Last year, we flew first class on what have consistently been named the number one and number two best first class products in the world - Singapore Airlines (Suites) and Cathay Pacific. However, as of December of last year, there is a new "best" product in the air giving these two a run for their money.
Etihad Airways revealed "The Residence" and "First Apartments" last year and they are revolutionary, to say the least. The Residence is literally a 3 room suite on the airplane with a living room, bedroom and private bathroom. It also comes with your very own butler. The First Apartment is most similar to a Suite on Singapore Airlines, but there is really no comparison since it's much bigger. Flights with The Residence and First Apartments debuted in late December of last year and are currently only operating between Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow.
While The Residence is still a bit out of our reach since you can't book it with miles, we knew that we had to try a First Apartment as soon as possible. We thought about when might be the best time to visit the UAE and determined that winter is absolutely our best bet since I'm not a fan of anything over 85 degrees, so Thanksgiving 2015 it is! On a whim, we checked for award availability around Thanksgiving between London and Abu Dhabi and there it was. We couldn't pass it up! Read on for Chris' experience booking the award and tips for how you can do it too for as little as 40,000 AAdvantage miles!
Etihad is not a member of any of the three major airline alliances, but luckily it is a partner with American Airlines, so it's possible to book flights using AAdvantage miles. The downside is that award tickets can't be booked online, so a phone call is required. As of the latest AAdvantage award chart, a one-way flight from the Middle East to Europe is only 40,000 miles in first class, which is quite a bargain.
To find award availability, the easiest way is to check Etihad's site. After entering your travel details and performing a search, you want to make sure there's "Guest First" availability - if there is, you should be able to book it with AAdvantage miles. Ignore the number of miles stated in the search results; those only apply if you choose to use Etihad miles to book the flight.
When Jen and I floated the idea of traveling to Dubai for Thanksgiving, I ran a quick search on Etihad's site and saw that there were two "Guest First" seats available from Abu Dhabi to London on November 29th. We got pretty excited at the prospect of experiencing the First Apartment, so despite not having any idea how to get to Abu Dhabi or from London, I called American to book the tickets. Unfortunately, there was a two hour wait (despite calling the Executive Platinum line), due to a ton of cancelled flights in Dallas. Eventually I got through, and asked to book a first class award for two from Abu Dhabi to London.
That's when I got some unexpected bad news from the agent - "I'm sorry, sir. There is no award availability from Abu Dhabi to London on November 29th. I checked both Etihad and Jet Airways for you." I didn't know how to react to this statement. There clearly was award availability, but the AA agent wasn't seeing it. I figured I'd try the good old technique of "hang up, call again", so I did and was faced with another two hour wait. Not to be deterred, I used Google Voice to call the Australian call center, and was connected to another agent within 15 minutes.
The new agent was not much help either. He saw that there was one first class seat available, but not two. I hung up and went to bed, ready to give up on my dream of experiencing a luxury apartment in the skies.
The next day, I figured I'd give it a third and final shot. I'd read on FlyerTalk that sometimes American can only see Etihad inventory "one at a time", even though there are multiple seats available. I called the reservation desk and again was told that there was only one seat available. This time, though, I was more persistent and told the agent that I was quite sure there were two seats available, and that I had heard of a glitch where Etihad only lets one seat be pulled at a time. She did some more investigating, and eventually admitted that I was right - there were indeed two first class seats available! It took a while, but she managed to find a way to book them for us, and our Etihad First Apartment tickets were confirmed.
The lesson learned is to be persistent when trying to book award tickets - sometimes it takes a few tries, and sometimes it requires mentioning a special trick. You won't be able to magically open up award availability for flights that don't have any, but you might be able to convince agents to to double-check if you know there are award seats available.
Stay tuned for our review of the Etihad First Apartment (in about nine months or so)!
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.