Why I can’t wait to wave goodbye to 260,000 miles

Over the last 5 years, my wife and I have been faithfully hoarding our AAdvantage miles from our trips between the UK & US for work and family. I’ve preached American Airlines to anyone who will listen, and with the recent devaluations of Delta’s SkyMiles programme, followed by United’s MileagePlus programme, things were looking rosier than ever.

Then, last month, American announced they would be making changes to the AAdvantage programme. And not for the better.

We’re not looking at a doomsday situation, but we are going to see sudden and significant changes kicking in from March 22nd 2016. The cost of many of the ‘best’ awards out there will rise sharply, at the same time as earning miles also becomes more difficult for most.

So it’s time to burn. Get rid of all those miles before their value is slashed anywhere from 25% to 50%.

American itself does not have a first class product worth shouting about. But miles are easy to earn, powerful to redeem and American has some exotic partner airlines, both inside and outside the OneWorld Alliance.

For many years, Cathay Pacific flew a 747 from San Francisco to Hong Kong and getting a first class seat right up in the nose had been a dream of mine.

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Cathay Pacific 747 First Class (photo credit Sam Chui)

A couple of years back, they replaced the 747 with a 2-class 777. No first class at all. So much for that dream.

So then we look to the ‘3 kings’ of the industry, the heavily state-funded crown jewels of the Gulf nations, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad.

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Bringing the Bling – the 3 elite Middle-Eastern carriers

Emirates brought ‘bling’ to flying like never before, pioneering on-board showers, bars and much more. They partner with Alaska, who partner with American, but there is no direct way to fly them using AAdvantage miles.

Qatar recently added A380s to their fleet, and after pushing their inaugural flight back multiple times while they got their interiors ‘just right’, they came out with another beautiful A380 product. But somebody went a step further.

They took a good look at the competition and thought they could do one better. Etihad have completely revolutionised first class travel.

They are the only airline to have just 1 aisle in first class, meaning their first class seats – I’m sorry, ‘Apartments’ – are simply the best out there.

A380_FIRST_CLASS_AISLE
Etihad A380 First Class Ailse

And there’s more. When first class isn’t enough, Etihad have introduced ‘The Residence’ which is more akin to an on-board hotel room than anything else. They paid Dannii Minogue to give the world a tour:

Unfortunately, the ‘Residence’ can only be booked using miles through Etihad’s own programme. And unfortunately for them, it costs over 2 million miles. Yes. 2 million.

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Over 2 million miles for ‘The Residence’ compared to <100,000 for First Class at Saver Level

So First Class it is. And remember, with only 1 aisle, Etihad’s first class is revolutionary. And they have showers. Here is the seatmap. Look out for the Residence, Showers and lounge/bar all located on the 2nd floor:

Etihad_Airways_Airbus_A380

Sold? On board showers, lounge/bar, they’ve got it all.

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Etihad A380 Lounge/Bar area

So I searched availability through Etihad’s website. We have some time for travelling at Easter and in September, but no luck. Seats gone. But we already need to travel from the UK to the US in May, so I searched through May dates, and… yes!

Struck gold. Space from both London to Abu Dhabi and from Abu Dhabi to New York. And for the OCD in me, the cost of award would be 260,000 miles. Cleaning out all but 15k miles in my account before the devaluation. (Just enough for a domestic ticket from Miami to Alaska perhaps?)

And the cost of the exact same itinerary booked after March 22nd would rise 37% to 355,000!

I quickly checked and double checked dates then got on the phone to American.

No availability. But it had shown as available on Etihad’s website! Heart sank. It had been too easy. Too good to be true. So I Googled for answers. Found a suggestion from ViewFromTheWing suggesting I try calling AA’s Australian call centre instead. Evidently they sometimes can find space that their US counterparts cannot.

First call, answered within seconds, yes the space there – it’s locked in! Elated. Put it on 5 day hold to double check timings. Called later in the day to pay the taxes.

Giddy with excitement.

Then called Etihad right away to confirm our seat reservations. When travelling as a couple, by far the best seats are either 3A & 4A, or 3K & 4K. They back onto each other and the partition wall can be lowered like so:

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Etihad A380 First Class Apartments 3A & 4A

So we’re all set for a 7 hour flight to Abu Dhabi, 2 days in Dubai, then a full 14h trek from Abu Dhabi to New York where our 1 yo nephew will be waiting for us 🙂

Dubai Marina, New Dubai
Dubai Marina

Look out for my trip report in May, and if you need any ideas for earning/burning miles please ask! I love this stuff.

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