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Note: This is one of our most read posts, and there are a few updates for 2021, so I’m republishing it with those updates! Fortunately, award prices have not changed. I’ve pointed out the updates in the post, but these are the two main takeaways:
- The best way to search for AA partner availability is now Qantas
- Etihad may require more miles for itineraries with a connecting flight (but maybe not…)
I have never flown on an Etihad flight, nor do I collect Etihad miles. Etihad first came across our radar a few years ago when we were trying to book a trip to Japan. Since then, Etihad has been one of our favorite ways to book American Airlines flights. You can read about how we booked over $13,000 worth of plane tickets and hotels in Japan for less than $400 here. If you don’t have Etihad miles, don’t worry, I didn’t either.
I explained how I redeemed Etihad miles to book award seats on an AA operated flight in this post. I did this by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Etihad. Then I used the Etihad miles to book the flight.
I did this because I did not have enough AAdvantage miles for the seats I wanted, but I also realized that Etihad had a better redemption price for that particular flight. We quickly learned that Etihad miles were also great for booking several other AA routes.
How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points
The quickest way to earn American Express Membership Rewards points is to open an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points and earn a welcome bonus. You’ll also earn Amex MR points on your everyday spending with these cards. You can also take advantage of bonus offers to earn even more points by enrolling your card in specific Amex offers that match your spending habits.
The current highest offers are on the Platinum cards.
The Gold Card is one of my favorites for everyday spending. It earns 4 points per dollar at restaurants, 4 points per dollar on up to $25,000 annually at US supermarkets, and 3 points per dollar on qualifying travel expenses.
Current offer: 125,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months with this link. Note that this is a personal referral offer and the public offer is currently 100k after spending $6k in 6 months. Also, new cardmembers receive 10 points per dollar on purchases at restaurants and when you shop small in the US on up to $25,000 in combined purchases during the first 6 months.
The annual fee is now $695, but there are lots of benefits and credits that may help offset that fee. [See rates and fees]
The current welcome offer also helps offset that annual fee. It is enough for a roundtrip business class seat to Japan if you learn to utilize transfer partners! Additional benefits and details: Receive up to $200 of reimbursement on airline incidentals per calendar year (click here for more info), receive $200 total in Uber credits annually, receive $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, and 100$ total in statement credit for purchases at Saks Fifth avenue annually. There are several other credits that were recently added and you can see them on the current offers page.
The Platinum Card from American Express will grant you access to their amazing Centurion lounges (where available). These lounges have complimentary food and drinks, plus some locations even have spa services! You’ll also get lounge access to other airport lounges around the world . Terms apply.
If you’re a frequent flyer, this card has one of the highest earn rates on flight purchases. Earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly through airlines or through amextravel.com on up to $500,000 per calendar year. Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Terms apply. Click here to learn more.
Current Offer:100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.
The minimum spending requirement is $15,000 in the first 3 months.
If you want a premium business card, the Business Platinum Card from American Express is a strong contender. This card is especially lucrative for those who regularly make large business purchases.
The annual fee is $595, but the benefits may be worth it. [see rates and fees]
The earn rate is basically the same as the personal Platinum card (5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and on flights and prepaid hotels at amextravel.com, 1 point per dollar on everything else) but there is one exception. Purchases over $5,000 earn 1.5 points per dollar (you can earn up to 1 million additional points each year). So if you make large business purchases that may not qualify for bonus categories on other business cards, this may be a good card for you. Also, you will get the $200 airline incidental reimbursement per calendar year, $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, and airport lounge access benefits that the personal version of this card has. You can also enroll to receive $100 semi-annually for Dell purchases in the US (that’s $200 per year). Also, you can get up to $179 back per year on a CLEAR® membership. Terms apply. Learn how to apply here.
Current Offer: 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. The minimum spending requirement is $4,000 in the first 6 months.
The American Express Gold Card earns 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, 4 points per dollar at restaurants, 4 points per dollar on Uber Eats purchases, and 4 points per dollar at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases annually. For restaurants and grocery store spend, this is one of the highest earn rates available for travel cards. So if you eat out frequently and/or grocery shop frequently, this may be a good card for you. Terms apply. Click here for more information
The annual fee of $250 is a little steep, but this card has some statement credits to help offset the fee. [See rates and fees]
The earn rate of 3 points per dollar on flights is as good or better than most of our other favorite travel cards, but the categories that really stand out here are 4 points per dollar at restaurants and US supermarkets.
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 5 American Express Membership Rewards airline transfer partners that you can use to book award tickets for flights operated by American Airlines.
American Express has four 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)
- Qantas Airlines (QF)
Etihad is the 5th 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.
We often use British Airways to book American Airlines flights and you can read more about how to use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights here. 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 require less miles/points 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.
- Search for award space
- Determine the redemption cost (if you plan to transfer points from Amex, make sure another Amex partner doesn’t result in a lower cost)
- Make an Etihad account if you don’t have one already (Free. No credit card required)
- Link the Etihad account to your Amex MR account, but do not transfer yet
- 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 in the event that no American Airlines flights are available! 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 with another partner airline.
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 on Qantas.
UPDATE 2021: You can still use aa.com to search for availability, but the calendar view looks different now and it is sometimes hard to distinguish between MilesAAver and web specials. Web specials are only available to book with AAdvantage miles. In other words, you cannot book an AA web special ticket with miles from Etihad or any other partner airlines. Qantas is now the easiest way to search for AA award space when booking with a partner. Click here for instructions and more details.
Do not pay attention to the redemption price when you are searching AA.com, Qantas.com, or any other partner site for availability
Most likely, American Airlines, Etihad, and any other AA partner you search will each have a different redemption price for the exact same flight. This is because each airline program has its own way of pricing award tickets.
Remember, if the airline operating the flight (American Airlines) and the airline whose loyalty program you are using to book (Etihad) are different airlines, the airline you are using to book (Etihad) determines your redemption price. You are only using AA or Qantas to check for availability in this situation.
If you search AA, 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. Also, American Airlines AAdvantage Web specials are not eligible for partner bookings.
New strategy-use Qantas to search for partner availability
Because it can be confusing on AA.com to determine which tickets are available to book with partner airline miles, I now recommend using Qantas to search for American Airlines award space that is available to book with partners such as Etihad. If Qantas shows an AA ticket available to book with Qantas miles, that ticket should also be available to book with Etihad miles or miles from any of AA’s other redemption partners. British Airways will also show American Airlines availability, but Qantas has a better calendar view if your dates are flexible. Click here for instructions.
Mixed-Cabin itineraries are not permitted when booking 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.
When you search American Airlines or other partners, it may will show you 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, the AAdvantage program would allow this. Some partners may also allow this. Which is why it may show up in your search.
- This is called a mixed-cabin itinerary.
- With AAdvantage miles, you would be 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. When booking with Etihad, that’s a moot point because it’s not allowed.
I cannot find this published officially anywhere in the terms and conditions, but in my experience, Etihad DOES NOT allow mixed-cabin itineraries. So it is important to make sure that when you search AA.com or Qantas.com for availability, the same class is available for all flights.
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 or Qantas.com from DFW to London but it is operated by British Airways, you cannot book that flight with Etihad miles.
Once you have found availability either through Qantas, another partner airline, or AA itself, the next step is to determine the redemption cost. You will 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 redemption 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. Each airline program with this type of award pricing will have its own definition of regions. In a zone-based program, any flight between 2 zones costs a fixed amount of miles.
Etihad’s zone based pricing, as opposed to programs with distance-based pricing, can save you lots of points, particularly if your flight has multiple connections and/or long segments. But speaking of connections…
Here’s a 2021 update that I’m still unclear about
When an itinerary has a connection, some airline programs calculate a redemption total by adding the sum of the redemption price for each segment. Others require a set amount between zone A and zone B regardless of connections.
Etihad seems to have quietly updated the partner page for AA redemptions. The good news is redemption prices seem to be the same. The bad news is, there is a clause that states redemption prices are calculated based on each individual flight. This was not the case in the past.
The document looks exactly the same as it has for years, so maybe this was always there and I didn’t notice. Either way, I know for a fact that connecting flights did not add to the redemption total as of about a year ago. We’ve used Etihad miles to book AA flights with a connection a few times and no additional miles were required.
I’ll quote the exact language from Etihad’s page about AA operated flights:
“For journeys with a connecting flight, the number of miles will be calculated based on each individual flight. For instance, if you are traveling from New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO) via Miami (MIA), the number of miles will be calculated as follows: New York (JFK) to Miami (MIA) + Miami (MIA) to San Francisco (SFO).”
Since you can’t book online, the only way to confirm pricing is to call. I called 2 different times about 2 different North America-Europe routes. Actually I called 3 times but that’s a whole other story-one agent tried to tell me New Orleans is in South America. He was very pleasant but I quickly decided I could not trust that his information was accurate so I thanked him, hung up, and called again to get another agent. To be fair, Etihad’s agents are usually very knowledgable and helpful.
Anyway, after finding availability in both business and economy on a one way itinerary from New Orleans to Madrid via Charlotte, I called and an agent quoted me at 30,000 Etihad miles for economy or 50,000 Etihad miles for business class. I then asked the agent to price another itinerary I found from Houston to Madrid via DFW. Same prices.
The redemption prices quoted to me match what I would have expected in the past. In other words, the connecting segments (New Orleans to Charlotte or Houston to DFW) do not add to the redemption cost. But they don’t match up with what is stated above.
I would have expected for these flights to price at 42,500 in economy or 75,000 in business class.
- New Orleans to Charlotte is 12,500 in economy or 25,000 in business
- Charlotte to Madrid is 30,000 in economy* or 50,000 in business
- Total is 42,500 in economy or 75,000 in business
*off peak US-Europe is 20,000 but I was looking at dates considered peak dates
You can find charts for flights originating in other zones on the link above. 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.
Wait times weren’t bad, so I decided to check one more time. I called again one day later (after making sure these flights were still available) and spoke with a different agent. This agent quoted me the exact same redemption prices for both itineraries (30k economy; 50k biz).
So, since I didn’t go as far as actually booking either of these flights, I cannot say for sure that connecting flights will not add to your total. In other words, I am not sure whether or not the flights would actually get ticketed at those prices. But since two different agents quoted me these prices, I am fairly confident! If anyone has actually redeemed an AA connecting itinerary recently with Etihad miles, email me and I’ll add your data point. If this is in fact the case, it’s good news for those who do not live in American Airlines hub cities with nonstop flights.
In general, Etihad miles are good for these American Airlines flights:
- Long-haul flights
- (Maybe) flights with connections-refer to section above
- 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, including flights operated by AA. 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 knowledgable. 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
6. The number is 877-690-0767. Select your language. “1” is for English. Then select “3” for other inquiries, then “3” for Etihad Guest frequent flyer program, then “1” for a new booking with miles. (This is current as of April 2021, but listen to the menu options as they may change).
7. 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 flight options you found on Qantas (or MilesAAver tickets 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.
8. The agent will ask for your contact information and confirm dates, flights, price, etc.
9. Once she has confirmed that the flight is available, make the Amex transfer for the appropriate amount.
10. 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. When I called most recently (April 2021), one agent told me holds were not possible. I forgot to ask the second agent about holds. I feel like we have been able to hold an AA itinerary before with Etihad, so this may be a YMMV situation. Doesn’t hurt to ask.
11. 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.
12. 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”
You can Log in if you have an AAdvantage account, but you don’t have to. You can just select Continue as guest
Enter your first name, last name, and record locator then click “Find Your Trip”
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/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). The cost to redeposit is 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. 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 $30 each way. AAdvantage credit card holders receive a free first checked bag as a benefit of 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 for a roundtrip, the infant ticket would cost an additional 10,000 miles. This is probably a better deal than AA. I’d rather redeem 10,000 miles/Amex points than pay $500.
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 5 partners that you can use to book award tickets for AA-operated flights, you can choose which partner has the lowest redemption price, and most importantly, you may be able to redeem less than 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, Qantas, or Cathay Pacific Asia miles.
Amex Rates and Fees:
- American Express Gold Card [rates and fees]
- The Platinum Card from American Express [rates and fees]
- Business Platinum Card from American Express [rates and fees]
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