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Booking the Etihad Apartment from Australia to Abu Dhabi with American Miles

If I believed in jinxes, I’d be worried right now because I’m starting this post on booking the Etihad Apartment from Australia to Abu Dhabi before I’ve completed the booking. But whatever happens, this post will either be a tale of epic success in travel hacking (okay, that might be overstating it) or epic fail. So let’s at least enjoy the fun in that.

The Etihad Apartment – An Introduction

When we started thinking about long-term travel and, more importantly, travel hacking, there were three experiences that I consistently wanted to try. The first is the Singapore Suites, which we’ll be riding from Singapore to London in just under two months. We booked those with a combination of Citi ThankYou points, American Membership Rewards points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Singapore before their redemption rates jumped back in March 2017. The second is the Emirates A380 first class. Now, we’d probably prefer the new Emirates 777-300ER suite. We haven’t figured out how to book that, yet. Finally, there is the Etihad Apartment.

While the Etihad Residence is incomparable (and not within our reach right now), the Etihad Apartment is itself the top first class choice of many travel bloggers. Whether it’s because of the sheer size of the apartment or Etihad’s excellent service (or, more likely, both), this is a mainstay of the best-of-the-best options when it comes to air travel. So, we wanted it.

The only downside to the Etihad Apartment is that the suites are so huge that they’e not great for companion flyers. There are apartments with adjacent beds separated by a partition, though. which is nice. Additionally, the apartments can accommodate two people for things like meals. Finally, the Etihad A380 has an onboard lounge, “The Lobby,” which we would no doubt spend much time in.

Booking The Etihad Apartment: Part 1

There are a few ways to book the Etihad Apartment. In general, it’s incredibly difficult to find space from New York to Abu Dhabi and very difficult to find space from Abu Dhabi to New York. It is less difficult to find space between Abu Dhabi and Europe or Australia. Abu Dhabi to Europe is only 8 hours, though, which was not enough for us.

The best way to book a one way route for us was to use 100,000 American miles to fly from Australia to Abu Dhabi. And that’s where the fun starts.

Things Between American And Etihad Are…Complicated

Airlines based in the United States are having a bit of a tiff with Middle Eastern airlines, complaining that those airlines are unfairly subsidized by their governments. As a result, their relationships are going through a bit of a rough patch. Currently, for example, the “trick” to booking an Etihad flight with American miles is to call American’s Australia booking office. This office has access to more options than the United States-based office, but even that office doesn’t see the same availability as you’d expect from the Etihad website. Luckily for us, this issue does not seem to have effected bookings from Australia to Abu Dhabi, which is partly why we chose that option.

Currently, there is plenty of “Guest” level availability on flights from Australia to Abu Dhabi (more on what that means in a bit). If we could book today, we would. But first, we needed to get us some miles.

Getting the American Miles

We needed 200,000 American AAdvantage miles between the two of us to book this flight. Specifically, we needed either 100,000 in each of our accounts or 200,000 in a single account. It’s stupid, but you have to pay outrageous amounts to share AAdvantage miles.

As of a few hours ago, our American AAdvantage balances were:

  • Emily: 112,183
  • Kenny: 47,797

We each earned the 40,000 signup bonus from the Barclay Aviator AAdvantage card, and Emily got another 60,000 miles from Citi’s AAdvantage card. Citi declined to give me that particular card. I guess things between Citi and I are…complicated.

One Booking Or Two?

It’s always better to have one booking rather than two. If something goes wrong with the flight, we don’t want one of us to get bumped and not the other. We’d like to be able to book our seats at the same time to ensure we’re next to each other. And just because there are two available seats on a flight right now doesn’t mean there will be in an hour after a representative finishes the first booking. In this case, though, there’s just no feasible way to get Emily to 200,000 points.

Getting Enough Starpoints

The only points you can transfer to American are Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. Those transfer at a 1:1 rate, but you get a bonus of 5,000 for every 20,000 you transfer. So I (Kenny) needed 43,000 Starpoints. And as fate would have it, I had exactly…42,250. Bummer.

Happily, you can transfer Marriott points to Starwood Starpoints at a 3:1 ratio, and we had 60,000 of those (mostly from using our Ritz Carlton Visa on pricey Ritz/Marriott stays)! This meant we effectively had 62,000 Starpoints, good for 77,000 American AAdvantage miles. While that would have gotten Emily close to 200,000, we would have needed to use all those valuable points instead of my American miles, and we’d need to buy another 10,000 American miles for $260. No dice. So I transferred 3,000 Marriott points to 1,000 Starpoints (the transfer took about 5 minutes once I logged out and back in).

Transferring Starpoints to American

The flexibility of Starpoints is incredible, and I was quite sad to part with mine, even if I do have another 20,000 sitting in the form of Marriott points. But I gathered my 43,000 Starpoints, said goodbye, and sent them on their journey to becoming 53,000 American miles, which would bring my total to 100,000.

What’s worse is that while their flexibility is incredible, their transfer times are not, and we’ll have to wait an estimated two days for the points to show up in my American AAdvantage account. That’s two days for things between Etihad and American to get even worse. Two days for Etihad’s great availability to disappear. Two WHOLE days!!

And that’s where I sit now as I started this post. In limbo. No Starpoints. No new AAdvantage miles. Just between worlds. There’s no sense publishing this post half-complete, so we’re going to wait. But we’re going to leave this in here so that you, the reader, can take a minute to feel that tension. If you want to wait two days to read on, do it. But if not, here is a short video to lighten the mood.

Booking the Etihad Apartment: Part 2

It’s now been twelve days since I left this post, and we’ve made plenty of progress. For starters…

My American Miles Arrived

It took just under three days, but my transfer from SPG posted on my American account, leaving me with just over 100,000 miles. When I left this post, I was nervous about Etihad’s space disappearing in two days, and yet I wound up waiting an unnecessary nine days to book! What happened??

Ya Gotta Know The Time In Fiji

The American Airlines Australian call center redirects to representatives in Fiji during regular business hours. These are the people to talk to if you want to book Etihad with American miles. If you call outside of business hours, you’ll get redirected to another office, which may or may not see the same space. Basically, I needed to find time before noon to make this booking.

We Had Lots of Travel Days

We’ve had two long train rides (6+ hours), one flight, and one long (6+ hours) bus ride since we started working on this booking. Unfortunately, given the quality of cell and data reception along our routes, I didn’t want to be trying to make these bookings while in transit.

We Had To Pick Our Flight

Etihad has two daily A380 flights from Sydney to Abu Dhabi. One from 3 PM to 11:55 PM and one from 8:50 PM to 5:40 AM(+1). In many cases, this would be a no-brainer. The overnight flight is usually our go-to pick. We want to sleep, we want to save on accommodation, and we don’t want the inconvenience of arriving at midnight. But a few factors made us settle on the “daytime” flight…

We’ll Probably Sleep Either Way

The flight is just under 15 hours. That means we’d probably get a few hours of sleep either way. It won’t be perfect to have the interruption of arrival, but we still won’t be completely wasting the opportunity to sleep in the Etihad Apartment.

We’ll Have More Time To Enjoy The Flight

This is really what made us pick this flight. Overnight flights are good for sleeping, but bad for every other part of a first class experience. Meal service will move quicker, you won’t get to drink as much, you won’t get to enjoy the full breadth of the apartment, and you won’t get to kill time in Etihad’s “lobby”, their onboard bar. We wanted to get the absolute most out of this (probably) once-in-a-lifetime flight experience.

Etihad Has An Arrival Lounge and Chauffeur

Arriving at midnight is going to be a bummer, and honestly we would have gotten more use out of the arrival lounge arriving at 6 AM, but we will be able to take some of the sting and hassle out of the late arrival with a short stop in the arrival lounge. Most importantly, having an Etihad chauffeur take us to our hotel will be great. We won’t have to worry about any of the nonsense that comes from trying to get to a hotel at midnight from the airport.

Finding Etihad Guest Space

Once we knew what flight we wanted, we had to find a date with availability. While you can’t search for (or book) award space on Etihad through American or British Airways (another Etihad partner), Etihad itself has a good system for displaying available award seats. Visiting the Etihad Guest website (, it’s pretty easy to identify which days have “Guest” availability (the space you need to book a partner award).

As with most airlines, Etihad has two levels of award space: a standard level (on Etihad this is “OpenSeat”) and a saver/discounted level (on Etihad this is “GuestSeat”).

So if you’re using Etihad Guest miles, the “saver” level is 274,820 miles + AUD 684.35 (about $543 USD) for two people. Etihad’s seven-day search calendar shows the lowest available rate, so you can easily see which days have Guest availability by looking at the rates.

The standard level is 1,624,814 miles + AUG 185.96 (about $147 USD) for two people. Obviously, if you were using Etihad Guest miles, you would greatly prefer to book at the Guest level.

While you can use Etihad miles to book either lever, you can only book partner awards when there is availability at the saver (“Guest”) level. That means if you want to use American AAdvantage miles to book Etihad Apartment, you need to do it on an A380 flight with space in “Guest First.”

Most Etihad flights show a max of 2 available Guest First seats at a time. When we booked ours, we returned to the Etihad site to see (as expected) that Guest First availability was gone.

We found a date that worked for us and had space on the flight we wanted, and wrote down the details.

Calling Australia New Zealand To Book the Etihad Apartment With American Miles

My original plan had been to call the Australian booking center. I loaded up $10 onto my Google Voice account (planning to use Hangouts to call at 1 cent per minute), but when I went to call Australia, Hangouts couldn’t connect. I tried over data and wifi with no luck. So instead, I dialed up New Zealand (+64 09-308-4014), who I knew from Flyertalk also had good access to the space I was looking for.

The call took 22 minutes for us both to book our tickets. I told the agent I was looking to book two tickets on two separate AAdvantage accounts. After finding the flight, she put both spaces on hold immediately. This was nice because it meant we didn’t have to worry about one seat disappearing as we booked the other one (a small, but existent, risk). The total cost for each of us came out to 100,000 miles + NZD 101 (about $75), so 200,000 miles + $150 for two people. As holders of AAdvantage credit cards, we also each got 10% of our miles refunded, so the booking actually only cost us 180,000 miles.

Notice that this is much less than if we had booked using Etihad Guest miles. That costs 274,820 + $543 for two people. This is the power of partner awards at work. Of course, this was only a better option because we had so many American miles. Those miles aren’t easy to manufacture, while Etihad Guest miles are comparatively easy.

Our Award Tickets & Confirming Our Reservation

The last bit of waiting was between making the reservation with American and having it actually get ticketed. You might not realize it, but most of the time you book a flight, there is a lag between when you reserve the seats and get a confirmation/reservation number, and when they actually get ticketed. This lag is bigger with award bookings and much bigger with award booking on partner airlines. In most cases, including ours, your reservation will ticket within 24 hours.

Once ticketed, we had to move on to confirming our reservation with Etihad and selecting our meals and seats. None of this is essential, but I highly recommend it, starting with confirming the flight with the airline flying the route.

Confirming the reservation with Etihad and selecting our seats and meals required getting the record locator or booking reference code for Etihad. Most of the time you book through a third party, you’ll got a confirmation number for your booking, but that confirmation just accesses the records of the third party. To access your reservation on the airline you actually booked with, you have to do a bit of digging for the airline’s record locator. Sometimes they just use the same number, sometimes they will explicitly give you both, and sometimes you have to request it. When booking on Etihad with American Miles, you need to contact American to get the Etihad record locator. That would have meant another phone call. Except…

Twitter Is My Go-To For Customer Service

I always start customer service requests at Twitter. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had good luck resolving issues on Twitter. In this case, I was able to message American Airlines:

After sending the DM to American with our two record locators, they sent back two record locators for Etihad. This meant I could then go to Etihad’s website, type in the record locator on the “Manage My Booking” screen, and see that the booking was actually in Etihad’s system. Perfect!

Getting Seats Assigned Through Twitter

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to select seats online for the Etihad flight. While older reports indicate they did allow you to select seats online for your partner award booking in the past, this ability seems to have disappeared. So I hopped back onto twitter and reached out to Etihad.

I used SeatGuru and some blogs to pick our two seats (we wanted to be in adjacent apartments). Etihad quickly confirmed my selected seats, and I was able to see them reflected in the bookings on the Etihad website.

How to Easily Get The Miles for The Etihad Apartment With Two Credit Cards

The best this about this booking is that it really isn’t hard to earn the miles to fly the Etihad Apartment. As with many points/miles things, you just have to be willing to take action!

NOTE: Some offers in this section may no longer be available.

Step 1: Open An American Airlines AAdvantage Account

If you’re not already a member, sign up for American Airlines AAdvantage. It’s free. You need 100,000 AAdvantage miles for the booking we made, but you can fly between London/Paris and Abu Dhabi on the Etihad Apartment for just 62,500 miles. If you can find space between Abu Dhabi and New York, you’ll need 115,000 one-way on those flights.

Step 2: Get the Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard

The Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard has a 50,000 mile bonus for making a single purchase within 90 days of opening an account and paying the $95 annual fee.

Step 3: Get the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard has a 30,000 mile bonus for spending $3000 within 3 months of account opening. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

Step 4: Earn Your Signup Bonuses for 80,000+ Miles

Depending on which offers are available when you sign up, you’ll get up to 120,000 bonus miles by signing up for the above two cards. 120,000 miles is enough for every Etihad Apartment routing. 80,000, the minimum you’ll get using the offers we expect to remain available, is enough for London/Paris to/from Abu Dhabi.

But if you’re not into signing up for credit cards, you can also book this ride as a serious discount with a straightforward trick…

How You Can Fly The $10,000 Etihad Apartment for $1274!

Right off the bat, a caveat. The $1274 number we give here relies on an American Airlines deal on buying miles that is ending right around the time we post (February 8). Sorry! But the good news is American frequently has deals similar to this, so just keep your eyes open. And if you’re willing to pay a little more, you can buy the miles when they’re not on sale.

Step 1: Open An American Airlines AAdvantage Account

If you’re not already a member, sign up for American Airlines AAdvantage. It’s free.

Step 2: Buy The Miles

You need 100,000 AAdvantage miles for the booking we made, but as we noted above, you can fly between London/Paris and Abu Dhabi on the Etihad Apartment for just 62,500 miles. Under a current sale, you can buy 63,000 American Miles for $1274.40 (2.02 cents per mile).

Additionally, you should always look into buying Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints when shopping for American Miles. Starpoints convert to American miles at a 1:1 ratio, but you get a bonus 5,000 miles when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints. You can only buy 30,000 Starpoints a year. An ongoing sale allows you to buy Starpoints for 2.28 cents each. That means 25,000 American Miles can be purchased for $456, or 1.8 cents per mile.

Step 3: Make Your Booking

Just follow the steps above and make your booking, just like we did!

Closing Thoughts

We held off on making this booking for a while, even though it was on the top of my list. Mostly, this was because American miles have some other good uses, mainly flying Qatar, another airline whose business and first class products I’d like to try. That said, I’m not at all bummed to have parted with 180,000 American miles for 15 hours in the Etihad Apartment!