Despite the high costs in both points and taxes, Etihad remains an appealing and somewhat unique way to redeem Velocity Points thanks to its modern Business & First Class cabins.
In this guide, we get into the details of how to redeem your Velocity Points with Etihad: costs, researching availability, and how to book.
We also compare pricing to redemptions through Etihad Guest and American Airlines AAdvantage.
When and why should you use your Velocity Points to travel with Etihad?
Over the past couple of years, we have suffered a few changes to Etihad’s service and the way we can redeem Velocity points for Etihad Business & First Class—firstly, Velocity’s revision of its award chart increased the costs in points along with hundreds of dollars in additional fees.
With tough competition from Qatar Airways but arguably more taste than the bling of Emirates, using your hard-earned Velocity points to experience their Business Studio or First cabins is still desirable—but how much depends on your preference for flying with Etihad.
Etihad’s route network to/from Australia, the US and Europe
The primary use for Etihad redemptions would be to travel from Australia to Abu Dhabi and the Middle East, and then on to Europe or the US.
In Australia, Etihad fly from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (Perth was cut in October 2018).
Etihad operate its updated Business Studios and First Apartment cabins on the following A380 superjumbo routes:
- New York
- Seoul (from 1 July 2019)
Sydney has two daily services, one served by the A380 and the other an older three-class Boeing 777.
Boeing 787 routes with the new Business Studios product as well as First Class (not Apartments) include:
- Washington DC
and these Boeing 787 routes do not have First Class but do have the updated Business Studios product (not complete list):
- Hong Kong
Hopefully, other services with Etihad’s new cabins will be next on the list, but the costs, tips and techniques in this guide to research availability still apply regardless of new aircraft or not.
Etihad, of course, has a much wider network than just Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the US, but given the need for extensive back-tracking to get to Asia or additional hours flown to get to some African destinations, that is not the focus of this guide.
Velocity costs for Etihad Business and First Class redemptions
Ultra-long-haul flights like Etihad’s service from Abu Dhabi to East Coast Australia and the US are usually very expensive if paying by cash for Business or First Class.
As a result, using Velocity Points for these flights still has some value, many with 24+ hours’ flying time coming in at 139,000/203,000 Velocity Points for Business/First Class.
A comparison of Velocity with Etihad Guest and AAdvantage redemptions
The other options for redemptions on Etihad flights are to use Etihad Guest miles, from Etihad’s own frequent flyer program, or American Airlines AAdvantage miles, which can be purchased in bulk and used directly on Etihad flights too.
Here are some comparisons for travel on Etihad using Velocity Points vs Etihad Guest miles vs AAdvantage miles:
|Route (one-way, Business)||Velocity Points||Etihad Guest miles||AAdvantage miles|
|Perth - New York||139,000||200,002||80,000 + 70,000^|
|Melbourne - New York||139,000||200,002||80,000 + 70,000^|
|Brisbane - London||139,000||162,503||85,000|
|Sydney - Abu Dhabi||104,000||99,999||80,000|
|Route (one-way, First Class)||Velocity Points||Etihad Guest miles||AAdvantage miles|
|Perth - New York||203,000||272,498||100,000 + 115,000^|
|Melbourne - New York||203,000||272,499||100,000 + 115,000^|
|Brisbane - London||203,000||223,999||115,000|
|Sydney - Abu Dhabi||152,500||136,249||100,000|
^Some AAdvantage redemptions on Etihad flights between two different regions, e.g. South Pacific and North America, require booking two separate awards.
Note that you cannot use your Velocity Points to upgrade Etihad flights.
I have outlined how to redeem AAdvantage miles to Europe from Australia here, with Etihad being one of the key options.
Fees and taxes
In June 2015, Velocity added the ‘Etihad Airways Reward Seat Carrier Charge’ costing:
- US$50 in Economy Class
- US$205 in Business
- US$300 in First
added to any booking using your Velocity points for travel with Etihad (except for itineraries departing from Manila).
The killer piece to this change is that the charge applies per flight sector, not per booking. This means that a return flight to Europe in Business Class, with a transit in Abu Dhabi, costs an extra US$820 on top of the fuel surcharges for your chosen route; it is worse for First Class too, at US$1200.
This is the biggest disincentive to using Velocity Points for Etihad flights.
AAdvantage will usually always win when it comes to taxes and fees—they should be minimal. Etihad Guest charges substantial fees but without the additional surcharge imposed by Velocity.
Etihad’s Business & First Class cabins
This is the Business Studio on the Etihad A380:
Compare that to Etihad’s older Business Class cabins:
The excellent First Class experience on the A380 looks like this and also gives you access to an onboard shower:
with First Class on their older A330 and 777s still a great way to fly:
You can also redeem your Etihad Guest miles (but not Velocity Points or AAdvantage miles) for a flight in The Residence, which is a three-room suite on the A380 with bedroom, separate bathroom/shower and private butler. It will only set you back almost 2,000,000 Etihad Guest miles + ~AU$45 in taxes for a one-way flight between Abu Dhabi and Paris.
How to research availability and make a booking
The two primary places to search for Etihad redemption seat availability are Etihad’s own website and on Virgin Australia’s site, which shows both Etihad and Singapore flights.
Once you’ve pinpointed your perfect combination of flights and dates, you can book online or you can call Velocity.
It is well worth understanding the ins and outs of how to redeem your Velocity Points for Etihad flights.
The 139,000-point top band for multi-flight redemptions in Business Class still offers some value compared to the other options out there for redeeming your points on Etihad, and given how many opportunities there are to build up your Velocity balance, these are fairly achievable goals.
However, with the per-sector Etihad fees imposed by Velocity, you need to take into account both the cabin you are flying in and the number of sectors you are booking in order to calculate the true points + cash cost to you (and your travelling companions).
Ultimately you need to question whether redeeming Velocity Points with Etihad is the best goal to aim for with your point balance.
Etihad redemptions have many things going for them—often good redemption availability and excellent cabins, service and lounges—but you will be paying a premium to fly with Etihad when using your Velocity Points.
The main alternative to Etihad redemptions, at least to Europe from Eastern Australian capitals, is with Singapore Airlines. From Western Australia, you could also consider Singapore Airlines as a logistically viable and cheaper alternative to get to the US.
Featured image courtesy Airbus.