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While declining demand has led Airbus to cease production of the A380 and caused many airlines to consider an early retirement, the incredible amount of space aboard the double-decker whale jet has given airlines the chance to innovate their cabins in a way we haven’t seen in decades. Most people associate the A380 with Emirates first-class shower suites, but in many ways, Etihad’s first-class Apartments are even more impressive. TPG himself flew it last year and loved the onboard chef who customized his meal, as well as the onboard shower, the impressive amount of space and the lounge and bar area on the plane which is known as “The Lobby.”
Intrigued? Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about Etihad’s unique first-class product, including what the Apartment is like, where to find it and how to book these coveted award seats.
As of this writing, Etihad has 10 Airbus A380s in its fleet, the same number as Qatar Airways but a far cry from Emirates’ 110 super jumbos. Etihad flies its A380s from its hub in Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK), London (LHR), Paris (CDG), Seoul (ICN) and Sydney (SYD).
Etihad has made a number of changes to its A380 routes in recent years, discontinuing service to both Mumbai (BOM) and Melbourne (MEL) and cutting one of two daily frequencies to JFK. Given the restructuring plan the airline has announced after multiple years of billion-dollar losses, it’s very possible that we’ll see more changes in the way Etihad deploys its A380s.
But as of right now at least, here are the current flight schedules for Etihad’s A380s:
To/from New York (JFK)
- EY101 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 10:30 am Departure → New York (JFK) 4:25 pm Arrival
- EY100 New York (JFK) 10:55 pm Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 8:00 pm Arrival +1
To/from London, England (LHR)
- EY11 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 2:50 am Departure → London (LHR) 7:30 am Arrival
- EY19 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 8:10 am Departure → London (LHR) 12:50 pm Arrival
- EY17 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 2:05 pm Departure → London (LHR) 6:45 pm Arrival
- EY12 London (LHR) 9:35 am Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 7:55 pm Arrival
- EY20 London (LHR) 3:00 pm Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 1:10 am Arrival +1
- EY18 London (LHR) 8:45 pm Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 6:55 am Arrival +1
To/from Paris, France (CDG)
- EY31 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 2:15 am Departure → Paris (CDG) 7:40 am Arrival
- EY37 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 8:55 am Departure → Paris (CDG) 2:20 pm Arrival
- EY32 Paris (CDG) 10:30 am Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 7:30 pm Arrival
- EY38 Paris (CDG) 9:55 pm Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 6:45 am Arrival +1
To/from Sydney, Australia (SYD)
- EY454 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 9:50 pm Departure → Sydney (SYD) 5:50 pm Arrival +1
- EY455 Sydney (SYD) 8:55 pm Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 5:35 am Arrival +1
To/from Seoul, South Korea (ICN)
- EY876 Abu Dhabi (AUH) 10:00 pm Departure → Seoul (ICN) 11:35 am Arrival +1
- EY873 Seoul (ICN) 12:55 am Departure → Abu Dhabi (AUH) 5:40 am
Cabin layout and seat selection
Until Singapore Airlines released their new Suites design, Etihad was the only carrier to operate an A380 with a single-aisle first-class cabin. Located at the front of the upper deck, the cabin design is absolutely stunning — pictures don’t do it justice.
There are nine Apartments that alternate between forward and rear-facing, as well as between being closer to the window and closer to the aisle. In the front of the cabin, where you’d expect seats 1A and 1C to be, is “The Residence,” a three-room mega suite complete with a separate living room, bedroom, bathroom (with a shower, of course) and your own personal butler.
While there’s no such thing as a bad Apartment in Etihad first class, there are some things to be aware of when selecting your seat. Seats 1H, 3A, 3K, 5C and 5H face backwards, while the rest face forward. Additionally, 3A, 3K, 4A and 4K are closer to the window, while the other seats are closer to the aisle.
You’ll have plenty of space to move about your Apartment during the flight, but if window views during takeoff and landing are important to you, try to select rows 3 or 4.
Rows 3 and 4 are also ideal if you’re traveling with someone, as there’s a partition that can be lowered to connect the seats. It doesn’t form a true double bed like you can find on Singapore and Qatar, but with the doors closed, it’s about as private as you can get in commercial aviation today.
Each seat in an Apartment consists of a wide armchair as well as a separate couch that converts into a six-foot, 10-inch bed. Some airlines really skimp out on bedding, even in premium cabins, but this is one area where Etihad excels. In addition to a full turndown service before bedtime, each Apartment comes stocked with an incredibly plush blanket for lounging.
Each seat also comes with a vanity and full-length mirror opposite the couch, allowing you to freshen up from the privacy of your seat. And of course, there’s the shower suite. Like Emirates, Etihad technically has two showers at the front of the cabin, but one is exclusively for passengers in The Residence and can’t be used by “regular” first-class passengers, even if The Residence is empty.
Flight attendants will help you schedule a shower appointment early in the flight so all the Apartment passengers can get a turn. You get five minutes of water, but you can turn it on and off as much as you like and take your time. If you’re simply looking to change or use the bathroom, the main first-class bathroom opposite The Residence is spacious and full of soothing tile patterns.
Etihad is a classic example of why not just which airline you fly matters, but what plane you’re flying on. Much of the airline’s long-haul fleet — including 777s, certain 787s and A330s — have enclosed first-class suites, but many of them are starting to show their age and they certainly can’t match the square footage of the A380 Apartments.
How to book
With one-way tickets from New York to Abu Dhabi starting at $16,000+ in an Etihad Apartment, you’ll certainly want to use your miles here. Etihad isn’t a member of any of the three major alliances, but there are a few different options for redeeming miles.
Whether or not you plan on booking your award directly through Etihad, the Etihad website is the easiest way to search for award space (unless you have an Expert Flyer subscription). Etihad Guest miles are relatively easy to earn, as they transfer 1:1 from American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. You can also transfer points from Capital One at a 2:1.5 ratio, or from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer.
There are two tiers of awards: “Guest Seat” and “Open Seat,” which correspond to the “saver” and “standard” awards we’re used to. Open Seat awards are unimaginably expensive (over 870,000 miles for a one-way first-class ticket between JFK and AUH), so we’ll ignore those. Oh, and that fancy three-room Residence? While you can technically book it with miles, it will cost you a cool 2.7 million miles. Those are worth about $38,000 based on TPG’s latest valuations, and while The Residence is one of the most expensive and exclusive in-flight products, it only costs ~$25,000 to book directly with cash.
You’ll generally want to focus on Guest Seat awards, as these are the seats that are both cheapest and available for partner bookings as well. One-way Guest Seat awards cost the following amounts:
|From Abu Dhabi (AUH) to…||Etihad Guest Miles||Taxes/Fees/Surcharges|
|New York (JFK)||136,460||~$275|
These prices aren’t cheap, but they aren’t that egregious when you compare them to the rest of the market. For example, ~130,000 miles for an ultra-long-haul first-class ticket is in line with what United charges. The flights to London and Paris are definitely the best if you’re looking to experience the product for the fewest miles possible, but since those flights are both under eight hours, you might not have enough time to enjoy the full first-class experience.
Figuring out award availability trends with Etihad is a bit like a game of whack-a-mole. The European destinations generally have some availability if you’re flexible with your dates, while the long-haul routes to Sydney and New York get trickier. Sydney is one of Etihad’s most popular routes, and finding award space to or from there is difficult, but not impossible. Meanwhile, award space in the direction from Abu Dhabi to New York (AUH-JFK) is often much better than the reverse flight (JFK-AUH), but there are weeks that don’t have even a single seat available in either direction.
Like many airlines, Etihad often releases a large amount of last-minute award space. Earlier this year at one point a week before departure, award space for 11 out of the 18 total Apartment seats departing JFK were available, with 7 more seats from Paris. Etihad appears to have tightened up a bit since then, but if you’re flexible with your travel plans it’s still worth keeping an eye on the last minute availability.
In the past, American Airlines miles have been considered the “go-to” option for most U.S.-based travelers when booking an Etihad Apartment, and the recent addition of Seoul to Etihad’s A380 rotation makes AAdvantage even more compelling. One way saver (Guest Seat) first-class awards cost the following amounts:
- U.S. to Middle East: 115,000 miles
- Europe to Middle East: 62,500 miles
- Australia to Middle East: 100,000 miles
- Asia 1 to Middle East: 50,000 miles
Far and away the best deal here is for flights from Seoul (ICN) to Abu Dhabi. AAdvantage has incredibly generous pricing for flights between Asia and the Middle East, and I managed to book two Etihad apartment awards for my girlfriend and me for 100,000 AAdvantage miles total. With some help from Etihad’s Twitter support team, we even reserved connecting seats for our upcoming trip!
The exact taxes and fees vary, but are generally quite reasonable. Unfortunately, even if you’ve found award space, you might have trouble booking these awards. Although AA shows most partner award space on its website — including Etihad — you’ll may still need to call in to book. American’s U.S.-based agents often can’t see Etihad award space on their end (note that this problem primarily affects flights to and from the U.S. or Sydney — AA phone agents were able to help me book two tickets from Seoul quite easily).
Many people instead call the Australian AA call center as a workaround, but that can be hit and miss. Often, your best bet is to HUCA (hang up and call again) and hope that your skill in finding the award space is graced by just a little bit of luck.
Asiana is a unique Star Alliance loyalty program. It passes on carrier-imposed surcharges which can make award tickets quite expensive, but it balances that downside with incredibly cheap redemption rates. Other than crediting Star Alliance flights to Asiana, the best way to acquire these miles is by transferring 3:1 from Marriott, with a 5,000-mile bonus for transfers of 60,000 points.
Here are the one-way award costs for Etihad first class Apartments:
- U.S. to Middle East: 80,000 miles
- Europe to Middle East: 40,000 miles
- Australia to Middle East: 110,000 miles
These are some of the cheapest prices we’ve seen across the board, and make Asiana a very compelling way to book. But I hate blowing so many Marriott points on a single redemption, and the high surcharges eat away at the value, especially for flights to and from Europe.
Korean Air SkyPass
Unfortunately Korean Air is no longer a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, but if you have any SkyPass miles that you transferred over before the partnership ended, you can redeem them for flights on Etihad using the following award chart:
The Korean Air booking process can be a bit convoluted, but our guide on how to book award flights with Korean Air SkyPass should help you walk through some of the tricky details, including registering family members and putting awards on hold.
You can only book round-trip partner awards with Korean SkyPass, but the rates are relatively reasonable, though the surcharges are not ideal. For instance, 120,000 miles round-trip between Europe and Abu Dhabi is great, but if you’re flying out of London, taxes and surcharges will likely exceed $500. Even 210,000 miles for a round-trip from New York or Sydney to Abu Dhabi isn’t bad, but it’s not a steal either.
Flying first class in an Etihad Apartment is a true bucket list item. Due to the small number of A380s in the Etihad fleet, it’s possibly even more elusive than Emirates first class. Between the ongoing trend we’ve seen over the last few years where first-class award tickets continue to get outrageously more expensive, along with the financial instability of Etihad, this is a bucket-list item I’d seek to cross off sooner rather than later.
Featured photo by G Tipene/Shutterstock
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