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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explains how he scored an incredible deal by redeeming Etihad Guest miles for a first class award on partner airline ANA.
Earlier this year, my wife, son and I flew Etihad Diamond First Class round-trip from Tokyo to Abu Dhabi, and Pearl Business Class from Abu Dhabi to the Maldives via an incredible mistake fare. Over the course of our four flights, we each earned 53,000 Etihad Guest miles, which are made even more useful by the fact that Etihad allows you to pool your miles together in a family account for free.
At the time, I had no idea what I was going to do with my 100,000+ Etihad miles, but they turned out to be incredibly valuable. In this post, I’ll show you how I used those miles to book one of my best awards flights ever: transpacific first class on Etihad partner All Nippon Airways for only 96,200 miles and $230 in taxes and fees round-trip.
Etihad Partner Airlines and Award Charts
You won’t find Etihad Guest on the list of customer-friendly frequent flyer programs. Award prices were just increased; Etihad’s customer service leaves much to be desired in my experience; and, as I’ll discuss later, phone agents are uninformed and poorly trained. That being said, the in-flight experience on Etihad has always been fantastic, and Etihad’s partner award charts are intriguing.
After toying with Etihad’s mileage calculator, I thought awards on Etihad flights offered poor value, so I began looking at redemption tables for Etihad’s partner airlines. Some of the partner award charts piqued my interest quickly, as you can find incredible value on certain long-haul premium flights with low mileage requirements.
I’ll be speaking at the Family Travel for Real Life (FT4RL) conference in Washington, DC on October 24th, and I needed flights from Japan for the long weekend. Given my short weekend in the states, I wanted to fly business class at a minimum to get some sleep during the 14-hour trip. I stumbled upon Etihad’s redemption table for partner airline ANA and really couldn’t believe what I saw:
48,100 miles for a 14-hour flight in first class is an incredible bargain. Even more unbelievably, that’s only 6,600 more miles than economy! By comparison, United would charge you 110,000 MileagePlus miles each way, Avianca would charge you 90,000 LifeMiles each way, and ANA itself would charge you 75,000 miles each way, all for the exact same ANA flight. In this case, Etihad charges remarkably less than other programs.
Booking Process and Tips
Booking partner flights with Etihad is not fun. You must call to book the awards, which in my experience requires an hour to 90 minutes on the phone. To make it as easy as possible, follow these tips:
1. Find a knowledgeable agent — Most Etihad phone agents are unfamiliar with booking partner award tickets. If you get an agent who seems a bit lost, thank them for their time, and then hang up and call again until you reach someone who is at least aware that you can book partner flights with Guest miles.
2. Know exactly which flights you want — Availability is the main hurdle to overcome when looking for partner awards. I have had agents check entire schedules for certain routes without finding a single bookable award seat. To check availability, the agent has to put you on hold for about 5 minutes, so it’s best if you already have a sense of what’s available from the beginning. Give the agent a window of dates and exact flight numbers for the partner flights, as it seems to speed up the process. I have had Etihad agents tell me some partner flights didn’t exist until I gave them the flight numbers.
You can find ANA availability by searching on United.com, which seems to match what the Etihad agent sees. I further confirmed this after I booked my ticket, since the availability for that flight disappeared from United’s website.
3. Know the rules — Etihad has a distinct set of rules for booking award tickets on each partner airline. For all partners, you must book a minimum of 14 days prior to departure. Specifically for ANA, the agent said that stopovers are not allowed on open jaws, which I discovered when I tried to route into DC and out of Chicago. One free date change is allowed after booking. Blackout dates are listed for ANA, but they’re all from previous years.
How to Earn Etihad Guest Miles
1. Credit revenue flights — If you have upcoming trips to the Middle East, flying Etihad and crediting to Etihad Guest is an effective way to bank a lot of miles. Etihad routinely has promotions offering double to quadruple miles. You can also earn Etihad Guest miles flying any of the listed partner airlines, including American Airlines.
2. Transfer Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints — Starwood has over 30 airline transfer partners, including Etihad. You can transfer Starpoints at a 1:1 ratio, including points earned on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. For every 20,000 points transferred, Starwood gives you an extra 5,000 miles. The SPG Amex also just added several new benefits, and is currently offering an increased sign-up bonus of 30,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. With the 5,000 mile transfer bonus, you would only need 80,000 Starpoints to fly transpacific first class round-trip.
3. Transfer Citi ThankYou Points — Etihad is also one of the new transfer partners added to the Citi ThankYou Rewards program last year. You can transfer points earned from the Citi ThankYou Premier Card and Citi Prestige Card to Etihad Guest at a 1:1 ratio. Earlier this year, Etihad offered a 25% bonus on all miles transferred from Citi into Etihad Guest.
I was concerned about Etihad slapping on British-Airways-level surcharges, turning what seemed like a great deal into a sour experience. However, while $230 in fees is substantial (and a bit high compared to some other airlines), it doesn’t diminish the value of the award substantially, and I didn’t hesitate to book the ticket. I paid the $230 fee with my Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, which offers a $300 annual travel credit. Assuming Chase reimburses the award fees, I’ll receive this ticket completely free of charge.
Paying 96,200 Etihad Guest miles instead of 220,000 United MileagePlus miles is really one screaming deal. The dates I booked currently have ANA first-class revenue fares available for $8,711, giving me an incredible redemption value of 8.8 cents per mile.
I flew the original Tokyo-Abu Dhabi-Maldives round-trip first-class mistake fare for $1,200. From that trip, my wife and I earned enough miles for me to now fly Japan-East Coast round-trip in first class for $230. At the end of the day, I’ll have flown 27,327 miles in first class for about $1,500, or less if Chase reimburses the fee. Thank you, Etihad!
Have you booked a partner flight using Etihad Guest miles?