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Citi ThankYou Rewards has stepped up over the past year by introducing new benefits to the program’s credit cards and improving its array of airline transfer partners. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr looks at award opportunities on one of those partners to see what kind of value it offers.
Citi recently released some great new offers for cards in the ThankYou Rewards program, including an offer for the Citi Premier Card of 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months), plus a similar offer for the Citi Prestige Card. Naturally, interest in the program spikes when offers like this come out, and the TPG team has been getting more and more questions about how to make use of ThankYou points.
After looking at how to maximize Citi ThankYou redemptions, I got to wondering why so many have written off the lesser-known ThankYou Rewards airline transfer partners. I admit that I had only a cursory understanding of some of the programs, so I decided to investigate further. Last week I looked at the value of using ThankYou Points on Cathay Pacific and EVA Airways, and today I’ll continue that analysis by looking at the Etihad Guest program.
Etihad Guest Basics
We’ve been hearing quite a bit lately about Etihad (along with Emirates and Qatar) and the ruckus US legacy airlines are raising over Middle Eastern carriers. Delta, American and United hope to prevent these airlines (known collectively as the ME3) from expanding further into the North American market. The onboard product offered by the ME3 carriers is far superior to anything US airlines can muster, and customers are taking notice on these routes.
Those of us who have flown Etihad have few complaints about the onboard product, but the Etihad Guest program remains relatively unknown among award travelers. I recently flew Etihad round-trip in Diamond First and Pearl Business on a Tokyo-Abu Dhabi-Maldives route, with stopovers in Abu Dhabi both outbound and inbound. After heavily researching the program, I decided that crediting these flights to Etihad Guest was the best deal compared to other airline partners. Here’s why:
- You earn Etihad miles based on the physical distance flown.
- Generous multipliers are added for the fare class of your ticket and Etihad Guest Elite Status.
- You can combine your own earnings with your spouse’s into a single family membership.
- You can redeem 25,000 miles Etihad Guest miles for domestic round-trip American Airlines flights.
- My wife and I earned 70,000 Etihad Guest miles total for our flights, whereas we would only have earned 40,000 AAdvantage miles total by crediting to American Airlines. That’s a difference of a free domestic round-trip economy flight.
You can transfer ThankYou Rewards points to Etihad Guest at a 1:1 ratio, and then redeem them on any of Etihad’s partners as you normally would with Etihad Guest miles.
Etihad Redemption Strategy
1. Avoid Free Flights with Etihad
While Etihad does not have a clear award chart for free flights on its own metal, redemption costs are based on the distance flown. Much like United Saver availablility or American’s sAAver space, award seats on Etihad flights come in different tiers. Guest Economy seats require the fewest miles (and also mean the flight is bookable with American or ANA miles), while Economy Freedom seats cost the most.
The above search shows that the one trip my wife and I took already earned each us a free round-trip London-to-Abu-Dhabi award ticket in Guest Economy. Etihad’s own award tickets can get pricey rather fast, so I don’t recommend using Etihad Guest miles for flights on Etihad itself. For example, Washington Dulles to Abu Dhabi starts at 64,333 miles each way for an economy ticket.
2. Cash Back with PointsPay
Etihad has an exclusive partnership with PointsPay.com, which allows you to instantly convert your Guest miles into cash at a rate of roughly 0.7 cents per mile. You can load your miles onto a virtual card for online shopping or a physical plastic card to use in-store (the site uses both the Visa and MasterCard networks). My 70,000 miles earned translates into $475.20 cash back for buying my ticket with Etihad. Add in the miles I collected with my Etihad BusinessConnect account, and I get another $160 cash back for a total of $635.20. That’s not a particularly good value at less than one cent per mile, but it’s a good option to have in case you really just want to cash out.
3. Etihad Partner Redemptions
The process for booking partner awards may be difficult, but in the end it’s worth the effort. Etihad has a different award chart for each of its partner airlines, so figuring out how many miles you need can be cumbersome. Ironically, you must go to the Earn Miles page on the Etihad Guest website to find the partner airlines and the award chart for each one.
While not a member of any alliance, Etihad has been working hard to diversify its partners (to the extent that many are speculating about Etihad creating a 4th global alliance). I count 26 airlines on which you can currently redeem Etihad Guest miles for free flights. These are some of the best redemptions I see:
- 36,620 miles for round-trip business class from Brussels to New York on Brussels Airlines
- 25,000 miles for round-trip US domestic economy flights on American Airlines
- 35,000 miles for round-trip (off-peak) from the US to Hawaii in economy on American Airlines
- 53,000 miles to fly economy up to 10,000 miles with 3 stopovers allowed on Asiana Airlines
- 51,220 miles for round-trip Prague to Seoul in business on Czech Airlines
- 44,000 miles for one-way Casablanca to New York on Royal Air Maroc’s 787 Dreamliner
- 12,000 miles for one-way Muscat to Kuwait City in business (2 hr 15 min flight time) on Oman Air
- 24,000 miles for round-trip short-haul US domestic flights in business on Delta via Alitalia
As you can see above, there are some real gems when it comes to redeeming miles on Etihad’s partner airlines. Transatlantic for under 37,000 miles round-trip in business is incredible. So what’s the catch? Availability can be very limited, and again the booking process is tedious.
Having called Etihad many times over the last weeks to try and book some of these partner airline flights, I’ve learned a few things:
- You have to get lucky and get a phone agent who knows what he or she is doing. Some are fantastic and others are terrible.
- Checking dates for availability takes a long time. You’ll be on hold sometimes for 10 minutes.
- There’s plenty of availability to fly American Airlines domestically.
- There’s little availability on Asiana, Brussels and Air Maroc.
- Virgin Australia has decent availability, but not the most attractive redemption levels.
- Fuel surcharges and taxes can be quite a bit, or nothing at all. I have yet to figure out a pattern, as each partner request takes so long I can’t get enough data to form conclusions.
Etihad Guest offers plenty of value to ThankYou Rewards members if you have time to track down the award space you want. If you have a particular redemption in mind, Etihad’s call center is available 24/7 to help you look for partner award availability. I appreciated that convenience, since most foreign airlines have call centers that are open only during normal (local) business hours.
If you think there are other gems that I missed in the partner award charts, or you have tips for booking with Etihad Guest, please share them in the comments below.
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