Updated Strategies for Booking Etihad First Apartment Awards

Sep 19, 2017

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Just behind Etihad’s own Residence experience, the First Apartment on the carrier’s A380 aircraft is often considered the best product in the sky. Your own enclosed suite holds both a comfortable recliner chair and a bench that turns in to a lie-flat bed. The space, privacy and service that come with an Etihad First Apartment flight have made it so popular that booking the seats on award tickets is no longer an easy feat. Today, I’ll list the most up-to-date strategies you can use to book an Etihad First Apartment award ticket.

Ultimately, we had a fantastic flight in The Apartment.

Etihad First Apartments are only available on A380 aircraft, which are currently serving the following destinations to and from Abu Dhabi (AUH): London, Melbourne, New York, Paris and Sydney (Mumbai was recently cut). Some of the destinations only have A380 service on one flight per day, so make sure you check the aircraft operating your flight. The one-way revenue fares I found for A380 First Apartment flights ranged from $6,200 for AUH-MEL to $8,700 for AUH-JFK.

Etihad Guest

Counterintuitively, Etihad Guest should not be the first program you consider when looking to book affordable First Apartment award tickets. Overall, the program charges anywhere from an expensive amount to an astronomical amount of miles. You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points and Citi ThankYou points to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio, so despite the expensive cost it could be feasible for business owners and other big spenders to accrue enough miles to book through the Etihad Guest program.

Etihad has two levels of availability for its own program: Guest and OpenSeat. Guest seats can be difficult to come by depending on the route, but are significantly cheaper. Here’s the cheapest one-way First Apartment seat I could find using Etihad miles, which is on the Abu Dhabi to Melbourne route:

Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 11.08.55 AM

Only flight 460 from MEL is serviced by the A380, but Etihad charges the same amount of miles regardless of the aircraft type. 124,660 miles plus $202 is what the ticket will cost you if there’s Guest First seat availability. Finding Guest First seat availability is essential. If you’re looking to fly to or from New York in First Apartments using Etihad Guest and there’s no Guest-level availability, you should be prepared to pay between 900,000 and 1.7 million Etihad Guest miles:

Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 11.14.35 AM

Given the popularity of the First Apartment and the JFK route, finding Guest First seat availability to New York is challenging — and finding it from New York has become even more difficult. As if 905,295 miles weren’t enough, Etihad also puts a stiff $630 carrier-imposed surcharge on top. Let’s look at some of the partner programs available to book the flight that are more reasonable than Etihad’s own program.

ANA Mileage Club

You can book an award for round-trip Etihad flights through American Express transfer partner ANA and its Mileage Club program. Round-trip from New York to Abu Dhabi will cost 195,000 ANA miles, round-trip from London or Paris to Abu Dhabi will cost 120,000 miles and round-trip from Melbourne or Sydney to Abu Dhabi will cost 210,000 miles.

ANA Mileage Club partner award zones.
ANA Mileage Club partner award zones.

The great news about ANA is that it doesn’t pass on extensive carrier-imposed surcharges. When using ANA miles for Star Alliance-operated flights, surcharges can quickly get out of hand. For a New York – Abu Dhabi – Johannesburg – Abu Dhabi – New York itinerary including the First Apartment to and from JFK and business to and from JNB, my friend paid a total of $115 in taxes and surcharges in addition to the required 195,000 miles. That’s a fantastic deal, and you can include a stopover in Abu Dhabi.

I called ANA (the Japanese call center on Skype) to see if its agents could see the Guest Seat availability I saw on three different itineraries. Each time they saw the same seats available for booking.

Korean SkyPass

You can use Korean SkyPass miles (easily transferred from Chase at a 1:1 ratio) to book Etihad First Apartment seats. Travel must be booked round-trip, and remember if you want to use your Korean miles for a family member, you must register him or her beforehand and submit proof of family documents.

Here’s the SkyPass award chart for booking Etihad-operated flights:

Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 11.21.23 AM

Round-trip from Melbourne, New York or Sydney to Abu Dhabi will cost 210,000 Korean miles, which is a pretty great deal for 22+ hours in a First Apartment. The only problem is the fuel surcharges that Korean passes on with Etihad award tickets. Expect to pay ~$600 if you find Guest Seat availability.

The best deal with Korean SkyPass for First Apartments is Abu Dhabi to Paris or London, which will only set you back 120,000 miles round-trip. The United Kingdom departure tax hurts even more, though, so expect to pay ~$700. Korean agents I’ve spoken with have been able to see the same availability I see when a Guest Seat is open on Etihad.com.

American AAdvantage

American Airlines and Etihad have had their disagreements recently. Perhaps that’s why Etihad First seats are becoming harder and harder to book with AAdvantage miles. Currently, American charges 115,000 miles one-way for JFK-AUH, 62,500 miles one-way for AUH-LHR/CDG and 100,000 miles one-way for AUH-SYD/MEL. Taxes and fees are very reasonable on these awards, at less than $100. At the time of writing, I searched the entire schedule published on Etihad.com and couldn’t find a single JFK-AUH First Apartment Guest Seat available for booking with partners.

For the last year, calling the US-based AA call center and requesting to book Etihad First seats available on Etihad.com would often result in the American agent not being able to see the seats as available. The workaround has been to call the Australia American Airlines call center, which could see availability (particularly JFK-AUH) and book the award flight for you. Within the last few weeks, readers have reported this is no longer working, and they’re having a difficult time booking flights to and from New York on Etihad’s A380.

I called AA to test the availability I found on Etihad.com with what US-based AAdvantage agents could see on their end. For routes that did not touch JFK, AA agents could see all the availability I saw on Etihad.com. When it came to AUH-JFK, though, they could only see 2 out of the 5 flights I saw online. As previously mentioned, I couldn’t find one date through the end of the schedule on Etihad.com that had JFK-AUH first-class availability.

Bottom Line

If you want to book and fly the Etihad First Apartment, my recommendation is to try not to fly from New York to Abu Dhabi. There just aren’t enough Guest Seats available. While availability still isn’t fantastic on the other Etihad A380 routes, it’s doable if your schedule is just a bit flexible. My recommendation to experience what is arguably the best first class in the sky would be to use ANA miles to book round-trip to Paris or London from Abu Dhabi for 120,000 miles and small surcharges.

Have you booked Etihad First Apartments using miles lately? 

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