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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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:
North American gateway cities:
- Chicago (no first class)
- Los Angeles (as of June 1, 2014)
- New York
- Toronto (no first class)
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
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.
North American gateway cities:
- New York
- Philadelphia (as of April 2, 2014)
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 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. You’ll pay 140,000 AAdvantage miles for roundtrip business class between North America and the Maldives.
North American gateway cities:
- Los Angeles
- New York
- Newark (as of March 1, 2014)
- San Francisco
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 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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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!