How To Book American Airlines Flights With Amex Membership Rewards Points (Etihad Miles)

Most Americans do not collect Etihad miles, so I can understand why this seems like a strange post.  I have never flown on an Etihad flight, nor do I collect Etihad miles.  But I recently used Etihad miles to book award tickets on flights operated by American Airlines.  If you don’t have Etihad miles, don’t worry, I didn’t either.
I recently explained how I saved miles by using Etihad to book award seats on a flight operated by American Airlines.  I did this by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Etihad.  Then I used those Etihad miles to book the flight.
I did this because I did not have enough AAdvantage miles for the seats I wanted, but I realized that Etihad had a better redemption price for that particular flight!
You can transfer Amex points to Etihad and then use the Etihad miles to book flights to Hawaii on American Airlines flights!
Amex Membership Rewards points DO NOT transfer to American Airlines

You can use Amex Membership rewards to book American Airlines flights indirectly, though.  There are 4 American Express Membership Rewards airline transfer partners that you can use to book award tickets for flights operated by American Airlines.

American Express has three Oneworld alliance transfer partners.  Since American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, these programs can book American Airlines award tickets:

  • Cathay Pacific (CX) Asia Miles
  • British Airways (BA) Executive Club
  • Iberia Plus (IB)

Etihad is the 4th American Express airline transfer partner that you can use to book American Airlines flights.  Etihad is not in an airline alliance, but partners with several airlines, including AA, for which you can redeem Etihad miles.

I recently wrote a post outlining how you can use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights.  British Airways is a great way to book several routes on American Airlines, but it’s not always going to be ideal.  For example, flights that have one or more connections may cost less if you use a different airline to book.  Additionally, British Airways’ award ticket pricing is not favorable to premium cabin award tickets, especially on long-haul flights.

What I noticed is that if British Airways isn’t a good way to book an American Airlines flight, Etihad probably is!

Here are step-by-step instructions for booking American Airlines flights with Amex Membership Rewards points via Etihad.

How to book American Airlines flights with Etihad miles (or American Express points transferred to Etihad) 

Since almost no one collects Etihad miles, I am also assuming you will need to transfer from American Express Membership Rewards.  But if for some reason you already have Etihad miles, you can skip steps 3 & 4.

  1. Search for award space
  2. Determine the redemption cost (if you plan to transfer points from Amex, make sure another Amex partner doesn’t result in a lower cost)
  3. Make an Etihad account if you don’t have one already (Free. No credit card required)
  4. Link the Etihad account to your Amex MR account, but do not transfer yet
  5. Call Etihad and complete the booking

Also, let me get this out of the way because I know what you’re thinking:

Can I transfer Etihad miles to American Airlines?

No.  I mean that would be way too easy, right?!

These instructions are for using Etihad Guest, the loyalty program of Etihad Airways, to book American Airlines tickets.  Forget about the AAdvantage program for now.

If you are planning to transfer Amex Membership Rewards to get the Etihad miles needed, DO NOT TRANSFER YET!!  You need to make sure your dates are available and you will want to confirm the exact amount of miles needed before transferring. Amex transfers are usually immediate, so there is no reason to transfer before you find availability.

Once you transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to partner airlines or hotels, you cannot get them back

When you transfer American Express Membership Rewards to a partner airline or hotel, your points become the currency of the airline or hotel program.  For example, if you transfer 20,000 Amex Membership Rewards to Etihad, you now have 20,000 Etihad miles.  Those miles are now subject to the rules and policies of Etihad Guest.

You CANNOT transfer those points back to American Express Membership Rewards.  If you transfer and then the American Airlines flights that you want are not available, you are stuck with 20,000 Etihad miles.  If you wait to transfer, you can check other Amex partners for other options!  For that reason, it is best to wait until you are certain your dates are available before transferring any points.  I’ll show you how to check for availability in the next section.

How to search for American Airlines flights that can be redeemed with Etihad Guest miles (or American Express Membership Rewards points)

American Airlines (and most airlines) limit the amount of award tickets on any given flight.  So even if a paid seat is available, you may not be able to book an award seat.  You need to make sure American Airlines has award seats available at the MilesAAver level, NOT the AAnytime level.

You cannot search for or book any AA flights on Etihad’s website.  There is no phone fee because since tickets aren’t bookable online, they waive the phone fee.  When you call, the phone agent can search for dates, or you can figure out your flights before you call Etihad by searching  AA.com.

I like to do my own search before calling because I feel that it saves time, especially if your dates and routing are flexible.  The easiest way to search for American Airlines flights that are available with partner airlines (such as Etihad) is to search for milesAAver tickets on AA.com.

Click here for another post about searching for AA award tickets.

DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THE REDEMPTION PRICE WHEN YOU ARE SEARCHING AA.COM

American Airlines and Etihad have different award charts.  The amount of miles that American Airlines shows will probably be different than what Etihad will charge.  Remember, if the airline operating the flight and the airline whose loyalty program you are using to book are different airlines, the airline you are using to book determines your redemption price.  You are only using AA to check for availability in this situation.

You are looking for MilesAAver tickets

If you only see tickets for your dates that are AAnytime, you WILL NOT be able to use Etihad or any other partner airline to book.  Only MilesAAver flights are made available for booking by partner airlines.  You can redeem your Etihad miles for American Airlines flights as long as you see MilesAAver award tickets on AA.com.

Mixed-Cabin itineraries are not permitted when booing with Etihad miles.  The Same class must be available on all segments

Some airlines will allow you to book mixed-cabin award tickets.  Mixed-cabin means that one or more of your segments is in a different class.  For example, one segment is business class, but economy seats are the only seats available for the other segment.

Here is a hypothetical scenario: you live in Chicago and you want to book an American Airlines flight to Paris in business class.

American Airlines will show you all MilesAAver flights that are available for that route, including flights with connections/multiple segments.

  • So you go to search for your dates, and you find that the Chicago to Paris nonstop flight is not available.
  • The next best choice is a flight that goes from Chicago to New York (JFK) and then JFK to Paris.
  • JFK to Paris has business class availability, but the Chicago to JFK segment only has economy seats.
  • If you are using AAdvantage miles to book this flight, AA will allow this.  Which is why is shows up in your search.
  • This is called a mixed-cabin itinerary.
  • Usually, you are charged for the higher class even if the longer segment is a lesser class. Since the connecting flight is often relatively short (such as Chicago to JFK) some people don’t mind doing this for a long-haul flight as long as the longest segment is the one in business.

Etihad DOES NOT allow mixed-cabin itineraries.  So it is important to make sure that when you search AA.com for availability, the same class is available for all flights (see the last step below).

Only American Airlines flights can be booked with Etihad miles, no codeshares

This means that other Oneworld partners that are AA partners but not Etihad partners cannot be booked with Etihad miles.  So if you see a MilesAAver flight on AA.com from DFW to London but it is operated by British Airways, you cannot book that flight with Etihad miles.

Before you begin your search, you need to make sure you are only looking for flights operated by American Airlines.  If you go to AA.com and begin your search on this screen, it defaults to a search that will include other partners such as British Airways, Iberia, and other carriers that are bookable with AAdvantage miles.  We are looking for American Airlines flights only.

Instructions for the AA.com search

On this screen, click Advanced search

How to find AA award ticket availability

At the bottom under “options” click American Airlines instead of All Airlines

how to search for American Airlines award seat availability

The screen should look like this before you perform the search

how to search for aa award seat availability

Enter your departure airport, destination airport, dates and number of passengers.

I know this seems obvious, but be sure to select the correct number of passengers before you search.  AA defaults to one passenger, and many people forget to change it.  Then they’re surprised when they go to book and 2 seats aren’t available.

How to use amex points to book American Airlines flights

As you can see, Economy MilesAAver is lit up in light green.  If MilesAAver tickets are not available, it would be grey. You would only see dark green for AAnytime tickets.  The same applies to business class tickets.  First class tickets are purple (MilesAAver) and a darker purple (AAnytime), but AA only operates 3 classes of service on certain planes.  This particular route appears to be flown by planes with only business class.

If your dates are really flexible you can also click on “Show full calendar” to show a whole month.

Choose your dates and select “continue”

How to use amex points to book American Airlines flights

Available flights for your dates will appear. Write down the flight numbers and then continue to the next section of this post. You are now done with American Airlines.  

How to use amex points to book American Airlines flights

The red note that says “Overnight flight or connection” is in the same location that AA would note a mixed-cabin itinerary if applicable.  Remember, if it is a mixed class itinerary, Etihad will not allow you to book it.

The next step is to determine the redemption cost.  You want to make sure that redeeming miles from Etihad’s program results in a lower redemption cost than with British Airways or Amex’s other airline partners.

Determine how many Etihad miles you will need to redeem to book your American Airlines flights

You will need to figure out the price according to Etihad Guest, NOT American Airlines AAdvantage.

Your ticket is going to be issued by Etihad Guest.  That means that Etihad Guest’s pricing and award ticket rules apply, not AAdvantage’s.

Etihad’s award chart for tickets on flights operated by American Airlines is a zone-based chart

Etihad has different award charts for each of its airline partners.  Etihad’s chart for tickets on flights operated by American Airlines is a fixed/region/zone based chart.  I use all three of those words interchangeably, so don’t get confused!

Zone-based means that the entire world is divided into different regions.  Every airline program has its own definition of regions.   In a zone-based program, any flight between 2 zones costs a fixed amount of miles.

Etihad’s fixed chart, as opposed to distance-based charts, can save you lots of points, particularly if your flight has multiple connections and/or long segments.  The number of segments/connections does not change the price.  This is good for those who do not live in American Airlines hub cities.

Remember, British Airways is distance-based and prices are calculated per segment.  So if you have a connection, you will have to redeem the points for each connecting segment.

Etihad Guest’s award chart for American Airlines flights

This is the chart for flights that originate in North America.  You can find charts for flights originating in other zones on the link above. There is also a separate chart for domestic itineraries.

Etihad Guest Award Chart American Airlines flights between Europe and the US

These flights are priced as one-way tickets.  A roundtrip ticket is double.  EO and EP stand for economy off peak and economy peak, respectively.

In general, Etihad miles are good for these American Airlines flights:
  • Long-haul flights
  • Flights with connections (any flight that isn’t nonstop)
  • International business and first class award seats
  • Flights to Europe
    • In economy, Etihad has off peak pricing.  Bonus: Etihad has a wider off-peak range of dates than AAdvantage
    • British Airways doesn’t have off peak dates for flights operated by AA.  But Etihad does!
    • British Airways collects fuel surcharges on flights to Europe.  Even AA flights.  Etihad does not collect fuel surcharges on American Airlines flights.

You’ll notice that most of those scenarios are the opposite of when to use British Airways Executive Club.  A general rule of thumb is that when British Airways isn’t a good option, Etihad probably is.

You can compare the cost of using Etihad miles vs. using the other American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners that can book AA tickets.

Once you determine that Etihad is the best partner to book your AA flight, you will need to call Etihad to complete the booking.  It’s relatively painless and the agents are generally knowlegable.  Do not transfer any Amex points yet.  I’ll tell you when to transfer in the next section.

There are a few things you need to do before you call Etihad to book your American Airlines flights

You will need to register for an Etihad Guest account if you do not already have one.  It’s free.  No credit card required.

1. Have your Etihad Guest account member number in front of you.
2.  If you are going to be transferring Amex Membership Rewards points, you will need to log in to that account and link it to your Etihad account.  Click here for Amex MR transfer partner instructions.  DO NOT transfer yet! Just link Etihad for now.
3. Once your Amex account is linked, keep it open so that when you get the agent on the phone and she finds the flights you can transfer immediately from Amex to Etihad.
4. Have your Amex card in front of you because when you do make the transfer, the Amex website will probably ask for the card security number.
5. They may not ask, but if you have your passport handy you may want that in front of you too.  Sometimes they will want the passport information before completing the booking on international itineraries.
Once you have all of the above information, you can call Etihad
5. The number is 877-690-0767 Select “1” for English.  Then select “4” for Etihad Guest frequent flyer program.
6. When the agent comes on the phone, tell her you want to use miles to book AA flights.  You will need your Etihad member number.  Tell her the date and destination.  The MilesAAver flight options you found on AA.com should match the options the agent finds.  If there are multiple options for your dates, feed her the flight numbers you found in the previous section.  Make sure the flight numbers/times/dates that the agent gives match the flight numbers you chose from your AA.com search.
7. The agent will ask for your contact information and confirm dates, flights, price, etc.
8.  Once she has confirmed that the flight is available, make the Amex transfer for the appropriate amount.
9. The agent may be able to place your tickets on hold.  If the Amex points don’t transfer immediately to your Etihad account, I would suggest doing that.  But they most likely will be in your Etihad account immediately and you can confirm the booking while still on the phone.
Amex Membership Rewards transferred to airlines are usually posted immediately.  Sometimes you have to log out of your account and then log back in to see, but the agent should be able to see it immediately.
These agents seem familiar with people making Amex transfers, so in my experience they have been patient when I explain that I need to transfer Amex points.
10.  Etihad normally would charge a phone fee, but since it is impossible to book AA on Etihad’s website, they should waive the fee.  Make sure you ask them to waive the phone fee if they do not offer.
11.  The agent will give you a confirmation/record locator number.  Make sure you write that down.  Ask if there is a different confirmation number for AA too.  Sometimes Etihad and AA will have different confirmation numbers.  You need the confirmation number so that you can go in to AA.com to select your seats.
You will receive an email with all of this information once it is ticketed.  That’s it!

After you book your American Airlines flights 

You can select and change seats, even if the flight was booked with Etihad miles or with another partner’s miles.

HOW TO SELECT SEATS ON AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHTS BOOKED WITH Etihad miles:

First, you will need your record locator.

Go to AA.com

Under the Travel Information Tab, click “My Trips”

select American Airlines seats

You can Log in if you have an AAdvantage account, but you don’t have to.  You can just select Continue as guest

select American Airlines seats

Enter your first name, last name, and record locator then click “Find Your Trip”

American Airlines British airways avios

It will bring you to your reservation and you will be able to select seats.  You can change seats at any time prior to your flight by repeating the steps above.

WHAT IF I NEED TO MAKE CHANGES TO AN American Airlines AWARD TICKET ISSUED BY Etihad AIRWAYS?

A general rule of thumb is that the airline that issues your ticket (Etihad) is who you will need to contact for any flight change or cancellation you wish to make prior to your departure date.  Note that flights departing within 24 hours cannot be cancelled or changed per Etihad policy.

Issues involving your flight for the day of travel such as baggage policies are usually subject to the operating airline policies.  In this case, American Airlines determines your checked baggage pricing.  For weather related changes, you will most likely need to contact AA.  I highly recommend doing this via twitter to avoid long hold times on the phone.

CANCELLATION or Change POLICY on Etihad award tickets

Date changes on Etihad award tickets are subject to a fee of ~$27 per ticket. Destination changes require a redeposit (cancellation).  So that would cost 10% of the miles you redeemed.

Etihad will refund 90% of your miles and the carrier fees (fuel surcharges, etc).  In other words, if you redeemed 50k miles for a ticket and you need to cancel, you will get 45k plus fees back.  So you are only out 5k miles.  Now remember, the miles you get refunded are going to be Etihad miles.  And you can’t transfer those miles back to Amex Membership Rewards.

IF YOU HAVE AN AADVANTAGE CO-BRANDED CREDIT CARD, YOU STILL GET A FREE FIRST BAG EVEN THOUGH YOUR TICKET WAS BOOKED THROUGH Etihad. 

On many international itineraries, AA gives free checked bag allowances, so this doesn’t really matter.  But on domestic flights, a checked bag costs $25 each way.  AAdvantage credit card holders receive a free first checked bag benefit just by holding this card.  This benefit applies to award tickets, even if a partner airline issues the ticket!

What if I need to add a lap infant to an American Airlines award ticket booked with Etihad miles?

Lap infants on domestic itineraries with American Airlines are free.  If your itinerary is entirely domestic, you can add the lap infant on the day of travel.  Of course, you can also do it sooner, but the point is there’s no rush.  International flights are a different story.

Normally, AA would charge 10% of the cash fare of the adult ticket.  This could get very expensive, especially in premium cabin classes.  If you have a ticket booked in business class and you call AA to add the lap infant, you will be charged 10% of whatever the real-time fare is.  If that fare is $5,000, you will be charged $500 for the lap infant.  Ouch.

Fortunately, Etihad has a better way of adding the lap infant.  If you add a lap infant to an AA international itinerary booked with Etihad miles, Etihad will add the lap infant for 10% of the miles for the adult ticket to your total.  So if your ticket is 100,000 miles total, the infant ticket would cost an additional 10,000 miles.  This is probably a better deal than AA.  I’d rather pay 10,000 miles than $500.

Conclusion

You do not need AAdvantage miles to book American Airlines award flights. If you have American Express Membership Rewards points, you can transfer them to Etihad or one of Amex’s other partners to book American Airlines flights.

Since American Express Membership Rewards has 4 partners that you can use to book award tickets for AA-operated flights, you may be able to redeem less that what you would redeem if you had AAdvantage miles!

A milesAAver seat is bookable by partner programs.  This means that if you can book the seat with Etihad miles, you can also book with British Airways, Iberia, or Cathay Pacific Asia miles.  You can figure out which program results in a lower cost and then use that program to book!

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2 thoughts on “How To Book American Airlines Flights With Amex Membership Rewards Points (Etihad Miles)

  1. Pingback: Everything You Need To Know About American Airlines Award Tickets (2018)

  2. Pingback: Iberia vs. British Airways: Battle of the Distance-Based Programs

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