I booked myself a First Class award ticket from Cairo, Egypt to Washington DC with 15 hours on the brand new Etihad 787-9 Dreamliner for 90,000 American Airlines miles and a few dollars in taxes. Take a look at the suite:

The Trip

I had already booked myself from the United States to Dubai to Bangkok on two flights in Emirates First Class on its A380. Read that Anatomy of an Award.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.24.04 AM

And from Bangkok to Luxor, Egypt in Business Class on a Qatar A380. Read that Anatomy of an Award. After a week in Thailand, I’ll head to Egpyt for a week.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.24.29 AM

I plan to spend a few days in Luxor and a few days in Cairo. Here is the trick I used to save 47% on my flight from Luxor to Cairo.

To get back from Cairo to Washington DC, I wanted to use American Airlines miles to fly Etihad Airlines. Etihad serves its Abu Dhabi to Washington DC route with a brand new 787-9 Dreamliner.

Award Search

To search for Etihad Awards, create a free Etihad Airways account, and go to the award search page.

My first search was from Cairo to Washington DC in First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.05.36 PM Results look like this.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.06.05 PM

I’ve highlighted the GuestSeat column because that is the award space that American Airlines phone agents can access. They cannot access OpenSeat award space.

My first search showed no GuestSeat award space from Cairo to Washington DC in First Class. The problem is that Cairo to Abu Dhabi doesn’t have First Class, just economy and Business, and Etihad’s search screen won’t mix cabins.

It was time to search segment-by-segment. I started with the longer segment and searched Abu Dhabi to Washington in First Class. Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.08.36 PM
There was award space on my top-choice date. Note the calendar above the search result.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.08.17 PM

The calendar is useful because you can change dates without re-running the search. You can pretty easily tell which dates which will have award space on the calendar by the number of miles listed. OpenSeat prices are usually like 10 times the price of GuestSeat awards in Etihad miles, so on the calendar above, all the days that say “Miles 114650” have OpenSeat award space and all the “Miles 949486” or “942226” days don’t.

Of course, we are not going to pay the number of miles listed. Since I used American Airlines miles, I follow American Airlines routing rules and award chart. This is just a handy trick for figuring out quickly which days will have GuestSeat award availability.

I noted the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space I found from Abu Dhabi to Washington DC and moved on to Cairo to Abu Dhabi in Business Class.
Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.09.50 PM
There is award space on this route basically every day. There is a flight that connects in Abu Dhabi with only a two hour layover. I noted its date, cabin, and flight number.Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.10.04 PM

If You Don’t Live in Washington DC

I was done with my award search because I want to go to the Washington DC area. If you want to go somewhere not served directly by Etihad, you’d have another step. You’d want to go to aa.com and find award space from where Etihad flies to your home airport. Then you could move on to the last step, booking the award.

Award Booking

I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880.

I fed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of the two flights I had found with Etihad GuestSeat availability.

She quickly put together my two flights.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.10.28 PM

As I mentioned in “Anatomy of an Award: Qatar A380 Business Class for 30k American Airlines Miles,” I booked my awards from Bangkok to Egypt and Egypt to Washington on one record locator to save $35 on the phone booking fee. (Usually you are only charged one fee per person, no matter how many awards you book at a time.)

The flights from Egypt to the United States cost 90,000 American miles. To the Middle East (including Egypt) and Indian Subcontinent, American charges:

  • 45,000 miles one way in economy
  • 67,500 miles one way in Business Class
  • 90,000 miles one way in First Class

The total taxes for both awards were only $72, so let’s attribute $36 to this award.

American only collects fuel surcharges on British Airways and Iberia award flights, so there were no other taxes, fees, or fuel surcharges.

Getting the Miles

American Airlines miles are super easy to get.

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Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards.

We also know that The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® will no longer be offered to new applicants as soon as the US Airways and American Airlines frequent flyer programs integrate, some time before 2015. That means that the chance to earn 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase on this card will disappear soon. Check out all the places you can go with just the sign up bonus.

All US Airways miles not redeemed on the US Airways chart by the time of integration will become American Airlines miles, and American Airlines has committed to not devaluing its award chart at the time of combination. The two types of miles are roughly equal in value. Getting all three cards now and meeting their spending requirements means you will have at least 156,000 American Airlines miles by June.

Bottom Line

American Airlines miles are ideal between the United States and the Middle East because American has several partners that fly the routes with excellent products like Etihad and Qatar.

I booked myself Etihad First Class on its brand new 787-9 for 90,000 miles one way plus low government taxes, no fuel surcharges, and a modest phone fee. I saved myself $35 in phone fees by booking this award at the same time as my Qatar Business Class award on the same trip.

The American Airlines personal and business cards are each offering 50,000 bonus miles after $3,000 spending in the first three months.

Etihad First Suite on 787
Etihad First Suite on 787

Searching for GuestSeat space on etihad.com and calling American Airlines to book the flight were a snap.

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