Diversification is a key strategy in succeeding in the points game: you want to be tapping into as many advantageous earning opportunities and redemption sweet spots as you can manage.
Believe it or not, though, I haven’t really been walking the walk thus far, as I’ve mostly been playing around with a few select mileage programs that have served me very well, like Aeroplan, Alaska Mileage Plan, and British Airways Avios. And so I’ve been making a concerted effort to try out, and write about, a wider variety of award programs recently.
In this post I wanted to quickly share my experience redeeming Etihad Guest miles for the first time. I’ve written about some quirky Etihad Guest sweet spots in the past, some of which are very compelling indeed, so I thought it’d be helpful to walk you through the full process of redeeming Etihad miles and familiarize ourselves with the booking process from start to finish.
My motivation for using Etihad Guest miles began as part of my big Aeroplan Mini-RTW trip in November. As part of the convoluted round-the-world routing, I had scheduled a four-day stop in Perth, Australia; however, since I had already spent some time in Perth this past February, I decided I wanted to visit Melbourne on this trip instead.
The Perth–Melbourne route is served by two mainline carriers – Qantas and Virgin Australia – and both have surprisingly nice business class products on their domestic routes.
(I say “surprisingly” because I’m accustomed to the standard recliner seats and rubbery omelettes that dominate domestic and transborder business class flights within North America, with only the occasional Dreamliner route here and there. Compare that to Australia, where reverse herringbone seats and full meal services are mainstays on domestic flights.)
It seemed like the perfect opportunity to book Qantas in one direction and Virgin Australia in the opposite direction so that I could try out both products and compare notes. Booking Qantas business class was pretty straightforward, with 22,000 Avios and $17.63 in taxes getting the job done.
Virgin Australia, on the other hand, isn’t part of any airline alliance, so going through one of its partner mileage programs was the only reasonable way I could book their business class. (Alas, there are no easy ways to earn Virgin Australia Velocity points, unless I wanted to take a terrible transfer ratio through one of Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.)
And so, among Virgin Australia’s partner airlines, Etihad Guest turned out to be the most feasible option. Etihad maintains distinct award charts for each of its partners, so I looked up the Virgin Australia partner chart to see how many miles I’d need, and Melbourne–Perth came in at 21,800 Etihad Guest miles one-way in business class.
By the way, the remainder of the Etihad–Virgin Australia award chart looks quite favourable for booking flights in or around Australia, including to places like Bali, New Zealand, or the Pacific Islands, but not at all attractive for Virgin Australia’s long-haul flights to the US, where they’re asking for a staggering 120,000 miles one-way in business class. No thanks!
Transferring Amex MR Points
I needed to earn 21,800 Etihad Guest miles to make this booking, and I had two primary options for earning those miles: transferring my Amex Canada MR points to Etihad at a 1:0.75 ratio, or transferring my Amex US MR points to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio.
Taking into account the prevailing CAD/USD exchange rate (at which MR points can be transferred across borders), these two transfer ratios were pretty much even in terms of value. Since I felt that my Amex US MR points could be put to better uses, I decided to transfer Canadian MR points.
First, I needed to register my Etihad Guest account within my Amex MR dashboard. This process took a surprisingly long time – it wasn’t until 10 days after I made my registration request with Amex that I received the email notification that my Etihad Guest registration had been successfully processed.
This is in stark contrast to a program like Aeroplan, where the registration is processed almost instantly. If you’re planning to transfer your Amex MR points to Etihad, I’d definitely recommend registering your account in advance, so you can transfer the points at a moment’s notice when the time comes.
I already had 447 miles in my Etihad Guest account as a result of crediting some Oman Air flights I had taken earlier this year, so I now needed to add 21,800 – 447 = 21,353 more miles into my account. With a 1:0.75 transfer ratio, that meant I needed to send over 28,470 Amex MR points… except you must transfer in chunks of 1,000 MR points, so I ended up having to transfer 29,000 Amex MR points in the end.
Calling Etihad Guest to Book
The miles took about three business days to show up in my Etihad Guest account. As I understand it, if I had transferred my Amex US MR points instead, then I would’ve received the Etihad Guest miles almost instantly – another potential consideration when deciding how you’d like to fund your Etihad account.
I gave Etihad Guest a call at their Canadian toll-free number, which is open 24 hours a day: +1 (866) 948 1081. The phone agent seemed relatively competent, and was familiar with the process of looking up Virgin Australia award space.
After I let him know my desired travel date and route, he was able to see exactly the same award availability as I had researched beforehand on ExpertFlyer.
Unfortunately, the call dropped midway through the ticketing process, after I had given the agent my credit card number and expiration date for the A$20 ($18) in taxes and fees, but before he had a chance to collect the three-digit CVV code. I was pretty flustered at the thought of having to call again, but a few minutes later, I was surprised to see the e-ticket confirmation landing in my inbox.
I guess the agent was able to complete the ticketing process without the CVV code, and I was impressed that he had proactively done so, saving me another phone call. The itinerary had been fully ticketed, and I was able to pull it up on the Virgin Australia website instantly.
Interestingly, though, the 21,800 miles still haven’t been deducted from my Etihad Guest miles yet, even though it’s been several days since I made the reservation!
I wonder if I’m about to get away with one here?
I had a pleasant experience working with Etihad Guest for the first time. While the loyalty program has several interesting sweet spots, booking on the majority of their airline partners needs to be done via the call centre, so I was happy that my call centre agent seemed competent and proactive in his work. There’s a significant delay in linking your Etihad Guest to your Canadian Amex MR account, though, so make sure to account for that when transferring over your miles.
I’m looking forward to my Qantas vs. Virgin Australia double-header later on this year, and I also hope to take advantage of one of Etihad’s many other sweet spots sometime in the near future – perhaps 44,000-mile business class one-ways to Europe on Royal Air Maroc, or a 25,000-mile business class flight from Europe to Asia with Czech Airways.