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This is how to redeem just 62,500 Amex, Capital One or Citi points for a first-class flight to Australia

Jan. 19, 2023
6 min read
American Airlines Flagship First 1A
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Finding business- or first-class award space to Australia is notoriously difficult. When I started planning a trip to Australia on points and miles, I spent months waiting for business-class award space on Qantas and Fiji Airways to redeem 55,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to no avail.

But then, I checked out Etihad Guest, transferred Capital One miles and booked a one-way flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Sydney Airport (SYD) on Christmas for just 62,500 miles and $50 — in Flagship First.

Etihad Guest is a lesser-known mileage currency with appealing award rates on partner airlines, including ANA, Brussels Airlines and American Airlines. In the case of its partnership with American Airlines, its award rates are often significantly less expensive than those of American's loyalty program, AAdvantage. In fact, Etihad's American award chart mirrors the AAdvantage award chart of 2016.

Here's what you need to know about this sweet spot.

It's the same price for business or first class

"EO" is economy off-peak, "EP" is economy peak and "B/F" is business/first. ETIHADGUEST.COM

Etihad Guest has a published award chart (PDF link) for award travel on American Airlines. Interestingly, the business- and first-class award rates are the same for international American Airlines flights.

Next year, international first class on American Airlines will fade away. Still, my flight to Sydney was on the four-cabin Boeing 777-300ER, which has economy, premium economy, Flagship Business and Flagship First seats. And for now, you can redeem 62,500 miles and around $50 in taxes and fees to fly either Flagship Business or Flagship First.

So, since first class is the same price as business class, why not give it a shot?

Related: American introduces a new business-class fare that includes first-class perks

You're looking for Z or U fare classes

American uses the Z fare class for first-class MileSAAver awards and the U fare class for business-class MileSAAver awards. That means Eithad can only process bookings for this award if the Z or U fare classes are available.

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I use ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures) to look for award space and set alerts.

EXPERTFLYER

If Z or U award space isn't available, consider setting an ExpertFlyer alert. That way, you'll receive an email if award space becomes available. Also, American Airlines doesn't always fly its Boeing 777-300ER to Sydney. In the screenshot below, you'll only see the U fare class since the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner operating this Sydney route in March doesn't have a first-class cabin.

EXPERTFLYER.COM

This is the alert email from ExpertFlyer, indicating that Z-fare award space became available.

EXPERTFLYER

Related: Beginners guide to finding award space with ExpertFlyer

You have to call in

As soon as I received the email that award space had become available, I knew that timing was of the essence. After all, American Airlines only has eight seats in Flagship First, and there were only two Z-fare seats.

Since Etihad Guest doesn't allow you to book American Airlines award flights online, I gave Etihad Guest a quick call at 877-690-0767. Contrary to some reports, my experience with Etihad Guest's customer service couldn't have been better. There was no hold time, and the extremely polite and professional agent was well aware of Etihad Guest's partnership with American Airlines and confirmed there was Z-fare award space.

Related: Etihad Guest miles continue to fly under the radar

Instantaneous transfers

After the customer service representative confirmed we could book the ticket, I logged in to my Capital One account. I then transferred 125,000 Capital One miles (enough for two tickets) while on the phone with Etihad Guest. Since award space could disappear and credit card point transfers are one-way, this was a stressful moment of truth.

The phone representative remained calm, composed and patient. Within less than 60 seconds of initiating the transfer from Capital One to Etihad Guest, I received the following email:

CAPITAL ONE

I now had 125,000 Etihad Guest miles that the representative used to book the two Flagship First seats. I provided a credit card for each ticket's $50 in taxes and fees.

In our tests, transfers from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Citi ThankYou are instantaneous.

Related: How (and why) you should earn transferable points in 2023

Book at least 24 hours out

KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

I made my flight reservation roughly 27 hours before departure, and the Etihad Guest phone representative told me I was lucky to call in when I did.

Etihad Guest cannot issue American Airlines award tickets within 24 hours of departure. Some phone representatives may not be aware of this condition. Subsequently, you might transfer your miles to Etihad Guest after a phone representative has confirmed award availability to then be told you can't book the flight since it's within 24 hours of departure.

Just make sure to book your flight before the 24-hour cutoff.

Related: Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly Brussels Airlines business class to Europe for just 44,000 miles

Bottom line

GOOGLE.COM/FLIGHTS

Was it worth the trouble setting ExpertFlyer alerts, calling Etihad Guest and transferring credit card points to book this flight? Absolutely.

According to Google Flights, one-way first-class seats between LAX and SYD routinely sell between $10,500 and $13,500 per person one-way. Assuming the cash fare for my flight fell within the mean of this range, I redeemed my Capital One miles at roughly 17.3 cents apiece — that's close to 10 times TPG's valuation.

My mom and I enjoyed the private Flagship First check-in at LAX, a private escort to security and access to the Qantas first-class lounge. While the catering on board the flight left room for improvement, the attentive service and comfortable seats gave us a full night's sleep on the plane.

When my travel plans call for a Flagship First route again, I know how to book it.

Featured image by KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees