Collecting frequent flyer miles is all about one thing: aspiring to travel. That may mean saving up enough miles to visit your family in the Midwest, heading to Paris for Bastille Day, or going even farther afield to an exotic destination like the South Pacific or one of the islands in the Indian Ocean like the Seychelles or Maldives.
I tend to focus on spending my miles on long-haul trips to destinations where purchased tickets would be cost prohibitive. I also set my sights on places that might take a bit of extra steam I may not have when I’m older. That’s why I decided to put the Maldives, a chain of beautiful coral atolls in the Indian Ocean, at the top of my must-visit list. It’s just about as far away from my home on the East Coast of the United States as possible and it’s not all that easy to get there (sometimes necessitating multiple connecting flights and layovers). The payoffs though are some of the most gorgeous beaches you’ll ever see on this planet, romantic overwater bungalows, and amazing snorkeling and diving opportunities.
Very few Americans actually visit the Maldives because of how long it takes to get there and how expensive the resorts are when you get to the islands. That’s where miles and points come in. From the East Coast there are actually many airlines Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and others that can get you there. When I was planning this trip, Singapore was the best option because of its 18-hour all-business-class nonstop flight from Newark to Singapore. (Sadly, this flight will be discontinued in the fourth quarter of 2013 but it’s still possible to fly Singapore to the Maldives using a different route.)
Singapore Airlines offers the best availability to its own frequent flyers so a good bet is to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to the airline’s KrisFlyer loyalty program and book the tickets directly with Singapore Airlines. However, you can also book Singapore flights with miles from any Star Alliance partner. At the time I made my award reservations, Singapore was in the habit of blocking all long-haul first class and business awards to its partners. However, I lucked out and was able to book two business-class award seats using United Airlines MileagePlus miles. Persistence during the booking process and following frequent flyer news will give you the heads-up when availability for difficult-to-snag tickets frees up.
With the long-haul segment locked in, I tagged on the short-haul flights to and from Male, Maldives. The tickets cost 120,000 United miles plus $57.50 per person in taxes and fees.
Many people will tell you how difficult it is to use frequent flyer miles. However, I haven’t found that to be true. You just have to be willing to pull the trigger when award availability opens up. I had been thinking about booking a Maldives trip for a long time and when I heard that availability was good in business class, I decided to jump on the opportunity. In this case, I simply logged on to United.com, a Star Alliance partner, and searched for award seats on the dates of my choosing. The flights I wanted were available so I typed in my information and United sent me our e-tickets within minutes. Not hard at all.
With the flights locked down I had to decide where to stay in the Maldives. Most frequent flyers choose either the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, part of the Hilton chain and bookable using Hilton HHonors points (95,000 of them per night!), or the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa using Hyatt Gold Passport points (a steal at 22,000 points per night). Both are excellent options, especially if you’ve got the points to burn, but we decided to book One&Only Reethi Rah. Our reason was simple: with all the travel wed be doing, we didn’t want to take a seaplane from Male to our resort. We specifically sought out a resort close enough to Male that we could transit via boat (a yacht, in the case of Reethi Rah).
Friends still ask me if the effort of getting to the Maldives is worth it. I definitely think it is, though I don’t know how often I’d want to make the trip. It’s one of those once-in-a lifetime storybook destinations and you can get there if you are strategic about your use of airline miles and hotel loyalty points.