Does This HAVE To Be The Most Direct Way From New York To The Maldives?!

Filed Under: Awards, China Southern

Goodness gracious, this is going to get interesting. I’m soon headed to the Maldives, and I now have my return flight booked, which was my top priority. I had a slight change in plans to my outbound.

Originally I was going to first visit Colombo for a few days, and was trying to decide between a few different airlines.

Due to a commitment that just came up, I’ll literally have to fly from the US to the Maldives as efficiently as possible, since I can only leave two days before my check-in date at the Park Hyatt.

So I’ve been scrambling for different ways to get from New York to the Maldives as quickly as possible.

I’ve looked at Emirates.

I’ve looked at Etihad.

I’ve looked at Qatar Airways.

I’ve looked at Cathay Pacific.

And so on… and none of them have any practical award space that doesn’t involve several connections and/or overnights.

So after spending quite a while carefully examining availability on oneworld, Star Alliance, etc., I forgot there was that one other pesky alliance — SkyTeam!

I went to, and searched space from New York to Male on my preferred date. And I stumbled across the most efficient connection I’ve seen of any airline… on China Southern!


Ruh roh. Some of you may remember my last journey on China Southern, in first class. It was interesting, to say the least. From the champagne to the service to the cabin occupancy to the lavatory maintenance, it was a pretty crappy flight.

China Southern first class

But I’ve been tempted to give them another try, especially since China Southern’s head of onboard products & services emailed me. And I have been meaning to try China Southern’s new flight out of New York.

Trying them in business class is actually quite tempting, since I flew them in first class last time, and I can’t imagine the food, drinks, and service are much worse on the other side of the curtain. 😉

China Southern business class

China Southern business class

But here’s the big issue. The itinerary has an 85 minute connection in Guangzhou. And if you’ve ever transited an airport in China, you’ll know that it’s not the easiest process in the world, as you need to clear immigration.

Oddly the minimum connection time between international flights at Guangzhou Airport seems to be 2hr30min, though for whatever reason the 1hr25min connection is actually legal (the absolute shortest minimum connection time seems to be 90 minutes).


The other issue? If I miss my connection, I’m stuck in Guangzhou for two days. Having visited Guangzhou for two days, I can’t say that’s an experience I’m necessarily dying to repeat.

Guangzhou, China

So what would you do — give China Southern another shot and risk getting stuck in Guangzhou for two days, or find just about *any* other option for getting to the Maldives?

  1. While CZ biz is a good choice in terms of hard product, I’d much rather see the reviews of JAL/SriLankan due to the fact that their products are much more useful (NRT’s a common destination, CMB’s the “cheap fare hub” and CAN’s more like a second-rate business destination).

  2. You should risk it!

    Also you should try their first again. I’d try to book it as late as possible to avoid having preferential treatment after last time :’]

  3. You should take one of the Persian Gulf carriers; Qatar, Etihad or Emirates. The connection time is far too short for such a long haul flight on China Southern and the experience on board the three airlines, as you know, is super with, hopefully, better connection intervals.

  4. Go to Guangzhou and if you missed your connection, get a two hour train to Hong Kong and fly Cathay Pacific 🙂

  5. Qatar flies out of PHL now and connects in Doha to the Maldives – not sure if you checked PHL award space already or not. We also have a few flights to LHR, only one is BA F (which I know you don’t like as it is a business class product at best) but maybe there is a seat there as the F cabin isn’t always full on certain days.

  6. Definitely avoid ruh roh. There’s a better option. Book PHL-DOH-MLE. Its a 10:25a departure from Philly and a 1h 25min connection in DOH. So there’s plenty of time to get a NYC-PHL flight that leaves at a reasonable hour.

    Personally I’d fly LGA-PHL so that I could have breakfast at the Centurion Lounge beforehand. 🙂


  7. flight delays out of china are very common.
    chances are your flight out of guangzhou will be delayed as well. so i wouldn’t worry much about missing the connecting flight.

  8. I’d go for other connections other than Guanzhou/China Southern. 85mins is too much of a risk, so I’d rather plan my overnight stays at other cities such as Hong Kong than trying my luck.

  9. I would find any other way to get there that doesn’t involve a connection in China, as it is always iffy to do so. Guangzhou maybe better than Beijing or Shanghai as a connecting point, but I won’t risk it! Being stuck in GZ isn’t necessarily fun as there isn’t much to do and since you have no friends or family to visit there (like I do), I would avoid it 😉

  10. Also Ben, looking on the Delta website it is in First from JFK to CAN, then business from CAN to MLE or am I interpreting this incorrectly?

  11. Why isn’t Turkish an option? No award space?

    Although it has a 8h10 connection in IST, total travel time is only 1h20 more because of Atlantic vs Pacific routing

  12. So it’s either the Maldives if everything works out, OR two nights in Guangzhou if it doesn’t.

    Lucky, you’ve taken a lot for this site. This… is a bit much.

  13. I’d go with CZ and risk the tight connection; but, only if you were flying in first class. I’d be curious to see if CZ would give you an escort to the Male flight and/or any other preferential treatment to ensure you make the connection.

    And it would be fascinating to see if CZ has upped its game.

  14. Made a similarly tight international-international connection on China Southern at its hub in Urumqi in early 2013. Was annoyed that we had to go through passport check, get our bags, and go through security again (bags were not checked all the way through from the origin even though both flights were operated by China Southern. The upside was that China Southern did meet us in Urumqi and escort us through everything. Hopefully this is standard procedure and you’d get the same treatment in CAN.

  15. You don’t have to clear immigration in Guangzhou when connecting int’l to int’l. So 85 mins is more than enough time.

  16. I agree with Jacob especially if you already have the 10-year multientry Chinese visa. I’ve taken the train between CAN and HKG before and it’s not that bad.

  17. Lucky youre not stuck in CAN for 2 days. You can hire a car from CAN to HKG in 3 hours. (If you absolutely insist on flying both KA and CZ fly the 50 miles as the crow flies flight CAN to HKG, but I dont think the scheduling works out).Get on the CX evening nonstop to Colombo CX611, 8:30pm departure or so arriving CMB at 11:40pm. Same plane type reverse herringbone as MLE-HKG, CX’s 33G config. Then fly CMB-MLE the following day there is plenty of lift. You’ll have to overnight in CMB but come on, this is far better and more practical and lamming it up in CAN for a few days and arriving in MLE way later than necessary.
    I havent done this exactly for MLE before but I have driven down to HKG from both CAN and Shenzhen. Very do-able if you get into a bind like missing your connection. I live in HKG and put 250-300k a year to CX. Let me know if any questions.

  18. to elaborate slightly, cx hkg-cmb is 7x weekly service, but NONSTOP is only 4x weekly. cx611 (nonstop) is mon, wed, fri and sat. cx703 is DIRECT but still works…HKG-BKK-CMB. Same plane. Departs HKG around the same time, and can fill in the blanks for you on tues, thurs and sun. Still, you’ll arrive at CMB the same night just 2 hours later than you would on CX611.

    actually, i’m not sure if you checked CX600 either HKG-MLE. It’s only truly 4x weekly…all nonstop. Wed, Thurs, Sat and Sun. If you’re connecting in CAN on Mon, Tues or Fri you’re SOL for this option but the CMB route might be good above.

  19. Lucky – Have you tried Korean Air? I was looking up return flights for my wife and I and FlyingBlue had really good availability for Korean Air that goes MLE-ICN-JFK.

  20. @ Tsk — That’s news to me. In my experience you always have to clear immigration in China, even when connecting, no?

  21. You can try and fly Korean air to MLE
    Try business class this time
    KE has a 45 min connecting time between flights
    This will as well allow you to check the real KE lounge

  22. If you can find award space on you travel days to DOH, DXB or AUH would it not be possible to take a paid flight to MLE?

    7-8 hours flight time and 700-800USD on Oman Air connecting in MCT or Sri Lanka connecting in CMB on some dates I checked next month.

  23. Lucky, have you taken a serious look at Hainan Airlines?

    Hainan Airlines (HU) is a 5-star Skytrax airline, and the one-way biz class tickets from ORD-PEK-MLE can be as low as 1400USD (multiple dates in Apr showing that price!).

    And I think for that price, and its mysterious-ness of being ranked as 5-star Skytrax airline, deserves a review! If the schedule fits, why not?

    And oh, it flies from BOS too, but I am not sure if rates are as good.

  24. How about EK? A quick Google search, typing in JFK MLE, will show EK is the fastest way to get to Male.

  25. Lucky – don’t do it. JFK is undergoing runway construction, which even in the best of cases is imparting delays. Presumably, airlines have baked it into their schedule somewhat, but even so, 85 minutes is cutting it *way* too close. A Nor’easter (which is super-common for this time of year) and you’re done.

  26. You could just buy an economy ticket – you’d have the full range of best possible time options available to you. I promise, it won’t kill you!

  27. We sat on the runway for seven hours a couple of years ago in Shenzhen. I do think there was a weather issue at our destination of Guilin, but everyone on the plane seemed very relaxed about the delay and did not seem to think it was a big deal. The flight attendants served a hot lunch. I gather you are meeting friends in the Maldives so a two day delay would matter a lot.

  28. No, you don’t have to clear immigration in Guangzhou – and it has been this way for years now. After arriving, you go straight to int’l transfer desk to get a boarding pass if necessary, while immigration is to your right. Lately, there wasn’t even security.
    My last transit was Mar 14… It took less than 10 minutes.

  29. Lucky, love your blog and your dedication. You mentioned a week or so ago that you don’t get to relax enough while traveling, and maybe chancing it with this short connection is a way of unconsciously possibly depriving yourself from a well deserved relaxing vacation? You work hard and you deserve taking it easy without having to worry about missing a tight Chinese connection. Whatever you decide, I hope you have a fun!

  30. Just looking at Flightrader, the last 4 flights CAN-MLE have departed 45/45/10/30 minutes late

    I think it’s pretty safe

  31. Hey Lucky
    This connection time is fine. When I flew with CZ, at the gate upon landing (and if you are connecting to another flight), they give you a personal meet and assist person who will lead you through the transfer process and all formalities (as long as you are flying either business or first).

    However, if you are just connecting to another flight at Guangzhou, we didn’t have to go through customs as we didn’t leave the airport.

  32. even if you missed the connection, wouldn’t they put you on another carrier? they can’t possibly have you there for two days…

  33. Would be nice to read a CZ business class review, but not worth missing that tight connection. And going to Guangzhou a 2nd time so soon doesn’t seem worth it. Any availability on Air India or connecting to CZ via CI?

  34. What’s wrong with Guangzhou? Plenty to see in the city and the region, and the food is spectacular.

  35. Does QR have award space PHL-DOH-CMB on your date of travel? You could then tack on CMB-MLE for as cheap as $75 one-way in Y. It would add a couple hours but might be worthwhile.

  36. Last time I transitted CAN I was plane to lounge in less than 30 mins. This was flying economy, but with sky priority. We came to a remote stand, Business class passengers were escorted to their own bus and got to the lounge before us. I’ll admit that the lines for regular economy were pretty long, though much shorter than the lines to get into China. The transfer formalities were pretty light, no immigration just a boarding card and security check.

    85 minutes should be enough time for immigration, a shower and a bowl of noodle soup in the lounge.

  37. I say risk it, and if you miss the connection, throw an epic temper tantrum and get it on video so it goes viral. #winwin

  38. Also would love to see a CZ business class review as its a product I’m highly likely to fly over the next year or so.

  39. Well, I will suggest you try China Southern. If you can’t catch the flight due to their reasons. You can ask them rebook you to Malayasia Airlines. I saw people done that before (different destnation though) and agent said Malaysia Airlines is actually a partner of China Southern.

  40. Hi Lucky,
    Just per my previous post.. There is NO NEED to clear immigration when connecting in Guangzhou. This is the same as when connecting in Seoul where you only need to go through health and then security.

    I think you are confusing this with Guangzhou’s short stay [24hr] permit or 72 hr visa, which you will have to obviously go through immigration then.

    Also as I said before the 85 min connection is by far enough. Upon deplaning, First and Business class passengers get given a personal meet & assist representative holding up your name at the end of the jetbridge. They will lead you right through to your next gate.. so no need to worry!!

    I, along with others most likely want to see *your* thoughts on how CZ has improved from your first flight, and I would love to read that trip report 🙂

  41. When you absolutely gotta be somewhere on the other side of the earth I miss those long hauls from JFK/EWR/LAX to SE asia (SQ and TG) for your exact reasons – miss those quick, nonstop ways to SE asia.

    when we went to park hyatt maldives we flew turkish out of lax – had a nearly 8 hour layover in IST which sucked, but you arrive at a reasonable time to checkin at the resort even after all the transfers

    wonder why they haven’t brought them back since the fuel prices have gone down.

    if i were single i would totally risk it with that 85 minute layover…but i’d have some good back up plans

  42. Lucky, what about booking a VS upper class award (via ANA, or by transferring Amex to VX, or even by transferring Hilton to HA) on their daytime JFK-LHR flight? You could then book a UL business class award LHR-CMB-MLE using AA miles for only 30K.

    If CMB-MLE isn’t available on a J award, just accept the downgrade to Y. If no Y awards are available just pay for a cheapo revenue CMB-MLE Y ticket. Your connections in LHR and CMB would be 80 min and 50 min respectively. There’s also a later CMB-MLE flight on UL if you misconnect. Problem solved! Well, assuming award space. 🙂

  43. @ Ben — Intriguing idea. Sadly no business class award space LHR-CMB, and can’t say coach is too tempting when there are other good options.

  44. And there’s no award space LHR-DOH/AUH/DXB/MCT-MLE? It would add a stop but JFK-LHR on VS connecting to one of the Gulf carriers might not be so bad.

  45. It would be cool if you could try out the once weekly VIE-MLE in OS J or the twice weekly VKO-MLE in UN F! 😉

  46. CZ. Yawn.

    Have you considered flying BA JKF-LHR-MLE, or Austrian Airlines via Vienna.
    Then again when in doubt, CX all the way

  47. CZ J is not that bad Ben.. Flew it more than handful of times between CAN(where my hometown was) and YVR(where I live), and I found out it is quite nice… Provided it is the cheapest revenue business from China to Vancouver..

  48. I am anxious to hear the trip report as whether the juice is worth the squeeze………it sure doesn’t seem like it from San Francisco………a short drive to Carmel might be more enticing……..

  49. Does the Boeing 787 or Airbus 350 have the range to fly from JFK/EWR to SIN? I would love for Singapore Air to revive SQ21/22 with one of these more fuel efficient planes. This would make it easy to get to the Maldives (or anywhere else in SE Asia) from the US.

  50. I would urge you to try HAINAN airlines BOS -> PEK -> MLE. Even though HAINAN airlines was awarded skytrax 5, you have dismissed it as being unworthy of the award, and further stated that you are justified to base your opinon soly on browsing HAINAN’S website.

    It’s time to try HAINAN out to see if your hunch is correct! Moreover, I believe there is a significant number of your readers from the boston / northeast region (there must be! otherwise, why would so many airlines start boston to asia routes, if there is insufficient passengers).

    But I think PEK is diff from CAN – I think it does require all international transit passenger to go through immigration. Anybody knows for a fact?

  51. @ HighNah — Don’t think I’ve ever claimed they’re unworthy of their Skytrax rating? Ultimately looking to redeem miles, and they don’t have many airline partners, unfortunately.

  52. How about NYC-YYZ on AA/UA/AC, YYZ-HKG on AC, and HKG-MLE on CX? Connections are good. Alternatively NYC-IAD on UA, IAD-DXB-MLE on EK although you still run into the problem of no award space DXB-MLE….I think you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. Time to sit tight and hope award space opens up or suck it up and pay for a revenue ticket, or some combination. 😉

  53. Lucky, consider CAN then catch a train to HKG if missed connection or even if you wanna get the best of both worlds- Check if CZ has improved at all and get yourself some indulgence on CX 😉

  54. I had lots of tight connections in CAN. But usually from domestic to international. Once I had a 50 min connection due to a flight delay. If your connection is REALLY tight, they will open priority border lines for you. Additionally you do not need to clear immigration if you are travelling on an international itinerary and connecting in Guangzhou not exceeding 3 or 6 hours.

    They will have a escort for J class passengers.

  55. You should give Aeroflot a try. It’s really not that bad ! Well, you will have 2 stops, but you don’t really want to be stuck in Guangzhou dude :p ! I have flown them in Biz and was pretty surprised by their hard product ! Another important point : I never felt unsafe in their planes, soooooo…..
    I’d be really interested in your thoughts about Aeroflot 🙂
    Oh btw, try to avoid a long layover at Sheremetyevo Airport, the airport itself is nice, but the lounges are not lol ( but a 4 h or so layover is def okay )
    Best Regards from Germany

  56. @ Ben — Ended up booking this:

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