I’m Taking The American Airlines/Etihad Situation Seriously


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At the end of last week OMAAT published a post showing that American Airlines had removed Etihad from the list of partners it displays on its website and, unsurprisingly, this sent the rumor mill into overdrive.

In the days leading up to the editing of the partners’ list, Etihad awards (which have only been bookable on aa.com since May last year) had disappeared from the American Airlines website so when Etihad was removed from American’s partner airlines list, it was taken by many as a sign that the American Airlines/Etihad partnership was about to end.

Since then, the name “Etihad” has been reinstated in the American Airlines partner list and American Airlines has issued a statement saying that nothing has changed…

“Nothing has changed with our Frequent Flier partnership with Etihad – we still offer reciprocal earn and burn on each other’s metal. The removal of the partner page was inadvertent and we are working to get it back up quickly.”

…but Etihad awards remain unavailable on AA.com.

I Don’t Believe Them

I’m not going to sugarcoat this – I don’t believe American Airlines when it says that “nothing has changed” with its partnership with Etihad.

Yes, for the time being we may still be able to “earn and burn” miles on the Middle Eastern carrier (the burning has been made more difficult with the removal of Etihad awards from aa.com) but that doesn’t mean that nothing has changed behind the scenes or that nothing will be changing in the future.

If nothing is changing with a partnership I can’t see any reason why someone would be tinkering with the partners’ page on aa.com, so what was going on behind the scenes that led to someone “inadvertently” deleting Etihad from the American Airlines partners’ page?

I think that American Airlines is preparing for a change in its relationship with Etihad and that what OMAAT saw was a glimpse into the future that we were not meant to see.

This wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve seen an airline/hotel/loyalty program make such a mistake, and if you’ve been following the miles and points hobby for more than a couple of years you may remember, back in 2015, American Airlines accidentally posting updated British Airways earnings charts, before denying that they meant anything…and then re-publishing the same charts on aa.com a little over a month later.

Why This May Happen

First a few facts:

  • Qatar Airways owns a significant percentage of the parent company that owns British Airways and Iberia (IAG) who are two of American’s transatlantic joint venture partners.
  • Qatar Airways (and the state of Qatar as a whole) is not on friendly terms with the UAE (the home of Etihad).
  • American Airlines and Qatar Airways have just re-established relations.

It’s very possible that Qatar Airways has a bit of leverage over American Airlines (thanks to its ownership stake in IAG) and it’s also possible that Qatar Airways is using that leverage to push American away from Etihad to suit its own ends.

In fact, it’s not hard to believe that one of the prerequisites for Qatar Airways and American Airlines getting back together as partners was that American Airlines severs its ties with Etihad.

Ok, yes. This is pure speculation on my part and I have no proof whatsoever that this is actually the case…but I’m not trying to prove anything here. I’m just explaining where I’m coming from when I say that I think that it’s possible (likely) that American’s removal of Etihad from its list of partners was more than a glitch or an error.

Let’s not forget that over the past 18 months, there have been plenty of rumors circulating about Etihad joining forces with various other airlines (Emirates, United, etc..) and none of these rumors included airlines that partner with American. On the contrary, some have been direct rivals to American.

It could be that I’m completely wrong about Qatar Airways being the driving force behind a possible American/Etihad split, but that doesn’t have to mean that a split isn’t coming – there could very easily be another player in the background that’s causing a split and we just haven’t heard about them yet.

Why This Matters

It’s not really a secret that it’s incredibly difficult to use AAdvantage Miles for premium cabin awards on American Airlines so the best way to get value out of an AAdvantage balance is to use the miles for partner travel…and awards on Etihad can offer particularly good value.

Here’s American’s award chart showing the cost of awards to/from the Middle East:

Click to enlarge

Different people will have different favorite awards but these are mine:

Business Class (One-Way)

  • USA – Middle East: 115,000 miles
  • Europe – Middle East: 42,500 miles
  • Middle East – South Pacific: 80,000 miles

First Class (One Way)

  • USA – Middle East: 70,000 miles
  • Europe – Middle East: 62,500 miles
  • Middle East – South Pacific: 100,000 miles

When you consider how good Etihad’s Business Class seats can be…

Etihad 787 Business Class

…and when you consider how amazing the airline’s First Class suites can be…

Etihad A380 First Class

…it’s hard to escape the fact that these awards are among the best value awards that you can book with AAdvantage Miles.

And now they may well be going away.

I’m Booking

If American Airlines and Etihad dissolve their partnership I’m not sure I’ll have a chance to fly in Etihad First Class or Etihad Business Class for some time so I’m making plans to book both cabins sooner rather than later.

Ideally, I’m looking to book Etihad’s A380 First Class cabin and its A380 or 787 Business Class cabin as they represent the best the airline has to offer but, as Etihad only offers its 777 out of LAX, a positioning flight will be needed.

I could fly over to the East Coast and catch the A380 out of New York but considering how often I’m over in Europe it probably makes more sense to book Etihad’s whale-jet out of Paris or London.

I could just fly between Europe and Abu Dhabi and fly in Business Class on the outbound and First Class on the inbound (so I get access to Etihad’s First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi), but that seems a little dull and not at all fitting for a trip that may be my last on Etihad for some time…so I’m going to try to find something a little more interesting.

Right now, a First Class A380 flight between Abu Dhabi and Sydney looks very tempting but I’m struggling to find dates with availability that fit into my schedule so a little more work is needed – stay tuned! 🙂

Bottom Line

Airlines/hotels/loyalty programs lie. That’s just a fact. If they accidentally publish an update that we’re not meant to see they’re not going to own up to it and admit that something that they know we’re not going to like is on the way.

There may be nothing more than a fat-fingered error behind the sudden disappearance of Etihad from American’s list of airline partners but, for a number of reasons, I think there’s more to it than that and I don’t believe American when it says that there’s nothing to see here.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and blow their AAdvantage balances on Etihad premium cabin awards why they still can – that would be foolish without more proof that the AA/EY partnership is going away.  What I am saying is that anyone who has been planning to book an Etihad award with AAdvantage miles but hasn’t got around to it yet may want to consider making a booking sooner rather than later as you never know when American Airlines may spring a nasty surprise.

Featured image courtesy of Etihad

4 COMMENTS

  1. I doubt QR would have any sway over AA with a stake in IAG. QR can’t run BA,IB or EI.
    DL partnering with Latam was the opening that QR needed. They were able to show AA a deal in which AA would make a lot of money by partnering with QR. So AA partnering with Qatar would be more of a financial incentive than partnering with Etihad. It’s all about Money and threats that QR will do something bad to AA. AA And QR didn’t even like each other until recently.
    AA didn’t tell QR to stop partnering with Jetblue or Latam.
    QR can’t tell AA to stop partnering with Etihad.
    QR and AA can partner with whatever airline they want.

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