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Booking Etihad Award Flights with Guest Rewards and Partners

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Often the best way to book an aspirational award flight is with miles from an airline other than the one you want to fly. Today TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains several ways to book such awards on Etihad Airways.

Last year Etihad Airways made waves in the frequent flyer world when it announced details of its A380 cabins. The first and business class sections on other planes in the fleet are plenty luxurious, but the super jumbo takes this to a whole new level with a multi-room “residence” and first class “apartments.” Fortunately, there are several ways to score award tickets on Etihad’s A380 (and other planes, of course), so today, I want to go through the Etihad Guest program and partner redemptions to look at how you can use your points and miles to book flights on this international carrier.

Etihad recently started flying the A380, with premium classes that raise the bar in luxury.
Etihad recently started flying the A380, with premium classes that raise the bar in luxury.

Back in 2012, TPG went through an overview of the Etihad Guest program, and not a whole lot has changed since then. You can sign up for an account by visiting this site, and while Etihad isn’t part of an alliance, it does partner with several airlines, including American, ANA, Korean, and Virgin Australia. This gives you a variety of ways to earn miles through flying.

In addition to these airline partners, Etihad is also a partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can transfer Starpoints (including those earned on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card American Express) to your Etihad Guest account, and every 20,000 points transferred gives you an extra 5,000 miles. Etihad was also one of the new transfer partners added to the Citi ThankYou Rewards program last year, so you can transfer points from cards like the Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi Prestige to Etihad Guest as well.

Etihad's mileage calculator shows you how many miles you need for a given city pair.
Etihad’s mileage calculator shows you how many miles you need for a given city pair.

However, before you start crediting your American flights or transferring your Starpoints to Etihad Guest, it’s important to check exactly how many miles are required for your desired flights using Etihad’s online mileage calculator. Just be aware that the calculator has a couple of limitations:

  1. It will always display the lowest number of miles needed for a city pair; that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be award space available at that level!
  2. It isn’t completely accurate. For example, a one-way economy flight from New York (JFK) to Abu Dhabi should be 62,354 Etihad Guest miles (according to the calculator). However, searching for that route shows that you would actually need 62,333 miles. It’s a small difference, but one worth noting.

One of the nice things about Etihad Guest is that every seat (including the last first class seat 2 hours before departure) is available for award bookings, and Etihad makes it very easy to search for availability. Each class of service (economy, business, and first) has two different types of awards: GuestSeat and OpenSeat. The GuestSeat awards require the lowest mileage, while the OpenSeat options are actually divided into 2-3 other categories.

Sample results for a one-way first class award from London-Heathrow to Abu Dhabi
Sample results for a one-way first class award from London-Heathrow to Abu Dhabi

Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll find when you search for availability:

  • Economy: Guest Economy, Economy Saver, Economy Value, Economy Freedom
  • Business: Guest Business, Business Saver, Business Value, Business Freedom
  • First: Guest First, First Suite Saver, First Suite Freedom, The Residence (only on A380 flights)

As you might expect, the number of miles required varies significantly across these options, with the GuestSeat awards being the cheapest and the Freedom option being the most expensive.

Take the relatively new Los Angeles—Abu Dhabi route. Here’s a sample of the miles required for each class of service on June 4, 2015, and the premium charged for Freedom seats over Guest seats:

 

Guest

Freedom

Premium

Economy

76,222

158,222

207.6%

Business

108,111

981,000

907.4%

First

135,778

2,175,556

1,602.3%

No, that’s not a typo. You would actually need to redeem over 2.1 million Etihad Guest miles for a First Suite Freedom ticket, which is over 16 times more expensive than the GuestSeat award! Even the other mileage amounts are quite high, so you can see that Etihad Guest miles don’t offer great value for flights on the airlines’ own metal.

Etihad's airline partners include representation from all three major alliances.
Etihad’s airline partners include representation from all three major alliances.

Partner Airlines

However, all is not lost! Even though Etihad is not part of an alliance, they do still partner with a variety of airlines, and this allows you to use fewer miles that are easier to accrue (especially for readers based in the U.S.). When it comes to redeeming miles from any airline partner for Etihad flights, there is one rule that you should memorize:

GuestSeat availability = Partner award availability

Fortunately, you don’t actually need to be a member of Etihad Guest to search for an award ticket. Simply visit the Book redemption flights page, enter your travel details, and click “Search flights” to see what Etihad has available for that date. As long as you find space in the GuestSeat column (for any class of travel), the seats should be bookable from a partner program.

American Airlines

The first (and likely best) program to use for booking Etihad flights is American Airlines AAdvantage. In addition to being a (relatively) easy mileage currency to accrue, American also doesn’t add any fuel surcharges to Etihad awards. Unfortunately, American’s program does have some limitations, and TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen wrote a great overview of these back in November. For the purposes of booking Etihad flights, there are a few that standout:

  1. You typically cannot transit a third region, so American won’t let you redeem AAdvantage miles to fly from New York to Sydney through Abu Dhabi.
  2. However, you can connect through Europe to get to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent. You can also fly from the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent to the South Pacific through “Asia 2” or connect in “Asia 2” to get to “Asia 1.”
  3. No stopovers of more than 24 hours are allowed.

Let’s start at the most basic option: a flight from the U.S. to Abu Dhabi. According to the American Airlines award chart, you would need 45,000 AAdvantage miles for economy, 67,500 miles for business class, or 90,000 miles for first class. Remember that this could be a non-stop flight (Etihad’s North American gateways include New York (JFK), Washington-Dulles, Chicago-O’Hare, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), but you could also route through Europe. This could be a nice option if the nonstop flight doesn’t have availability.

The other nice thing is that it allows you to connect in Abu Dhabi (as long as your final destination is within the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent). For example, you could fly from New York-JFK to Abu Dhabi to Mumbai in first class for the same 90,000 miles. Using Etihad Guest miles, however, you would need to use 18% more miles (131,000 instead of 111,000) to add the connection to Mumbai.

Etihad's A380 First Apartment, the largest first class suite in the sky, is readily available using miles
Etihad’s A380 First Apartment—one of the largest first class suites in the sky—is available using miles.

American also makes it very easy and incredibly affordable to fly in first class on Etihad’s new A380, which currently flies from Abu Dhabi to both London-Heathrow and Sydney. Here are the number of AAdvantage miles you would need to book one-way award flights in economy/business/first class on these routes:

  • AUH-LHR: 20,000/30,000/40,000
  • AUH-SYD: 30,000/45,000/60,000

To be perfectly honest, these mileage levels are absolute steals, especially for the First Class Apartment. All you need to do is find GuestSeat availability, and the AAdvantage desk should be able to book them for you.

Fortunately, Etihad is pretty good about releasing first class award space on the A380, with some flights even having two available! For example, at the time of writing, there are two spots available on Wednesday June 3, 2015 from London to Abu Dhabi:

Etihad A380 LHR-AUH

That same date has two first class seats available from Abu Dhabi to Sydney:

Etihad A380 AUH-SYD

There are several ways to quickly earn enough American miles for these redemptions. Both the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard and the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard are currently offering 50,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. In addition, the US Airways Premier World MasterCard gives you 50,000 Dividend Miles after your first purchase and payment of the $89 annual fee, and those will be converted to AAdvantage miles when the programs combine in the second quarter of this year.

ANA is another partner option for booking Etihad awards. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

ANA MileageClub

An alternative parter program to consider is ANA’s MileageClub. Unlike American, ANA is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, so you can use points earned on cards like The Platinum Card from American Express and Everyday Preferred to book Etihad flights. In addition, they use a distance-based award chart, so you could find some sweet spots at the high end of the mileage ranges.

It so happens that a round-trip flight from London to Abu Dhabi fits in this criteria. The total distance of the two flights measures in at just under 7,000 miles (6,864 to be exact). That means first class would set you back 90,000 ANA miles. While this is slightly higher than American, if you were targeted for a 100,000-point sign-up bonus on the American Express Platinum card last month, that’s a round-trip flight with just one credit card application!

Final thoughts

Etihad had some terrific first and business class products on its older planes, but has really set the bar high with its new A380’s. While the Etihad Guest program requires a lot of miles to enjoy these new products, there are several ways to enjoy them using other mileage currencies.

What are your experiences redeeming miles for Etihad flights?

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