Rumor: Etihad Launching Partnership With United (And Dropping American)

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

Update: See this post for the latest on this situation as of March 2020.

This is a rumor I’ve been hearing for a while now from reputable sources, and in the past 24 hours I’ve seen several people mention this publicly, so I figured I’d share my take and what I know. Let’s call this a rumor for now, since this kind of stuff is always subject to change.

Etihad expected to launch partnership with United, and dump American

Etihad’s biggest US partner is American. While Etihad isn’t part of the oneworld alliance, the two airlines have partnered for years. Having Etihad as a partner has been a huge deal for the purpose of AAdvantage redemptions, given what a great value it has been to redeem AAdvantage miles for Etihad first and business class.

Etihad’s 787 business class

The catch is that American hasn’t treated Etihad very well. As part of the smear campaign that the US carriers have run against the Gulf carriers, American decided to cut their codeshare agreement with Etihad a couple of years back. It was a move purely driven by optics. As the press release stated at the time:

In light of our ongoing dispute over the Open Skies agreements, American Airlines notified Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways on June 29 of our decision to terminate our codeshare relationships.

American thought they had the stronger hand, but they may have overplayed it.

It’s rumored that very soon Etihad will be cutting ties with American, and will announce a new partnership with United instead. Of the “big three” US airlines, United has generally been the quietest when it comes to bashing the “big three” Gulf carriers.

United 787

Personally I don’t exactly know the timeframe with which this will happen, though if you’d like to redeem American miles on Etihad, I’d recommend doing so as soon as possible, as the window for using AAdvantage miles on Etihad may be ending.

Similarly, United MileagePlus members may soon have an exciting new use of miles.

Etihad’s US destinations include Chicago, Los Angeles, New York JFK, and Washington:

  • Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, are all United hubs
  • At New York JFK I would guess most of their traffic originates or terminates there

In many ways Etihad’s US network is better suited for United than American, given the Washington flight (it’s not like American offered that much connectivity out of JFK).

Could Etihad also join the Star Alliance?

The other thing I’ve seen stated is that Etihad is apparently also close to joining the Star Alliance. This is something I wrote about just over two years ago, when I was hearing from reputable sources that this was close to happening.

But then James Hogan was fired at Etihad, and the airline underwent a huge restructuring, so I’m guessing this was put on the back burner. On the surface Etihad is a good fit for the Star Alliance:

  • The Star Alliance doesn’t have a Gulf carrier, while oneworld has Qatar Airways and SkyTeam has Saudia
  • Etihad and Lufthansa already have a partnership, and with a new partnership with United on the horizon, that means they’d be working with two of the biggest Star Alliance carriers

The thing is, joining an alliance is expensive, and Etihad Airways is in cost cutting mode. So personally I don’t view this as a sure bet, but it seems to me like it’s also quite possible that Etihad may elect to become a Star Alliance Connecting Partner, like Juneyao. This would mean that they’d likely have more partnerships with individual Star Alliance airlines.

Etihad A380

Oh, American…

If American loses Etihad as a partner, this would be a big blow to redeeming miles through the AAdvantage program. Sure, there’s also Qatar Airways, but the reality is that both Etihad and Qatar are really inconsistent about award seats, so having access to both makes AAdvantage miles very unique if traveling to the Middle East, India, etc.

American thought they could throw Etihad around, and if this happens I think they might just learn their lesson here. Maybe Doug Parker should be sending Akbar Al Baker an apology note and some flowers, lest Qatar Airways leave oneworld. 😉

The lack of innovation at American AAdvantage in every way is mind boggling. Over the past five years alone, American AAdvantage has lost partnerships with airberlin, EL AL, Gulf AirJet Airways, and WestJet, and they’ve scaled back their partnerships with Alaska and Hawaiian.

Meanwhile to my knowledge they haven’t added a single new partner during that period (am I missing anything?). I just don’t get it. Does AAdvantage management not think we want partners to earn and redeem miles on? Could they try a bit harder? Heck, phone up TAAG Angola, I’m sure they’d be open to some sort of an agreement. 😉

TAAG Angola 777

Bottom line

Like I said, let’s just call this a rumor for now. These rumors are now being publicly discussed, and it’s something I’ve also heard from reputable sources, though I’m not as confident as others on the timeframe, and also am not as confident on Etihad actually fully joining Star Alliance (since this is also something that was being seriously discussed in early 2017).

If this happens, it will be a big win for MileagePlus miles, and a big loss for AAdvantage miles.

What’s your take on this?

  1. AA minimizes the value of redemptions on Etihad and Qatar by prohibiting their use for travel to Asia on a single award. Its less mileage to fly from the East Coast to Singapore via the middle east, but AA forces me to go west if I want to use AAdvantage miles. I find that very arbitrary and annoying. I assume UA won’t do the same, as they seem to have a finer understanding of geography than AA.

  2. Hopefully this will finally be some good news for us MileagePlus folks since we can’t seem to book any partners these days.

  3. A couple of mistakes. Star Alliance definitely has a Gulf-ish Carrier and that is Turkish Airlines doing the same sort of hub to connect.

    Also Erihad no longer flies to Dallas.

  4. Mark,

    Is it AA official policy to not offer east-bound travel to Asia on one award ticket at all, or just not online? What you say makes sense: I just tried to use AA miles to go IAD-DPS online and it forces me to take Cathay via LAX (or IAD-HKG direct on some days). When I called and asked about Qatar via DOH they said there was no availability in business but there was award space in economy. I declined and wound up using other points to book the Qatar qsuite ticket, but it seems you may be able to book east-bound to Asia on a single award ticket on the phone. Or at least that’s my experience.

  5. I agree with Mak that this would be great news if they will allow award bookings to Asia without AA’s dumb routing rules. Might have to start using the CSR more again

  6. Since Etihad’s new focus is to transport passengers to/from Abu Dhabi, I guess it’s easier for United (or any US airline) to partner with them, as they are not competing about the same Asia/India bound passengers (at least not on the same scale as previously). Also, the deal with Lufthansa makes United a more sensible partner than American.

    Also, maybe Etihad sees joining an alliance as the last option trying to turn the company around, and *A would be the only alternative.

  7. Etihads wide open award availability made american miles so much more valuable. I really miss the chauffer ride for business class era. Will ditch all my american credit cards (3 in the family) if this happens. Hoping this united deal materializes and etihad returns to sfo.

  8. Etihad also partners with Air France and KLM therefore by default with Delta if you are flying for example Orlando New York Paris Abu Dhabi
    Air France coded, Delta and Etihad metal

  9. Given Etihad’s deepening partnership with Lufthansa where they even moved to terminals at both FRA & MUC, I can very much see this happening. I doubt though that they’ll join Star.

  10. In fact they partner with several skyteam carriers – Air France KLM Saudia MEA Vietnam Korean Kenya Garuda Czech China Eastern Alitalia Aerolineas Argentinas and Air Europa

  11. Losing EY would just be one more step in the transition of AAdvantage from a loyatly program for frequent business travellers to a highly profitable stand-alone business that sells miles and hawks credit cards to infrequent travellers. Cutting long haul premium redemptions hits the same customer who also has seen elite status benefits disappear. The customer they want to attract with AAdvantage points now gets them through credit card spend. That customer will redeem the same way he travels now — infrequently, in economy, and on domestic AA metal. It will be interesting to see what the next management of AA will do when the economy softens and they desperately need the program to generate loyalty again. Current management seems to be banking on the idea that will never happen.

  12. As an SFO-based flyer, this is exciting to me. I hope that Etihad could resurrect their SFO flight if this happens, even if it’s just the 777 again.

  13. “Does AAdvantage management not think we want partners to earn and redeem miles on?”

    Firstly, I’d imagine frequent flyer benefits are fairly low down on the list when deciding partnerships.

    Secondly, what’s best for the customers isn’t always what’s best for the business. I’m sure they’re well aware people prefer more of something than less of something. The question is, if it’s not going to negatively affect them, why should they care?

  14. 1) As many have said, Etihad’s usefulness with American miles is kind of limited because you can’t really use the most obvious Etihad routing, with is US to Doha to Asia. Does United allow this kind of routing? If so, it would be huge.

    2) Doesn’t this clearly make United the best airline for accumulating miles if you are primarily interested in miles? United already has the best award availability to Europe via its own metal and partners. Singapore helps with Asia, but this would be huge for Asia if you can connect via Doha.

  15. Would love if you add to the analysis the actual benefits of not only redeeming miles but flying etihad with them in the partnerships

  16. @ Callum — For the head of a loyalty program, I’d hope that frequent flyer benefits are at the very top of the list of things. 😉

    And I’m not sure I get your second point about how it’s not going to negatively impact them. Sure it’s going to negatively impact them. Typically no one change makes someone choose a different airline. It’s the same as the old story about how American saved money by removing one olive from every first class salad.

    The point is that when you combine everything — no personal televisions, the 737 MAX cabins, reduced partners, fewer elite benefits, higher revenue requirements for status, etc. — it absolutely does impact customers.

    And if American’s strategy isn’t negatively impacting them, why are they trailing behind the competition?

  17. Can’t wait. I’ve got 1.3 million Mileage Plus miles banked and would love to redeem them for a flight in The Residence.
    My Alaska miles are useless for Emirates redemption thanks to the travel bloggers (I’m looking at you Casey Neistat) and I can now burn them on Cathay to Asia.

  18. Regarding Hawaiian, has something been announced that is not reflected on AA’s website that resulted in the characterization above as a “lost partnership”? My understanding is that one cannot book awards between Hawaii and the continental U.S. on Hawaiian Airlines with AAdvantage miles, but inter-Hawaii and flights between Hawaii and Asia or South Pacific still can be booked as an AA award or earn AA miles. I used the HNL to Australia AA award to fly Hawaiian business class last fall.

  19. Hmm I’m still having a hard time believing this.
    Lucky would you be able to share what your sources are for this?

  20. @ JN — I didn’t express correctly, my apologies. Will update the post to make it more accurate — intent was to say you could no longer redeem between the mainland and Hawaii, which is what I imagine most AAdvantage members were redeeming for.

  21. @ JL — I can’t share sources, and to be clear, no nobody has told me a specific start date for this. However, I’ve spoken to people I know at multiple Star Alliance airlines and Etihad (and not reservations agents or flight attendants), and I’ve more or less received the same message/theme from everyone. So we’ll just have to be patient.

  22. This is awful. I use my AA miles for Qatar and Etihad and since both are inconsistent, if Etihad leaves then I will be extremely limited in terms of redemptions. Maybe I need to move to Delta for my domestic travel and use miles on Saudia. Especially since I earn most of my miles flying from Orlando to NYC every week and now AA is discontinuing 2 of their 3 daily flights (and their 3rd flight’s hours aren’t convenient)

  23. Abu Dhabi-Houston? Think of all the oil companies grinning about that.. why land in Dubai when Abu Dhabi is the one controlling all the oil?

  24. “The catch is American hasn’t treated Ethiad very well “
    The truth is American doesn’t treat their frequent flyers well nor their front line employees
    Even my Dr who is a Conceirge Key Member hates them and is doing what he can to fly with other airlines
    Hello Mr Parker

  25. #yasss! AA miles are much harder to get than United. Now I will be able to redeem Etihad tix via United using Chase points!

  26. That would be awesome! Using Chase points to redeem EY awards — now on even more Skytrax top-10 business class airlines than anyone else (Singapore, ANA, Etihad, Lufthansa, Turkish and EVA vs. oneworld with Qatar, Qantas, Cathay and Sky with … nobody!)

    I sure hope that AA’s downward spiral continues, and it sure looks like it isn’t doing anything but accelerating.

  27. That would be horrible. AA miles are easy to get, whereas I can’t get UR points/ United miles due to 5/24. Would tickets issued prior to such a change (but for flights after the change) be honored?

  28. Oh how the mighty Gulf airlines have fallen. Tens years ago they were taking over the world. Now with cheap oil it’s not going so well. Drill baby drill worked.

  29. United’s fairly generous award routing rules would make Etihad a great partner. UA would definitely let you route all over Asia via AUH (routings on Turkish and even Ethiopian to Asia show up in searches now) and I imagine there’s a chance you might even see some routings from the US to Australia over AUH pop up…

  30. Goodbye american, hello United. Gave up AA status this year. They keep getting worse and worse. I’ve somehow managed to book other airlines for my trips. Even if AA holds my hub hostage, I’ll find a way without them!

  31. Lucky – Perhaps I’m mistaken then, I was unaware that the head of Mileageplus is the person who decides who United partners with. Seems a bit weird to me given there is so much more to a partnership than FFPs, but this is your area not mine!

    Well yes, but people always ignore the benefits… If they get “2 units” of benefit by making this change but lose “1 unit” from customer dissatisfaction, they’re clearly ahead.

    Are you basing your suggestion that if American improved all those things they’ll bring in more money than it costs them on anything, or is it just “I imagine it might”? I’m sure they’d be all ears if there’s anything of substance behind that!

  32. Ethiad has also partnered with SAS for a few years. For instance, I can use my SAS Eurobonus-points to book Ethiad apartments.

  33. Just about when I had to start flying to Dallas, Etihad decided to stop the route and they wrote it clearly: AA has decided to stop codeshare flights and we will no longer fly to Dallas from Abu Dhabi. This was back in March 2018 and from then if I wish to fly direct to DFW I can still opt for Emirates from Dubai, while there are several stopovers options, the most popular one is with BA/AA but it doesn’t come cheap. Business is sold at just approx 20% less in average which is not that much convenient considering it’s not a direct flight. Also flights originating from the UAE are prohibitive when compared to those departing from Europe. In Europe a J Class ticket to Dallas would cost in between 2500$ to 3000$ on average. From Dubai i’d Be looking at between 4500$ during low season up to 6500$ and at peak it could even reach over 7500$ which in my view it’s insane, at least for most people’s pockets.

  34. Channelling Doug Parker: Look, I like selling our miles to banks. What happens to them afterwards, I don’t care. I certainly don’t want to see any of you guys on my America West, sorry, I mean AA flights. I hate these sand dwellers who make our planes and service look bad in comparison; happy to have (almost) gotten rid of EY and QR. Give me a little more time, and I’ll get rid of those squinty eyed Asians too, I mean CX (it is easy to bad-mouth anything Chinese) and JL (I can always dig up some Pearl Harbor reference). That will transform OneWorld into an alliance of my dreams: AA selling miles to banks, BA collecting fuel surcharges from you clueless suckers!

  35. I’ve been speculating on this ever since the Abu Dhabi government (largely) pulled its state subsidies and told Etihad to behave as a proper airline, and it started working with LH.

    If the partnership happens and extends to code sharing beyond AUH (even better a JV) this would be fantastic for UA pax like me flying to India. UA has the non stops to DEL/BOM from EWR and is launching SFO-DEL later this year. But anything beyond BLR and MAA (on LH) requires domestic flights. If UA could get code shares to Hyderabad, Kolkata, and maybe Pune (does EY have narrowbodes?) that would be the icing on the cake. UA would have to fly to AUH to make it work, and it could supplement the EY services with flights from EWR and SFO.

    It would also stick it to other airlines on both sides of the US3 vs ME3 argument (namely Delta, Emirates and Qatar) and demonstrate that they’ve moved on from the lobbying to shut down the UAE Open Skies agreement.

  36. @Lucky, based on UA’s current redemption values on partners, would it be a good idea to lock in any AA awards on EY before they transition?

  37. Etihad is great in the air, but they have the worst customer service when it comes to dealing with any problem or issue that has to be addressed through their corporate “guest relations officers” whose hostily can only be matched by their extreme incompetence. This is the main reason why no one from senior management in my company bothers to fly EY any longer.

  38. @Lucky

    You did miss something. They added China Southern CZ as their partner, it happened just two years ago. Quite significant to AA isn’t it, given they really didn’t add too many partners.

  39. @ David Z — While you’re right that American has added a partner, they haven’t added it to AAdvantage, as you can’t earn or redeem miles on them yet. Hopefully it’s possible eventually.

  40. @Lucky…”very unique”? Really?!?!? (Just the former editor in me.)

    In looking at me “Flight Memory” statistics, I’ve flown AA *and* UA both approximately 50 times in my life. (And I’ve flown on Aeroflot more times than DL¹, though those flights were all taken while I was on a student-exchange tour of the USSR.) Most of the AA flights, however, came after they took over AirCal during a time I was commuting between SNA-SJC every Wednesday for work, whereas the UA flights were mostly long-haul. So this is potentially good news for me, personally.

    That said, I flew VX 125 times, and AS about 30 more. While I wasn’t happy about the huge leap in the miles required for Emirates, I *have* been pleased with the redemptions I’ve made with CX using AS miles (almost 14¢/point) and other carriers as well. The problems with AS and redeeming miles predominantly lie at the feet of Delta — DL is the one which forced AF/KLM and AM to sever their ties with AS. (I’m somewhat surprised you can still book on KE.) Since you can use AS miles for BA and EI, is it too much to hope for to redeem them on IB in the future?

    ¹ In fairness, Delta never stood a chance as my “local” airports have *never* been DL hubs (LAX in the 60s & 70s; SJC in the 80s; and SFO/OAK from the 1990s onward).

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