Membership Rewards for American Airlines awards with Etihad guest

This morning, Greg wrote a post to introduce a new resource page dedicated to Membership Rewards transfer partners. American Express Membership Rewards has a number of great transfer partners with useful award charts. One of the airlines listed in the “Best Transfer Partners” section of our chart is Etihad Guest. As Greg notes, Etihad Guest has some very interesting sweet spots — notably with regards to American Airlines award tickets.

Peculiarities of Etihad Guest

First, let’s get a couple of the Etihad oddities out of the way. Oddity number one: they do not publish a single award chart for all of their partners. Rather, Etihad publishes separate award charts for each of their many partner airlines. You can see all of the partner airlines here:

Direct link to Etihad partner airlines

However, the strangeness doesn’t stop there. You have to click “Know more” under a partner airline to see its award chart. For example, click the image below to go to the ANA award chart page:

ANA Etihad

That award chart is distance-based. However, try to click the button to go to the Czech Airways award chart and you’ll see oddity number two:

Etihad Page Unavailable

Unfortunately, the only way around that seems to be connecting to a VPN location outside the United States. If you don’t have a VPN service, it’s something worth examining for cyber security. An additional benefit will be that you can access all of the Etihad award charts and find some great sweet spots.

American Airlines Award Chart

With those bits of weirdness out of the way, let’s take a quick look at one of the better uses of Etihad Guest miles: travel on American Airlines.  While the ANA award chart above is distance-based (meaning the number of miles you need for an award ticket is determined by the number of miles you will fly), the American Airlines chart is region-based (meaning that the number of miles you need for an award ticket is determined by your region of origin and destination). Here is the award chart for flights on American Airlines that originate in the US:

Etihad American Chart North America

Click the image to go to the full chart with all regions.

EO = Economy off-peak
EP = Economy peak
B/F = Business/First (sometimes American calls the business class cabin “first class” when there are only 2 classes — for award purposes, that means you pay the business class price)
P = “Premium” (First class — this is the price for first class when a plane has 3 separate cabins for economy, business, and first class)

For an example, let’s look at the line for Asia 1, which is Japan and South Korea. We can see the following prices for award tickets from North America to Asia 1 on American Airlines:

Economy off-peak = 25,000 miles
Economy peak =  32,500 miles
Business/First = 50,000 miles
First class = 62,500 miles

All prices are one-way. If you’ve been redeeming frequent flyer miles for a few years, you might recognize those numbers: they are the old prices when using American Airlines AAdvantage miles, before they devalued and raised prices. If you are new to redeeming miles, you might recognize that these prices are cheaper than what you would pay in American Airlines AAdvantage miles for the same flights. How much cheaper? Here is the American Airlines award chart for flights originating in the contiguous 48 states. As they actually produce 3 separate award charts (one for main cabin, one for business, and one for first), I’ll save the space on 3 images and list the prices to Asia 1:

Economy off-peak: 32,500 miles
Economy peak: 35,000 miles
Business/First: 60,000 miles
First class: 80,000 miles

This means that by transferring Membership Rewards to Etihad Guest, you would be paying anywhere from 7,500 miles less for a one-way off-peak economy class ticket to 17,500 miles less for a one-way first class ticket. That’s a sizable difference.

American's long haul business class can be pretty nice.

American’s long haul business class can be pretty nice.

And that’s not the only region. Here’s Europe:

Cabin American AAdvantage Price Etihad Guest Price
Economy (off-peak) 22,500 20,000
Economy (peak) 30,000 30,000
Business/First 57,500 50,000
First Class 85,000 62,500

As you can see, you’ll pay less in nearly every cabin using Etihad Guest miles.

But there are some challenges

There are a few key restrictions when booking an award with Etihad. First of all, you must book at least 14 days in advance. Second, there are no fuel surcharges for travel on American Airlines, but the taxes may vary a bit. Finally, you need to book these awards by phone. Etihad Guest’s phone agents are notoriously challenging in that many seem under-informed about partnerships, partner awards, and how to book them. Accept that if you go this route, it may require a couple of phone calls to get a helpful agent. I’ve often read that the UK agents tend to have the most experience with award booking. Calling an overseas office can often work to your advantage with many airlines.

Also, it’s always good to know the cancellation policies. You can redeposit an award ticket for 10% of the miles you redeemed for that ticket.  If you booked a one-way business class award from the US to Europe, you would pay 10% of the 50,000 miles you redeemed — so it would cost you 5,000 miles to cancel and you’d get 45,000 miles back. Alternatively, you can change an award ticket for a fee of 100 AED ($27.23 based on today’s exchange rate).

Even better values possible

American Express occasionally offers transfer bonuses to Etihad Guest — meaning that you can then get even more mileage out of your Membership Rewards points. We occasionally see a 30% transfer bonus (and have also seen bonuses from Citi Thank You points), meaning that the flights above could cost you substantially less.

Lots of other partners

Of course, American is not Etihad’s only partner. There are some really interesting possibilities — especially if you look at piecing together an itinerary that includes flights originating outside of the United States. For example, you might buy a cheap ticket to Europe and then grab a business class award ticket from Europe to Asia with one of the Etihad partners. Complete the circle with one of these AAdvantage awards home. A round-the-world journey could be constructed pretty easily.

One other award chart that I stumbled on while writing this post is the chart for Royal Air Maroc. It seems there hasn’t been much written about this partnership — mostly because it seems it is impossible to search Royal Air Maroc award availability online. This means you would have to call Etihad to search for space, which might mean more hours than it is worth just searching for a flight. On the other hand, the Royal Air Maroc distance-based chart is pretty interesting:

Royal air Maroc etihad

For a journey of 2,001 miles or more, you’ll pay just 44,000 miles one way in business class. Etihad will also add fuel surcharges, so there will be a cash component on top of the mileage cost. However, considering that the flight from the US to Casablanca will already be more than 2,001 miles, you could theoretically connect to almost anywhere they fly (provided it is a published route and you can get an agent to book it) for just 44,000 miles plus the fuel surcharges.  Royal Air Maroc serves cities all over Europe and has a nice footprint in Africa and the Middle East. That business class award could make for a fantastic redemption if you can find the award space. The longhaul flights look decent. I haven’t done this and can’t say whether it is easy/difficult/impossible.

Just some of the many options

Etihad guest is just one of many great transfer partners with Membership Rewards. Amex has really been enhancing their rewards program over the past couple of years, both partnering with a good range of loyalty programs and offering fantastic benefits like the 50% pay-with-points rebate on the Business Platinum card. Considering how quickly one can amass Membership Rewards points with a card like the Everyday Preferred, these awards are an even better deal than they appear. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. While there are other partnerships that I have used in the past and several I find intriguing, I think that Royal Air Maroc award with Etihad Guest miles might be my next attempt at transfer and redemption.

What about you? What is your favorite Membership Rewards transfer partner? What redemption are you eyeing next?

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

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Comments

  1. Very nice write-up Nick. This question would sort-of be in the same boat as what this article pertains to – are there still any better options for booking one-way domestic flights than transferring UR’s to BA? I know this story is about using MR’s, but it got me thinking about the good ole days of the 4500 one way BA reward flights. I miss those 🙁 Thanks for the great posts as always!

    • Well, not really in the sense that you’re asking. There are some options — check out Alaska’s shorter flight chart — they have flights starting at 5k, though that will mostly apply on the west coast (and just on Alaska/Virgin). Speaking of Virgin, if you’re using Virgin America miles, remember that their flights price based on the cash cost of the ticket. Their miles are quite valuable — I just looked up June 1st or 2nd from New York City to Dallas — it’s 3,224 miles + $5.60 one-way. While Membership Rewards transfers 2:1 to Virgin America, that’s still less than 6500 points one way.

      Don’t forget AA’s reduced mileage awards if you’re an AA credit card holder (and the 10% annual mileage rebate from being a card holder).

      Air Canada also has a short-haul chart that I imagine works for shorter flights on The Carrier That Shall Not Be Named this week. I’ve never looked into it.

      And, of course, there’s Southwest. If you plan in advance, you can do quite well. I’ve booked transcontinental under 10k points one-way many times. I wrote up a sale the other day — DC to Indianapolis for under 3k one way. Albany NY to Denver for less than 7k one way. There are options there.

      Just a few thoughts.

  2. A great post would be posting the charts for all of us who do not have vpn. A quick look at the site and the following give the same dot error: Garuda, asiana, Korean, hainan, Bangkok, malaysia, South African and virgin Australia

  3. One of the best options for Etihad apparently was business class to Europe from the East Coast for 36,000 miles roundtrip! I read today that they increased that to 88,000 miles with no warning.

    • It was and they did. I’ve been looking for availability on those flights every few days for months and haven’t found anything. Disappointed I never got it booked while it was possible!

  4. I would caution anyone to be very very wary of transferring membership rewards to Etihad. I had read a number of posts similar to this one and was excited about transferring my membership rewards for maximum value for a business AA ticket to Europe for me and two of my family members. I confirmed with (2) separate Etihad guest agents (both in the UK centers) that tickets were available in business class from JFK-BCN. I then called once I was ready to make the transfer and spoke with a 3rd agent who confirmed the availability. I then asked to make the transfer over the phone and for the guest agent to refresh my account while on the phone. It is important to note that MR transfers to Etihad are considered to be immediate. The guest agent refused and stated that I had to call back because she could not refresh the screen that she had on the account. So, I transfer the points (150,000 for (3) one way business class tickets to Europe) and called back. I called back within (3) minutes of my conversation with the previous guest agent and was told that there was no availability in my desired class on the JFK-BCN route. I then spoke to another (3) guest agents including a manager who could not find availability. I continued to search with various agents for no less than (21) different routings from AA hubs to European airports for one way ticket for (3) passengers and no one could find any availability.

    On top of it, Etihad was predictably unwilling to transfer my points back to AMEX. I finally got a manager who was willing to listen to the recordings of the (3) agents who CONFIRMED the availability. The manager concluded that all (3) agents were looking at “phantom” award space.

    Ultimately, I got my points back. It was a lot of work and took about a month worth of calls to Etihad and AMEX. I have transferred my membership rewards points with (7) other partners with no problem. For me personally, it is not worth the risk of potentially sacrificing hundreds of thousands of points for the run around that you receive at Etihad. I would challenge authors of articles like this one to indicate specific routes that they have been able to book over the phone with Etihad guest agents. For instance, the Brussells Airlines route that is referenced above is notoriously impossible to book not to mention my experience with trying to book an AA award.

    Hope this helps someone!

    • Ugh — that sounds terrible. Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience!

      And you’re right that the Brussels Airlines award is said to be a challenge to book. Though I’ve read a number of success stories as well. All accounts do seem to agree with your sentiment though — it’s not necessarily easy to book Etihad awards. And your story sounds like it was awful. I’m sorry to hear it.

      Out of curiosity, did you see those seats available at the saver rate on AA.com? How about the other routes you checked to Europe? Did you check on BA also? I’m just curious how many places the “phantom” space showed up.

      And I will definitely update if and when I am able to book a Royal Air Maroc award along with my experience. I am planning a trip to Europe (for the Wyndham cottage), but I unfortunately haven’t seen a single AA saver seat available to any of their European gateways during the entire month surrounding my dates. I’ll keep an eye out though and be sure to both proceed with caution and update.

      Actually, based on your experience, I think this is what I would do if I were looking to book an AA award with Etihad in the future.

      1) I’d call AA and put a 5-day hold on it. This should tell you whether the space is phantom or not.

      2) After the hold expires, make sure it goes back to available on AA.com and British Airways.

      3) Call back until I get an agent willing to both confirm the space and hold for me to transfer the points.

      But I wouldn’t have necessarily done all of that without your response here — so thanks for sharing your real-world experience. I’m sorry it happened — but it’s helpful that you shared. If I do make a booking with them, whether this year or next, I’ll be sure to post about it.

  5. the moroccon air redemption: so if you are flying from JFK to Europe through morocco, is it considered as one or two redemption because it has two legs? BA charges per leg but most other airlines charge by the total distance flown….

    • Great question. Based on the limited information out there and the way the chart reads, I think it’s total distance. That said, it’s hard to know as there just don’t appear to be many people who have done it and written about it. I’ve got it in mind to try. I will certainly update you if I get more information.

  6. Hi Nick,

    We are planning a trip to Nairobi for 3 people in August, and I have considered the Royal Air Maroc through Casablanca; it’s the shortest route there. I’m definitely intrigued, and I have about 300k MR points, but have never sent points to Etihad and had to do the call-in thing. So I’m nervous about trying this; what if I send points over and then can’t use them? I guess I would do the calling to see if there’s anything available, get all the info, then transfer points and hope to heaven the seats are still available and I can find a good CSR. Any thoughts?

    • It’s definitely a gamble. I haven’t done it and it seems that not many people have, either. Someone at The Points Guy claimed that there seemed to be a good bit of availability when they called to ask about it — but I don’t think they booked it. Other people online claim that it’s almost impossible to find space. But when I say “people”, I mean the very small handful of folks who have commented on this on Flyertalk, really.

      Do be aware that while they have flat beds on the 787, the 767 from Casablanca to Nairobi would be angle-flat (so not really flat) if that makes a difference to you — I think the flight from Casablanca to Nairobi is actually longer than NYC-Casablanca.

      Like I said, I’m going to try this I think. If I do, I’d try it like you’re saying — call, confirm availability, transfer points and hope. I would probably call back until I get someone who would let me transfer points while on the phone (assuming that’s possible). But it’s definitely not the safest redemption.

      And on that note, here is what you need to read:

      http://travelisfree.com/2015/05/18/rocking-the-new-ana-miles-award-chart/

      I think you should be looking at ANA. Much easier to find Star Alliance availability and you could just about get 3 of you round trip business class. Still not as easy to redeem as clicking a button on a website somewhere, but much more reliable. Note that a LOT of the Ethiopian award space that shows on United is phantom. I’d be looking for space on something else. Your route will be longer than flying via Casablanca, but much more reliable — if you’re looking at a trip this August and you’re worried about the gamble of the Royal Air Maroc redemption, ANA would be my solution. I haven’t booked an award with ANA before — but there is a LOT more information out there about doing it.

      • Thanks for the tip on ANA, and about the not-lie-flat from Casablanca to Nairobi. I’ll look into it. And if I do decide to try RAM, I’ll let you know! I have other flavors of points, so I might try it one way if I feel confident I’d have enough other points to do something else if it doesn’t work.

  7. Nice write up! Maybe I am wrong, but, to use the MR points on AA once transferred to Etihad, doesn’t there have to be MileSAAver award seats available? If this is the case, why is this major point often skipped over on blog posts of this nature? Is it implied that everyone knows this? Thanks!

    • You are correct that it is always implied as though it is a widely known fact — but perhaps it should be clearer. I’ll add that and keep it in mind for future posts.

      Like I said, it’s typically implied for any partner redemption because that’s going to be the case whether you’re redeeming Etihad miles for travel on American or Singapore miles for redemption on United or British Airways Avios for redemption on Alaska, etc. If you want to use Airline X’s miles to book an award ticket on Airline Y, there must be saver space on Airline Y. Maybe there is an exception that isn’t coming to mind right now — but the norm is definitely that there has to be saver space to make a partner booking. Some airlines restrict it even further — Korean and Singapore are known to make less space available to partners than to their own members.

      But it’s easy to add that an eliminate the potential for confusion. Thanks for commenting.

  8. There are lots of nuggets hidden in all the partner award charts of Etihad. Before the devaluation, I booked Brussels Airline’s JFK-BRU deal/steal for this 4th of July week for a party of 4 with ease.

    The Czech Airline deal/rubbery between Seoul and Prague is still going strong, but I am not sure if I want to risk flying over Ukraine like, ever…

    Deals for West Coast to Asia is still very much viable, although using Virgin Atlantic miles may be a better choice.

    All in all, Etihad miles are still great, but like the nature of this game: earn and burn while you can!

    • Nice on the JFK-BRU! I used to see that available a lot, but of course once I started looking I couldn’t find it. Congrats.

      The Czech flight has been on my radar as well — never looked at the flight plan, though.

  9. Nick, great write-up, however, isn’t the issue with AA the (almost) compete lack of SAAver space, which would be necessary to book via a partner?

  10. Trying to book business or first 1 way from iad to kilgali, Rwanda. I have aa, Amex and ultimate rewards. Any suggestions? I can get Turkish Air, but have heard mixed reviews. What are your thoughts. Thanks

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