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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).

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