Tip: How to fly Etihad Airways’ First Class Apartment for free

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststipsseries, or news.

Today (May 8, 2020): how to book Etihad Airways’ First Class Apartments with miles.

Flying in Etihad Airways’ First Class is one of the world’s most sought-after premium travel experiences. Back in 2014, Etihad impressed the world when it unveiled both a three-room “Residence” and enormous First Class suites called “Apartments” that it installed onboard its fleet of double-decker Airbus A380s. The Abu Dhabi based carrier now operates these A380 aircraft on its long-haul routes from Abu Dhabi to Europe, the USA, Asia, and Australia. Read here my trip report in a First Class Apartment onboard an Etihad Airways A380 aircraft (or watch my clip below).

Unfortunately, Etihad Airways’ First Class ticket comes with a price tag that matches its exceptional reputation. Return tickets on intercontinental routes are mostly priced well above $5000 USD, limiting access to the phenomenal product to the lucky few. However, you can also book a seat in Etihad Airways’ First Class cabin using points & miles (like I did), although these awards seats have limited availability as they are extremely popular among mileage geeks (which consider them to be the Holy Grail of premium flying). In this overview article, I explain how you can snag a First Class award seat on Etihad Airways for just a few bucks:

Have you ever booked an award seat in Etihad Airways’ First Class cabin? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

First Class cabin on Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways operates two different types of First Class on its longhaul fleet:

  • Etihad Airways’ most impressive First Class product – called First Apartment – is found in the front upper deck of its A380 aircraft. More than just a seat, the Apartment has a large Poltrona Frau leather armchair and a separate bench that folds out into extra-long twin-size beds. There is even space to walk around after closing the privacy doors. Each Etihad Airways A380 features nine Apartments in total: there are five Apartments on the right side of the cabin (with two lavatories in the front), while the left side features only four Apartments and the Residence.
  • Etihad Airways’ Boeing 777 aircraft as well as some Boeing 787-9 airplanes feature a different, less impressive type of First Class product. The B777 & B787 First Class cabins feature 8 generously sized and semi-private seats in a 1-2-1 layout. While still luxurious, the seats are definitely a step down from Etihad Airways’ A380 offering, so I recommend to save your miles for the A380 experience (unless you have no other option).

While there are significant differences in the hard product between these products (e.g. cabin layout and seat type), they all share the same excellent soft product that Etihad Airways is known for around the world (think lounge access, gourmet dining, vintage Champagne, top-notch amenities, and impeccable service at 30,000 feet).

Book an Etihad Airways award ticket with miles

Etihad Airways has several partner airlines, which means that you can use your miles (collected with one of these carrier’s frequent flyer programs) to book a free award seats on Etihad Airways (although you’ll still have to pay some taxes, fees and carrier charges). Some of the best redemption options are to use American Airlines’ AAdvantage miles, but any miles parked with the following airlines can get you an award ticket on the Etihad Airways A380 First Class Apartment:

  • Etihad Airways’ own frequent flyer program Etihad Guest is the most straightforward way to book Etihad award tickets.
  • American Airlines’ frequent flyer program AAdvantage program is an excellent (and my preferred way) to book Etihad Airways First Class award tickets (despite the program’s devaluation in 2016). Read my review (with pros & cons) of AAdvantage here.
  • Asiana’s frequent flyer program Asiana Club is one the cheapest ways to book Etihad First Class award tickets: its award chart has lower redemption levels than either American’s or Etihad’s.
  • Etihad Airways First Class award tickets can also be booked via Korean Air’s excellent frequent flyer program SkyPass.
  • Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) is also a partner of Etihad Airways, but its frequent flyer program ANA Mileage Club only allows round-trip awards, so you don’t have the flexibility of booking one-ways tickets.
  • Award tickets can also be booked via Virgin Australia’s Velocity Rewards, although the program is restricted to residents of Australia and the surrounding region.

In general, Etihad Airways makes plenty of award seats available, either far in advance (11 months before departure) or last-minute (a few days before departure). Award availability is generally not so good in the months prior to departure. So my advice is that once you have a particular route in mind, to regularly check award availability until – hopefully – an award seat is released. The best online search tool to check for Etihad Airways award availability is via the Etihad Airways’ website:

  • Visit Etihad Airways’ award search tool
  • Select your route, travel dates, and class of service
  • Find Guest First award space: the award levels you’re looking for will be under “Guest First” for Apartments, since that is the “saver” level at which the lowest number of miles are required.

Etihad Airways award tickets can be booked directly online via Etihad Guest or AAdvantage; they can only be booked over the phone (often requiring multiple phone calls) via Asiana Club, ANA Mileage Club, or Skypass. Be sure to verify the aircraft type before redeeming your miles (since only the Airbus A380 features First Class Apartments).

How to collect enough miles for an Etihad Airways award ticket

Theere are several ways to acquire enough miles via Etihad Guest, AAdvantage, Asian Club and SkyPass for a First Class award ticket with Etihad Airways:

  • You can collect miles by flying. For example, every time you fly American Airlines or one of American Airlines’ OneWorld partners, you can will earn miles that you can credit your AAdvantage account. In addition to flying, you can also earn miles with several non-airline partners, from credit cards to hotels, car rental companies, telcos, and more. Read more here.
  • You can collect miles by transferring Marriott Rewards hotel points to your frequent flyer account. Marriott Rewards is the loyalty program of Marriott Hotels and allows you to transfer hotel points to airline miles at a 3:1 conversation rate. In addition, you receive a 5,000 mileage bonus when you convert 60,000 points into miles (resulting in 25,000 airline miles instead of 20,000). As a consequence, one of the single best values of Marriott Rewards is to transfer your points in bulks of 60,000 to an airline’s loyalty program, which will get you 75,000 miles that can be used to book free award tickets or upgrades, which is what I did for this flight. Read here my review of Marriott Rewards program. Keep in mind that it does take some days before your converted hotel points will appear into your frequent flyer account.
  • You can boost your frequent account with your credit card spendings as most frequent flyer programs are 1:1 transfer partner with the top travel credit card rewards programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou. So even if you do not fly Etihad or accrue miles with its frequent-flier program, you can simply set up an Etihad mileage account and transfer points from any of those three programs to it to book awards.

Best routes to book a Etihad Airways First Class award

Etihad Airways First Class Apartments are only installed on the carrier’s subfleet of 10 Airbus A380 planes and thus only offered on selected routes. If you want to fly Etihad Airways’ First Class Apartment, you have to keep an eye on award availability on the routes from Abu Dhabi to Paris, London, Sydney, Seoul, and New York City. When you book via AAdvantage, Etihad’s New York-Abu Dhabi route will cost 115,000 miles each way in an Apartment, and the flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney would require 100,000 miles; the routes from Abu Dhabi to Europe (Paris or London) seem like a downright bargain at just 62,500 miles each way.

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