Anatomy of an Award: Booking Etihad Business Class Using American Miles

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Last month I booked myself an awesome award to the Maldives using AAdvantage miles and flying Etihad Airways Business Class. Etihad Business Class is one of the nicest in the world and award space is widespread and predictable between the US and the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and the Maldives.

Reaching the Middle East using AAdvantage miles is in general very easy with Qatar as a new oneworld member and Etihad as an American Airlines partner.

Routing from gcmap.com

Routing from gcmap.com

Though this is an extremely basic itinerary, there are several things everyone should be mindful of before tackling an Etihad award including how to search for Etihad award space and mastering the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

How do you search for Etihad award space? Is Etihad reliable about releasing premium cabin award seats? Once you find Etihad seats, how do you book them? Which American Airlines rules trip up seemingly valid Etihad itineraries?

Finding Award Space

I wanted to fly from Washington-Dulles to Male, Maldives connecting in Abu Dhabi.

American’s website is great for searching partners whose award space it displays. AA.com displays many oneworld partners (Finnair, British Airways, Royal Jordanian) and non-oneworld partners (Hawaiian, Alaskan). But aa.com is incomplete. For instance, you can’t search for Cathay Pacific or JAL award space. Etihad is also absent from their search engine.

The best way to verify bookable Etihad space using AAdvantage miles is on Etihad’s own site. Simply sign on to Etihad’s site and click “Etihad Guest” on the top menu bar.

Etihad Guest

After clicking on “Etihad Guest”, click on “Redeem your miles” to reach the Etihad search tool.

Redeem Your Miles

Using the search tool does not require an Etihad frequent flyer number, which is nice. The same rules that govern other award search engines hold true here. Always search segment by segment for better results. Plugging in your origin and destination might miss connecting itineraries or display award space that you can’t use.

For example, I plugged in Washington-Dulles (origin) and Male (destination) for late October. The only results included a flight on Sri Lankan Airlines. Though Etihad is an American Airlines partner, Sri Lankan isn’t yet. (Sri Lankan will join oneworld in June.)

The below itinerary wouldn’t be bookable with AA miles (though there isn’t award space anyways.)

Bad Itinerary

Instead, I performed a separate search for each individual segment (Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Male). Sure enough, there were two business class seats nearly every day of the week.

For American Airlines to have access to Etihad space, a price needs to be displayed in the GuestSeat column. Award space in the OpenSeat column is not bookable with American Airlines miles.

IAD-AUH 10-16-14

I have never encountered an instance where the GuestSeat award space on Etihad’s site failed to mirror what American agents could book. In my experience, Etihad reliably loads two business and two first class seats on their daily flight from Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi.

After finding my segment to Abu Dhabi, I plugged in my second segment (Abu Dhabi to Male) and found two business class seats on the exact flight I wanted. Again, I was looking for GuestSeat award space and found it on my preferred date.

AUH-MLE 10-18-14

What to Know Before Booking the Award

Does my itinerary (IAD-AUH-MLE) follow the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards? Let’s look at three of the rules.

(1) Stopovers must occur at the North American International Gateway City.

On an international award, a stopover is any period of greater than 24 hours between flights other than at your destination. I’m landing in Abu Dhabi around 7:45 p.m. in the evening and departing around 8:30 a.m. the next day, so I’m fine on this rule.

(3) The airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.

This rule trips up many otherwise awesome awards. Etihad must publish a fare between my origin (Washington-Dulles) and destination (Male). Unfortunately, Etihad publishes very few fares between North America and the Maldives. (To learn how to search for published fares, check out this post.) Etihad does however, publish one from IAD to MLE and back, so my award is fine.

Expert Flyer Routing

If Etihad doesn’t publish a fare from your home airport to the Maldives, you can connect from your home city to a gateway city that Etihad does serve (e.g. New York or Washington D.C.) by booking a separate AAdvantage award or by using Avios or cash. This helps skirt the American Airlines rule because your origin city will now be an airport that Etihad serve’s directly and thus much more likely to have a published fare.

(5) Awards between Region A and Region B cannot transit Region C unless specifically allowed.

From North America, American only allows you to route via the Atlantic to the Indian Subcontinent and Middle East. That’s annoying, especially for those on the West Coast who would prefer to fly to Male via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. Luckily, my simple routing satisfied this requirement. If you don’t like American’s allowable connecting regions, consider booking a distance-based Explorer Award with our Award Booking Service.

Booking the Award

I wrote down the two flight numbers and called the AAdvantage desk at 800-882-8880 to book. American agents are extremely friendly and knowledgeable. The AA team of phone agents would certainly be part of the perfect marriage between the American and US Airways frequent flyer programs once the integration is complete. The gentleman I spoke to knew right away about Etihad and proceeded to piece together the award.

I fed him the exact flight numbers and he found the space easily within minutes.

The itinerary came out to 67,500 AAdvantage miles + $3.90 in taxes per person. There was also the unavoidable $25/ticket phone booking fee added to the total. I had the option to place the award on a five day courtesy hold, but instead decided to book immediately.

Recap

Etihad is an awesome non-oneworld partner and great use of AAdvantage miles. Award space is consistently wide open, and searching their online tool is relatively simple.

As long as you follow the strict rules of American Airlines awards, booking should be a breeze. Just remember to look for a published fare between your city pairs. If one doesn’t exist, consider booking a separate ticket that will position you to an Etihad gateway (New York, Washington D.C., or Chicago come to mind).

33 Responses to Anatomy of an Award: Booking Etihad Business Class Using American Miles

  1. A bit confused: the Etihad site displays a huge number of miles required to book(with their FF program).
    I assume this is their version of SAAver(low) level and as such must display this OPTION that then corresponds with AA biz low level(67,500 each way)?

    • Geoff,
      Correct. Ignore the quoted Etihad mileage cost. If you see GuestSeat business class availability from North America to Middle East on Etihad’s site, it should be bookable with AA miles for 67,500 miles oneway per person.

  2. Geoff: If you see seats available on Etihad’s site under the “Guest Business” column, then AA should see the space at 67,500 each way. Disregard Etihad required miles :)

  3. Just for clarification and an example. Etihad *now* publishes a fare between the Maldives and DFW, however it seem you must also comply with the routing rules of the published fare. The existence of the published fare between two cities alone does not qualify it to be on one award. For example, I am traveling on MLE-AUH-IAD-DFW however this requires 2 awards despite MLE-DFW having a published EY fare. For some strange reason IAD is not included in their multitude of fare routings. However MLE-AUH-ORD-DFW would be valid on one award. It’s difference between 25,000 miles on a one-way J/F award, so it makes a big difference!

  4. Thanks Bill & Angel.

  5. Bill, what you are saying for people on the west coast have to book separate ticket to IAD in order to connect with Ethiad ? cant I combine LAX-IAd on the same ticket itinerary or how about using IAD as a N American Gateway stopover rule ? Thanks

  6. Thanks for the information on checking Etihad.com – will be useful as they are starting the new DFW-AUH service.

    Quick question: I recently got an AA award for my wife one way LGA-DFW-DEL, with a stopover in DFW for 15 days (actual flights were on AA DFW to EWR, on Jet EWR to BRU and BRU to DEL). AA charged me 12,500+67,500 miles – I raised the question to AA EXP, but their response was “One-Way Flex Awards (2 were used for this reservation) are offered at a one-way mileage rate which are exactly half of the current MileSAAverSM
    or AAnytime® round trip rates (for instance, a one-way MileSAAver award is 12,500 miles). They allow you to use your miles in a variety of award combinations to book a round-trip, a multi-city trip or even a one-way trip”.

    Is that correct? I searched AA.com but could not find any rules for stopovers while using awards. Thanks for your help!

    • You were charged for two awards because your stopover was not at the international gateway city (in this case, EWR). Because you took a stop in DFW, American broke the award into two: [LGA-DFW] and [DFW-EWR-BRU-DEL]. To make this trip price at 67.5k, your stop would need to be at EWR.

  7. @Choi, it depends on your ultimate destination you’re referring, that’s why you must look at the Fare Information published on ExpertFlyer.com and see exactly what is allowed. For example, there is a published LAX-IAD-AUH fare, but there is no LAX-IAD-AUH-MLE fare (nor a LAX-MLE fare at all)

    *IF* the fare published did allow you to route LAX-IAD-AUH-xxx then you would be allowed on an AAdvantage award to have a free stopover in IAD. If the fare published doesn’t allow routing to LAX or via IAD then you’ll have to pay an additional domestic AAdvantage award for the connecting segments you need. In this case, you could insert a layover between these two paid awards (LAX-IAD & IAD-AUH-xxx).

  8. @ Raj – Your AAdvantage award is priced correctly due to the routing rules of the published fare.

    While one-way AAdvantage awards between North America and Europe, India, Asia and Central / South America do allow a stopover at the North American gateway, yours does not qualify due to the published routing restrictions of the overwater carrier for NYC-DEL (in this case Jet Airways). Seems you can only route on Jet from NYC via BRU or AUH.

  9. Where are you staying in the Maldives?

    • The Conrad Rangali Island. Gotta burn those HHonors points!
      Also, any recommendations for one hotel night in Male would be appreciated.

  10. Bill, do you have accommodation provided the layover in Abudabi by Ethiad ?

  11. What is the best way to check Etihad First class availability? When I used the same approach for First class, it’s not showing anything. Is there a way to confirm 2 first class tickets availability. We are a family of 4 people and like to travel together..2+2 is fine..

    • I just did a search for Etihad First Class from IAD-AUH in October. There were two seats (GuestSeat availability) on nearly every flight the entire month.

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  13. We are spending a few days in Thailand later this year and I could not find award seats coming back to the US from Asia 1 or Asia 2. I decided to try I the I dian subcontinent/Middleeast and bingo! Looked at the OW partners, but could nort find 5 seats back home. Found seats on Ethiad! Used points for 2 Buisness and 3 Economy from BKK-AUH and after a couple days in the UAE 2 First, 2 Business on one flight and one Business on another flight.

    Can hardly wait!

  14. So has any one found any free stopovers for to tack on XX-IAD-AUH-MLE?

    I would love to take advantage of the free stopover, but no luck finding any valid fare connecting through IAD on the way to MLE on Etihad.

  15. Trying to book LAX-JFK(stopover)-AUH-MLE in first for August, but it’s pricing at 115,000 miles. Being told AUH-MLE is separate award because it’s not in the same region, which I know is false. Also, was told must route over Pacific via HKG to get to Maldives on one award ticket, which I also know is false. My question is, is LAX-JFK-AUH-MLE a valid routing? It comes up on ITA, but I don’t see it on the Etihad website.

  16. Pingback: Why Is My American Airlines Award Pricing 25k Miles Higher Than It Should? | milevalue.com

  17. Hi,
    Thanks a lot for info. Much appreciated.
    how can we find all valid stop over in place of XX for route XX-JFK-MAA ?

    Thanks in advance.

  18. Was just able to book 2 MLE-AUH-DFW – J from MLE-AUH and F from AUH-DFW. I never found any availability on Etihad for the AUH-DFW leg but AA Agent was able to. For what its worth I could find a decent amount from AUH-IAD or JFK so I would call AA even if you can’t find any. 90K OW (minus 10% Citi rebate)

  19. I am seeing on American rewards charts it takes 90,000 miles to travel to Male in economy. I see you did it here on Etihad in business class for 67,500. What would the same trip be in AAdvantage miles in economy class? From IAD btw

  20. I want to book with Etihad to male with us dividend miles. Their rules are usually much more friendly and allow a stop. Will that be possible next week once us airways and aa merge? Will the AA non-alliance partners be bookable with USA and the other way around?

  21. I want to use AA miles to book Etihad for SFO-JNB/CPT, will it cost 2 awards and how many miles?

  22. I’ve used Etihad’s tool to find an award space (2 seats left) in business class from IAD-AUH, but AA is saying they don’t see any award space open. I’ve called numerous times and have gotten the same answer. Can you please advise. Thanks

  23. Pingback: Etihad Award Space Currently Unbookable with American Airlines Miles and Your Workaround | milevalue.com

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