Embattled Gulf carrier Etihad Airways is further cutting costs by parting ways with its flight to Perth later this year. This is not good news for Western Australians as they lose a valuable redemption opportunity for using Velocity points and Etihad Guest miles.
What is in this guide?
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.
Perth loses Etihad service to Abu Dhabi from October
From 2 October, Western Australians will no longer enjoy Etihad’s nonstop flight to Abu Dhabi.
The decision appears to have been made because of financial concerns following increased competition on international routes from Perth, namely Qantas’ new nonstop Dreamliner flight to London, Qatar’s upgrade to an A380 on its flight to Doha from next month and Emirates’ twice-daily flights to its hub in Dubai. There are also rumours that Qantas will begin direct flights linking Perth and Johannesburg in December 2018.
In addition, from next week, the current Boeing 787 Dreamliner service with Business Studios is being downgraded to an Airbus A330 with an older product.
Business Class on the A330
What is the effect of the changes on you?
If you have travel booked on this service from October onwards, contact the airline to make alternative arrangements.
If you hold Velocity points and were thinking of travelling on Etihad to Europe, Africa or elsewhere, you may choose to fly on Singapore Airlines’ updated Boeing 787 Dreamliner service from Perth and then on one of their A350, A380 or 777 aircraft elsewhere.
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.
This guide goes into more detail on the sweet spots of the Velocity award chart that allow you to book Etihad’s First and Business Class cabins, but it is worth noting that Velocity’s Etihad redemptions come at a premium versus Velocity’s other major partner Singapore Airlines—but that’s only really relevant where your end destination overlaps.
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.
Focusing on these continents, Etihad flies to these cities:
As you can see, that is a lot of destinations in Europe.
As of April 2018, Etihad operates its updated Business Studios and First Apartment cabins on the following A380 routes:
- New York
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):
- Melbourne (one of two daily services, the other being an older Boeing 777)
- 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’s 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 Velocity points for Business Class or 203,000 Velocity points for 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||190,001*||80,000 + 70,000^|
|Melbourne - New York||139,000||200,002*||80,000 + 70,000^|
|Brisbane - London||139,000||162,503*||80,000 + 42,500^|
|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*||100,000 + 62,500^|
|Sydney - Abu Dhabi||152,500||136,249*||100,000|
^AAdvantage redemptions on Etihad flights between two different regions, e.g. South Pacific and Europe, require booking two separate awards.
*Updated with Etihad Guest minor award pricing changes on its own flights effective January 2018.
I’ve 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:
- $50 USD in Economy
- $205 USD in Business
- $300 USD in First Class
added to any bookings using your Velocity points for travel with Etihad.
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 $820 USD on top of the fuel surcharges for your chosen route. It’s worse for First Class too, at $1200 USD.
This is the biggest disincentive to use Velocity Points for Etihad flights.
Etihad’s Business & First Class cabins
This is the Business Studio on the Etihad A380:
With the excellent First Class experience on the A380 looking like this:
Etihad’s older Business Class cabins look like this:
And First Class on their older A330 and 777s is still a great way to fly:
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’ll 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 San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Featured image courtesy Airbus.