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Etihad is known for offering great premium-cabin service, but its frequent flyer program is also a valuable option for booking award flights with a global network of partners. Below, TPG Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr walks you through the award-booking process and shows you the best options for earning and redeeming Etihad miles.
The Etihad Guest program is incredibly valuable, thanks in large part to reasonably priced premium-cabin awards on partner airlines. While many points and miles enthusiasts have overlooked the program, the sweet spots when it comes to Etihad partner award flights are worth considering, even though booking them can be somewhat complicated. Today, I’ll walk you through what I believe is the best process to book Etihad partner award flights, in addition to sharing results for availability on some of the most useful partner routes.
In April, American Express announced the addition of Etihad Guest as a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards. This means you now have the ability to combine both Citi ThankYou points and Membership Rewards points to bolster your Etihad Guest balance and book these partner flights.
I’d be willing to wager that the amount of time I’ve spent on the phone trying to find and book Etihad partner award flights supersedes that of 99.9% of Etihad Guest members. That’s in part because there’s no more frustrating phone call to make with any loyalty program. Each call to find availability takes at least 20 minutes, with an actual booking taking closer to an hour. Before you call in, it could be worth taking a look at the different award charts for each partner airline to familiarize yourself with the award(s) you’re hoping to book.
Here are the top strategies that can help you successfully book a partner award — based on my hours of research:
1. Buckle up. — Sit down with a glass of your favorite adult beverage and mentally prepare yourself for the amount of time this call will require. You can’t book partner flights on Etihad.com; you must call Etihad Guest, a program known for its ground service quirks and requiring an inhumane amount of effort from a customer to have any problems resolved. As of February 15, 2016, Etihad changed the US call center number, but has still neglected to update it on its website. Call 1-877-690-0767 to book partner flights. You can then push 1-2-1 consecutively to quickly reach an agent.
2. Only speak to the Manchester, UK call center. — There are four global Etihad Guest call centers you may be routed to from the US. For whatever reason, the agents in Manchester are far superior to the rest and mostly understand the partner booking process. In the worst case scenario, they have competent team leaders they can divert to if they have trouble.
3. Know how to request a partner award seat. — In order to find availability for the majority of Etihad partners, the agent must actively request an award seat from the partner airline through the computer. The partner carrier will then come back and either confirm or deny the award seat request. If the phone agent you’re speaking with seems to be passively looking at the system to see a fare class or other data, hang up and call again. It should take him or her 5-10 minutes to find an award seat after manually querying the partner airline.
4. Expect some confusion. — The availability released to Etihad from partner airlines makes no sense. The vast majority of the time, availability found for Etihad partners doesn’t match ExpertFlyer; it doesn’t match United.com, AA.com, BA.com or any other .com, either. After many, many, many hours on the phone with Etihad, I can confirm that neither Etihad nor the partner knows exactly when Etihad will find availability on a partner.
5. Ask politely. — You need to be willing to negotiate with the agent and team leader. When it comes to routing rules and award possibilities with partner airlines, you can talk your way to booking a few amazing routings. If you think an agent is charging the wrong number of miles or an incorrect amount of taxes (which happens), challenge them, but be nice about it.
6. Book far enough in advance. — You have to book partner flights 14 days in advance of the departure date. There are no last-minute partner bookings with Etihad Guest.
7. Be knowledgeable. — The agents I spoke with said a decent number of people call in to ask for redemptions on Virgin Australia and American Airlines, but many said I was the first they had spoken with to call and ask about flights on many of the partners like Czech Airlines, FlyBe and Ukraine International Airlines. Especially with the lesser-known options, you may have to educate some phone agents on which airlines are available for award bookings.
Why is this cumbersome process even worth going through? Let’s take a look at a few of Etihad’s partners, the routes available and the miles required for an award ticket.
Etihad Partner Cost and Availability
I searched for a variety of partner routings which either represent the best value for Etihad miles; seem to require a reasonable amount of miles on interesting itineraries; or allow for a comparison of alliance online availability versus Etihad availability. For example, I searched AKL-NRT on Air New Zealand to compare Etihad’s partner award availability with United.com’s. Note that the chart doesn’t include all partners — for instance, you can also use Etihad miles to book flights on Alitalia, Bangkok Airways and others, but I left them off because they don’t represent particularly good values.
For each route listed below, I had agents search for availability in all classes for one month before and after both May 25 and September 15. If they didn’t find anything, I asked them to search into 2017. Whenever they found the first date of availability — whether it was economy or business — I had them stop and move to the next route. All costs are one-way unless the partner only allows return trips, in which case the cost is annotated with R/T for round-trip.
Finally, note that while you can book first-class awards with some partners, they tend to be so outrageously priced that it wasn’t worth investigating them. For that reason, the chart below only includes economy and business redemption rates.
|Partner||Route||Economy Cost||Business Cost||Availability||Taxes and Fees|
|Air New Zealand||AKL-NRT||105,000||210,000||Economy: May 28||$24.00|
|JFK-LAX||12,500||25/32.5 (F)||First: July 23||$92.45|
|BOS-CDG||20K (Off Peak)/30K||50,000||Business: May 26||$27.90|
|ANA||HND-SYD||30,000||54,000||Economy: May 25||$48.20|
|NRT-SEA||30,000||54,000||Business: May 25||$52.10|
|NRT-BRU||43,000||78,000||Economy: May 25||$17.90|
|Asiana||ICN-IST||58,000 R/T||96,000 R/T||Business: June 30-July 6||$125.90|
|ICN-LAX||70,000 RT||118,000 R/T||Business: May 25 -June 1||$119.94|
|Brussels Airlines||BRU-JFK||21,972 R/T||36,620 R/T||Economy: Waitlisted May 25-June 3||$51.16|
|Czech Airlines||PRG-ICN||12,805||25,610||Business: May 17||$149.10|
|FlyBe||MAN-AMS||6,000-27,000||N/A||T Class: May 15||$43|
|GOL||GRU-PUJ||23,000||45,000 (Premium Y)||None||N/A|
|Hainan Airlines||PEK-PRG||35,000||70,000||Business: May 25||$207|
|Jet Airways||HKG-BOM||19,000||36,000||Economy: May 26||$40.50|
|LHR-DEL||32,000||60,000||Economy: May 25||$118.19|
|Oman Air||LHR-MCT||44,000 R/T||88,000 R/T||Business: May 25 outbound||$210|
|Royal Air Maroc||JFK-CMN||22,000||44,000||Economy: May 24||$119.90|
|Sri Lankan Airlines||CMB-PEK||46,000 R/T||92,000 R/T||Economy: May 25 – June 3||$50|
|CMB-PVG||46,000 R/T||92,000 R/T||Economy: May 25-June 1||$50|
|CMB-FCO||68,000 R/T||134,000 R/T||Economy: May 16 – June 1||$50|
|Ukraine International Airlines||JFK-KBP||24,000||66,000||Business: May 22||$25.00|
|Virgin Australia||SYD-PER||16,900||33,800||Economy: May 25||$14.00|
|MEL-HTI||6,900||13,800||Business: May 25||$14.00|
When it comes to redeeming Etihad miles for award flights, not all partners are created equal. Here’s a rundown of some of the programs’ peculiarities:
Air New Zealand — The carrier’s distance-based award chart is arranged so that you can only travel within New Zealand for flights within the first zone. This makes flights outside of the country cost an obscene amount of miles, so you should likely rule out redeeming your Etihad miles here.
American Airlines — AA had a devaluation this year, but Etihad’s redemption chart for AA flights remains the same. You can book lap infant award tickets on AA for 10% of the required adult miles, which saves parents from having to pay 10% of full adult fares for international flights, which can be hefty. Agents should look for T, U and Z class for economy, business and first-class award availability respectively on American flights. Interestingly, first class is available for booking on AA’s A321T for transcontinental service, and the agent quoted only 25,000 miles and $92.45 to book the ticket.
ANA — All Nippon Airways seems to be the exception to the rule for finding availability; the ANA flights Etihad can book do seem to match what’s shown on United.com. Out of all the Etihad partners, it also seems to take agents the longest to find availability and create a booking on ANA flights.
Asiana — One-way tickets are not permitted. Availability for this partner used to be nonexistent, but in my research the agents had little problem finding seats on my two test routes.
Brussels Airlines — Agents should search for X or I fares for economy and business availability, respectively. One-way tickets are not permitted. The transatlantic BRU-JFK routes represents an unbelievable value, but business class has so far eluded me on this route. I previously have found economy-class availability for the route, but this time I was told I could waitlist the routing in economy, but the agents had no idea when or if the seats would clear.
FlyBe — This British low-cost carrier flies around the UK and Western Europe, but I nor the Etihad agents know how to make sense of this one-of-a-kind award chart based on the revenue fare class of a ticket. I should have recorded this phone call so you could hear the Etihad agents and team leaders try and decipher Etihad’s own chart! In the end, we discovered FlyBe is different than the other partners, as Etihad can passively see availability without having to query the system. As far as what mileage level you’ll be charged….who knows? I was quoted 6,000 miles for MAN-AMS.
GOL — Agents should search for X and I fare classes for economy and Comfort Class availability, respectively. The agents I spoke with could not find a seat on the calendar for my test route.
Hainan Airlines — Agents should look for S, J and P fare classes for availability in economy, business and first, respectively.
Jet Airways — Agents should look for X, D and R classes for economy, business and first-class award availability, respectively.
Malaysia Airlines — The distance-based award chart is sub-par, and availability almost impossible to find. BA.com shows plenty of flights available, but Etihad agents apparently have access to none of the space.
Sri Lankan Airlines — Agents should look for N class for economy and D class for business award availability. One-way tickets are not permitted.
Philippine Airlines — Terrible award chart, which is why the airline is not included in the chart above; NRT-MNL may be your best bet for value, with a round-trip costing ~31,000 miles in economy.
Ukraine International Airlines — Agents should look for X class for economy and I for business award availability. Surprisingly, it was simple for the agent to find seats on many dates for New York to Kiev. Anyone for UIA business class?
Virgin Australia — Perhaps the strongest partnership Etihad has for award bookings, this is the most popular partner booked according to Etihad agents. Flight availability was the best of all the partners, and there are a lot of city pairs you can fly between for only 6,900 Etihad miles, including the listed Sydney to Great Barrier Reef airport at Hamilton Island. Agents look for X and Z class for economy and business award space on Virgin Australia.
Is Booking Etihad Partner Awards Worth the Effort?
In one word, absolutely. In addition to the above mentioned excellent redemptions, the data here only represents the process and availability of partner award flights. It does not touch on routing rules and possibilities. Many partners allow stopovers and open jaws, and with a region-based partner award chart like American’s, you can end up flying many hours in business class for a very reasonable amount of miles, i.e. CDG-JFK (stopover) JFK-GIG for 70,000 miles in business.
The availability I found has greatly increased compared to what I was previously able to locate, so provided you find a capable agent, you shouldn’t have too much trouble locking down an award. As the results show, most of the partners had award dates right on May 25 where my searches began. This availability increase was the most encouraging outcome of my research.
Cards to Consider
You can utilize the 50,000-point sign up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months with the Citi Prestige Card and fly American Airlines business class to Europe via a transfer to Etihad Guest. Combine that sign-up bonus with the current, limited-time 75,000-point offer after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening with the Mercedes-Benz Credit Card from American Express, and you’ll quickly have 125,000 Etihad Guest miles. And given all the partner award possibilities, it could definitely be worth leveraging these offers to build up your Citi and Amex account balances.
With Etihad partners, you can fly Europe to Asia for 26,000 miles in business and you can even fly New York to Europe for 22,000 miles round-trip — in economy, but that’s still a heck of a deal. There are so many bargains that it’s hard to recommend a single place to start.
Unfortunately, Etihad’s partner award charts follow a sense of logic unfamiliar to the rest of the world. While the city pair award charts have their own unique pricing, some of the distance-based award charts are simply outlandish. Then there’s Sri Lankan Airlines, which has a chart with zone definitions, but also presents a city-pair redemption table. If you can work through the confusion with the help of a knowledgeable agent, though, the Etihad Guest program has plenty of value to offer.
Hopefully this post has inspired you to look into partner awards with the program, while helping to demystify the somewhat complex process of booking them. Collectively, the Etihad Guest program’s partners allow you to explore almost every corner of the globe with a single loyalty currency.
What Etihad partner redemptions have you been successful in booking?
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.