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American Airlines’ non-oneworld partner, Etihad, has fantastic award space to the Middle East, India, and the Maldives. Etihad also features one of the world’s nicest First Class suites and world-class flat beds in business class.

(Since Etihad is not a oneworld airlines, and it is not a US Airways partner, US Airways miles cannot be used to book Etihad flights.)

Etihad award space is not bookable on aa.com, so you always have to call American Airlines to book the space. Unfortunately since late May 2014, American Airlines phone agents couldn’t see or book Etihad award space on any routes.

This problem has been resolved. American Airlines agents can now see and book all the award space that Etihad releases to partners.

In general, that’s quite a lot of space since American Airlines is the only American partner of Etihad and Etihad’s space isn’t bookable online, which protects it from non-expert award searchers.

  • How do you search for Etihad award space?
  • Is Etihad reliable about releasing premium cabin award seats?
  • Once you find Etihad seats, how do you book them?

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Etihad is an incredible partner of American Airlines. Etihad is not part of American’s oneworld alliance, nor is it a partner of US Airways, but you can use American Airlines miles to fly Etihad in style to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and beyond.

We explained how to search and book Etihad award space with American Airlines miles in “Anatomy of an Award: Booking Etihad Business Class Using American Miles.”

Etihad First Class
Etihad First Class

Etihad’s First Class is a fully enclosed suite. Etihad Business Class is a fully flat bed. And Etihad flies to several North American cities, with particularly great First Class award space to/from Washington-Dulles:

While I salivate about riding in Etihad First Class for 90,000 miles each way between the United States and the Middle East, Maldives, or Indian Subcontinent, there’s a bit of a hiccup.

American Airlines agents cannot book Etihad flights for the moment.

  • Why can’t American Airlines agents book Etihad flights?
  • What is your workaround?

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Etihad has announced that its new A380s, which will begin flying this year, will have a three-room Residence for up to two passengers. This will be the nicest cabin on any commercial airline by quite a bit.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 2.51.09 AM

In addition, the A380 will have nine First Class Apartments, which are about 75% larger than their current First Class Suites.

  • Where will the Etihad A380s fly?
  • What does the First Class Residence look like?
  • What do the First Class Apartments look like?
  • How can you get into the Residence and the Apartments with frequent flyer miles?

Last month I booked myself an awesome award to the Maldives using AAdvantage miles and flying Etihad Airways Business Class. Etihad Business Class is one of the nicest in the world and award space is widespread and predictable between the US and the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and the Maldives.

Reaching the Middle East using AAdvantage miles is in general very easy with Qatar as a new oneworld member and Etihad as an American Airlines partner.

Routing from gcmap.com
Routing from gcmap.com

Though this is an extremely basic itinerary, there are several things everyone should be mindful of before tackling an Etihad award including how to search for Etihad award space and mastering the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

How do you search for Etihad award space? Is Etihad reliable about releasing premium cabin award seats? Once you find Etihad seats, how do you book them? Which American Airlines rules trip up seemingly valid Etihad itineraries?

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Update: Link to Etihad Press Release about Route

According to USA Today and Will Horton of Centre for Aviation, Etihad Airways will begin service to Los Angeles from its hub in Abu Dhabi beginning on June 1, 2014. This is fantastic news for those with AAdvantage balances, especially those on the West Coast!

From Etihad’s own website. Etihad’s Diamond First Class is a fully enclosed suite.

The introduction of Etihad’s long nonstop from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi will be a great jumping off point to the Middle East for West Coast flyers. It strengthens the value of an AAdvantage mile and helps avoid (or at least mitigate) some of American’s more annoying award routing rules!

How do I book an Etihad award with AAdvantage miles? What is the award space picture? What kinds of taxes and fees can be expected on an Etihad award? Why is this so great for West Coast flyers? What destinations does this open up? 

Yesterday’s post about the Coolest Thing to Do with 130k and 280k American Airlines Miles got me to look at the American Airlines’ chart again for value. I found what I think are the Five Best Values in premium cabins.

These values combine low miles, low taxes and fees, and the very best products from among American’s partners. How does First Class on Etihad or British Airways for 40k miles sound?

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At our Award Booking Service, we receive numerous requests to get our clients to the Maldives. This chain of islands located in the Indian Ocean is as aspirational an award as you can fly. Because of its relative seclusion, small geographic footprint, and overall demand, premium cabin award seats can be extremely difficult to find.

American Airlines’ partner Etihad Airways can be your secret weapon in booking this tough award. Though Etihad isn’t a member of the oneworld alliance, you can still use your AAdvantage miles to book travel on the Abu Dhabi-based carrier.

All flights to the Maldives and its surrounding resorts funnel through Male, the capital, and its international airport, airport code MLE. Etihad has a single daily nonstop from Abu Dhabi to Male.

How much does an Etihad award to the Maldives cost?

On American’s award chart, the Maldives is considered part of the Indian subcontinent. American charges 90k/135k/180k for economy/business/first class itineraries between North America and this region. The award chart below shows the price for oneway travel in each cabin.


Which North American cities does Etihad service?

Etihad currently has nonstops from New York-JFK, Chicago-O’Hare and Toronto. They are beginning service to Washington-Dulles on March 31st. Etihad operates a three-cabin flight from New York and Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi featuring first class. The other two cities are operated by two-cabin planes with business being the highest class of service.

How do I search for award space on Etihad?

The American Airlines website won’t display Etihad space. Etihad isn’t a oneworld partner, so American makes you do the sleuthing on your own. The very first step you need to take is to sign up for an Etihad Guest frequent flyer account.

One of the best parts about joining the Etihad Guest program is picking your title. Though being referred to as a “Baron” is extremely tempting, I opted for the plain vanilla “Mr.” when I joined.

After you have signed up and generated an Etihad Guest number and password, you can begin to search. From the Etihad Guest page, click “Redeem your miles.”

After clicking “Redeem your miles” you will be taken to the main award search page. The best way to search is segment by segment. You won’t be able to plug in your origin as Minneapolis and destination as Male because Etihad doesn’t serve Minneapolis. You need to secure the two tough segments first: the nonstop to Abu Dhabi from North America and the Abu Dhabi <-> Male segments.

Below is a sample search I ran from Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi in business class for two passengers. After entering my desired date, I clicked “Search flights” to reach the availability calendar.

After clicking “Search flights,” the next page can be a bit confusing. Etihad has several different award redemption levels. The only one that concerns us is award space at the “Guest Seat” level. If there are seats available in this category, then the award is bookable using American Airlines miles. Ignore the price that Etihad quotes as well. When booking, the American Airlines agent will correctly price the award at 135,000 miles roundtrip in business.

As luck would have it, the October 17 date I chose had business class award space for both passengers. To show you what this looks like, check out the screen shot below.

Etihad has a handy 7-day tool at the top to search surrounding dates quickly. Though October 18th has no award availability whatsoever, I decided to look for space on October 19th.

Though there is Business Freedom space on the 19th, that won’t help us book with American Airlines miles. American agents wouldn’t be able to see those seats. This date doesn’t have usable business class space.

Now that we have the IAD -> AUH segment. Let’s look for the AUH -> MLE segment. The transatlantic flight on October 17th arrives in Abu Dhabi at 7:45 p.m. on October 18th. That’s too late to catch the single flight from Abu Dhabi to Male, so you will need to overnight in Abu Dhabi. The next morning, October 19th, there are two business class seats to Male.

Our outbound trip has been secured! The itinerary is below:

Thursday, October 17th

  • Leave IAD 10:15 p.m. / Arrive AUH 7:45 p.m. (+1 day)
Saturday, October 19th
  • Leave AUH  9:35 a.m. / Arrive MLE 2:55 p.m.

For visual learners, here is our flight path laid out on the Great Circle Mapper.

The above oneway would be 67,500 AAdvantage miles, an absolute bargain for a onestop itinerary to Male.

If I find award space on Etihad’s site, how do I book?

You won’t be able to book online. You need to call American Airlines directly to book with an agent at 1-800-882-8880. You will be charged an unavoidable $25 per ticket phone processing fee.

I don’t live in one of the cities with an Etihad nonstop to Abu Dhabi, how do I take advantage?

As Scott wrote in his great post, the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards, the “airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.”

This means that if Etihad does not publish a fare between your city (e.g. Minneapolis) and Male, you can’t add domestic award space from Minneapolis to Washington-Dulles to the itinerary. American would reject the routing as one award and charge you for two awards–Minneapolis to Dulles roundtrip and Dulles to Male roundtrip.

How do I check to see if Etihad publishes a fare between my home city and Male?

ExpertFlyer is the best way to check this. For simple instructions on how to check for published fares, read Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com.

What if they don’t publish a fare?

You will need to purchase the connecting flight with cash, use other miles to get to and from your home airport, or book the trip as two American Airlines awards.

Can I have a stopover on an Etihad itinerary?

Yes. As per American’s strict routing rules, a stopover must occur at the North American gateway city. In this case, you could have a stopover in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., or Toronto en route to Male or on your return home.

Are there any other ways to get to Male via the Atlantic?

Yes, but it’s a royal pain. American’s oneworld partner, British Airways, flies to Male from London-Gatwick. You will most likely need to fly into London-Heathrow and transfer to London-Gatwick.

To add insult to injury, you will pay steep fuel surcharges (over $1,000 per ticket) for flying on British Airways. For most it’s not worth it.

Are there ways to use American Airlines miles to travel to Male via the Pacific Ocean?

Yes! We will discuss transpacific routing to Male in an upcoming post.

Can I use my British Airways Avios to fly on Etihad? I know British Airways and American Airlines are partners.

No. American and Etihad have a partnership, but British Airways and Etihad do not.


Vacationing in the Maldives is on the bucket list of many frequent flyers. American Airlines’ little known partnership with Etihad can be your ace in the hole in booking this award. Etihad has solid premium cabin award space from several North American cities to Abu Dhabi. From their hub you can connect on to Male.

The routes to Male are some of the most competitive in the world. Using American miles to book an Etihad itinerary is a great way to travel in style while avoiding fuel surcharges and multiple long connections.

There are five cardinal rules of American Airlines award tickets that I wanted to put together in one place for reference. All AA awards must comply with these rules and several other minor ones.

You should consult this post when planning an AA award, especially if you are trying to add a stopover or free oneway.

1. Stopovers are not allowed on American Airlines awards.

All connections on purely domestic itineraries must be less than four hours. All connections on international awards must be less than 24 hours.

2. Each of the two directions-outbound and return–must not exceed AA’s Maximum Permitted Mileage for your origin and destination by more than 25% as flown.

This is not as complicated as that sentence makes it seem. Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) is a term of art. It is a number of miles that the airline puts on all city pairs for which it publishes a fare. MPM is not the direct distance between two cities; it is usually a larger number.

You can find the MPM for a city pair on Expert Flyer, the KVS tool, or by asking an AA agent. Here’s how to do it on Expert Flyer.

Example: Say you want to try this routing, LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE, from Los Angeles to Taipei.

First I would head to Expert Flyer, and I would look up the MPM for LAX to TPE since that is the origin and destination.

LAX-TPE has an MPM of 8,137 miles. (Note that this is much farther than the direct distance between the two, which Great Circle Mapper lists as 6,799 miles.)

Next I would multiply the MPM by 1.25, since we can exceed the MPM by 25% on awards. 10,171 miles is 25% greater than the MPM of LAX-TPE. Now, I can go to gcmap.com and check the distance of our putative routing. LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE is 10,669, which exceeds the allowable 10,171, so this is not a valid routing.

That means that AA would break this into two awards–LAX-BOS and BOS-TPE–and you’d have to pay more.

3. The airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.

This is a rule that trips up a lot of otherwise awesome awards. It’s frustrating, and it’s not clear why the rule exists, but you have to know it.

Example: You want to fly MEL-LAX-JFK-BWI and will fly on Qantas from MEL-LAX. That means Qantas–the region connecting carrier–has to have a published fare from MEL-BWI for the routing to be valid.

How do you figure out if there is a published fare between a city pair? I check on Expert Flyer. Here’s how. Another free, roughly accurate, way is to see if you can book a ticket between the city pair on the operating airline’s website or kayak.

Or you can just see if you can have it price as one award over the phone. If you can, you have a legal routing and stopover.

4. All award travel must be completed within one year of its booking.

You can change your award to a later flight as many times as you want, subject to the fact that all travel must be completed within one year of the ticket’s issue.

5. Awards between Region A and Region B cannot transit Region C unless specifically allowed.

Most airlines let you route however you’d like as long as you don’t exceed MPM. But not American Airlines. If you want to go from the USA to Australia, you can’t transit another region, say Asia, no matter what.

Another annoying one is not being able to transit the Middle East en route from USA to Africa. That makes it impossible to use Etihad.

Here is a list of regions you can transit from flyerguide.com, which I believe is complete and accurate.


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Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from March 2013 can be found here.

This is the twenty-seventh post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Expertflyer.com is a paid service–$100 per year, $10 per month, free for a five day trial–that I use for four distinct purposes.

Checking for Published Fares

The first is to check whether an airline has a published fare between an origin and destination city pair. I do this when researching the validity of an American Airlines award because AA requires the region-connecting carrier to have a published fare from origin to destination.

To see whether an airline has a published fare for an origin/destination city pair, once signed into expertflyer, click Fare Information.

Fill out the form with your origin and destination city pair, pick a random date next month, and type in the airline you are checking.

Remember that the origin and destination include any free oneways, so if you want to add a free oneway LAX-JFK onto a JFK-AUH award, your origin is LAX and destination is AUH.

After clicking search, hone in on the Airline column on the results page. You need to find at least one fare listed as being published by the two letter code of the airline you searched. (List of two letter codes.)

I only specified one airline to search for published fares–Etihad (EY)–so it will only bring up EY and YY results. YY is a generic result. If YY is the only airline listed, the airline you searched does not have a published fare.

This search shows that Etihad does have a published fare from LAX to Abu Dhabi. This is despite the fact that Etihad does not fly to LAX. Airlines publish many fares to cities that they do not serve.

Finding the MPM

My second use for expertflyer is finding the Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) on a route. Each airlines has different award routing rules, but most use some multiple of the MPM as one constraint on routing. (For instance, on an AA award, your award’s routing must be no more than 1.25 * MPM.)

MPM is found on expertflyer the same way as published fare, except on the screen that lists published fares you have to make one more click.

Find the most expensive fare published by the airline whose MPM you want, and click the middle icon on the right side.

That will bring up a jumble of rules. Inside that jumble, look for MPM.

AA’s MPM for LAX-AUH is 10,834

Award Searches

Expertflyer provides at least some award search capability on all these airlines. (They just removed United from what they can search, which is quite annoying. Hopefully United is added again soon.)

I find expertflyer incredibly useful for Delta award searches because it shows Delta partners China Southern, China Eastern, China Airlines, Virgin Australia, KLM, Alitalia, Air France, and Air Europa.

It’s also useful for American awards on non-oneworld partners El Al and Air Tahiti Nui.

To perform an award search, click Awards & Upgrades on the left side after signing in.

Type in the departure and arrival city. You can also type in the connecting airport city if you want to limit the possible routings the search will produce. I am generally searching segment-by-segment for direct flights and leave that blank.

Select an airline and the classes for which you want to see award space. Pay close attention to the names. The correct fare class will usually be named something simple like Award or Classic Award. A special note on Air France is that Delta does not have access to Classic Europe Award, only Classic Award.

You can select just one date if you are searching oneway or input two dates for a roundtrip. Next to each date you can specify a search of up to +/- 3 days, which is a full week search.

I usually select Direct/Non-Stop only, although sometimes they still show me connecting flights. The next screen will show results for your search, broken down by cabin. For some airlines, expertflyer will display 0 if there is no space. For others, it won’t show the flight at all if there is no space.

This search shows great ATL-CDG economy space on Air France in early March, but not any business class space.

Flight Alerts

If an airline has no space released on your dream flight, you may want to track that flight to see if any space is opened up. Rather than daily searches, you can set one Flight Alert to email you when your desired award space opens.

On the left side after signing in, click Create Flight Alert.

Fill in the form with the information you learned from your unsuccessful flight search. If I wanted to see whether business class space opened on the flight from last section’s screen shot of Air France availability, I would fill out the form like this:

There is a link to the fare codes, if you don’t know how to fill in the box labeled Class Code.

The annoying thing with the Flight Alerts tool is that you have to create a new one for each flight number, day, and class.

That means if you wanted to be alerted if any space on either of two daily United flights from San Francisco to Frankfurt in either business or first class opened up for a four day period, you would have to fill out the form 16 times (2 * 2 * 4). I know because I’ve done it.

A premium member can have 30 active alerts at any time. If one of the alerts’ targets opens up, you’ll get an email and hopefully you can claim the seats before anyone else.

Should You Pay for Expertflyer

Expertflyer charges $10 per month for its premium package, $5 per month for its basic package, or $100 per year for its premium package. I have the annual premium package. The basic package only allows 250 award searches per month, which is far fewer than I do for my Award Booking Service.

This page compares Basic and Premium. If you click on Premium, you will have the opportunity to start membership with a five-day free trial.That means you can try out the service for free and see if it’s worth the money to you. Or you can use the service strategically for one award-planning session then cancel. Just remember to cancel within five days to avoid your credit card being charged.

Much of the information on expertflyer is available from other free sources. But many of those free sources are harder and more time-consuming to use. Like many things, expertflyer is a trade-off: spending money to save time.

For me the trade-off is well worth it. For you, it may or may not be. Reread this article, sign up for a free trial, and decide for yourself whether $10 per month is a good deal for all these features.

This is another post in my Anatomy of an Award series, in which I take a real award I’ve booked and break it down step-by-step to elucidate the award booking process. If you have a real award you’d like to write up in a similar post, please contact me, and you can write a guest post.

Etihad Diamond First Class looks like an aspirational award if I’ve ever seen one. Here’s a YouTube promotional video of the suite . That’s the definition of travel porn–a 6’8″ bed, dinner seating for two, a huge TV, your own minibar.

I just booked an award–actually four separate awards–for two people that will allow them to enjoy Etihad Diamond First on an eight hour flight for 40k AA miles and $37 per person as part of a trip to the Maldives, London, and Paris with two free oneways tacked on.

The Awards


Chicago to LaGuardia

one month later

JFK to Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi to Maldives

This award was 45,000 AA miles and $30 per person. Etihad is not a member of any alliance, but AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on Etihad flights. I find their availability to be pretty great in all classes on most routes. Etihad’s hub is Abu Dhabi.

The main award is New York to the Maldives in Etihad economy. Chicago to New York is a free oneway tacked onto the award for one month before the main award.

Note that the free oneway comes into LaGuardia and the award continues from JFK. In cities with multiple airports like New York (JFK, LGA, EWR) or Washington (IAD, DCA), you can fly into one and out of another no problem en route. The airports are considered “coterminal.”

I called AA and found the award space. I put it on a five day courtesy hold and moved onto the next award.


Maldives to Abu Dhabi (Etihad Pearl Business)

Abu Dhabi to Paris (Etihad Diamond First Class)

This award was 40,000 AA miles and $37 per person. The flight from the Maldives is on a two cabin plane and business class features seats like you might find in a domestic first cabin in the US–nothing too special. It’s the 7:40 minute flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris that’s the star.

You get nearly eight hours in an Etihad Diamond First cabin for only 40,000 miles. That’s an amazing value considering the product and the length. Consider that Abu Dhabi to Paris is about the length of London to New York, which is 62,500 miles is Paris.

What this says is that on the AA chart, Europe to “Indian Subcontinent Middle East (which includes the Maldives)” is a sweet spot especially for premium awards, considering its 20k/30k/40k price point for economy/business/first.

Also note that USA – Europe, Europe – India/Middle East/Maldives is cheaper in economy (20k + 20k = 40k) during Europe’s off peak season on AA’s chart (October 15 to May 15) than USA – India/Middle East/Maldive (45k) without a stopover in Europe. Taking a stopover in Europe and breaking the award into two awards saves miles as I noted a few weeks back.

For this award, I did the same as with the first award: I reserved it for five days.


Paris to London

This 80 minute flight is crying out for an Avios redemption. For 4,500 Avios and $20 per person, I could choose between about ten daily flights with award space departing Orly or Charles de Gaulle.

I booked this online at BA.com. Business could have been had for 9,000 Avios, but I wouldn’t recommend spending the extra Avios for no neighbor in the middle seat and a hot meal.


London to JFK

two months later

Newark to Seattle

Seattle to Vancouver

This is the second free oneway–New York to Vancouver. Don’t forget free oneways can go to Canada, the USA, Mexico, or the Caribbean, so my clients opted for an international free oneway. Just like the first free oneway, this one takes advantage of the coterminal NYC airports, flying into JFK and out of Newark.

The main note on the London to JFK is to choose American economy instead of BA economy to avoid hefty fuel surcharges. In economy, this award was 20,000 AA miles and $177 per person.

Don’t depart London if you can help it. The taxes included a whopping $100 Air Passenger Duty and a $53 Passenger Service Charge.

This award can be booked online–even with the free oneway. See this post for how to do it.

After booking awards 3 and 4 online, I circled back and ticketed the awards I had held–1 and 2. That way I ensured all legs were ticketed or none were. It’s important to get your order right.

So the final tally was 105,000 AAdvantage miles, 4,500 Avios, and $264 per person. That included a trip to the Maldives, stopovers in London and Paris, a free oneway to Vancouver, a free oneway from Chicago, a business class segment, and eight hours in Etihad Diamond First.

Recap of some key point

  • The cheapest way to get into Etihad Diamond First Class is to fly between Abu Dhabi and Europe. Some of the flights are quite lengthy, so at 40k miles, this is an incredible deal. You don’t have to start/end in Abu Dhabi either. Abu Dhabi’s region includes India and the Maldives, so Delhi-Abu Dhabi-Paris is 40k for 12 hours of flying in Etihad First.
  • You can fly into one coterminal airport and out of another en route. This is inconvenient when you are connecting in a city, but very convenient when tacking on free oneway. I’ve given two examples where the main award used JFK but the free oneways flew into LaGuardia and out of Newark
  • From October 15 to May 15, it’s cheaper in AAdvantage miles to fly USA to Europe, stop, Europe to India/Middle East than without the stop.

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