The first thing that was decided when Mrs. Points Honeymooner and I started discussing our honeymoon was that we would be headed to a beach destination. Since I had yet to discover the full potential of miles, we initially restricted our list of candidates to nearby places that were not outrageously expensive such as Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. During the research, however, Mrs. Points Honeymooner mentioned to me that she would really like to go to the Maldives someday. That statement got me interested in understanding how I could use the Delta SkyMiles that we’d accumulated by applying for various American Express credit cards to get to the Maldives.
Thus began a secret investigation into planning a honeymoon to the Maldives – a project that I kept as a surprise for Mrs. Points Honeymooner until everything was in place to make the final bookings.
After some quick research, I found the easiest way to get to the Maldives using Delta SkyMiles was via their redemption partner Malaysia Airlines, which flies direct to Male from Kuala Lumpur. This was a fantastic opportunity since I could use a stop over in Kuala Lumpur to have a small family reunion at the end of the honeymoon. Furthermore, having flown Malaysia Airlines several times when commuting between college and home every semester, I was very familiar with their outstanding service and knew it would be a special experience to fly them to the Maldives.
A redemption ticket from North America to Maldives on the lowest mileage level (which all partner legs are priced at) costs 80,000 SkyMiles in economy and 120,000 SkyMiles in business. The 50% premium to fly in business class seemed like great value, especially given that this was our honeymoon and I wanted to make the trip as special as possible.
The greatest challenge lay in piecing an itinerary together and having Delta price and issue it. Since the only US city Malaysia Airlines serves is Los Angeles I started by placing an itinerary on hold which contained Alaska Airlines flights from SEA to LAX and back on ideal dates using Delta.com. I had already looked up the Malaysia Airlines flight timings, so I knew which flights would connect well and this came in handy during the next step, which was to call Delta’s SkyMiles desk and have them add the Malaysia Airlines legs.
One of Delta.com’s greatest limitations is its inability to search and book flights on all but a few partner airlines. Malaysia Airlines is one of those partners which not only cannot be booked on Delta.com, but even SkyMiles agents don’t have a way to see availability without doing a sell-thru of the seats and waiting for a response from Malaysia Airlines.
Despite booking these flights only about 2 months before our travel in July 2011, I was elated to hear that the LAX-(TPE)-KUL-MLE-KUL-(TPE)-LAX flights, all came back as confirmed.
Excited, I went back and told Mrs. Points Honeymooner that we could go to the Maldives for our honeymoon, and a day before the itinerary hold was expiring, I issued the tickets on Delta.com.
Scarcely able to believe what I had been able to do, I kept checking the issued itinerary on Delta.com and eventually become alarmed when the leg from KUL to LAX continued to show as not confirmed, despite the tickets having been issued.
After calling the Delta SkyMiles desk to figure out what was going on, I was told that Malaysia Airlines no longer had space available on the flight by the time I had issued the tickets (an example of what can go wrong when the systems of two partner airlines aren’t entirely in sync), and Delta would try and reroute me.
The revised itinerary that Delta formulated for me took us from KUL to PEK (Beijing) on Malaysia Airlines and then on Delta metal from PEK directly to SEA. In order to make this happen, the phone agent needed to manually open up BusinessElite award space at the lowest mileage level (typical of Delta, low mileage seats weren’t already available).
Given that we were saving a transit in LAX, I saw the forced rerouting as a blessing in disguise, which it turned out to be anything but. While the full experience deserves a post on its own, I will say that the transit experience in Beijing was very passenger unfriendly which (due to the lack of an airside transit desk) required clearing immigration both into and out of China and almost caused us to miss our PEK – SEA flight. Furthermore, the flight on Delta metal was a big step down from business class on Malaysia Airlines.
In retrospect, I should have tried to get a reroute to happen via NRT (Tokyo), which Delta also serves with a direct flight to Seattle, and is an airport which does not require transit passengers to clear immigration. This would also have meant we would have flown the Delta A330-200 instead of the B767-300ER, a considerably older aircraft which at the time did not have the newer lie-flat seats installed.
In summary, planning our first honeymoon to Maldives is what really got me to understand the true value of miles. Despite the high fuel surcharges which pushed the overall taxes on each of our tickets to $660, flying Malaysia Airlines long-haul business class was a terrific experience.
I have since booked many more award tickets with Malaysia Airlines legs, but more on that in a later post.