The workaround to booking Etihad awards not available through AA’s website

Sep 11, 2019

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There’s little that competes with the opulence of Etihad first class.

On some aircraft, Etihad‘s first class is called The Apartment. While that’s a bit generous of a description, it is indeed a massive seat in a large suite which comes with its own bench — which folds out into a bed. There’s a shower on board for first-class guests and a bar/lounge area. It’s truly an incredible experience, and it “only” costs 115,000 American Airlines miles per person.

Now, imagine that you’ve dutifully saved up American Airlines miles to book this once-in-a-lifetime trip. After waiting for months, you finally get an alert from ExpertFlyer that award space has opened.

Now that Etihad awards are bookable through American Airlines’ website, you hurry to AA.com to search for the award. Sure enough, there it is!

You click on the award to book it, and … it errors out.

After checking ExpertFlyer again to see if the space is still there, you curse AA’s online award booking engine and pick up the phone to call an American Airlines reservations representative. To your disbelief, they say there’s no award availability that day. To be sure, you double-check that they are searching “O” booking space. Annoyed, the agent confirms that he is, that there’s no space and you should try another date.

After another look at ExpertFlyer, you start to wonder if ExpertFlyer is correct. So, you check Etihad’s website to see if the space is showing there. Sure enough, there’s “GuestSeat” — Etihad’s saver award level — available. Sure, now that Etihad has dynamic award pricing for its award flights, it costs 136,460 Etihad Guest miles plus $275, but it’s available if you have enough miles to book it:

If this story sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The better news is that you’re not out of luck. There’s a workaround for this frustrating situation: calling the American Airlines phone desk in Australia.

This is a trick that we’ve shared for years on TPG, and it’s the workaround I needed to use to book Etihad first class for the inaugural TPG Awards last year. However, since then, American Airlines has made Etihad awards bookable through its website. Unfortunately that hasn’t translated into easier booking for some awards.

Here’s how the trick works. You’ll need to call American Airlines Australia call center at +61 02-9101-1948. The center is staffed 24 hours a day, and I didn’t have to wait long to get an agent. Make sure to use a service that doesn’t charge much for international calls. I was able to use Wi-Fi calling through my Google Fi account to pay just $0.01 per minute.

In case you’re wondering why there are two calls there, there was a wrinkle that I ran into this time around. When the first Australian phone agent pulled up my account, she told me that she was required to transfer me to my elite service line, given my elite status with AA.

That meant I was transferred back to a U.S. call center agent, who insisted that there was no award space — even though the Australian agent had just seen it a few minutes earlier. When I called back, I got an Australian agent that didn’t mind ticketing this award for me without transferring me.

We reached out to American Airlines about this online booking issue. An AA spokesperson confirmed that the airline is “aware there have been some discrepancies, and your example helps aid our research with Etihad to determine the cause and work together towards a solution.” The airline certainly seems to understand the frustration and “apologizes for any inconvenience to our customers.”

Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy

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