Is Etihad Restricting Partner Award Availability?

The value of American AAdvantage miles has taken quite a hit over the past couple of years. Between American’s award chart devaluation last March, airberlin cutting all longhaul flights (which was one of the best ways to redeem American miles for transatlantic travel), American’s lack of saver level award availability on their own flights, and Japan Airlines now also partnering with Alaska Mileage Plan (which presents a great alternative to redeeming American miles on Japan Airlines), the miles just aren’t worth what they used to be.

Personally my valuation of AAdvantage miles has decreased from about 1.8 cents each to about 1.3 cents each.

The biggest advantage of American AAdvantage

The way I see it, the one area where American AAdvantage has continued to remain valuable is for redemptions on Etihad and Qatar. This gives you access to all kinds of destinations in the Middle East, India, etc., and there aren’t very many other programs with good redemption rates on those airlines. So while it’s not for everyone, being able to redeem miles for premium cabins on Etihad and Qatar without carrier imposed surcharges has been a great opportunity.


Qatar Airways A350

But there have been issues…

Unfortunately the process of redeeming AAdvantage miles for travel on Etihad and Qatar hasn’t been as seamless as in the past:


Etihad A380 First Class Apartments

A new restriction on redeeming American miles for travel on Etihad?

There seems to be a further restriction on redeeming American miles for travel on Etihad. I had heard rumors of this (including from @xJonNYC and @EvanDMorgan), and finally had a chance to play around with this myself.

It looks like American AAdvantage only has access to Etihad premium cabin award availability to & from the US less than 30 days before departure, regardless of whether Etihad shows saver level award availability through their own program. Let me share some of the research I did, based on the supposed “30 day rule:”

  • Etihad shows saver level first class award availability from Washington to Abu Dhabi on November 3, 5, and 8 — only the space on November 3 is bookable through AAdvantage (which is 28 days from today)
  • Etihad shows saver level business class award availability from Dallas to Abu Dhabi on November 4, 6, and 7 — only the space on November 4 is bookable through AAdvantage (which is 29 days from today)
  • Etihad shows saver level first class award availability from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi on October 31, November 5, and November 11 — only the space on October 31 is bookable through AAdvantage (which is 25 days from today)

I’ve reached out to American regarding this issue, and they said that they’re not aware of this restriction and that award availability is controlled by their partners (which is fair enough — it’s entirely possible that Etihad unilaterally introduced this restriction without telling American).


Etihad A380

What do I make of this?

One thing is for sure — as of right now, AAdvantage miles can generally only be redeemed for premium cabin travel on Etihad to & from the US less than 30 days out. What we don’t know is:

  • If this is 100% consistent; it would take a very long time to try this out for every single flight to see if there are exceptions (not to mention I’d be wasting the time of a lot of AAdvantage agents)
  • Whether this is an official policy, or just some system limitation for now
  • What the motive is for Etihad to do this

Etihad wouldn’t be the first airline to limit partner award availability in advance. For example, Lufthansa only makes first class award seats available to partner frequent flyer programs at most 15 days out.

My first thought when I heard about this is that this policy was directly targeted at American AAdvantage. American decided to cut codeshare ties with Etihad on principle, because Gulf carriers are evil, blah blah blah. So on one hand it seems perfectly reasonable for Etihad to restrict award availability to AAdvantage members. There’s actually not all that much in the partnership for Etihad anymore, so they have no reasons to be doing American any favors.

At the same time, it appears as if these restrictions aren’t specifically targeted at AAdvantage. That’s to say that other partner airlines also don’t have access to Etihad award space between the US and UAE 30 or more days out. It’s not necessarily a bad business decision for an airline to give preferential treatment to members of their own program. However, given that this restriction is for flights to & from the US, it certainly seems like it’s targeted at AAdvantage, even if all programs have this restriction. Presumably a vast majority of partner redemptions to & from the US are through AAdvantage.

So for now we’ll have to mark this as “developing.” We know the problem exists, but we don’t know if this is a permanent change or not.

If anyone has any data points to share regarding redeeming American miles on Etihad to & from the US, I’d love to hear them!

Comments

  1. We’ve been talking about this in the AA flyertalk forum for the last 3-4 weeks. Non US routes do not seem to be affected at this point, and can be booked far out. Other partners seem to have the same restrictions, so this is probably coming from Etihad. Also, economy class does not seem to be affected.

  2. I don’t mind booking close in since I often travel solo. This is assuming that if I give a window of 3 days for when I need the fight I will be able to snag a seat in those windows. If they are not letting you book more than 30 days out and then once you are within the 30 day window there is like 2 seats left and you are fighting everyone else for those leftover seats then that type of thing might make me leave the hobby altogether. If I can’t redeem the miles I earn then they are worthless and i’m not going to waste my time.

  3. That…sucks big time. I just transferred 100k from SPG to AA to book an Etihad ticket to Sydney. If true this will put a huge dent on the honeymoon plans.

  4. @Jon. At the very least you should be able to get the AUH-SYD portion. This was my plan too with 2x Barclaycard Aviator Red, 2x Citi Executive World Elite signups a few weeks ago. Netted 135K+ AA miles apiece, and was going to transfer ~80K SPG points to get the 20% bonus for a total of around 400K Miles (Need 430K for 2x one way JFK-AUH-SYD in Apartments). Glad I haven’t made the move on transferring the SPG points, but hopefully you’ll be able to book it in the 30 day window.

  5. @Mike – As an EY Gold I can redeem within the EY Guest program. Unlimited award availability on every day and in every cabin indefinitely.

  6. I called AAdvantage to change an existing ticket and they couldn’t see any availability AUH-LHR for middle of March. There were two seats showing in F on EY website.

  7. … or, to add to the conjecture, perhaps this is about EY getting pissed about the US and it’s current admin, or getting pissed about the OpenSkies idiocy and taking it out on America.

    OR

    Maybe they’re trying to limit redemptions from / to the US since those tend to be some of the more expensive revenue tickets.

    Until we hear from EY itself, it’s all conjecture. And, as JonNYC alluded to on Flyertalk, we’ll be waiting a VERY long time before we all know anything (if ever).

  8. As an IT professional, albeit the other end of the IT spectrum, it always irks me when companies trot out the “IT issues” excuses to what clearly appear to be procedural inefficiencies or flat-out anti-consumer company policies, especially between airlines. APIs have been around for a long time (relatively) and the ability to talk system-to-system for award availability should not be a problem anymore. If you can see it in a browser search, there’s little reason why partner airlines shouldn’t see it as well. It’s not like we’re still using the old, blue SABRE boxes with the “pillow” keys and such. While I don’t want to assume anything nefarious between the airlines, I will continue to automatically assume that an “IT issue” – other than those as experienced by BA, which is arguably not an IT issue – means the company is being consumer-unfriendly or partner-unfriendly and is just lying about it.

  9. I know USA has restricted Etihad Award Availability, but AA Brazil and AA Singapore on call with the phone agent can see tons of availability.

    This is an issue only with AA USA, there were wide open First Apt seats for Nov 1st week when we tried to book 2 days ago with AA Singapore

  10. Oh man. Massive problem for me…I need to call AA and see if they can see availability on LHR – AUH still.

  11. This restriction is also put on LHR – AUH and vice versa. But the CDG – AUG routes have premium cabins available using advantage miles.

  12. Called AA and they can’t see first and business class on EY20 LHR-AUH on 12/29, but there is space on EY’s website.

  13. Does anyone know if a current AA award booking with JFK-AUH in the apartment would be affected if I called in when business class opens on a connecting AUH-CMB flight? I’m booked into economy at the moment and am hoping business eventually opens, but am also months away from the trip.

  14. @Ruizhi Liu reread the article it is clear on that point:

    “It looks like American AAdvantage only has access to Etihad premium cabin award availability to & from the US less than 30 days before departure.”

  15. I just booked Etihad yesterday with ANA miles. Etihad’s site showed availability from AUH to both JFK & IAD, but ANA agents couldn’t see it. They could see the DFW route

  16. Similar experience to TImmyD, AUH-LAX showed availability on etihad.com but ANA agents could not see the space (other than Y). Both the Los Angeles and Tokyo call center had the same result.

    Curiously, if travel originates in AUH on a round trip to LAX availability on the return leg is readily available on etihad.com vs. no space if travel originated in LAX.

    …DFW was wide open in both directions so I booked that as a compromise. Clearly Etihad is playing games with the availability to both partners, and in their own program (with the outbound vs inbound out of AUH).

  17. Still, no luck using the AA phone lines. Called US, UK, and Australia call centers. No availability in Business & First class on EY flights from AUH to JFK and LHR. Tried all of December, Jan, and Feb.

  18. Just been trying to book LON-SYD around New Year so minimal availability. QF and Award Nexus showing business available on QF2 LHR-SYD but AA cant see it
    Similarly LHR-AUH avail on EY site and Nexus but again AA cant see it,
    Very frustrating!!

  19. This is because EY flights are being shown as 9W for AA agents. 9W at this time is only allowing economy award bookings.

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