Return to the Maldives on Miles: Etihad and British Airways First Class and Tour of Park Hyatts

Trip Report Index:

  1. Introducing and Strategy
  2. New York JFK – Abu Dhabi, Etihad First Class
  3. Park Hyatt Dubai
  4. Touring the Burj al Arab
  5. Tea at the Burj al Arab
  6. Abu Dhabi – Male, Etihad Business Class
  7. Male – Kaadedhdhoo, Maldivian and Transfer to the Park Hyatt
  8. Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives
  9. Kooddoo-Male-Abu Dhabi, Maldivian and Etihad Business Class
  10. Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi
  11. Abu Dhabi – Dusseldorf – London, Etihad First Class and British Airways Club Europe
  12. London Heathrow – San Francisco, British Airways New First Class

One of the things I really like about American AAdvantage is that they’re generally the best program for securing international first class awards. They have a litany of partners both inside oneworld and outside of oneworld that make this possible – British Airways (albeit with fuel surcharges), Qantas (not nearly so easy), Cathay Pacific (best first class award option for US-Asia), Malaysia Airlines (usually 1 seat from London but up to 4 from Paris on the A380 in First) for instance.

Last year I had a really great trip to the Maldives. I rarely visit the same place outside the U.S. twice and certainly not the same hotel property, at least for resort destinations (cities are a different story entirely). But I really really enjoyed my stay at the Park Hyatt Maldives. When I was leaving the property last time I said I wanted to return, and I meant it.

So I booked myself a trip. Only this time I resolved to make the flights work a bit easier than last time. In 2012 I flew via Singapore which meant very much going ‘the long way’ – a stopover in Singapore and then Singapore Airlines to Male. It was great on the way there since I much enjoy eating in Singapore. But for the return I didn’t do anything more than an overnight – Kaadedhdhoo – Male – Singapore – Hong Kong (overnight) – Chicago – DC (ouch, even flying Cathay Pacific First Class for the long haul).

This time I used American miles to fly Etihad. I live in DC but they’re only just now starting up their Washington Dulles – Abu Dhabi flight, which offers amazing award availability. For this trip I had to depart out of New York JFK since I wanted first class (they offer two-cabin service from Chicago and Toronto).

It’s interesting that Qatar has severed ties with United and has announced its intention of joining oneworld. They’re the last Middle Eastern carrier I expected to make the oneworld decision.

First I thought it was be Emirates. Emirates lost their Continental and United partnerships, and a couple of years ago I chatted with the Manager of the Skywards program at the Freddies as he was actively out seeking partnerships, and he had a meeting set up with American’s then-head of the AAdvantage program Maya Leibman for the next day.

But American rolled out a partnership with Etihad. And Etihad purchased a stake in oneworld airline Air Berlin. It seemed like Etihad was on the way to becoming a part of oneworld.

And then… the Qatar announcement, along with news that Etihad was getting closer to Air France/KLM.

Still, it’s one of those great partnerships. There’s only one piece of it that doesn’t work well for American frequent flyer redemption purposes. American has some fairly screwy routing rules. They were the first major US carrier to introduce one-way awards, but those awards don’t allow for stopovers except in North America at the final city prior to leaving the continent.

In this case I could book a one-way award and stopover in New York if I wished. But I wanted to fly from New York to Abu Dhabi to Male in the Maldives. That meant I couldn’t do a stopover (defined as a stop that’s 24 hours or more) unless I wanted to spend more miles on a second award (one award US to Abu Dhabi, and a second Abu Dhabi to Male).

The especially screwy rule, not enforced by United (or for that matter any Star Alliance airline) is that the overwater carrier must publish a fare between the origin and destination in order to book the tickets as a single award. And Etihad doesn’t publish fares between most cities in North America and the Maldives. Although I’ve gotten them to price it as a single award a couple of times, by rule at least when I booked (the introduction of the Dulles flight may have changed this) Washington DC – Abu Dhabi had to be a separate award from Abu Dhabi – Male anyway because Etihad doesn’t publish a revenue fare for the route.

I could have booked just New York – Abu Dhabi – Male (there’s an Etihad published fare New York – Male) plus an add-on DC – New York in coach for 12,500 miles extra, but I decided to book DC – New York – Abu Dhabi (stop) – Male for 25,000 miles extra instead. In other words I opted for the stopover for an extra 12,500 miles.

American’s award chart to the “Middle East and Indian Subcontinent” is expensive, especially in first class, as 90,000 miles each way. Adding on Abu Dhabi – Male would be an additional 25,000 miles, making the award 115,000 miles each way. But… I do have a healthy seven figure American account balance. It’s now even expected that US Airways miles will get combined into AAdvantage accounts. So I have no shortage there.

And transiting the Middle East is the smoothest way in many cases of getting to the Maldives. Plus I wanted to try out Etihad first class. And since I was going to be asked to spend additional miles for the Abu Dhabi – Male segments, I could do stopvoers in both directions (I was already paying for the extra awards, so why not?).

Thus I had the idea for a very expensive trip (mileage-wise).

I’d stay again at the Park Hyatt Maldives on points, and like last time confirm a buy up at booking to an overwater villa. Not cheap, but I found it well worth it. If I’m going to make that trip, I wanted to have the room I wanted rather than leaving things to chance.

And I’d stay at the Park Hyatts in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the outbound and return, respectively. Dubai for a stopover was facilitated by the fact that Etihad offers complimentary car service to first and business class passengers, and on arrival in Abu Dhabi they’ll take you anywhere you want to go in the UAE as I understand it.

The hour-plus drive to Dubai is not an issue (they even provide complimentary bus service to Dubai for coach passengers). I booked my car in advance, which isn’t strictly necessary for arrivals in the UAE (but would be required to have them pick you up and bring you to the airport in the cities where the service is offered).

After booking my trip Washington National – New York JFK – Abu Dhabi – Male with an identical return, I learned that a friend would be getting married at the very end of the trip. I had hoped to keep my Abu Dhabi – New York return and just add on a flight to San Francisco (the wedding would be in Sacramento), but the connection to American’s last San Francisco flight of the day was illegal by a matter of minutes.

Instead the best I could do was Abu Dhabi – Dusseldorf (Etihad first class) – London (British Airways business) – San Francisco (British Airways first). That’s one more flight than I wanted to take, of course. And Etihad did at times show two available first class seats for Abu Dhabi – London. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen award space show on the Etihad website that American could not book.

There has always been a perfect match, in my experience, between the space Etihad offers to its own members and that which is bookable by American. I easily tried a dozen agents, and all were sure, all confirmed they were searching the correct booking class (“O”). I just could never grab the seats. So I settled for Dusseldorf and a double connection.

All in all it was a phenomenal trip, though I blew 230,000 American miles per passenger. Each hotel property was outstanding, and the Etihad hard product is amazing, food and amentiies quite good, and service friendly if less than efficient.

And with that I’ll get started on the rest of the report! Feel free to ask as many questions as you like along the way.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thanks Gary. What is the shortest way to get to Maldives with miles from san Francisco? Is it to go via Singapore air?

  2. @ryan from the West Coast it’s about equidistant via Singapore as the Middle East (Middle East still a little shorter probably)

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