The Maldives is a hot ticket destination for many, but it holds a special allure in the miles and points world. In addition to the bucket-list properties you’ll find there, the typically long journey presents the opportunity to secure amazing flights on the way.
However, finding a business or first class seat to Male (MLE) can be tough; airlines have no issue commanding the cash price to fill their premium seats to a premium destination. If you can’t find a one-stop all-premium itinerary to MLE, I have a couple of hacks for you.
Option 1 – Compromise on the shorter-haul flight
Depending on where you’re coming from, you may have one-stop options through a number of cities, including (but not limited to) Doha via Qatar Airways, Dubai via Emirates, Abu Dhabi via Etihad, Singapore via Singapore Airlines, and Hong Kong via Cathay. Fun fact: between me and Lance, we’ve flown to and/or from MLE via all of those cities/airlines!
I’ll often see a fair amount of availability on the long-haul segment for some of these options (notably on Qatar), but that availability tends to dry up on the short- or medium-haul segment to MLE. Consider if it’s worth compromising your comfort on the shorter segment to secure lie-flat bliss on the longer segment. You may be able to book your ticket in business or first class for the long-haul and economy or business class on your shorter flight. Note that you will likely be on the hook for the highest mileage cost of the two classes for your entire itinerary, though limited programs will prorate multi-class bookings.
Don’t lose hope once you’ve booked!
In this scenario, the worst case is that your itinerary stays as originally booked. However, if you monitor award availability on the short-haul segment leading up to your flight, you may see premium class availability open up closer to departure. Since you will have likely paid for the business or first class itinerary anyway, you should be able to easily rebook onto any newly available premium inventory for no additional miles.
When we flew Emirates to MLE in 2015, we booked a first class ticket from San Francisco (I lived in the Bay at the time) to MLE via Dubai. The 16-hour SFO-DXB segment was in their A380 first class product, but we were stuck booking in economy for the four hour DXB-MLE flight. I had ExpertFlyer alerts set for first class inventory and learned while on our layover in DXB that first class availability DXB-MLE had opened up for two seats. Just a few hours before our flight, I was able to call up Alaska (our ticketing carrier) and make that change.
Note that this advice is largely dependent on a multi-leg itinerary due to my US-centric experience; if you have the option for a non-stop itinerary to MLE, this might not apply to you.
Moral of the story – be willing to compromise but stay vigilant in monitoring availability!
Also worth considering
If you ticketed your award with the operating carrier (e.g. an Emirates flight using Emirates Skywards miles), you may be eligible for buy-up offers to upgrade on any segments. This is not a guarantee, but it’s worth Googling if your carrier tends to offer such opportunities to pay for an upgrade prior to your flight.
Option 2 – Route via CMB
Note that this option may be limited for the time being depending on current Sri Lankan travel restrictions. Ensure to keep up to date with current policies on international transit through CMB.
This is where it gets interesting! If you can’t find availability on awards to Male (MLE) or option 1 doesn’t sound appealing, it’s worth looking at awards to Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB) instead. There is often much greater premium award availability to CMB compared to MLE and they’re barely a one-hour flight apart.
The ideal way to get from CMB to MLE depends on which carrier you’re booking your overall itinerary with. If you are looking at Oneworld redemptions – for example, Qatar Qsuites on your long-haul – you could end up landing an all-business class itinerary by just tacking on an extra flight to your award redemption. SriLankan Airlines is a Oneworld member and they fly a two-cabin A330 outfitted with lie-flat reverse herringbone business seats on some flights between CMB and MLE with generally generous availability.
I exercised this exact option last year using American AAdvantage miles. My experience was that while AA’s search didn’t show this full itinerary, I was able to find a business itinerary via DOH to CMB. I searched separately for the CMB-MLE segment and verified that business inventory on SriLankan was available. I called into AA to easily add that segment onto my itinerary; the process took no more than five minutes and cost no additional miles given CMB and MLE are in the same award region on AA’s chart.
If you’re not booking your ticket to CMB with a Oneworld carrier, there are two main options: book a separate award ticket between CMB and MLE, or book a cash fare for that segment.
The short 483-mile CMB-MLE segment on SriLankan is incredibly cheap to book via Oneworld carrier British Airways. Their distance-based award chart means you’ll pay only 6,000 Avios one-way in economy or 12,500 Avios in business. British Airways is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi Ultimate Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy.
Note that the fees for that award can vary from around $65 to $134 depending on the direction (MLE-CMB vs CMB-MLE), so make sure booking a standalone flight on miles is worth the redemption. My quick and rough calculation for this is taking $0.02 multiplied by the mileage cost added to the fees. If the cash fare is in excess of this amount, I consider the mileage redemption a good deal.
You can also simply buy a cash fare between CMB and MLE.
While you may encounter limited availability for premium award redemptions to the Maldives, consider getting a bit creative in your search. Whether you compromise on a shorter haul segment or book via CMB, you can cheaply get to your dream destination in as much comfort as possible!