Membership Rewards for American Airlines awards with Etihad guest

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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 Oddity number one: they do not publish a single award chart for all of their partners.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?

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