carrier flies to Malé from its hub four days a week. In the US, it operates flights to Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO) and has some of the best first- and business-class seats in the world.
Where to search: Cathay is a member of Oneworld but you can’t search for award availability on American Airlines’ site. Instead, I tend to use British Airways’ search engine to look for awards day by day.
Miles to use: You have a couple great options to use miles to get to the Maldives on Cathay. The first is American Airlines AAdvantage miles. American just changed its rules last year so you can fly to the Maldives (and India) via Hong Kong on Cathay as a single award. Here’s how much it’ll cost you…
- Economy: 80,000 miles + $146
- Business: 140,000 miles + $146
- First: 230,000 miles + $146
Just keep in mind that only the US-Hong Kong flight will have a first-class cabin. Cathay flies an A330 to Malé, and it only has business class.
Cathay is also non-alliance partners with Alaska Airlines, and you’ll need the following miles round-trip.
- Economy: 60,000 miles + $164
- Premium Economy: 70,000 miles + $164
- Business: 100,000 miles + $164
- First: 140,000 miles + $164
Finally, you could also use JAL Mileage Bank, which has a distance-based award chart. The airline is a transfer partner of SPG as well. Here’s how many miles you’d need round-trip from Los Angeles to Malé via Hong Kong…
- Economy: 120,000 miles + $287
- Business: 150,000 miles + $287
- First: 230,000 miles + $287
4. China Eastern and China Southern
These two Chinese carriers are members of SkyTeam. China Southern’s hub is in Guangzhou (CAN), from which it flies to Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK) and San Francisco (SFO). China Eastern is based out of Shanghai (PVG) and flies to the same three cities. Though only China Southern flies to Malé, I’ve grouped them together here because it’s easy to find awards that are on a mix of both carriers, and you’re basically just adding a short flight between Shanghai and Guangzhou into the equation.
Where to search: I find Delta.com is the best search engine for awards on these two carriers.
Miles to use: Your best bet is either Delta or Korean in the amounts listed above under Aeroflot. Your taxes and fees will range from $300-$500 for economy and $400-$600 for business class depending on your routing and the combination of airlines.
Emirates is based in Dubai (DXB) and operates a mix of A380s and 777s on its routes to both the US and 777s to Malé. It currently has 11 (about to be 12 once it starts flying to Newark via Athens in March) US destinations including Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington (IAD) among others.
Where to search: Emirates isn’t in an alliance, but it does partner with several airlines including Alaska and JAL. Where you search for awards will depend on which type of miles you want to use, but Alaska’s site is probably your best bet.
Miles to use: Most US-based flyers will probably prioritize Alaska Mileage Plan miles for Emirates redemptions. Unfortunately, Alaska revised its Emirates award charts (way upwards!) with no notice last year, so there aren’t really bargains to be had anymore, but award availability is quite good and Alaska is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest. Here’s how many miles you’ll need (and note, the Maldives are considered as part of the Middle East in Alaska’s award chart for Emirates)…
- Economy: 85,000 miles + $117
- Business: 165,000 miles + $117
- First: 300,000 miles + $117
Another option is JAL Mileage Bank, which is also a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner. Here are the round-trip mileage redemption numbers for a sample itinerary from New York JFK to Malé via Dubai based on the airline’s partner chart…
- Economy: 60,000 miles + $92
- Business: 100,000 miles + $92
- First: 155,000 miles + $92
Finally, you could use Emirates’ own Skywards miles to book an award on the airline. Amounts will vary based on your origin, but here is the range for round-trip award flights from Los Angeles and New York to Malé…
- Economy: 85,000-90,000 miles + $756
- Business: 170,000-180,000 miles + $1,586
- First: 255,000-270,000 miles + $1,586
This Abu Dhabi-based carrier has some of the best business- and first-class seats in the world. It flies from its hub to Malé using A330s. Its six US destinations are: Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington (IAD).
Where to search: If you want to find award seats on Etihad, you have to search Etihad’s own site here. Look for the award categories labeled as “Guest” and those seats should be bookable using partner miles.
Miles to use: Though it’s not in an alliance, Etihad is partners with American Airlines, which is an SPG transfer partner. Etihad’s own Etihad Guest mileage program is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and SPG.
One of the most tempting redemptions would be ANA miles since the program is a transfer partner of both Amex and SPG and has some good reward rates to this region. However, per ANA’s award rules, you cannot fly from North America to Asia via Europe or the Middle East, so an Etihad redemption is out (as are ones on Austrian, Lufthansa, SWISS and Turkish, unfortunately). You can, however, still fly via Asia on a combination of carriers that’s likely to include ANA itself, Air India, EVA, Singapore, Thai or United.
Etihad Guest’s awards price out differently depending on city pairs and award buckets, but here are the saver levels for example awards from New York JFK to Malé via Abu Dhabi.
- Economy: 128,000 miles + $307
- Business: 250,000 miles + $508
- First: 332,222 miles + $867
American Airlines AAdvantage will charge you the following round-trip…
- Economy: 80,000 miles + $67
- Business: 140,000 miles + $67
- First: 230,000 miles + $67
7. Korean Air
Korean Air’s main hub is at Seoul Incheon (ICN), and while it does fly to Malé, keep in mind that the flight makes a stop in Colombo (CMB) en route.
Korean flies from Seoul (ICN) to Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) and Washington (IAD).
Where to search: As with so many of these other airlines, this will depend on which type of miles you hope to use for your flight. If you’re going to use Korean’s own miles, you should search on Korean’s site. However, if you’re going to use partner miles, search on Delta.com.
Miles to use: Sure, you could use Delta or Flying Blue miles, but Korean opens up so much award availability to members of its own SkyPass program that it’s far and away your best option. The program is a 1:1 transfer partner of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so it’s easy to top up your mileage balance. In fact, TPG used his own Chase Sapphire Reserve sign-up bonus to book a one-way first-class ticket on Korean from Bali to New York just back in December.
Here’s how many miles you’ll need each way from the US to Malé…
- Economy: 95,000 miles + $464
- Business: 170,000 miles + $489
- First: 210,000 miles + $464
8. Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways has expanded rapidly in recent years and currently flies to 10 US cities. Most of these flights are aboard 777s, though the flights to Boston (BOS), New York (JFK) and Philadelphia (PHL) are operated by the airline’s A350s. From Doha to Malé, the airline currently offers two A330 flights daily, though it will operate one flight per day on an A350 beginning in June.
Where to search: Qatar is a member of Oneworld, but you can’t search for award availability on American Airlines’ site. Instead, I tend to use British Airways’ search engine to look for awards day by day.
Miles to use: You have a couple good options to use miles to get to the Maldives on Cathay. The first is American Airlines AAdvantage miles….
- Economy: 80,000 miles + $92
- Business: 140,000 miles + $92
I’ve only listed business class because you won’t find first class on the aircraft Qatar uses on these routes.
You could also use JAL Mileage Bank, which has distance-based award charts. The airline is a transfer partner of SPG as well. Here’s how many miles you’d need round-trip from New York to Malé via Doha…
- Economy: 90,000 miles + $189
- Business: 120,000 miles + $189
- First: 170,000 miles + $189
9. Singapore Airlines
Singapore flies an A330 from its hub in Singapore (SIN) to Malé (so no first class on this flight). In the US, it flies from Los Angeles (LAX) to both Tokyo (NRT) and Seoul (ICN) then on to Singapore from either, from San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG) ending in Singapore, and from New York (JFK) to Singapore via Frankfurt (FRA). Those flights all have first class, while the new nonstop from San Francisco to Singapore aboard the A350 only has business class (in addition to economy and premium economy).
Where to search: I’m going to keep this simple and suggest you use Singapore’s own KrisFlyer miles to fly the airline since it releases so much more award space to its own members than to those of partner airlines. In that case, use SingaporeAir.com to search, and you’ll also score a 15% mileage discount for booking online as well — though unfortunately the carrier’s just announced that it will be eliminating this discount and raising award rates on March 23.
Miles to use: Singapore KrisFlyer miles for all the reasons listed above, as well as the fact that the program’s a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so the possibilities are endless. Here’s how many miles you’ll need each way, factoring in the 15% mileage discount.
- Economy: 72,250 miles (92,000 miles after March 23)
- Premium Economy: 141,950 miles (167,000 miles after March 23)
- Business: 153,000 miles (196,000 miles after March 23)
- First: 212,500 miles (276,000 miles after March 23)
And from the East Coast…
- Economy: 89,250 miles (110,000 miles after March 23)
- Premium Economy: 150,450 miles (177,000 miles after March 23)
- Business: 174,250 miles (220,000 miles after March 23)
- First: 225,250 miles (290,000 miles after March 23)
Taxes and fees vary slightly by route (for instance if you go via Tokyo instead of Seoul), date and class of service but are around the following numbers if you are flying round-trip from the US to the Maldives. Note that the taxes/fees for economy and business class are higher than those for premium economy and first class, but that Singapore will be eliminating fuel surcharges as of March 23:
- Economy: $748
- Premium Economy: $550
- Business: $794
- First: $590
10. SriLankan Airlines
SriLankan doesn’t actually fly to the US, but I wanted to include it here because transferring through Colombo (CMB) and just catching a cheap round-trip to Malé from there is a great option for a lot of travelers.
As of now, SriLankan flies to a variety of international gateways through which you can connect to partner flights to/from the US. Those to keep in mind include Abu Dhabi (AUH), Bangkok (BKK), Beijing (PEK), Doha (DOH), Dubai (DXB), Hong Kong (HKG), London (LHR), New Delhi (DEL), Singapore (SIN) and Tokyo (NRT), among others. Just note that the airline seems to be routing some flights through the Hambantota airport at the moment, so be sure to check connections before booking.
Where to search: As with other lesser-known Oneworld carriers, I find the most useful site for searches to be BritishAirways.com.
Miles to use: This will depend on where you want to connect (for instance, if you just want to come from the US via Europe or the Middle East, or if you’ll already be in Asia and want to catch a SriLankan flight from another major city there). However, you’ll probably be best off using American Airlines miles at the following rates round-trip from Beijing as an example…
- Economy: 50,000 miles + $14 (from Beijing, for example)
- Business: 80,000 miles + $14 (also from Beijing)
11. Turkish Airlines
With political unrest in Turkey and some travelers experiencing security issues at US airports after visiting the country, some folks might want to avoid this Star Alliance carrier, but it can still be one of the best choices for getting from the US to the Maldives. From its hub in Istanbul (IST), the airline flies an Airbus A330 to Malé, while it flies a mix of A330s and Boeing 777s to its nine US destinations including: Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington (IAD). On top of that, award availability tends to be pretty good.
Miles to use: Your two best options are probably United Mileage Plus miles or Air Canada Aeroplan miles. United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and a 2:1 (so not so great) transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, while Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of both Amex Membership Rewards and SPG.
United will charge you the following amount of miles to fly Turkish from the US to Malé one-way…
- Economy: 85,000 miles + $59
- Business: 160,000 miles + $59
If you want to use Aeroplan miles, it’ll cost you the following amount…
- Economy: 100,000 miles + $59
- Business: 150,000 miles + $59
12. American Express Membership Rewards
One final points strategy that can save you a bundle if you have the Business Platinum Card from American Express. Thanks to recent changes to the card’s Pay With Points feature, you get 2 cents per point in value when booking business and first-class fares on any airline, and economy fares with the airline you have designated for the card’s $200 annual airline fee reimbursement.
So basically, you book a business- or first-class fare just as you would normally and then redeem your Membership Rewards points at checkout at a rate of 1 cent per point in value… then get half your points reimbursed for you. Not only that, but airlines treat these as paid fares so you earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles for the travel as well.
To take a quick example of when this might be worth it, I was able to find round-trip airfare from New York-JFK to Malé via Helsinki (HEL) and Doha (DOH) on a mix of Finnair and Qatar Airways for just $3,820 round-trip.
You’d need to redeem 382,000 Membership Rewards points for that itinerary, but then you’d get 191,000 of them back, so your round-trip points total would be the remaining 191,000 points. While that’s still a lot of points, considering all the ways to earn bonus Amex points on purchases and specific merchant categories, and the ease of booking instead of having to transfer to an airline partner and find award space, this is a scenario that could definitely be worth it.
Though the Maldives was once one of the hardest places in the world to get to, requiring at least 24 hours of travel from the US, there are more, better and cheaper ways to get there than ever, including if you want to use points and miles to do so.
All three major airline alliances, plus plenty of non-alliance carriers like Emirates and Etihad, now fly to MLE. That makes things easier in a lot of ways, but it also means that strategizing which points or miles to use is more important than ever. Consider your overall points portfolio, determine the relative value your various points and mileage currencies hold for you, and be sure to consider all the transfer options before committing to a carrier and route.
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