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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Challenge of Redeeming American AAdvantage Miles on Etihad

During the last year I was fortunate to have a number of trips that took me to international destinations, and thereby afforded me the opportunity to acquire a good number of American AAdvantage miles.  My stockpile has grown sufficiently enough to allow me to work on some aspirational travel opportunities for 2016 - some such opportunities include possible travel in the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia regions.  Unfortunately, American itself does not fly directly to most of those destinations so the only way to get there is to use other OneWorld airlines or AA partners.   One such partner is Etihad.

Etihad at present is a relatively good value proposition, but it doesn't come without its challenges:

1. You can't book Etihad flights directly on AA.com - you must call the Service Center and book with an agent
2. Because award availability doesn't show on AA.com, you have to price out your itinerary on the Etihad website and look for a specific fare class, usually labeled as "guest" space
3. Right now most Etihad options in Business or First class are unable to be seen by the United States call centers

The last point makes things especially interesting - in fact, there is a list group dedicated to booking questions about how to actually book space you may find.  And why, might you wonder, does it matter to book on them?  Well, due to the upcoming AA award chart devaluation, most of the mileage costs will be going up exponentially.  For example, an award that might cost 60,000 miles in First class will be 100,000 miles after March.  Not a good value proposition.

So in order to lock in some options now, I took to the phone to try and get some segments booked.  An adventure ensued!

My first three tries were to the US-based call number for AA - each agent was unable to see any business class availability even though the Etihad site was showing at least two seats available on most flights.  Here is an example (note the 'guest' space):

So...what to do?  Call Australia!  For some reason, the Australian Call Center for AA is able to see and book award space on Etihad right now.  In fact, they're the only one that can (that I know of).  After some hedgy Skype connectivity, I was able to get at least a few options squared away and confirmed on hold.

Persistence paid off in this case but it begs the question - why does one call center see the availability and others don't?  Time for AA IT to get with it, I think...

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