This is another post in my Anatomy of an Award series, in which I take a real award I’ve booked and break it down step-by-step to elucidate the award booking process. If you have a real award you’d like to write up in a similar post, please contact me, and you can write a guest post.

Etihad Diamond First Class looks like an aspirational award if I’ve ever seen one. Here’s a YouTube promotional video of the suite . That’s the definition of travel porn–a 6’8″ bed, dinner seating for two, a huge TV, your own minibar.

I just booked an award–actually four separate awards–for two people that will allow them to enjoy Etihad Diamond First on an eight hour flight for 40k AA miles and $37 per person as part of a trip to the Maldives, London, and Paris with two free oneways tacked on.

The Awards

#1

Chicago to LaGuardia

one month later

JFK to Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi to Maldives

This award was 45,000 AA miles and $30 per person. Etihad is not a member of any alliance, but AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on Etihad flights. I find their availability to be pretty great in all classes on most routes. Etihad’s hub is Abu Dhabi.

The main award is New York to the Maldives in Etihad economy. Chicago to New York is a free oneway tacked onto the award for one month before the main award.

Note that the free oneway comes into LaGuardia and the award continues from JFK. In cities with multiple airports like New York (JFK, LGA, EWR) or Washington (IAD, DCA), you can fly into one and out of another no problem en route. The airports are considered “coterminal.”

I called AA and found the award space. I put it on a five day courtesy hold and moved onto the next award.

#2

Maldives to Abu Dhabi (Etihad Pearl Business)

Abu Dhabi to Paris (Etihad Diamond First Class)

This award was 40,000 AA miles and $37 per person. The flight from the Maldives is on a two cabin plane and business class features seats like you might find in a domestic first cabin in the US–nothing too special. It’s the 7:40 minute flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris that’s the star.

You get nearly eight hours in an Etihad Diamond First cabin for only 40,000 miles. That’s an amazing value considering the product and the length. Consider that Abu Dhabi to Paris is about the length of London to New York, which is 62,500 miles is Paris.

What this says is that on the AA chart, Europe to “Indian Subcontinent Middle East (which includes the Maldives)” is a sweet spot especially for premium awards, considering its 20k/30k/40k price point for economy/business/first.

Also note that USA – Europe, Europe – India/Middle East/Maldives is cheaper in economy (20k + 20k = 40k) during Europe’s off peak season on AA’s chart (October 15 to May 15) than USA – India/Middle East/Maldive (45k) without a stopover in Europe. Taking a stopover in Europe and breaking the award into two awards saves miles as I noted a few weeks back.

For this award, I did the same as with the first award: I reserved it for five days.

#3

Paris to London

This 80 minute flight is crying out for an Avios redemption. For 4,500 Avios and $20 per person, I could choose between about ten daily flights with award space departing Orly or Charles de Gaulle.

I booked this online at BA.com. Business could have been had for 9,000 Avios, but I wouldn’t recommend spending the extra Avios for no neighbor in the middle seat and a hot meal.

#4

London to JFK

two months later

Newark to Seattle

Seattle to Vancouver

This is the second free oneway–New York to Vancouver. Don’t forget free oneways can go to Canada, the USA, Mexico, or the Caribbean, so my clients opted for an international free oneway. Just like the first free oneway, this one takes advantage of the coterminal NYC airports, flying into JFK and out of Newark.

The main note on the London to JFK is to choose American economy instead of BA economy to avoid hefty fuel surcharges. In economy, this award was 20,000 AA miles and $177 per person.

Don’t depart London if you can help it. The taxes included a whopping $100 Air Passenger Duty and a $53 Passenger Service Charge.

This award can be booked online–even with the free oneway. See this post for how to do it.

After booking awards 3 and 4 online, I circled back and ticketed the awards I had held–1 and 2. That way I ensured all legs were ticketed or none were. It’s important to get your order right.

So the final tally was 105,000 AAdvantage miles, 4,500 Avios, and $264 per person. That included a trip to the Maldives, stopovers in London and Paris, a free oneway to Vancouver, a free oneway from Chicago, a business class segment, and eight hours in Etihad Diamond First.

Recap of some key point

  • The cheapest way to get into Etihad Diamond First Class is to fly between Abu Dhabi and Europe. Some of the flights are quite lengthy, so at 40k miles, this is an incredible deal. You don’t have to start/end in Abu Dhabi either. Abu Dhabi’s region includes India and the Maldives, so Delhi-Abu Dhabi-Paris is 40k for 12 hours of flying in Etihad First.
  • You can fly into one coterminal airport and out of another en route. This is inconvenient when you are connecting in a city, but very convenient when tacking on free oneway. I’ve given two examples where the main award used JFK but the free oneways flew into LaGuardia and out of Newark
  • From October 15 to May 15, it’s cheaper in AAdvantage miles to fly USA to Europe, stop, Europe to India/Middle East than without the stop.
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