American Express Membership Rewards Gets More Valuable With Etihad as New Transfer Partner

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American Express Membership Rewards announced the addition of a new points transfer partner today: Etihad Guest. Transfers to Etihad are already live.

In fact, Membership Rewards is now a transfer partner of Etihad across many international markets such as Australia, Canada, and the UK.

American Express joins Citi ThankYou Rewards in offering transfers to Etihad, and Etihad is already one of my favorite Citi partners.

It makes the points earned via the Citi Prestige Card even more valuable because they’re combinable into Etihad Guest (and not just into Singapore Krisflyer). Here are the 15 things I love about Citi Prestige.

Etihad Can Be a Useful Transfer Partner

My single best use of American AAdvantage miles the past few years has been redemptions on Etihad. That’s because Etihad has a very good first and business class product, and because availability has been generally excellent.

Citi ThankYou transfer partners

Now to be sure the single best first class product in the sky — the Etihad First Apartment, which is scheduled for Abu Dhabi – New York JFK< London, Sydney, Melbourne, and Mumbai -- can be tough to get. Availability goes in cycles. I've flown it several times this year on the New York JFK - Abu Dhabi route but availability for that flight isn't a gimme.

Nonetheless, Etihad offers first class service with other aircraft to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Washington Dulles. They offer service that features business class as the top cabin to Chicago and Toronto.

Award prices aren’t cheap. For instance,

  • New York JFK – Abu Dhabi first class is 117,560 miles one-way
  • London – Abu Dhabi first class is 87,732 miles one-way

Business class is somewhat cheaper, for instance 88,391 one-way for New York – Abu Dhabi.

Etihad also adds surcharges to awards: $50 per segment for economy, $100 per segment for business, and $150 per segment for first class.

Finding Etihad First Class Award Space

Search Etihad’s website for Guest First space. That’s the ‘low level’ space.

There’s really no way to predict Etihad’s availability patterns.

  • They are in general very good about releasing award space in advance.
  • Often a year in advance award availability is very good, although it may not open right away when the schedule opens. If it doesn’t, wait a week.
  • You won’t often find more than 2 first class seats at a time, though I’ve seen Apartment flights with more so this isn’t an absolute rule.
  • They’re inconsistent about whether or not they release award space at the last minute. Often they don’t even on empty planes. No one is as aggressive as Etihad about selling cash buy ups. Still, there can be last minute space.

There’s no way to ‘set an alert’ (a la Expert Flyer) for Etihad first class award seats. You just have to watch for them.

Fortunately as I say space is usually quite good in advance, whether 6 months or a year. It goes in waves though, it will disappear and come back, so if you don’t see what you want wait a week and check again, wait another week and check again. And if seats on a given flight haven’t sold, they might open within days of travel.

Etihad’s Airbus A380 First Class is Unparalleled

The scarcest resource on a plane is square footage. Every inch counts. The greatest luxury, therefore, is space and privacy. And Etihad offers that in a way that no other carrier can come close to.

Whereas Singapore Airlines offers suites that are 4-across on the lower deck of their A380, and Emirates offers suites that are 4-across on the somewhat narrower upper deck, Etihad offers just two seats across on the upper deck of their A380. The ‘First Apartment’ is a single aisle product on the superjumho jet. That’s unprecedented, and it’s what more than anything makes Etihad’s A380 first class product better than any other commercial first class in the sky.

You get a super wide seat and you also have a bench where folks can sit with you inside your suite. A dining companion can sit across from you (and even be seatbelted in) for a meal.

It’s that bench that folds out and turns into a bed, of course with a mattress and sheets and a blanket that’s softer than any I’ve hand on other airlines. Some find the bed a little hard, and might want another pillow (it’s worth asking) but those are minor quibbles.

Traveling with someone? The wall between rows 3 and 4 on each side of the aircraft comes down. When you’re both in bed mode, you can be laying next to each other with nothing between you from the waist up — almost like home.

Etihad is also the only airline besides Emirates to offer an onboard shower. The bathrooms aren’t as spacious as they are on Emirates. In fact, I’m not really sure why they put the shower in the smaller of their two bathrooms in first class. So you do have to squeeze a bit. The ‘spa showers’ with their own dedicated inflight attendants on Emirates are more luxurious. But there’s still something amazing about being able to shower prior to landing (and that’s by far my preferred time to do it, so I always ask for the very last shower time immediately on boarding).

Etihad does a great job with onboard cuisine. They have an ‘onboard chef’ concept — a flight attendant with restaurant experience who has primary cooking responsibility inflight — and there are great chefs who really tailor their cooking to your preferences and others who ‘only’ offer what’s on the menu. But they hit some great heights at times. They can customize meals to your preference. And the ‘dine anytime’ concept means you can have anything from across the menu throughout the flight. While I’ve read reports of running out of food inflight, the only items I’ve ever seen that with are the biryanis that always seem more popular than what’s boarded.

Now, there’s an onboard lounge area but it’s not a tended bar the way that Emirates and Qatar have. And their first class alcohol choices isn’t as quite as high end as you’ll find on some other airlines, notably Emirates. Still I find their wine choices thoughtful, and the lack of $300 whiskey and $700 cognac is a small quibble that doesn’t mean much to me.

Finally, all first class and business class passengers receive complimentary car service on departure and arrival (though not during stopovers, and not available at every international destination).

Other Uses for Etihad Points

Etihad has several airline partners, which have to be booked by phone. Etihad agents are often unfamiliar with their partners, and with how to book them.

What’s more, the cost of awards on partner airlines can be high. Nonetheless, they can also be strategically useful. For instance, Etihad partners with Philippine Airlines and they almost always have business class award space between the US and Asia. And they partner with American.

Etihad partners with carriers like Virgin Australia, Royal Air Maroc, Garuda Indonesia, Oman Air, and Hainan Airlines as well as a variety of others.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Pingbacks

  1. […] View from the Wing has the scoop here.  Etihad was already a transfer partner of SPG and Citi ThankYou Rewards.  Now, with the addition of Amex Membership Rewards, Etihad joins a small group of promiscuous airline programs that are available through 3 or more of the big transferable points programs (Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest). […]

Comments

  1. More partners is always better, but, based on this, I don’t really see its value. Think you’re better off using AA miles is how I read it.

  2. Is Etihad useful for anything besides their own expensive awards? Only so many times one needs to fly US to UAE for leisure travel. Do they have any partner awards?

  3. I must be doing something wrong. There absolutely no business class award seats available from Chicago or New York In December or January. Logging in as guest…is this normal?

  4. The entire post is non-sequitor in my opinion.

    You talk about how “Etihad Can Be a Useful Transfer Partner” and then say that “My single best use of American AAdvantage miles the past few years has been redemptions on Etihad.”

    It seems like you’ve never redeemed Etihad miles to fly Etihad, because you recognize that using AA miles is a much better deal. So it’s a bit weird (if not disingenuous) for you to tout this new feature of AMEX Membership Rewards and include referral links.

    On top of that, the stories of difficulties redeeming Etihad miles on partner airlines are legendary on Flyertalk. Yes, you do say “Etihad agents are often unfamiliar with their partners, and with how to book them,” but I don’t think you’re emphasizing it enough. If you have personal experience through your award booking service or for personal trips, it would be extremely useful to know more. That’s why we’re counting on you Gary!

  5. For most folks, wouldn’t the most valuable aspect of Etihad joining MR be the ability to book award flights on Etihad’s PARTNERS? Like AA. I think Etihad basically uses AA’s award chart, so this is a way to turn your AMEX MR points into AA flights at attractive redemption levels.

    For example, when Citi was offering a bonus for transferring ThankYou points to Etihad, I did this to book a transatlantic off-peak AA coach award ticket for 15,000 points. No fuel surcharges or ticketing fees, and I found Etihad’s rez agents to be reasonably competent in processing this transaction.

  6. Ethiad has been a partner with Citi for a long time but not one is taking advantage of it for a good reason. with Amex in the game, its a no deal breaker either/

  7. @Daniel M – I share points pricing and surcharges for Etihad redemptions. I’ve redeemed partner awards through Etihad, I find I do have to hang up call back with some partners contra @iahphx

  8. Gary or someone more knowledgeable than I. Due to my location (Houston) I think my best bet is to redeem Etihad on AA. Is the table below Round Trip or One Way? Thanks in advance.

    -MG

  9. @Gary Leff — right, that bonus originated with Etihad, although I recall it wasn’t good on all their partners. I also recall they’ve done it a few times. If it’s repeated — and it works with AMEX — it would be an excellent use of MR points. But even without a bonus, redeeming Etihad points on some of their partners (including AA) seems quite valuable.

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