Etihad First Class Award Availability Trends

One of my three favorite uses of American AAdvantage miles is for travel on Etihad Airways (the others are of course Cathay Pacific first class and Japan Airlines first class!). I have an odd fascination with the Middle East, and if you want to redeem miles to travel there, it’s tough to beat redeeming American miles for travel on Etihad (along with Alaska miles on Emirates).

Etihad-777

I know a lot of people are especially keen to redeem American miles for Etihad’s A380 First Class Apartment, available exclusively on select flights from Abu Dhabi to London, New York, and Sydney.

Etihad-A380-First-Class-01
Etihad A380 First Class Apartments

As a reminder, American’s one-way first class redemption rates for travel on Etihad are as follows:

  • US to Middle East: 90,000 miles
  • Europe to Middle East: 40,000 miles
  • Middle East to Australia: 60,000 miles

I’ve written a lot about redeeming American miles on Etihad, though I figured I’d make a consolidated post with Etihad first class award availability trends, as it’s something I get lots of questions about. To start, remember that the normal rules for redeeming American AAdvantage miles also apply for travel on Etihad, even though they’re not part of oneworld.

Etihad award availability is easy to search

I’ve written a primer about how to search Etihad Airways award space, so check out that post for more information on searching Etihad award space. Etihad awards aren’t bookable through American’s website, so you’ll want to find award space through Etihad’s website, and then book with American by phone.

Etihad-Site

You’ll need to find “GuestSeat” availability for it to also be bookable through American. If only the higher levels of awards are available, those wouldn’t be bookable through American (they’re the equivalent of “standard” level awards).

GuestFirst

In almost all cases GuestSeat availability should match what American has access to. In the event that Etihad’s site shows two seats but American agents can only see one seat by phone, use the trick explained in this post — basically request the first seat and put it on hold, and then the second seat should open up as well.

Etihad is very inconsistent with award space

Before I talk too much about specific Etihad award trends, it’s important to understand Etihad is extremely inconsistent with releasing award space. Not just on specific dates, but actually over weeks at a time.

To give an example, American can start booking Etihad first class award seats ~331 days out. Sometimes Etihad won’t show a single award seat on a given route 10-11 months out. And then sometimes if you check back a week later, every single date has award space.

So with Etihad more so than with just about any other airline you’ll want to check back frequently if your desired award space hasn’t yet opened up. That doesn’t just apply close to departure, but even months in advance.

Etihad makes at most two first class seats available in advance

As a general rule of thumb, Etihad won’t make more than two saver level first class award seats available at a time in advance. The same applies for business class. There are of course exceptions, but in general don’t expect more than two seats when booking way in advance.

For example, take the below flights between Paris and Abu Dhabi for next year, which have two first class award seats per flight:

Etihad-Space

To be clear, that’s not to say that two seats will be available in advance on all flights, but rather that you won’t see more than two seats. In many cases you won’t see any seats in advance, and then they’ll suddenly appear (as explained above, regarding Etihad being inconsistent with award space).

For example, the US routes seem to have almost no availability at the moment when booking 10-11 months out, despite the cabins being wide open:

Etihad-Guest

That could change again any day.

Etihad releases lots of last minute award space… inconsistently

Etihad does make a great amount of first class award space available close to departure. The problem is that they’re very inconsistent. Sometimes they release the space a month out. Sometimes two weeks out. Sometimes a week out. Sometimes a day before departure.

As a general rule of thumb it’s quite easy to predict if Etihad will open up space… it’s just tough to predict when they’ll do so.

Generally if there are at least four seats still left for sale within a week or so of departure, you have great odds of award space opening up.

But Etihad is also very inconsistent. I’ve seen flights with five seats for sale where all five seats become award seats, and I’ve seen flights with six seats for sale, where there’s not a single award seat even the day before departure.

So you can expect up to two seats in advance, and then in many cases even more than two seats close to departure.

At the moment Etihad’s trend seems to be that they’re making all unsold first class seats available for award travel within 24 hours of departure.

For example, today’s Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi flight has three first class seats for sale, and all three are available as awards:

LAXAUH

Meanwhile tonight’s New York to Abu Dhabi flight has three first class seats for sale, and all three are available as awards:

JFKAUH

Tomorrow’s Dallas to Abu Dhabi flight has three first class seats for sale, and all three are available as awards:

DFWAUH

Tomorrow’s San Francisco to Abu Dhabi flight has six first class seats for sale, and all six are available as awards:

SFOAUH

Tomorrow’s Washington to Abu Dhabi flight has one first class seat for sale, and it’s available as an award:

IADAUH

Availability is also quite good last minute for non-US origins and destinations, though the patterns are a bit different:

LHRAUH

At this very moment the only reasonably reliable trend is that within a day or two virtually all unsold seats also become award seats.

Etihad is aggressive with selling first class upgrades

Why doesn’t Etihad open up last minute first class award seats in some cases? Because Etihad is extremely aggressive with selling upgrades to first class (the same applies for business class upgrades from economy). Not only do they sell them in advance (much like what I experienced with SriLankan), but they also often offer them at check-in.

Etihad-Upgrade

That’s why it’s not unusual to see an Etihad cabin wide open a couple of days before departure, and then it ends up going out completely full.

Which Etihad plane do you want to fly in first class?

Etihad operates a few types of planes on their US routes:

The 777-200LR and 777-300ER have virtually identical first class products. The cabins have just eight seats, spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. The A340-500 seats are virtually the same, except there are 50% more seats (they have three rows rather than two). So I’d have a slight preference for the 777 over the A340, since service should be a bit more personalized.

Etihad-First-Class-777-02
Etihad first class cabin 777-300ER

Etihad-A340
Etihad first class cabin A340-500

Meanwhile my last choice on Etihad would be their ex-Jet Airways 777-300ERs. These are operated on all flights to San Francisco and select frequencies to New York City. These are Jet Airways planes, so the product is very tired, though they still have fully enclosed first class seats.

Jet-Airways-First-Class
Jet Airways first class cabin 777-300ER (operating on behalf of Etihad)

Etihad’s 787s are brand new, though the product is potentially a bit tighter, given that they still have four first class seats per row and the cabin is narrower than the 777’s. While the cabin is slightly wider than A340’s, reports are that the seats themselves feel a bit tighter. I’m not sure I’d actually choose the 787 over the 777 or A340, aside from the novelty of flying it.

Etihad-787-First-Suite

Meanwhile the A380 is of course the crown jewel of the fleet, given the First Class Apartment, onboard shower, etc.

Etihad-A380-First-Class-74

Bottom line

As of now Etihad first class remains pretty wide open for those looking to redeem American miles. Airlines are slowly but surely headed the direction of closing up premium cabin award seats to members of partner airlines, so if you haven’t flown Etihad first class, I’d absolutely give it a try. And it shouldn’t be too tough to book regardless of whether you’re booking far in advance or close to departure, using the above tricks.

Etihad-First-Class-A340-56

Comments

  1. @ Lucky – thanks for the primer! I — and others, I’m sure — also appreciate heads-up posts you do whenever Etihad or some other airline opens up award space in an unusually generous manner 🙂

  2. Thanks for the post. Once again reinforcing your position as the top blogger on Boarding Area. Bar none.

  3. If I need 2 seats, by EY is showing 1 on their website, should I put 1 on hold and hope they release the second one or if it better to keep checking to see if 2 are released? this is for a trip btw 10 and 11 months out. Thanks.

  4. I wish they would start second (or third, etc) daily flight to MLE, right now the connection from the A380 JFK-AUH-MLE requires 20 hr layover.

  5. I thought the 787 was slightly wider than the a340, not enough to make much of a difference, but definitely not narrower. How the hard product compares is a different story, though, as it does seem like the new first class on the 787 is narrower.

  6. @ Lantean — Agreed, would be nice, and I’m kind of surprised they haven’t. That being said, I kind of like the 20 hour overnight, as it breaks up the journey a bit. Keep in mind that when going to the Maldives, your travel day doesn’t end at MLE Airport.

  7. @lucky

    so you think it’s better to overnight in AUH (immigration, cabs, etc) and then take the morning flight to MLE rather than going thru CMB and arrive MLE at 1am and stay at a cheap-o hotel by MLE airport? If so, where in AUH would you recommend? By the airport or downtown?
    thanks.

  8. @ Lantean — If those are the options, 10000% overnight in Abu Dhabi. I’d stay at the Westin or Hyatt Capital Gate. Both are a ~15 minute drive from the airport. The hotels near Male Airport are *terrible*.

  9. Hi lucky,
    Just wanted to let you know that Etihad is offering a 10% discount on top of the quadruple miles using the code MEMBER10 🙂

  10. Lucky, thanks for this summary. I am confused about the First Class on the A380. Is the Apartment the only First Class cabin available on that aircraft or is it offered in addition to the regular First class cabin?

  11. @ Lucky

    Are you still hearing the same thing about the F Lounge opening this summer? I have read some rumblings may not be until October. Don’t you see it at the very worst being ready by the A380 NYC launch? Will you expect this lounge once opened to be on par or better than EK?

  12. I’m trying to think of a circumstance where a last minute (ie. < 1 week out) award availability would be helpful to me. If I'm going to fly to the Middle East, it's probably en route to the Maldives or the like. In which case it would likely not be something I would be planning in a week. Perhaps last minute award availability is helpful to some, but not for me.

  13. When using AA miles can you book Business and upgrade to First if space opens up by paying the mileage difference? Thanks

  14. Hi Ben,

    I also encountered that when I called AA for checking availability, they had more options then stated on Etihad’s website.
    Etihad was not showing any option 10-12 october, but AA could reserve 1 first on 11th and 2 first on 12th…
    That’s pretty nasty, so in case you have the miles, I think it won’t hurt to call and ask for availability on your desired dates?

    Thanks again for the lovely post!

  15. @ Matt S. — Fair point. Everyone has different travel patterns/desires, and I realize for many people last minute award space isn’t useful.

  16. @coins – just curious if any particular EY US routes have better service/crews compared to others? I guess this counts as part of soft product. and I assume the other components of the soft product (food, drinks) are standardized, along with the hard product (apart from minor diff due to plane sizes/refurb/maintenance stage)

    I ask this because a few wks ago I remember reading on your blog about how in your exp CX flights exJFK seem to have mostly bad/mediocre locally based crews. esp compared to ORD and perhaps LAX? is that cause certain routes have HKG based crews (on a turnaround) and that was just due to timing of any given flight during the wk that you happened to catch. or were they perhaps permanent that I would find if I were to fly that route tmrw?

    anyways, as you know crews in the F cabin (janesis @ SQ) can make a huge difference in your overall exp esp on an ultra long haul. so ya actually same Q for EK flights out of the US as well. are any particular routes better or any ones to avoid etc? I understand this maybe subjective and could even change on an on-going basis due to many variables for the above mentioned airlines. so some general advice would be great if you dont have concrete specifics, thanks!

    I just figured you’d be the best person to ask because you fly so damn much and might have exp to compare and contrast on routes.

  17. Unfortunately, Lucky, I don’t agree with this current trend of all unsold seats 24 hours out. Look at IAD and JFK for tomorrow’s flights. I’m trying to get on a flight tomorrow so I’ve been studying Etihad award space for the last few months. It definitely appears to open some space near departure, but not currently reliably at day of or day before.

  18. @ Michael A — It could still happen! The IAD flight tonight still has two seats for sale and both are awards. I’d check again tomorrow morning.

  19. @ Adam — All of Etihad’s crews are based in Abu Dhabi, so I can’t say there’s really a difference. The way they “roster” works differently than in the US, since it’s not strictly seniority based. So it really is luck of the draw.

  20. Regarding the Jet Airways metal 777 from SFO to AUH, it could not have been nicer. Yes, the interior is a little different, perhaps more subdued, but it definitely wasn’t worn or dirty (at least on the two planes used on my itinerary).

    And they have these totally fun LED mood lights in the ceiling that creates a gradually changing starry night experience. The staff were quite proud of this and it is a fun feature.

    The food was simply over the top. It’s Indian-themed, as one might expect, and the catering was superb. While the food on the LAX Etihad metal is very good, my tastes run more towards South Indian, and they really did an excellent job, even with sea bass, which is hard to cook on board.

  21. Hi Ben,

    I have a booking for early next year from AUH-JFK. Since the flight time is at 2:55 am, my question to you is regarding hotel. My flight is leaving on a Saturday at 2:55 am. I’m arriving in AUH on a Wednesday. Do I book my hotel stay for 4 nights (i.e., Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday) or 3 nights (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday)? If 3 nights, I obviously have to ask for a late check-out on Friday (i.e., check-out at 11 pm Friday or midnight Saturday). Would the hotel allow that? I’m planning to stay at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi. I’m also a Diamond member.

    Thanks.

  22. @ John — Technically you’ll get 4PM check-out at best (that’s not even guaranteed since this is a resort). That being said, if you ask nicely they might be able to extend that a bit further. If you want to check out much later than that they might have some sort of supplement you can pay to extend further. Or if you really want to be guaranteed a stay for as long as you’d like then you’ll just want to pay for the following night as well.

  23. Hi Ben,

    We are a family of four traveling from DFW to India in early August. I was able to book 2 seats in first and two seats in business using AA miles. I am hoping that they would open at least 2 more first seats for AA awards so that whole family can be in first. Currently there are still 5 first seats unsold.

    For our return, we have 2 first and 2 business seats in British Airways using AA miles and $830 fee for each person. I plan to change to Etihad if premium award seats open up for AA miles at least 24 hours prior to the BA departure (this is the time needed to cancel the BA tickets). Even with the change fees, I would save a bunch if we could get Etihad. What is the pattern for Etihad to release first or business award seats from AUH to DFW or any other US destination?

    Thanks.

  24. when referring to the Etihad F seats being for sale and the corresponding probability of those seats opening up as GuestSeat awards, does it make a difference if the revenue tickets are listed as ‘Saver’ or ‘Freedom’ ? thanks for your post; it’s great help.

  25. @ SLAB — In general you have better odds if there’s saver space, since it probably means there are more seats left for sale. But it’s not really conclusive.

  26. For the last 4 months I have been closely watching AUH-IAD and AUH-LHR for Guest F availability in August. Not one seat has opened up on either route on the A380 or B787. Even looking at close-in flights, and even within 24 hours – nothing at all. Looks like ex-AUH they are not releasing ANY F seats in the months of July and August on these premium aircraft (I looked briefly at AUH-SYD as well).

  27. @ ML — That’s not quite true. For example, July 12 was the first date for which I pulled up availability, and the first A380 flight has first class award space. I agree space isn’t great, but it’s certainly not non-existent.

  28. Okay, you are kind of right about the A380. They must have opened those up literally in the last couple days. I have been checking at least 3 times a week (often daily) for several months. On AUH-LHR they just opened up some availability. Total of 9 seats until end of August. Still seems like a determined effort to withhold availability out of AUH. It’s more generous into AUH.
    On the B787, however, there are 0 seats until the end of August. Even flights that have ALL 8 F seats (on a wide variety of dates) available for non-Guest redemption, have 0 for Guest redemption. I have been checking this for months and it’s not like I missed an opportunity and they got booked. They simply are not releasing these seats.
    I would love to be wrong on this.

  29. Ben,

    do you still keep an eye on last minute award space on AUH-LHR flights?
    I do and it’s almost gone for august, september the last few weeks…

    Let’s hope they start releasing last minute award space again in september.
    I guess it also has to do with the end of the ramadan, a lot of people are travelling outside UAE now…

  30. Hi Ben, a question regarding aircraft model on Etihad. How do the versions you have described above map against the references used on the Etihad award booking page? For example, I see “77W” on a number of flights from Europe, is this the Jet Airways 777 or not? Thanks!

  31. I have a F award seat on a 77W from JFK-AUH using OZ miles in 3 weeks. Any chance EY would allow me on an earlier flight out of JFK which is A380 in a F Apartment either in advance or at the airport if I arrive on a paid connecting flight early enough? Or would I still have to go through OZ? Of course it seems that such seats rarely if ever appear under Etihad Guest as open on that A380 out of JFK…so I do not know if OZ would even see such a seat at the last minute. Do you have any thoughts or advice? Thanks.

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