Booked! Etihad A380 First Class from Abu Dhabi to JFK for 90,000 AAdvantage Miles and $37! How you can do it too.
One of my travel goals for 2016 was to fly Etihad First Class on the airline’s A380, which I wrote about here: My 2016 Travel Goals. The Etihad first class product on their A380 is certainly one of the best First Classes in the world today and I knew that I wanted to redeem my American Airlines AAdvantage miles before they devalue in March. This post describes the product, why this is a great way to use AAdvantage miles, and how you can do it too.
Etihad A380 First Class: Your own Apartment!
Etihad Airlines, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE has one of the nicest first class products in the world. Their A380 which flies several routes including to Abu Dhabi to London and Abu Dhabi to New York (JFK) is configured with 9 First Class Apartments and 1 super 3-room apartment called The Residence. These are all on the top-floor of the aircraft, along with business class, a bar/lounge area, and 2-showers for use of the first class passengers (one is dedicated just to The Residence). Speaking of the Residence, it has a dedicated bedroom, sitting area, and your own bathroom with shower. The Residence sells for around $32,000 one-way and is not bookable with miles. Check out this video from The Points Guy on his trip in The Residence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2d_XiJHmdI
The Residence is amazing, but the First Class Apartments are also superb! They include a sitting area, a large television, a lay flat bed and you can close the doors for maximum privacy: The Apartment Video.
Check out the lounge area:
And the shower/spa:
I don’t think that it is hard to make the case that this will be an amazing flight experience and the flight will almost be like a vacation in itself.
A great way to use American AAdvantage Miles
American Airlines AAdvantage miles are one of the best mileage currencies for high value first class redemptions. However, late last year, American announced that their award charts were devaluing this March. Any flights booked on or before March 21 will fall under the old award chart–after March 21, you will pay significantly more on some routes for the same flights. One of my 2016 goals was to use up some of my AAdvantage miles on a high value first class redemption. This was step one in realizing that goal.
American charges 90,000 miles one-way for partner first class award redemptions between the U.S. and the Middle East. After March 21 this same award will jump to 115,000 miles.
I took advantage of several great credit card sign up bonuses to obtain the AAdvantage Miles I used for this redemption. One of the cards that I used was the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard with a 50,000 mile sign up bonus after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months. Bottom line is that I earned the miles for this redemption almost exclusively through credit card sign ups with very little or zero out of pocket costs.
How to book this award
Since Etihad is a partner airline of American (but not a member of the One World Alliance) this flight is bookable using AAdvantage miles. Since American publishes their award charts, it was very easy to determine how many miles would be required–I just needed to save the miles and find an available date that worked for me.
Unfortunately, Etihad does not normally open up a lot of award space in First Class to its partners. And, when there are award seats available they tend to go very fast.
Step 1: Find Availability
First, award space for Etihad is only searchable on Etihad.com. You must be a member of their Etihad Guest Award Program to search, so sign up for a free membership. Once you are a member, click on Redeem Miles on Etihad and it will take you to this page:
In this case, I wanted to find either availability from New York to Abu Dhabi, or vice versa. I entered my desired airports and selected first class. I only wanted a one-way trip, so I also selected that button.
Once you hit search, a page like this will show availability:
If your goal is to fly on the A380, you need to pay attention to the column that denotes which aircraft you will be flying. On this route from Abu Dhabi to JFK Etihad offers both A380 and Boeing 777 service. I wanted the A380. You also need to find availability in the Guest Seat Column. Only if there is a Guest Seat available can you book with AAdvantage miles. Completely disregard the required mileage and cost in this column, however. Since we are not using Etihad guest miles, this does not apply.
If there is no Guest Seat award availability, like you see below, you will not be able to book with AAdvantage miles.
Once you find availability on a date that works for you, write down the flight number and date and proceed to step 2.
Step 2: Call American Airlines to book
Since we are using AAdvantage miles to book this award, we need to call their customer service hotline, since this award is not bookable online via their website. Try calling 1-800-433-7300 (their U.S. based call center) and tell the automated agent you want international award travel. You will have to request a representative since the automated agent will not be able to book this award either.
Slight issue–when I called the U.S. call center and gave them the date that I wanted, they did not show any availability. I tried several different dates and they showed nothing on Etihad first class available, even though Etihad’s site was showing Guest First availability. I searched on some other travel websites and this is a somewhat common problem apparently–although it may have been fixed. The solution: Call the Australian AAdvantage hotline via Skype at +61 2-9101-1948. This process is detailed on this FlyerTalk thread: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-airlines-aadvantage/1553263-how-use-aa-miles-book-award-etihad-ey-archive-2015-earlier-57.html
Of course, the Australian call center speaks English and was able to see the availability that I was seeing on Etihad.com. Within a few minutes I had given the agent the date I wanted and the flight number of the A380 service. She advised that I could hold the flight reservation for 72 hours or book at that time for 90,000 miles plus 52.60 Australian dollars (about $37). I chose to put the award on hold first–this is a great feature if you want to ensure you can arrange other travel or hotels before committing. Two days later, I called back and booked the award.
Step 3: Get the Etihad reservation locator number
Since you are booking this flight using American miles, AA will give you an American flight locator number. You will need the Etihad locator to choose seats and view the flight details on Etihad.com. Just ask the agent for this other locator number and you will have all the info you need. Thats it! get ready to enjoy one of the nicest first class products in the world!
I do not live in Abu Dhabi, so I need to find a way to get to the UAE to make this flight. I looked at several different options in the 2 days I had this reservation on hold. Stay tuned for my next post where I detail some of the options I looked at to get to UAE and the fantastic flight I ended up booking!