How Etihad Restricts Partner Award Availability

How Etihad Restricts Partner Award Availability

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Etihad Airways has a great inflight product in first class and business class, and historically it has been pretty easy to redeem points for these experiences. In particular, Etihad partners with American AAdvantage, Air Canada Aeroplan, and Air France-KLM Flying Blue, meaning you can redeem these points currencies for travel on Etihad.

Unfortunately over time, redeeming partner miles for travel in Etihad premium cabins has become increasingly challenging. In this post I wanted to cover the trends that we’re seeing when it comes to Etihad award availability, as there are constantly updates. A few months back we saw the introduction of a new 30-day rule on premium cabin redemptions, and now I’m seeing an additional restriction.

Let me share how I view the current state of things, as it’s kind of complex.

Etihad first & business class awards with partner miles

Historically, Etihad has generally made the same saver level award seats available to members of its own Etihad Guest program, as to members of partner programs.

That’s no longer the case, and the exact situation seems to vary depending on the partner program that you book through. So let’s talk about what you can expect when trying to redeem those currencies for travel on Etihad.

Redeeming American AAdvantage miles on Etihad

Historically, American AAdvantage has had access to most Etihad saver level award availability. Now, there have long been some quirks with these redemptions, with some awards being bookable online, and some awards requiring ringing up a foreign American Airlines call center to get access to the space. That seemed to be more a technological and point of sale restriction, rather than intentional blocking.

However, that has changed over time, so here’s the current reality of things:

  • American AAdvantage has access to most of the GuestSeat availability that Etihad Guest members have access to
  • American AAdvantage seems to have access to Etihad GuestSeat availability for first class and business class, but only within 30 days of departure
  • Recently, Etihad seems to be blocking nonstop first class award availability between the United States and Abu Dhabi through AAdvantage; so if you want to fly Etihad first class, you’ll have to fly between Europe and Abu Dhabi
  • Most award availability that American AAdvantage has access to is bookable directly on aa.com, and American’s foreign call centers no longer have access to extra award space on Etihad

We really are seeing Etihad continuing to add restrictions here. First AAdvantage members had access to all the same saver award space as Etihad Guest members. Then we saw a 60-day rule on premium cabins. Then we saw a 30-day rule on premium cabins. And now we’re seeing first class blocked entirely between the United States and Abu Dhabi, best I can tell.

Etihad first class Boeing 787-9

Redeeming Air Canada Aeroplan points on Etihad

For several months now, Air Canada Aeroplan hasn’t had access to a vast majority of Etihad premium cabin award availability. It’s still possible to redeem Aeroplan points for travel in Etihad economy, but there seems to be virtually no premium cabin award space.

This lack of availability applies both through aircanada.com and through Air Canada contact centers. While we’ve been told that the partnership with Etihad will continue, it’s anyone’s guess if/when we see premium award seats again. The whole situation is quite strange. So for all practical purposes, don’t plan on redeeming Aeroplan points for Etihad premium cabins, at least for the time being.

Etihad business class Airbus A350-1000

Redeeming Air France-KLM Flying Blue points on Etihad

In late 2023, we saw Air France-KLM Flying Blue add award redemptions on Etihad, which is exciting. Flying Blue is somewhere between Aeroplan and AAdvantage when it comes to the usefulness of redemptions. Flying Blue has access to the same Etihad award space as AAdvantage, except you can’t use Flying Blue miles for travel in Etihad first class.

Etihad first class Airbus A380

What’s going on with Etihad award availability?

While it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on here, or how it will evolve, I do have a few observations.

Etihad’s own frequent flyer program, Etihad Guest, seems to have changed up how it releases award availability in general. Back in the day, Etihad would be generous with making first and business class seats available as awards at the last minute, when a cabin had a lot of unsold seats. That’s no longer consistently the case, even through the Etihad Guest program.

Perhaps this is actually what I found most frustrating. For example, between the United States and Abu Dhabi there are no longer save business class award seats available, whether booking through Etihad Guest or a partner program. This is the case even in situations where the cabin has lots of empty seats close to departure.

Then there are the different situations with each partner program in terms of what award space they have access to.

In the case of Etihad awards with Air Canada Aeroplan points, clearly there’s something going on between the two airlines. I don’t know if it’s a function of negotiating pricing, a technology limitation, or what. But Aeroplan seems to just not have access to Etihad premium space, for whatever reason.

The situation with American AAdvantage miles is different, though. AAdvantage has access to Etihad premium award space, but only in the 30 days leading up to departure. On top of that, Etihad is now blocking premium cabin availability between the United States and Abu Dhabi altogether, which is super frustrating.

I suspect this is part of Etihad’s management trying to overhaul the Etihad Guest program and make it more profitable and engaging. There’s something to be said for trying to get people engaged in the “native” frequent flyer program, rather than engaged in a partner frequent flyer program.

As a consumer, I of course love when partners have access to all award space, since I like taking advantage of award arbitrage opportunities, and booking through the programs that offer the best pricing. But if I ran a frequent flyer program, I’d probably similarly try to take additional action to encourage direct bookings, since it’s potentially much higher margin, and also has more upside in terms of engagement with the airline.

However, I think Etihad is going to the extreme here, both in terms of how little space it makes available in business class to its own members, plus outright blocking availability in first class between the United States and Abu Dhabi.

Etihad is really restricting award availability

Bottom line

Etihad has changed how it releases award space. Air Canada Aeroplan doesn’t have access to any premium Etihad award seats, Air France-KLM Flying Blue doesn’t have access to first class award space, and American AAdvantage has access to premium Etihad award seats within 30 days of departure (except in first class between the United States and Abu Dhabi, which is a major caveat).

On top of that, Etihad has generally changed how it releases award availability, even to its own Etihad Guest members. Etihad releases fewer award seats to its own members than in the past, especially last minute. I don’t see any business class award seats within 30 days of departure between the United States and Abu Dhabi, which is frustrating.

What do you make of the current Etihad partner award space situation?

Conversations (15)
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  1. BVT New Member

    Etihad Guest is quite pricy when it comes to booking on Etihad though.

  2. Pete Guest

    I guess "loyalty" means loyalty to flying Etihad, not loyalty to a parter airline credit card. Something similar seems to be happening all over the place.

  3. JustinB Member

    Any chance this has something to do with aligning/partnering with skyteam airlines? Air Canada / Star Alliance and American / Oneworld are getting harder, but the AF/KLM seems to be working. Inability to book first class is probably just a technicality

  4. Andrew Guest

    So glad I burned my two 50k aeroplan certificates on Etihad F from the USA with a stopover in AUH and Etihad J to ICN two years ago. Obviously had to top them off for the redemption, but it seems like these things are a thing of the past. I will say I find Etihad seats to be some of the most comfortable in the sky even more so than other F.

  5. Kendall Guest

    There is some Etihad J availability appearing on Aeroplan as of recently, but only short-haul,

    For example AUH-MLE

  6. Ken Guest

    The problem is not Etihad. But it's us programs that sell their miles for a penny to credit card companies and increase their own redemption cost to the roof. Naturally a lot of redemptions go to partner redemptions but these foreign programs won't have much award to their own members who spend years to earn those miles by flying. On top of that, a lot bloggers brag about these redemptions because they also earn referral...

    The problem is not Etihad. But it's us programs that sell their miles for a penny to credit card companies and increase their own redemption cost to the roof. Naturally a lot of redemptions go to partner redemptions but these foreign programs won't have much award to their own members who spend years to earn those miles by flying. On top of that, a lot bloggers brag about these redemptions because they also earn referral points from banks etc. So it is very natural market response... Kudos to Etihad and I am guessing more will follow.

    1. Tom Guest

      Emirates already did this for the same reason by restricting First availability not booked via Skywards / making it prohibitively expensive. Will be interesting to see if Qatar eventually restricts US redemptions booked via AA for the same reason (arguably it sort of already is doing this by now releasing very few saver J US redemption seats and then making them available via Privilege Club for double miles).

    2. Lee Guest

      Keep in mind that AA denies any bookings via partners on certain routes. And, UA does the same for premium cabin seats on domestic routes.

    3. Jake212 Guest

      @Lee - That’s not true re: UA denying bookings for premium cabin seats on domestic routes. I literally just booked a UA domestic premium cabin seat via Air Canada Aeroplan points two weeks ago.

  7. SR Guest

    My last flight in EY J from AUH to JFK was pretty underwhelming. Looked like the crew was exhausted with the dine on demand. In the middle of the flight the crew was no where to be found. Call button was unanswered for good 45 mins. And 2 hours before landing when it was time for breakfast, they ran out of all the options. There was nothing to eat.
    Stark contrast to what EY...

    My last flight in EY J from AUH to JFK was pretty underwhelming. Looked like the crew was exhausted with the dine on demand. In the middle of the flight the crew was no where to be found. Call button was unanswered for good 45 mins. And 2 hours before landing when it was time for breakfast, they ran out of all the options. There was nothing to eat.
    Stark contrast to what EY was many years ago. I am glad I burned all my AA miles
    My LX flight last month was so much better than EY.

    1. Mitchell Guest

      My wife and I had the exact same experience as you. We flew from SIN -> AUH -> JFK and were very underwhelmed with the experience. The flight attendants weren't attentive, even when using the call button (the food was pretty darn good though). We wouldn't choose Etihad over the likes of Singapore, and they aren't "significantly" better than AA/UA on the same routes where I'd actively try to find their award availability.

  8. Euro Gold

    Wasn't the relationship between Air Canada and Emirates/Etihad formed to try and address how protectionist Canada was regarding the traffic rights for the UAE carriers?

    Air Canada just continued forming relationships with other nonaligned Middle Eastern carriers like Oman Air and Gulf Air, and their move of restricting award availability may either be a signal of who they don't want to partner with in the future (Oman Air?) or because of pushback from the Middle...

    Wasn't the relationship between Air Canada and Emirates/Etihad formed to try and address how protectionist Canada was regarding the traffic rights for the UAE carriers?

    Air Canada just continued forming relationships with other nonaligned Middle Eastern carriers like Oman Air and Gulf Air, and their move of restricting award availability may either be a signal of who they don't want to partner with in the future (Oman Air?) or because of pushback from the Middle Eastern carriers (Etihad). Might be a sign that "partnering with too many major carriers in a geographic area" is a good idea.

  9. Jason Guest

    How frustrating.

    Any word on whether QR will release J award seats on direct flights USA-Qatar next year using Advantage points? So far, they have not. Usually by now they will have done so for January-April or so at least, but I have not see ANY availablility using AA points for QR on nonstop USA-Doha for next year. Whereas that availability has been released through BA Avios. Will we no longer get access to QR via Advantage? Please advise.

    1. Brodie Guest

      AA has access, however with programs opening before AA the space is gobbled up.

  10. Lee Guest

    Ben, your speculations regarding Etihad and SkyTeam (and Delta) are incredibly intriguing. Here's hoping.

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Jake212 Guest

@Lee - That’s not true re: UA denying bookings for premium cabin seats on domestic routes. I literally just booked a UA domestic premium cabin seat via Air Canada Aeroplan points two weeks ago.

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BVT New Member

Etihad Guest is quite pricy when it comes to booking on Etihad though.

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Pete Guest

I guess "loyalty" means loyalty to flying Etihad, not loyalty to a parter airline credit card. Something similar seems to be happening all over the place.

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