American’s Ongoing Problem Booking Awards on Etihad

For a little over two weeks American AAdvantage has been unable to book award seats on their partner Etihad.

That’s a big deal, because Etihad has a fantastic onboard product and because their awards are generally very very easy to get.

Etihad has scheduled flights between Abu Dhabi and New York JFK, Washington Dulles, Chicago, Toronto, Dallas, and Los Angeles. All but Chicago and Toronto feature a first class cabin.

I’ve flown Etihad first class:

They’ve been my go-to for travel to the Maldives, the Middle East, and India.

If you’re looking to book an award using American miles, see the Ultimate Guide to Booking an Award Ticket Using American AAdvantage miles.

JonNYC at TravelingBetter has been posting updates on the continued outage of the connection between Etihad and American.

The most recent status update (presumably in Jetnet) is:

Etihad Airways Award Availability

  • Update 1255CT/10JUN HDQMJ0
We continue to have Direct Access availability issues with Etihad Airways (EY). For example, when displaying availability for EY flights, you may receive availability for Jet Airways (9W* operated by Etihad Airways) instead. This issue continues to be investigated. Once resolved and until further notice, please offer our apologies to customers wanting to book award flights on EY and advise to call back.

This ongoing issue has, apparently, been the subject of speculation (such as on Flyertalk) about something larger than just a technical glitch.

When One Mile at a Time covered the ongoing glitch, a commenter on that blog summed up the concern:

Something like this is reasonably easily fixable IF there is a will to do so, and prioritise the fix. The question to be asked here is, why isn’t this a priority for the two parties involved (EY & AA), and what does that say about the nature of their relationship at the moment?

It is concerning that the issue has persisted for a couple of weeks. But:

  • As far as priorities for fixing this, one imagines the technical queue at American is quite long at the moment with the integration of American and US Airways.
  • While this seems like a huge deal to me, in terms of IT priorities it may not seem as high a priority up in the executive suite at American as some of the hundreds of other systems that need work as they prepare to combine two airlines.
  • Etihad would seem to value the partnership. They serve three American hubs (New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, and later this year Dallas-Fort Worth). Without any US partner a single New York flight could make sense, and they’d likely serve Washington Dulles for other than economic reasons. But their US strategy seems to align well with American’s route network.
  • It’s hard to imagine that dissolving a partnership would be presented as an ongoing IT glitch, as opposed to just.. dissolving a partnership.
  • Other issues with partners have existed – and persisted – in the past and signified nothing.
  • While some agents have speculated or ‘heard’ that the Etihad-American partnership has ended, that seems to be more of a rumor than based on any real information.

It’s conceivable that something more could be amiss. And the inability to book these seats is frustrating (I’d love to book another Maldives trip with Etihad!). But – for now – the most likely story does seem to be that the cigar is just a cigar, that there’s a technical glitch, rather than some other larger change afoot.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I think what makes this more perplexing is that both EY and AA are hosted on a Sabre. Even if they weren’t, it’s not a big ‘IT issue’ as direct access availability is settings and table driven, not an actual new direct link that needs to be setup. They have had a link for a while, so something is up.

  2. Thanks for this update, Gary. I suspect you’re right about this being a glitch, nothing more. The failure to fix it promptly could well mean that it simply isn’t an IT priority, not that something more is going on here.

    If I recall correctly, a year or two ago there were somewhat similar ongoing problems booking LAN tickets using AA miles, with the problems persisting for months until ultimately resolved. Apparently nothing more going on at that time, except the fix being a relatively low IT priority.

  3. You are starting to sound like a JonNYC doppelgänger and not thinking for yourself when mentioning EY’s route network in the US.

    EY lives from single-connection service to/from LDCs via AUH and it just happens to be that JFK, ORD, LAX, DFW and IAD make the most economic sense for them for single-connection service which is their bread and butter. Think about all the VFR traffic from the US to West/Central/South/ Asia, even parts of Eastern Asia, the Asia-Pacific region and Eastern Africa. The DC area, as we both know, has lots of people with ethnic connections in various parts of W/C/S Asia and N/E Africa.

    The viability of EY service to/from the US is not going to be dependent upon AA originating or terminating flight connections, but why wouldn’t EY want some relatively cheap sprinkles on the frosting on the cake?

    I can’t imagine that EY’s expansion in the US is going to please AA’s TATL JV brethren or even AA itself over the longer term.

  4. While this issue is certainly reflective of a glitch, making the case that this is a glitch shouldn’t rely upon some kind of exaggerated measurement of the value of AA connecting flights to EY.

  5. @GUWonder my point about EY valuing AA feed was not at all a point about AA valuing EY. It was a one-sided point. While it’s conceivable that AA would sever the relationship, it doesn’t seem advantageous for EY to do so unless they picked up UA or DL as a partner.

    EY isn’t serving DC because of ethnic traffic. They’re serving DC in order to connect the capital of the UAE to the capital of the US. That flight has some pretty light loads. They’re at least reducing capacity by moving to the 787…

  6. My point was about AA and EY’s way of valuing each other, both directions, jointly and severally.

    Why would EY need DL or UA as replacement for AA in the US, if AA and EY went separate ways? EY’s long-haul service expansion model has been built almost entirely on single connection service. EY won’t lose a whole lot if AA doesn’t feed it or carry from it. That said, as I indicated in the FT thread which you checked out, EY may like the AA sprinkles on the EY frosting on the EY cake; in other words, EY has nothing to gain by cutting off AA. Yet it’s just gravy for EY. AA has more to gain by cutting off EY; and sooner or later consider it a fait accomplish, even if not this year.

    EY’s service to IAD is barely a year old? And they were flying with the equipment they could more easily use at the time? While the route hasn’t performed as well as they expected at first, it wasn’t launched as a daily merely for capital-capital service. If capital to capital service was so important for non-economic reasons, what reasons were those and why wasn’t it launched earlier than other EY routes to the US?

    The huge ethnic VFR international traffic to/from the DC area is rivaled in the US by well less than a dozen US cities, and the DC area ethnic communities tend to be richer than those in other parts of the country (much like the DC area tends to be wealthier than the country as a whole). EY thought it economically viable in large part because of that. Running up against Emirates, Ethiopian, Saudia, South African, Turkish and even sort of United (with its limited a Gulf service) sort of nipped EY’s potential, more so at a time when Asian and African economic slowdowns were taking place.

    Longer term, my bet is that the AA-EY partnership will go the way the EK-UA/US partnerships went — except it will get to that divorce on a different time frame — unless it’s brought into the ATI TATL JV AA has with some OW carriers.

    Any word on whether or not EY is going to launch LAS (Vegas) service? FT had something on that, but that one would shock me.

  7. Pure speculation here, it does appear like this award booking issue started at about the same time that Qatar became a member of oneworld. Is that a possible connection?

  8. @GUWONDER- thanks for the shout out for the JonNYC link- wouldn’t have noticed it but for your constant mentioning in the comments…

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