Use Etihad's Improved Partner Booking Process for Great American Airlines Awards
In May 2016, TPG's Richard Kerr wrote a helpful guide on how to book Etihad partner award flights. At the time, a number of aspects made the booking process maddeningly complicated. Among them:
- Only Etihad's Manchester, UK, call center really knew how to book partner awards.
- Availability visible to Etihad agents didn't match partner airlines' websites or ExpertFlyer.
- Etihad agents didn't use the same fare codes as the partner airlines.
- Partner awards had to be booked at least 14 days in advance.
Since then, there have been some positive changes to Etihad's partner award booking process. This post outlines what's changed, and offers some sample award itineraries on American Airlines that I was able to confirm with both Etihad's agents and ExpertFlyer.
These changes are particularly helpful for those trying to book flights on American Airlines using Etihad Guest miles, given Etihad's relatively favorable redemption rates. As a result, this post will focus on Etihad Guest redemptions on American metal.
A New Etihad Guest Call Center in Serbia
Multiple Etihad Guest agents explained to me on several calls that at some point in 2017, Etihad created a dedicated Etihad Guest call center in Serbia. After about 10 calls with this team, I can confirm that they know what to look for when making partner award bookings, and they're generally more capable than the team in Manchester.
This is great news, since it eliminates the need to hang up and call again (HUCA) until reaching someone at a particular call center. To reach the dedicated Etihad Guest call center, you'll need to call Etihad at 1-877-690-0767, press 1 for English, then press 4 (don't press 2 for "first and business class" bookings), then press 1 to book or change a flight, then press 1 to book or change a flight using Etihad Guest miles.
Etihad Agents Can See the Correct Fare Class and Number of Seats
This is maybe the biggest news: After spot-checking several sample itineraries on American metal, I found that the number of award seats that Etihad agents can see exactly matches the number of saver-level seats shown on ExpertFlyer. In the case of American Airlines, at least, that also means that Etihad agents can see the same availability that you'll see when searching American's website for saver-level awards.
In addition, Etihad agents can now see the same fare classes that American uses for saver award tickets. If you're looking for a first-class award on a three-cabin flight, ask for fare code "Z." If you're looking for three-cabin business, international business, or two-cabin (domestic) first, ask for fare code "U."
You Can Now Book Partner Awards at the Last Minute
Another helpful change is that Etihad now appears to allow last-minute partner awards. All of the sample itineraries I checked had a departure within 14 days of calling, and all were allowed.
Since I haven't spot-checked every partner airline, it's possible that the rules may still differ across airlines. But at least for American metal, last-minute awards are now a possibility.
Now, for some sample itineraries. All of these itineraries were checked online and confirmed with Etihad on the phone on March 7, 2018.
Sample Itinerary 1: New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX), March 12, 13, or 14, 2018
The first itinerary I checked is a popular one: JFK to LAX in Flagship First on American Airlines' three-cabin premium transcon Airbus A321T.
First, I took a look at what American's website was showing for First MileSAAver availability the following week. Note that I toggled "Non-stop only" on the left-hand side of the page.
American's website showed some availability between Monday, March 12 and Wednesday, March 14. Specifically, the 8:15pm flight was available on Monday; and the 6:00am, 7:00am, and 9:15pm flights were available on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Then, I headed over to ExpertFlyer to see how many seats were available on each of these flights. Interestingly, each of these flights had two saver-level seats available in Flagship First.
After confirming that each of these flights had two seats available in Flagship First, I called the dedicated Etihad Guest center. After giving the agent my desired itineraries, it took the agent only a few minutes to confirm the exact same availability.
The best part? Etihad quoted me 25,000 Etihad Guest miles for either business or first. It's no glitch: I was able to book a 25,000 Etihad Guest award for my wife in transcon Flagship First a few weeks ago. For MileSAAver awards, American charges 50,000 AAdvantage miles for the same ticket.
Sample Itinerary 2: Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG), March 14, 2018
The next itinerary I checked was LAX to HKG in American's best seat: Flagship First on its Boeing 777-300ER. TPG reviewed this flight in June 2017, though that was before American opened its refreshed Flagship Lounge and its fantastic Flagship First Dining, which I recently reviewed.
On American's website, I found availability on its single nonstop flight on Wednesday, March 14, which departs LAX at 12:45am Pacific time:
ExpertFlyer showed a single seat available in Flagship First:
Then, I called Etihad Guest. The agent quickly confirmed that there was, indeed, one seat available in first. The best part: This itinerary requires only 55,000 Etihad Guest miles. American charges 110,000 AAdvantage miles.
Sample Itinerary 3: Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR), March 19 or 20, 2018
Finally, I checked availability on American's LAX to LHR route on both March 19 and 20. American's website showed first MileSAAver availability for March 20:
ExpertFlyer confirmed that one saver-level seat was available on that flight:
After calling Etihad Guest, it took only a few minutes for the agent to confirm the same availability. The cost? 50,000 Etihad Guest miles. American charges 85,000 AAdvantage miles for the same trip.
For this route, I decided to see if Etihad could see the right business-class availability. American showed Business/First MileSAAver availability on March 19:
ExpertFlyer showed one saver-level business seat available on the flight:
And finally, the Etihad Guest agent confirmed that she could see one seat available on that flight. Keep in mind, however, the cost for business and first class between these regions is the same: 50,000 Etihad Guest miles. American charges 57,500 AAdvantage miles for saver-level business, and 85,000 AAdvantage miles for saver-level first. So if you're considering options and your schedule is flexible, you might do well to try to find a 777-300ER with a seat in Flagship First available if you're using Etihad Guest miles.
Booking Etihad partner awards appears to have gotten far easier in the past year or so. This is particularly good news for those with large reserves of Etihad Guest miles, or of the three flexible currencies from which you can transfer points to Etihad Guest: American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points and Starwood Preferred Guest points.
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