Etihad Downgrades Their Business Class Champagne

It’s sort of unbelievable the degree to which Etihad has been cost cutting lately. I can’t think of another airline that has made cuts to their experience as frequently and severely as Etihad has, as they’re trying to cost cut their way to profitability.

Just looking at their business class experience, they’ve eliminated chauffeur service outside the UAE, cut pajamas, raised the cost of wifi, eliminated free spa treatments, cut a la carte dining and specialty cocktails in the lounges, and that’s only the beginning. Well, Etihad has just quietly made their latest cut to the business class experience.

Etihad has changed their longhaul business class champagne from Billecart-Salmon Brut to Piper-Heidsieck Brut. Piper-Heidsieck isn’t a bad (or cheap) champagne, though I think most would agree that Billecart-Salmon is better.

Here’s the drink menu that a reader shared from a longhaul business class flight yesterday:

Meanwhile here’s the drink menu from when I flew Washington to Abu Dhabi with Etihad in business class back in May:

In terms of price, wine.com has the cost of Billecart-Salmon at $50 per bottle, and the cost of Piper-Heidsieck at $40 per bottle (though they claim that’s a sale price and the normal price is $50). So while they claim the retail prices are similar, in reality you’ll almost always find Billecart-Salmon is more expensive.

Of course airlines buy champagne in huge quantities, and presumably are getting quite a deal on it, so I imagine the cost savings can be substantial. A more expensive champagne isn’t necessarily better, but personally I absolutely prefer Billecart-Salmon to Piper-Heidsieck in terms of taste.

As far as I know, Etihad continues to serve Bollinger La Grande Annee 2005 in first class, and 2004 Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs in the Residence.

What do you make of Etihad’s champagne downgrade? Do you have a strong preference between the two champagnes one way or another?

Comments

  1. Just flew Apartments AUH-JFK in September, champagnes offered were Billecart-Salmon 2007 and NV Rose. Was hoping for Bollinger Grand Annee but no luck; further cuts?

  2. Last two flights in J last week – One QR, the other EY – across the board, QR won hands down. Used to be the biggest EY homer. No longer.

  3. If you are in as big financial trouble as Etihad, switching the champagne brand is probably the least problem. Let’s hope it’s not the beginning of a downward spiral – few businesses have been able to “save themselves” to success: once you cut service quality, you loose customers and revenue, cut some more, loose some more….
    At least they are not serving the $5 bubbly you got on China Southern/Eastern First?

  4. Wine flavor and appreciation depends more on being paired with food seasoned to bring the tasting notes infused during aging. An intact sense of smell and low noise levels are required to taste the nuanced flavors of more expensive vintages.

  5. Also flew F apartments in July, and was not Bollinger La Grande Annee 2005 in first class. Was Billecart-Salmon and was fairly disappointed.

  6. The “hunter strategy” first proposed by McKinsey to Swissair, then revived with Etihad, which started buying minority stakes in failing airlines is taking its toll…….

  7. Of course it’s a first world problem! Why even point that out? This is a blog generally about maximizing airline frequent flier points in order to gain access to luxury travel opportunities. I mean calling out “first world problem” would be like pointing out that a pig rolling in mud and feces is “dirty”. It’s not even a first world problem, it is a tiny tiny sliver of a fraction of that first world who will ever experience this. But I don’t think that was the point of the post.

    I’d guess that they got a much better deal on a roughly comparable bottle of Champaign so they switched, but who cares? This makes no material difference on anyone.

  8. You mean to tell me that bloggers promoting how easy it is to fly EY First Apartments for the money you have in your couch’s seat cushions and a bunch of AA miles hasn’t helped EY sell actual cash fares?

    I am shocked…

    In all seriousness, I think we’re seeing how little F “halos” help. EK? Dropping their fifth freedom F routes. EY? Losing money. CX? Losing money (and I bet their 777X F cabin is smaller than their 77W). GA? Talking about cutting F. LH and SQ? Cutting the number of F seats on offer in the fleet.

  9. Ben, I flew AUH/JFK last December on Etihad First Apartment and was served Billecart-Salmon Vintage 2006, which was completely disappointing. This was the cheapest champagne I’ve ever had flying long-hall first class.

  10. To my great disappointment CX F recently downgraded from the magnificent Krug to Taittinger Comtes de champagne Blanc de Blancs

  11. As here there is no such a thing as alcohol sales, all is done through state monopoly and taxes are fixed, Billecart-Salmon costs 42.95€ and Piper-Heidsieck 41.91€. A major downgrade indeed!

    The biggest difference is that Billecart-Salmon is one of the few family owned Champagne houses. Piper-Heidsieck like pretty much everything else is owned by bigger houses, by the EPI group that’s still family owned by owns other luxury brands as well. EPI also owns e.g. Charles Heidsieck.

    So it looks more a horizontal change than anything else.

  12. why do people say “first world problems”? it is dismissive while not dealing with the situation at hand. this is the reply of your first poster on this thread. it is also the response of a poster that has no point to make. neanderthal. honestly?

    hey jay. big need there to instantly respond. any frontal lobe issues?

  13. Those evil ME3 airline (E, E and Q) is eating our market, so they decided not to unfairly compete with U.S. Aviation industry is a good thing for us, American jobs and general public.
    Please note: Passengers still can redeem AAdvantage miles for Etihad flights, as usual.

  14. OMG, such a downgrade. Im so sad I wont be able to taste a champagne that costs 10 USD more on award ticket. Oh the Humanity!

  15. As others have said, it hasn’t been Bollinger La Grande Annee for a while; they switched to vintage Billecart-Salmon.

    I believe CX also switched their J Champagne from Billecart-Salmon to Piper Heidsieck.

    @Dan, the CX F switch is just temporary on a few routes as supplies ran low. Besides, I would not consider Krug to Taittinger Comtes de Champagne a downgrade! I’d say that’s a lateral move.

  16. Slow news day? Honestly who cares? I get @Tod’s point above but doesn’t this article really translate as – “I prefer champagne A to Champagne B”?

  17. What is your obsession with Etihad’s cost-cutting? You seem to go out of your way to talk about Etihad’s cost-cutting at every single opportunity, including on posts not even about Etihad (such as when discussing AA’s partners). You rarely mention the cost-cutting of any of the others, such as Cathay or Qatar (who also does not consistently serve Billecart Salmon) or even BA. It’s not even that severe, they’re basically regressing to the mean and becoming a typical business class product.

    Seriously, you just wrote an entire post talking about how an airline swapped Billecart-Salmon champagne for Piper-Heidsieck. Just take that sentence in.

  18. A statement like “It’s sort of unbelievable the degree to which Etihad has been cost cutting lately.” would be appropriate in case Etihad would have cut their safety standards or forcing their pilots to fly beyond legal max on purpose. However, this drama queen champagne article doesn’t necessarily need such a drastic wording.

  19. People saying ‘first world problems’ are missing the point.

    The reason it’s important is that EY and EK have been selling the fantasy of being the ‘worlds best’ airlines, with the epitome of luxury in FC. The hope being that people will go out of their way to fly with them for that fantasy experience. Drinking a more expensive champagne, even if you can’t taste the difference at altitude, makes the whole flight seem more special.

    Now they are in the process of becoming just another very good airline, (at least in FC), but no longer with the luxury halo. They’ve put a lot into that branding: apartments, showers, top of the line champagnes, bling on their FC seats, great ads with Jennifer Anniston. Now that top of the line branding is slipping away.

    They’ve also been counting on people mistakenly assuming that luxury halo applies to all classes of service. Once that fantasy goes away in FC, people are going to start to realize that in Y they are very mediocre. The pitch and seat width on their A380 is amazing in FC, but virtually identical to Southwest in Y.

  20. FYI to all of you this appeared in my twitter feed between these two stories:
    1. “#Raqqa has been liberated. But who takes responsibility for what comes next?”
    2. “Ottawa, Toronto or Montreal, Canada to Taipei, Taiwan from only $465 CAD roundtrip with @united.”

  21. Companies constantly evaluate current product lines and negotiate deals with new products, why is this deemed cost cutting rather than good business? If they negotiated with the new winery some crazy good deal then why would they not take it? And how do you know this was a cost cutting move rather than business as usual?

  22. I completely agree with Abidjan.
    EY used to be my favorite.
    QR is way better now.
    Reason: This Nicole Kidman Appartment (or is it Residence…always confused) nonsense…that is not where the money is. It is loyal business customers like myself that were bringing the money.
    I was flying EY business class like 8 times a year out of Brussels.
    I was rewarded with a Platinum card with very poor ‘ extra mile’ service and service levels going down in increasingly older and dirtier A330 aircraft.
    As a BA Gold card (,yep….BA ) holder I gradually move to QR…what an improvement.
    @ Lucky…..I like reading your blog.
    Often disagree, you overfocus on ad hoc experiences and overlook the bigger picture sometimes ( example:” whoa …the EY appartment experience”)…but I like to hear your opinion on the Overall experience as a e.g. a Gold or Platinum member….which program is better.
    But keep on doing this !
    I like it..

  23. This move doesn’t seem like a cost saving move as much as a supply move but who knows – I’d consider Piper and Billecart Salmon broadly same quality… You’ll know they’re failing when they start serving Andre…

    @Dan, Were you flying regionally or long-haul? Last year a CX FA told me that they have switched regional F service to Taittinger Comptes de Champagne (I was flying NRT-HKG and asked about it) but are still serving Krug in F for long-haul.

  24. @Dan: I consider Taittinger Comtes de champagne Blanc de Blancs a step-up from Krug, which I find too full bodied for a champagne.

  25. How many of their passengers would be able to taste the difference in a blind taste? Pretty damned few I would bet.

  26. @Lucky —

    I just read on FT that SQ has been serving Krug 2004 in Suites/F and has moved the previous stock of Krug Grande Cuvee to TPR. That’s so cool! I think that’s worthy of a post.

  27. OK Billecart wins hands down – for me – but maybe not you.

    I drink a fair bit of champagne. In fact it’s my preferred aperitif. Depending on how you feel you enjoy different champagnes at different times. I like Pinot Meunier in most champagne. Often think I don’t want to try / buy a blanc de blanc, but every time I get a vintage blanc de blancs (ie 100% chardonnay) I enjoy it either on the ground or on a plane.

    The Tattinger Comtes is very good in Qantas First – that’s 330$ a bottle in Sydney, but their NV is fine as well – just different.

    The other thing to bear in mind is that all the NV champagnes are blends of various years’ wine – some vintage years and some not – to maintain consistency of flavor. So to judge a vintage (single year’s harvest grapes) against non-vintage can be a little deceptive. You could expect Bollinger NV characteristics but in Grand Anee there are highlights that make it quite different. Likewise vintage blanc de blancs are often uncharacteristic of the same house’s NV….

    Just so you know the Billecart Salmon Rose NV is considered to be the benchmark / quintessential champagne.

  28. I flew business class recently and found the service VERY disappointing. DAR-AUH was nothing special and AUH-LHR was very poor. Had asked if my wife and I (sitting next to each other) could be served lunch at the same time…and I got my main course after she was done with hers! Not ONCE after the initial delivery of lunch was I asked for a refill of wine, coffee or water…on an 8 hour flight! And I had dirty dishes sit for most of the flight. We wrote Etihad and heard back with a very poor “oh, thanks for letting us know” type email. They don’t seem to want my business…and won’t be getting it. On the other hand, flew QR from DFW-DOH-NBO and had a delightful experience.

  29. Even if the issue here is far from interesting, I flew EY J last week and Billecart Salmon NV was in the list, so either they changed it only this week, or it is still up there…

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