How to Snag Etihad First Class Awards

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Reader Chuck asks,

Hey Gary planning a trip to the Maldives on Etihad with [American AAdvantage] miles, currently booked [in business class], but want to fly in [first class]. Do you know the trends where Etihad releases award space? Thanks!

Etihad first class is one of my favorite redemptions there is, I’ve done it many times.

It’s one of the better hard products, offering excellent catering (extensive dine on demand menu and an onboard chef), and it’s very available. And with American miles, and even Etihad’s own points, it’s reasonably priced.

They even offer a car service to (business and) first class passengers, available on departure and in your arrival city, but not offered in Abu Dhabi if you’re merely connecting there and have a long layover.

Mileage Cost for Etihad First Class

American Airlines charges:

  • 90,000 miles each way between the US and “Middle East and Indian Subcontinent” which means to Abu Dhabi and also beyond to other destinations in the Middle East, in India, and surrounding region including the Maldives.

  • 40,000 miles each way between Europe and “Middle East and Indian Subcontinent” so you could fly Amsterdam – London (British Airways) – Abu Dhabi (Etihad A380) – Delhi (Etihad first class) for those miles.

  • 60,000 miles each way between Abu Dhabi and Sydney, where they offer A380 service.

Finding Etihad First Class Award Space

First, make sure you are searching all of the Etihad US gateways. They flight:

  • New York JFK.
  • Chicago. Note this flight does not offer first class
  • Dallas.
  • Los Angeles.
  • San Francisco.
  • Washington Dulles.

Etihad also flies to Toronto, another route which doesn’t offer a first class cabin.

In addition to taking care that you’re looking at routes that offer first class, you also want to pay attention to the aircraft.

  1. Starting in December Etihad will be offering their Airbus A380 on New York JFK – Abu Dhabi.
  2. The second JFK flight and the San Francisco flight are operated using Jet Airways aircraft (“Jetihad”) which is not up to the same standard as Etihad’s

Second, search Etihad’s website for Guest First space. That’s the ‘low level’ space, and American AAdvantage generally has access to that space.

Once you find the space on the Etihad website, call American Airlines to book that space (you cannot search the space at, and you cannot book it there, fortunately American will waive the telephone booking fee).

When Does Etihad Release First Class Award Space?

There’s really no way to predict Etihad’s patterns.

  • They are in general very good about releasing award space in advance.
  • Often a year in advance award availability is very good, although it may not open right away when the schedule opens. If it doesn’t, wait a week.
  • You won’t find more than 2 first class seats at a time.
  • They’re inconsistent about whether or not they release award space at the last minute. Often they don’t even on empty planes. No one is as aggressive as Etihad about selling cash buy ups. Still, there can be last minute space.

There’s no way to ‘set an alert’ (a la Expert Flyer) for Etihad first class award seats. You just have to watch for them.

Fortunately as I say space is usually quite good in advance, whether 6 months or a year. It goes in waves though, it will disappear and come back, so if you don’t see what you want wait a week and check again, wait another week and check again. And if seats on a given flight haven’t sold, they might open within days of travel.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hi Gary,

    It seems like they’ve (Etihad) completely removed “Guest First” availability for First Class on the A380s for NYC to AUH & vice versa and AUH to SYD & vice versa. I’ve been looking and found nothing. I’ve managed to find some availability for London to AUH but I’m looking for the long-haul flights (12+ hours), any thoughts on this?

  2. Very useful post, Gary. The one caveat (and request) I’d add is that it seems that availability on the super-coveted A380 for the first class Apartments seems to have dried up. (Not that regular Etihad first class on its other planes is anything to sneeze at.) If your knowledge to the contrary is anything different, and if you have any related advice, it would be good for you post that.

  3. @Steve it comes and goes, I don’t think it’s a permanent feature, remember it’s on limited routes presently (JFK, LHR, SYD – Abu Dhabi). it’s disappeared before and returned…

  4. Excellent post, Gary.

    I was able to snag 1 seat in F in January LAX-AUH on the 77L.

    Have you reviewed this aircraft and do you have a seat preference?

  5. @Civet
    Those are all separate awards he mentioned…he’s not talking about transiting anywhere.

  6. Have you seen a scenario on a flight where two award seats in first were offered and booked to be followed up with another award seat available at a later time?

  7. Hi Gary,

    I called Aadvantage about upgrading a ticketed award fare in business up to first from AUH-ZRH in September. Even though the Etihad website was showing guest first availability, the AA agent said that Etihad was not releasing those seats.

    Any ideas? Would it have anything to do with the fact that they changed recently changed the aircraft on that segment from 330 to the dreamliner?

  8. Given your comments about their aggressive buy up program, I was just wondering why you don’t recommend miles for business class plus the buy up. High prices for the bump up?

  9. @Leo Galvin – VERY occasionally there have been availability discrepancies, USUALLY it’s temporary, a schedule change could be the issue. Only once did I ever see a first class award available on the Etihad site that American wasn’t ever able to book (and that was one I wanted myself… I was flying AUH-SFO and wanted to do AUH-LHR-SFO and instead had to do AUH-DUS-LHR-SFO with a 5 hour layover in DUS 🙁 ).

  10. I’ve been following Syd – Auh as I have a booking planned in September. The a380 is actually heavily sold already, there are many days over 1-2 months out with only 1-2 seats left for sale, and even a fair few with a sold out first cabin.

    They do tend to release extra space in the weeks nearing arrival, but there’s no pattern. I’m not sure if it was due to a cancellation but yesterday there was 5 apartment guest seats for same day departure.

  11. Gary, can you remind me – if a non-EXP books in J with AA miles, is there a reissue fee to bump up to F should it become available? I know the answer for OW partners, but alas EY is not part of OW…so I forget…thanks.

  12. @CW, you can upgrade without a fee on Etihad with AA miles as long as there is availability. I’ve done it three times with no reissue fee.

  13. I think it’s wise to temper one’s expectations of this very 4 star airline. I dumped a ton of AA miles on some flights to the Maldives in EY first. For a “free” flight it was fine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to EK or even QR (business). Don’t believe the hype. Ever seen two passengers “sleeping” in one F seat whislt the crew does almost nothing? Welcome to EY.

  14. Not sure I’d agree about availability – it is very very limited even 6 to 11 months out. I have so many Etihad miles to get rid of, I can’t find availability for next year even over several weeks space. Burning Etihad Miles on AA instead which has much better availability but weaker product. Although Etihad F is ok – not a top 5 for me.

  15. Further to my previous comment there is 6 guest seats available right now on tonight’s a380 syd – auh. So last minute availability can be pretty good

  16. Silly question maybe, but can you combine oneworld and non-oneworld AA partners in the same partner redemption without extra points costs (as long as it conforms with other routing rules)?

    So in a case given above, e.g. AMS/LHR on BA then LHR/AUH on EY?

    I was under the impression that oneworld partners could only be redeemed on the same ticket as other oneworld partners. I guess that’s a holdover from knowledge in US DM (where this was the case – you couldn’t redeem oneworld and non-oneworld US partners on the same ticket).

  17. Gary, or anyone else that’s flown EY A380 First, Any recommendations on seats? I booked a flight with my wife using AA Miles (thanks for all the posts that helped and are getting us hyped). We want to be able to use the partition for the lay flat beds. I see rows 3&4 are probably the best bet. I’m guessing the two seats on 3&4 that face each other are best but does anyone know from experience? Thanks in advance

  18. @GoldenMile, I can’t speak from experience yet, but I did snag two A380 seats for my wife and myself before availability dried up and did some research on the seats in the process. Yes, you definitely want 3 and 4. If you have 3 and 4, the two beds are next to each other with the partition down (though bear in mind that only the torso/head part of the partition between the beds can be lowered, so that it doesn’t actually form a double bed). In addition, apartments 3 and 4 each have three windows and the seats are next to the windows. In the other apartments, the seats are next to the aisle and I believe the apartments each have only one window.

    Happy trails!

  19. Seems there are some discrepancies. I am looking at BNE to LON, and the Etihad website says 1 seat available in F (787 to AUH, and a380 to LON). I have called AA twice and they say no flights, but Etihad still says available in Guest First.

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