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At our Award Booking Service, we receive numerous requests to get our clients to the Maldives. This chain of islands located in the Indian Ocean is as aspirational an award as you can fly. Because of its relative seclusion, small geographic footprint, and overall demand, premium cabin award seats can be extremely difficult to find.

American Airlines’ partner Etihad Airways can be your secret weapon in booking this tough award. Though Etihad isn’t a member of the oneworld alliance, you can still use your AAdvantage miles to book travel on the Abu Dhabi-based carrier.

All flights to the Maldives and its surrounding resorts funnel through Male, the capital, and its international airport, airport code MLE. Etihad has a single daily nonstop from Abu Dhabi to Male.

How much does an Etihad award to the Maldives cost?

On American’s award chart, the Maldives is considered part of the Indian subcontinent. American charges 90k/135k/180k for economy/business/first class itineraries between North America and this region. The award chart below shows the price for oneway travel in each cabin.

 

Which North American cities does Etihad service?

Etihad currently has nonstops from New York-JFK, Chicago-O’Hare and Toronto. They are beginning service to Washington-Dulles on March 31st. Etihad operates a three-cabin flight from New York and Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi featuring first class. The other two cities are operated by two-cabin planes with business being the highest class of service.

How do I search for award space on Etihad?

The American Airlines website won’t display Etihad space. Etihad isn’t a oneworld partner, so American makes you do the sleuthing on your own. The very first step you need to take is to sign up for an Etihad Guest frequent flyer account.

One of the best parts about joining the Etihad Guest program is picking your title. Though being referred to as a “Baron” is extremely tempting, I opted for the plain vanilla “Mr.” when I joined.

After you have signed up and generated an Etihad Guest number and password, you can begin to search. From the Etihad Guest page, click “Redeem your miles.”

After clicking “Redeem your miles” you will be taken to the main award search page. The best way to search is segment by segment. You won’t be able to plug in your origin as Minneapolis and destination as Male because Etihad doesn’t serve Minneapolis. You need to secure the two tough segments first: the nonstop to Abu Dhabi from North America and the Abu Dhabi <-> Male segments.

Below is a sample search I ran from Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi in business class for two passengers. After entering my desired date, I clicked “Search flights” to reach the availability calendar.

After clicking “Search flights,” the next page can be a bit confusing. Etihad has several different award redemption levels. The only one that concerns us is award space at the “Guest Seat” level. If there are seats available in this category, then the award is bookable using American Airlines miles. Ignore the price that Etihad quotes as well. When booking, the American Airlines agent will correctly price the award at 135,000 miles roundtrip in business.

As luck would have it, the October 17 date I chose had business class award space for both passengers. To show you what this looks like, check out the screen shot below.

Etihad has a handy 7-day tool at the top to search surrounding dates quickly. Though October 18th has no award availability whatsoever, I decided to look for space on October 19th.

Though there is Business Freedom space on the 19th, that won’t help us book with American Airlines miles. American agents wouldn’t be able to see those seats. This date doesn’t have usable business class space.

Now that we have the IAD -> AUH segment. Let’s look for the AUH -> MLE segment. The transatlantic flight on October 17th arrives in Abu Dhabi at 7:45 p.m. on October 18th. That’s too late to catch the single flight from Abu Dhabi to Male, so you will need to overnight in Abu Dhabi. The next morning, October 19th, there are two business class seats to Male.

Our outbound trip has been secured! The itinerary is below:

Thursday, October 17th

  • Leave IAD 10:15 p.m. / Arrive AUH 7:45 p.m. (+1 day)
Saturday, October 19th
  • Leave AUH  9:35 a.m. / Arrive MLE 2:55 p.m.

For visual learners, here is our flight path laid out on the Great Circle Mapper.

The above oneway would be 67,500 AAdvantage miles, an absolute bargain for a onestop itinerary to Male.

If I find award space on Etihad’s site, how do I book?

You won’t be able to book online. You need to call American Airlines directly to book with an agent at 1-800-882-8880. You will be charged an unavoidable $25 per ticket phone processing fee.

I don’t live in one of the cities with an Etihad nonstop to Abu Dhabi, how do I take advantage?

As Scott wrote in his great post, the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards, the “airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.”

This means that if Etihad does not publish a fare between your city (e.g. Minneapolis) and Male, you can’t add domestic award space from Minneapolis to Washington-Dulles to the itinerary. American would reject the routing as one award and charge you for two awards–Minneapolis to Dulles roundtrip and Dulles to Male roundtrip.

How do I check to see if Etihad publishes a fare between my home city and Male?

ExpertFlyer is the best way to check this. For simple instructions on how to check for published fares, read Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com.

What if they don’t publish a fare?

You will need to purchase the connecting flight with cash, use other miles to get to and from your home airport, or book the trip as two American Airlines awards.

Can I have a stopover on an Etihad itinerary?

Yes. As per American’s strict routing rules, a stopover must occur at the North American gateway city. In this case, you could have a stopover in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., or Toronto en route to Male or on your return home.

Are there any other ways to get to Male via the Atlantic?

Yes, but it’s a royal pain. American’s oneworld partner, British Airways, flies to Male from London-Gatwick. You will most likely need to fly into London-Heathrow and transfer to London-Gatwick.

To add insult to injury, you will pay steep fuel surcharges (over $1,000 per ticket) for flying on British Airways. For most it’s not worth it.

Are there ways to use American Airlines miles to travel to Male via the Pacific Ocean?

Yes! We will discuss transpacific routing to Male in an upcoming post.

Can I use my British Airways Avios to fly on Etihad? I know British Airways and American Airlines are partners.

No. American and Etihad have a partnership, but British Airways and Etihad do not.

Recap

Vacationing in the Maldives is on the bucket list of many frequent flyers. American Airlines’ little known partnership with Etihad can be your ace in the hole in booking this award. Etihad has solid premium cabin award space from several North American cities to Abu Dhabi. From their hub you can connect on to Male.

The routes to Male are some of the most competitive in the world. Using American miles to book an Etihad itinerary is a great way to travel in style while avoiding fuel surcharges and multiple long connections.

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