Introduction: The Flight Of A Lifetime

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I’d like to think that I’ve flown virtually all of the world’s best first class products. However, there’s one aspirational commercial aviation product I hadn’t yet flown — the Etihad Residence. It’s not really fair to call it a “first class” product, but rather it’s more of a hybrid of first class and private travel.

The Etihad Residence was introduced in late 2014, and is available exclusively on Etihad’s A380s. It’s a private three room suite with butler service, and seems to be unlike anything else available in commercial aviation. However, I wondered whether it really lived up to the hype, or was just a creative marketing opportunity.

When the Etihad Residence was first introduced, one-way tickets cost ~$25,000, which is a bit more than I’d be willing to pay. However, Etihad has also gotten more creative in how they’re pricing the Residence, so there are now ways to score a deal on the product (at least relatively speaking).

Booking flights

As I outlined in a previous post, I managed to book the Etihad Residence for roughly $7,000 for the Abu Dhabi to Sydney flight, by having the ticket originate in Cairo instead of Abu Dhabi. This also allowed me to include a one-way business class ticket from Thailand back to Europe for travel on a future date. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

05/11 EY654 Cairo to Abu Dhabi departing 1:10PM arriving 6:55PM [First Class]
05/13 EY454 Abu Dhabi to Sydney departing 9:50PM arriving 5:55PM (+1 day) [The Residence]

Cost: $7,012

This was a bit tricky to book, as Egypt had to be the point of sale, meaning I had to use an Egyptian travel agency for this. While this is still a lot of money, at that price I thought it was a worthwhile investment, especially since previously that ticket would have cost more than three times as much.

The plan was for this to be a quick round the world trip, so I had to get from the US to Cairo, and then from Sydney back to the US. For the outbound I considered quite a few options, including Etihad business class, Turkish business class, Saudia first class, etc. In the end I decided to fly Etihad’s new 787 business class. While I’ve flown their old business class product, the new seat looks great, so I was curious to see how that compared. I was especially interested since I recently flew Emirates business class.

In the end my routing looked as follows:

05/09 EY130 Washington to Abu Dhabi departing 10:10PM arriving 7:10PM (+1 day) [Business Class]
05/11 EY653 Abu Dhabi to Cairo departing 9:45AM arriving 11:40AM [Business Class]

Cost: 70,000 American AAdvantage miles + $15.10 taxes/fees

As you can see, I was doing a direct turn in Cairo — in other words, I spent a night in Abu Dhabi, and then the next day flew from Abu Dhabi to Cairo to Abu Dhabi with the same plane and crew (which was an adventure).

Then for the return flight, my goal was to redeem Virgin America Elevate points for travel on Virgin Australia. The Elevate program will be discontinued as of the end of this year, and being able to redeem just 45,000 points for a one-way business class ticket from Australia to the US is an incredible value. The catch is that Virgin Australia only makes business class award seats available a few days before departure, so I booked this last minute.

The routing looked as follows:

05/16 VA808 Sydney to Melbourne departing 7:00AM arriving 8:35AM [Business Class]
05/16 VA23 Melbourne to Los Angeles departing 11:30AM arriving 9:00AM [Business Class]

Cost: 45,000 Virgin America Elevate points + $86.66 taxes/fees

Here’s the entire routing on a map:

Booking hotels

This was a pretty quick trip, though I still needed hotels for several nights. I was spending:

  • 1 night in Abu Dhabi before going to Cairo
  • 2 nights in Abu Dhabi before going to Sydney
  • 2 nights in Sydney before going to Los Angeles

For my first overnight near Abu Dhabi I wanted to stay somewhere close to the airport. I’ve stayed at the Hyatt Capital Gate and Westin, both of which are near the airport. So this time around I decided to try the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, which is even closer to the airport than those two properties, and is near the mosque. The rate for one night was ~$180, though Ford booked it through Shangri-La Luxury Circle, so it included a room upgrade, free breakfast, and a $100 property credit. I’d consider that to be a pretty solid deal for a one night layover.

Part of the reason I then planned a two night layover in Abu Dhabi after my Cairo turn is because passengers in the Residence get two free nights in an Al Khaleej Suite at the Emirates Palace Hotel, which is generally considered to be Abu Dhabi’s best hotel. Given that this room retails for ~$1,500 per night, I couldn’t turn down that opportunity. It did take a bit of back and forth to get them to confirm this room, though it worked in the end.

Then for Sydney I’d usually stay at the Park Hyatt, which is a phenomenal property. However, the Hyatt Regency Sydney recently opened (it’s the former Four Points by Sheraton), so I wanted to review something new. I got a very reasonable paid rate of 220AUD per night at this hotel (~165USD), so that’s where I stayed for two nights.

Bottom line

This was a whirlwind trip that unfortunately resulted in me getting a cold (which I guess shouldn’t come as much of a surprise), but it was well worth it. What an amazing trip that exceeded my expectations across the board — not only was the Residence incredible, but business class on Etihad and Virgin Australia also greatly exceeded my expectations.

I’ll be covering all aspects of the trip with this report, with the exception of my flights between Abu Dhabi and Cairo. I’ve reviewed Etihad’s short-haul product before, so I don’t see much value in reviewing that again.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

  1. Lucky, I’d be interested to know what your opinion of Virgin domestic business class (Sydney to Melbourne) was compared to domestic Business/First in the US with major carriers?

    I am very much looking forward to the rolling trip reports on your big trip. This site always helps me through the periods between travel!

  2. Lucky please tell me you are going to post these quickly, otherwise i think half of your audience will die from the wait!

  3. Hi lucky can you share the Egyptian travel agent you used? Still curious how you got the open jaw (cai-auh-syd then back bkk-auh-cai) in the residence any on one leg when I try via Etihad website I can get a return at similar costs but can’t get the open jaw to price.

  4. This is getting really boring. Just get on with your review of the residence. Today’s installment is so void of interest. Then are you planning to write an entire set f 7 articles about your first leg of the trip?? ZZZZZZZZZZ

  5. Here’s another request for Ben to share his experience with finding an Egyptian travel agency.

  6. YES!!! I’m ready for this. From the Etihad Residence to Virgin Australia business class this is going to be an excellent series!!

  7. You’re really dragging this out. It’s not like you’re the first person to ever review The Residence.

  8. I’m curious why you opted to fly SYD-MEL-LAX when there is a SYD-LAX nonstop on Virgin Australia. Is it harder to find award availability on the SYD-LAX route versus the MEL-LAX route?

  9. @ Joey — For my date there was only availability for Melbourne to Los Angeles, so I didn’t have much of a choice. Otherwise I would have done the nonstop.

  10. @ chabon — I always write an intro to my trip report series. If you’re not interested in them, they’re easy enough to skip, no? After all, they have “Introduction” as the first word in the title… no clickbait here!

  11. @ Carlos @ Imperator — A friend helped me out here because he had a contact at an Egyptian travel agency. However, I don’t believe they’re looking to take on clients for these types of tickets, so think it was more of a favor than anything.

  12. @ Ben O — Indeed, the open jaw won’t price through the website, but rather only through a travel agent.

  13. @ AussieBen — Will be sure to share my thoughts on Virgin Australia’s domestic business class. Aside from the lack of wifi (which I know they’re working on installing), I thought the experience was far superior. Better food and also MUCH better service than we get in the US.

  14. May I know why you decided to book with a travel agency based in cairo to book the ticket ? while I think you will be able to to do it online.

  15. ‘a worthwhile investment’ is a curious description of your experience, what kind of return are you expecting on this investment?

  16. @ waleed — Because in order to get this cheap fare I booked an open jaw from Cairo to Sydney in the Residence and returning from Phuket to Cairo in business class. There was no way to book this directly through Etihad’s website.

  17. @Declan

    It’s worthwhile to him because of the juvenile, millions-of-posts way in which he covered it.

    Showed a distinct lack of class through this whole thing. Hope the temporary page views are worth it benlucky.

  18. Agree with Adam, Ben’s really dragging this out. Another major blogger reviewed the Residence (AUH-JFK, I think) in just 1 or 2 posts.

  19. @Dave with all due respect, the reviews from “that other blogger” were nothing worth waiting for. Ben’s reviews are very well written and include many more pictures and details. I am also eager to read the full review, but perfection takes time 😉

  20. @Ben Thank you so much for your answer, I am a big fan of cairo premimum fares I might require the name of the agency 😉

  21. Wow amazing how many haters are on this site now. If you don’t like the manner in which he posts stop reading the damm blog. Sick of all the bitching !!!!

  22. A slight Correction Ben. I hope you meant ” and then from Sydney back to the US” and not “and “them” from Sydney back to the US.” 🙂

  23. Love the blog, but what happened to the formatting? Extra bullets, and multiple Continue here links. Is it just me?

  24. Just a thought about the 25,000$ one-way fare for The Residence: isn’t it close to the cost of a similar leg on a private jet? Just wondering. Thanks.

  25. Lucky,

    Which travel agency do you use in Cairo? I want to purchase business class tickets to SFO around Jan 6, 2018.

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