While many U.S. and European airlines have been shrinking their first-class cabins, or cutting them altogether, the three major Middle Eastern carriers—Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways—have been competing for premium passengers with increasingly decadent seats.
Back in 2014, Etihad took the lead when it unveiled both a three-room “Residence” and enormous first-class suites called “Apartments” that it began installing aboard its fleet of double-decker Airbus A380s.
The airline now operates aircraft featuring these seats on its long-haul routes from Abu Dhabi to New York JFK, London Heathrow, Melbourne, Mumbai, and Sydney.
The Residence and the Apartment
Each Etihad A380 has just a single Residence and nine Apartments. The Residence includes not only a private living room with a leather sofa, two dining tables (if you want company), and a 32-inch flatscreen entertainment system, but also a separate bedroom with a double bed and its own dedicated en suite lavatory complete with shower. Oh, and there’s also a Savoy-trained butler at your disposal for the flight.
As for the relatively modest (by comparison) Apartments, they have Poltrona Frau leather armchairs, separate benches that fold out into extra-long twin-size beds, which the flight attendants will turn down for you, 24-inch flatscreens, personal minibars, and vanities stocked with Le Labo products. There is also a chef on hand to make sure that your glass of Bollinger Grande Année Champagne never goes empty, and to whip up anything from the menu at any time during the flight.
One-way flights aboard the Residence will run you anywhere from $5,000 on the three-hour route from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai to about $32,000 for the 14-hour flight to New York. The same flights in an Apartment run $960 and $8,400, respectively. For savvy fliers, there are ways to use airline miles to book both incredible seats. Here’s how.
First off, you have to have the miles. Lots and lots of them—but not necessarily Etihad Guest miles. Because of Etihad’s non-alliance partnerships, fliers generally have two other good options for booking Etihad’s first-class awards: American Airlines AAdvantage miles, and All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club miles.
Fliers might also consider using miles from two of Etihad’s other airline partners: Korean Air and Virgin Australia. However, there are restrictions to both that make it a challenge. Membership in Virgin Australia’s Velocity Rewards program is restricted to residents of Australia and the surrounding region, for example. Korean Air’s SkyPass mileage program also has more significant hurdles, and often requires multiple phone calls. In any case, note that if you want to book an award in the Residence, as opposed to the apartments, you can only do so using Etihad Guest miles, not partner miles.
Searching for Awards
Okay, now you’ve actually got to find those Etihad award flights. The easiest way is via Etihad’s own award search page. Input your desired route, dates, and class of service. That will pull up results for a week at a time.
The award levels you’re looking for will be under the columns for “The Residence,” or under “Guest First” for Apartments, since that is the “saver” level at which the lowest number of miles are required for awards. Guest First space is also bookable using miles from Etihad’s airline partners like American and ANA (or Korean or Virgin Australia)—but you'll need to call the other airline's agent to pull up the specific flights you found. They should be able to see them in their systems and book the awards for you.
Just beware when searching for award availability: Etihad also uses other types of aircraft on many of these routes, such as the Boeing 777-300ER, which do not have the Residence or Apartments onboard. So be sure to verify the aircraft type before redeeming your miles.
Etihad’s Guest mileage program is now a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. So even if you do not fly Etihad or accrue miles with its frequent-flier program, you can simply set up an Etihad mileage account and transfer points from any of those three programs to it to book awards.
The transfer ratio of points from Amex and Citi is 1:1. However, Citi has offered transfer bonuses of 25 percent, and Amex offered a 30 percent transfer bonus for a limited time, so you might be able to get more miles for your points at various times. If you transfer Starwood points in increments of 20,000 at a time, you get a 5,000-mile bonus, so your transfer ratio can be has high as 1:1.25 with that program.
The Bad News
Booking the Residence as an award will cost you. The shortest and cheapest route is the one from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai and requires a jaw-dropping 544,629 Etihad miles each way. And that’s just the beginning. The route from Abu Dhabi to London requires 2,149,606 miles. Sydney is 2,833,283 miles each way, and New York is a whopping 3,555,556 miles.
So yes, the prices are astronomical—although not impossible. Business owners and corporate executives can and do rack up hundreds of thousands of points every year (or even every month with certain spending and category bonuses) by putting business expenses on a points-earning credit card.
That said, chances are if you’re spending that kind of money and sitting on a stash of millions of points, dropping $30,000 on the airfare instead is probably feasible—and a better value option. If you’re a run-of-the-mill road warrior, good luck.
As for the Apartments, prices are a lot more palatable—and feasible. Abu Dhabi to Mumbai is just 32,073 miles each way. London is 88,048 miles, New York JFK will cost you 117,556 miles, and Sydney is 128,896 miles.
Whatever you spend in miles, expect to pay a few hundred dollars in taxes and fees on awards.
American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
American Airlines is part of the Oneworld airline alliance, but it also has several other non-alliance partners, including Etihad. That means you can both earn and redeem American AAdvantage miles on Etihad flights. Again, you can’t use American miles to book an award in the Residence, but you can use them to book an Apartment.
Etihad’s New York-Abu Dhabi route will cost 115,000 miles each way in an Apartment, and the flights from Abu Dhabi to Sydney and Melbourne would require 100,000 miles each way. If you already happen to be over in Europe, you might consider flying the London-Abu Dhabi route instead, which would cost a relatively low 62,500 miles each way. Meanwhile, the route to Mumbai seems like a downright bargain at just 40,000 miles each way.
If you need to top up your American AAdvantage account, the program is also a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest.
ANA Mileage Club
ANA is a Japanese carrier and a member of Star Alliance, but it also happens to be partners with Etihad, and is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Its award chart also has lower redemption levels than either American’s or Etihad’s. The one major drawback is that you must book a round-trip award, so you don’t have the flexibility of booking one-ways like you do with the other two programs.
That said, those award values might just be tempting enough to get you to do it. Like American Airlines, ANA’s awards are based on the regions to/from which you are flying. Round-trip awards from Abu Dhabi to London in the Apartment require 120,000 miles (60,000 each way), while flying a round-trip to New York would require 195,000 miles (97,500 each way). Round-trip awards to Mumbai and Australia aren’t as great with this chart, requiring 150,000 miles (75,000 each way) and 210,000 miles (105,000 each way), respectively.
As with most things awards-related, if you want your pie in the sky, it pays to be detail-oriented and strategic.