The Cheapest Award to Fly the Fanciest Commercial Plane in First Class

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What’s so special about Etihad’s route from London to Abu Dhabi? It’s the cheapest way to get into the fanciest commercial cabin in the world.

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Source: gcmap.com

This suite with a couch/bed and seat costs only 40,000 American Airlines miles between Europe and the Middle East/India.

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Plus the Etihad A380 has a shower for First Class passengers and onboard lounge/bar.

Pretty soon I’ll head to Europe for four months, and I would love to fly the Etihad A380 between London and Abu Dhabi while I’m there.

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Its 40,000 mile price is just less than the sign up bonus on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®, which 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, so the award would only cost 36,000 miles net.

Or you can get 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.

With my goal to fly the Etihad A380 in mind, I took a look at award space between London and Abu Dhabi for the next 11 months, and here’s what I found.

Booking Etihad Awards with AA Miles

First read: How to Search Etihad Award Space

American Airlines doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on Etihad award flights. You just find the award space, call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to book it, and pay the government taxes on the flights. (There is no longer a fee to book American Airlines awards that can’t be booked online, like Etihad flights, by phone.)

The United Kingdom has the world’s highest departure taxes, and the United Arab Emirates has very low departure taxes, so the direction you choose to fly matters a lot for price.

From London to Abu Dhabi, you will pay 185 GBP ($276) plus the 40,000 American Airlines miles for a First Class award.

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From Abu Dhabi to London, you will pay 80 AED ($22) plus the 40,000 American Airlines miles for a First Class award. That’s $254 less to fly westbound, which also happens to be a one hour longer flight, since it is into the wind.
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Tips for Award Searches

Ignore the miles price listed on etihad.com. You will pay 40,000 American Airlines miles instead.

Ignore the cash component listed next to the mileage price. That includes a small fuel surcharge that you will not pay when booking an American Airlines award. You’ll pay the taxes listed above.

American Airlines only has access to award space in the “GuestSeat” column. You’ll notice this space prices out in the 54,000 to 55,000 Etihad miles range. That’s convenient to scan the dates at the top of your award search to see which dates have award space for that price. (Again, you won’t pay that price, but knowing it makes award searching quicker.)

Award Space

Etihad has three daily flights in each direction between London and Abu Dhabi. Right now only one of those is served by an A380. By June, two will be. By August, all three are on A380s on most days.

Right now there is occasional award space on the daily A380 frequency. The next date from London to Abu Dhabi with First Class space on the A380 is April 24.
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Space is infrequent on the A380 frequency this Spring. The second date with space is May 12.
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By late June, I see more award space on the A380 in First Class, probably due to the second daily A380 frequency.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.32.15 PM

There are dates with two award seats on the same flight in Etihad A380 First Class, but that’s pretty rare in Spring and Summer 2015.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.33.51 PM
In August, all three frequencies are served by A380s most–but not all–days. Award space becomes more common. August 18 has two A380 flights from London to Abu Dhabi, one with one First Class seat and one with two.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.35.36 PM

By late September, award space drastically improves. October 1 has two flights with two award seats each in First Class. And as you can see, several days that week have award space in First Class on the Etihad A380.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.39.03 PM

Check out this week in mid-November with six dates with award space in Etihad First Class, some days with multiple flights with award space and multiple seats on each flight.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.41.24 PM

So far I’ve only shown London to Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi to London (below) shows similar patterns of award space inclduing the wide open availability in mid-November on tons of flights.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.42.25 PM

Bottom Line

For the next few months, there is some award space in Etihad First Class on their A380 between London and Abu Dhabi. If you want to fly the product for 40,000 miles one way before August, make securing this flight your top priority, and build your trip around the award space.

In September, October, and November award space gets a lot better. In those months, you can integrate award space into a trip plan more easily.

Whether the change in award space has to do with the season, how far out you search, or the fact that more frequencies will be on the A380 by August is hard to say. I’ll continue monitoring award space on this route in First Class to have a better mental model of the cheapest way to fly the fanciest commercial airplane.

Further Reading


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14 COMMENTS

  1. Lot of people going to the EU this summer and your going early . Maybe post your trip details IF you know them could help out some people as where to go before they go.
    Cheers

    • Madrid for a month. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania for a month. Then probably Belgrade and/or Bucharest for the last two months.

  2. I’d love to try the Etihad suites either from London to Abu Dabai or the other way. Any thoughts about how I can incorporate this into a round trip from the US to Thailand (I’m in Austin, but I could get to either coast using other miles if necessary) using a reasonable number of miles? (I prefer business class/flat bad where possible). I am accumulating AA and United miles, as well as Chase UR and Amex Member rewards, and want to target how many of each I need to make this happen. Thanks!

    • AUS-LAX-HKG-BKK with AA miles in Cathay Pacific First Class (67.5)
      BKK-DOH-AUH with AA miles in Qatar Business (30k)
      AUH-LHR with AA miles in Etihad First (40k)
      LHR-XXX-AUS with United miles in economy or Business

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