Etihad Guest is a program that doesn’t get much attention here in Canada, even though you can transfer your points from American Express Membership Rewards to Etihad Guest at 1:0.75 ratio. And given how easy it is to earn Amex MR points via their credit cards, there are many quirky little sweet spots within Etihad Guest that are accessible to Canadian travellers, even if the transfer ratio is less than par.
Etihad Guest: The Basics
As I mentioned, the easiest way for Canadians to earn Etihad Guest miles would be transfer their Amex MR points over at a 1:0.75 ratio. The Business Platinum Card alone will earn you 75,000 Amex MR points, which would be enough to redeem for many of the sweet spots listed below.
If you have access to US-issued Amex MR points, you could transfer those over to Etihad Guest a 1:1 ratio. The differences between the two transfer ratios on either side of the border makes sense if you take into account the CAD/USD exchange rate.
You can also transfer Citi ThankYou points to Etihad Guest at a 1:1 ratio (if you have those), or send over some of your Marriott Bonvoy points at the optimal ratio of 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 Etihad Guest miles.
Etihad Airways doesn’t belong to any airline alliance; instead, it operates an Alaska Mileage Plan-esque model in which it maintains partnerships with a variety of airlines from around the world. As a result, the specific redemption award charts vary from partner to partner – some airlines have distance-based charts, others are zonal, and yet others are based on specific routes.
That’s sort of where the “quirky” reputation of the program comes from: thanks to its ragtag array of airline partners, Etihad Guest is usually viewed as a versatile program with a handful of attractive sweet spots for the right situations, rather than a mainstream program that everyone should be focusing on.
Similar to Alaska’s program, it’s not possible to mix and match partners; meanwhile, as far as I’m aware, Etihad doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges on partner bookings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though stopovers or open-jaws are allowed when redeeming Etihad Guest miles on partner airlines.
Ultimately, the value proposition of redeeming Etihad Guest miles depends entirely on the partner airline you’re working with. Let’s take a look at the seven most appealing redemption options that, in my view, are worthwhile for Canadians to keep in mind as they plan their adventures around the world.
1. Royal Air Maroc from Montreal to Casablanca (and beyond)
Redeeming Etihad Guest miles for travel on Royal Air Maroc is fantastic value. The award chart is distance-based, but is capped, meaning that any one-way redemptions of over 2,000 miles in distance flown will be charged 22,000 miles in economy class or 44,000 miles in business class. In Amex MR terms, that’s equivalent to 29,333 MR points for economy class or 58,667 MR points for business class.
The Moroccan flag carrier operates a six-times-weekly flight from Montreal to Casablanca, and that alone clocks in at 3,534 miles.
Redeeming 58,667 MR points for a direct one-way business class flight from Canada to Morocco is already a very good value, since many other programs would classify Morocco as “North Africa” and levy a much higher mileage rate. For example, Aeroplan would charge 82,500 miles for the very same route on Air Canada (and there would be hell to pay in terms of fuel surcharges!)
But it gets even better than that. See, any one-way routing over 2,000 miles is subject to the capped mileage amount, so you could continue on from Casablanca to any of Royal Air Maroc’s 25+ European destinations for the same amount. Routing via Morocco is great “backdoor” redemption to get to Europe if you’re running into issues with availability out of North America!
In fact, take a look at Royal Air Maroc’s comprehensive route network and you’ll see just how far you can go with only 58,667 MR points in business class. Beirut, Doha, Nairobi, even São Paulo, perhaps? It’s certainly worth a try…
The challenge with this redemption is that there isn’t really an easy way to track down Royal Air Maroc award space. Your best bet seems to be getting the Etihad call centre to do the searches for you, and then booking it straight away. But the challenge ought to be worth it, since this is really quite a killer sweet spot, and I certainly hope to make use of it sometime soon!
2. CSA Czech Airlines from Prague to Seoul
If you ever find yourself needing to book a flight between Europe and Asia (or vice versa), you should always keep in mind that redeeming Etihad Guest miles on CSA Czech Airways’s four-times-weekly route from Prague to Seoul is one of the best sweet spots out there.
CSA Czech Airlines’s partnership with Etihad Guest takes the form of a complicated reward chart that lists the mileage requirements for literally every single CSA route. In particular, a one-way flight between Prague and Seoul requires 12,805 miles in economy class or 25,610 miles in business class, which is equivalent to 17,073 Amex MR points or 34,146 Amex MR points, respectively.
That’s an insane value when you compare it to other ways you might redeem miles for trans-Eurasian trips. Aeroplan, for example, would charge 75,000 miles for the equivalent journey in business class, more than double the amount of Amex MR points required even at the 1:1 transfer ratio!
CSA operates an Airbus A330 leased from Korean Airlines (they’ve even kept the distinctive baby-blue seat finishes) for this route with lie-flat business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration.
You can easily look up CSA Czech Airlines availability using ExpertFlyer. There seems to be two business class seats and three economy class seats released for each flight, so you should be able to find plenty of space if looking far enough in advance. Even a few months out, there’s still pockets of space that you can nab with enough flexibility.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that if you don’t have plans to travel between Prague and Seoul, redeeming Etihad Guest miles for CSA’s flights from Prague to Central Asia also looks to be great value:
3. Hopping Around South America with Gol Airlines
Brazilian low-cost carrier Gol Airlines is one of Etihad’s partners with whom they operate a distance-based award chart, and the mileage requirements are relatively generous:
As you can see, flights of 500 miles or less are subject to only 3,000 miles in economy class, equivalent to 4,000 Amex MR points. You can use this sweet spot to travel around South America in the spirit of British Airways Avios’s high-value short-haul redemptions.
Indeed, Gol Airlines’s extensive coverage within Brazil means that there are so many cities you could reach from São Paulo for only 4,000 MR points, including Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Florianópolis. Another possibility is to hop up and down the cities of Brazil’s northeast (a sleeping giant of a tourist haven, in my opinion).
International travel within South America can often be unreasonably expensive, so using Etihad Guest miles on Gol to get you over to the neighbouring country can also be a great deal. The airline’s São Paulo–Montevideo and Florianópolis–Buenos Aires routes fall within the band of 500–1,000 miles, so you could redeem 6,000 miles, or 8,000 MR points for that.
Santiago and Quito are further afield and would require more miles, but can still be a good deal considering the fact that cash fares on these routes can get to be upwards of $400+ for a one-way.
Gol availability can be searched on ExpertFlyer, and award space is generally quite plentiful.
4. ANA Business Class from Vancouver to Tokyo
Redeeming Etihad Guest miles for ANA award flights is subject to a distance-based award chart, which you can find below:
While the economy class and First Class mileage amounts aren’t really good value compared to the many other ways you could redeem miles for ANA (like using Aeroplan miles), there is a sweet spot bang in the middle of the business class award chart.
Specifically, flights from either Vancouver or Seattle to Tokyo fall into the mileage band of 4,001–5,000 miles, and therefore only require 54,000 Etihad Guest miles for one-way business class.
If you were transferring points over from Amex MR, that would equate to 72,000 Amex MR points, a small but satisfying savings compared to the alternative of redeeming 75,000 Aeroplan miles.
Of course, the benefit of redeeming via Aeroplan would be that you could add on further segments to other destinations in Asia, which isn’t possible with a distance-based chart like Etihad’s. But if you’re based in the Pacific Northwest and are considering a quick trip to Japan, then the Etihad Guest program could certainly be something to consider.
ANA availability through Etihad Guest should match up with what you find on the Aeroplan, United.com, and ExpertFlyer search engines.
5. American Airlines from North America to Asia
The value in redeeming Etihad Guest miles for American Airlines lies in the fact that when American Airlines raised its mileage rates a few years ago, Etihad did not follow suit. As a result, the mileage requirements are relatively low across the board.
Some parts of the award chart are more compelling than others. For example, you can fly American Airlines business class from North America to Asia 1 (which, oddly enough, only includes Japan, Korea, and Mongolia) for only 50,000 Etihad Guest miles one-way, which is equivalent to 66,667 Amex MR points. As a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge 75,000 miles for a similar redemption on Star Alliance airlines.
Asia 2, encompassing the rest of Asia, is only 5,000 Etihad Guest miles more (so 73,333 Amex MR points in total, still a modest savings).
The challenge here is that premium seats on American Airlines long-haul flights can be rather tough to find. You’d use ExpertFlyer or the American Airlines website to look it up, but they tend to be quite stingy with their long-haul premium awards.
But if you do find it, transferring Amex MR points to Etihad Guest is a much easier way to book (as a Canadian) than earning miles in American AAdvantage program. Of course, you can also book American flights through Alaska Mileage Plan, but Alaska miles are so valuable that redeeming them on American, rather than Cathay Pacific or JAL, feels like a bit of a waste.
6. Bangkok Airways to Ko Samui
If you’ve ever tried to visit the Thai island paradise of Ko Samui, you’ll know that getting there can be a tougher proposition than it might seem.
You see, the Ko Samui airport is owned by Bangkok Airways, who therefore control the vast majority of landing slots and can get away with charging exorbitant prices like $300+ roundtrip on the short hops to and from Bangkok.
Thai Airways has one or two flights a day to Ko Samui where you can redeem Aeroplan miles, but given the limited service, those award seats get snapped up fast. If you didn’t know any better, you’d go ahead and pay those outrageous prices for a one-hour domestic flight…
…but of course, you have Etihad Guest miles! A one-way from Bangkok to Ko Samui is only 5,000 miles in economy class, which equates to 6,666 Amex MR points. And to save yourself at least $150+? That’s a spectacular deal.
Redeeming miles for the other Bangkok Airways destinations, like Chiang Mai, Phuket, or Krabi, typically isn’t as good value. That’s because those airports aren’t subject to monopolistic practices, and you can typically find Thai AirAsia flights for as low as $30.
The toughest part is searching for availability – there aren’t many resources out there for looking up Bangkok Airways award space, so you’ll likely have to call Etihad Guest and have them manually search for you.
7. The Etihad Apartments
Lastly, you of course have the possibility of redeeming Etihad Guest miles on flights operated by Etihad Airways themselves. And in terms of aspirational travel, the Etihad Apartments is one of the most sought-after First Class awards out there.
In general, the best ways to book Etihad Apartments tend to be via American Airlines AAdvantage or Asiana Club, since those programs charge a lower mileage amount for pretty much every route. Indeed, as Prince of Travel reader Mike pointed out on one of my recent posts, you can try the Apartments for as little as 62,500 AAdvantage miles from Europe to the Indian Subcontinent.
Nevertheless, when you factor in the relatively difficulty of earning Etihad Guest miles vs. AAdvantage miles or Asiana Club miles here in Canada, then the playing field is a bit more balanced. You can easily rack up huge amounts of Amex MR points via their huge credit card bonuses, and transfer those to Etihad Guest.
Meanwhile, AAdvantage miles are less straightforward to earn – you’d have to transfer RBC Avion points at a 10:7 ratio, transfer Marriott Bonvoy points, or dabble with US credit cards (and even then, the AAdvantage cards are issued by Citi, which seem to be relatively less lenient than Amex USA). Asiana Club miles are even more inaccessible: your only option is to transfer from Marriott Bonvoy.
I’ve been planning an upcoming redemption on the Etihad Apartments, and since I’m relatively wealthy in MR points, I’m leaning towards a straightforward redemption via Etihad Guest, even if it’ll cost me a whopping 136,249 miles per person from Abu Dhabi to Sydney!
While programs like Aeroplan and British Airways Avios are the best general-purpose programs for Canadian travellers, Etihad Guest is one of those niche programs that tend to fly under the radar, but can throw up a very good redemption every now and then. I’ve outlined a few lucrative uses of Etihad Guest miles – that Royal Air Maroc one looks particularly juicy, as does the ability to hop around South America cheaply on Gol – so you can transfer your Amex MR points over whenever the right situation arises.