Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
First Class Honeymoon Trip Report
Booking Singapore Suites
Booking Etihad Airways Apartments
Christina and I have never flown international business class or first class. However, this blog aims to help you stretch your travel dollars further and provide advice for travelling companions. Travelling in international first class with miles is one of the best examples of how to accomplish both of those goals. One of the best ways for travelling companions to both save money and travel comfortably is to use miles and points to book international business and first class travel. Miles and points are a currency just like any other except they generally have the best value when used for travel. Just like dollars you want to get the maximum value out of your currency and you simply can't beat the value of flying business or first class with miles and points. For economy travelers, like Christina and I, with a limited budget it takes the same discipline as a putting together a good travel budget.
After two years of travelling together my travelling companion (aka fiancée) Christina and I accumulated a large number of frequent flier miles, hotel points, and credit card points and have saved them for one blowout honeymoon in two of the best first class airline products in the world for couples the Singapore Airlines Suites and Etihad Airways First Class Apartments. Both of these first class products feature actual beds in the sky which can be joined together to offer a double bed perfect for travelling companions.
In May I shared the experience of booking our first leg of our honeymoon in the Singapore Airline Suites. Now I can share that last week we booked the flight back to the US from honeymoon in the Etihad Airways First Class Apartments! As you can see in the screen shot below these one way tickets in Etihad Airways First Class Apartment on the Airbus A380 normally cost over $8,500 each and we booked them for 115,000 American Airlines miles and about $49 in taxes and fees each. This means that we got a value of more than 7 cents per mile!
In this post I am going to update you all on our honeymoon itinerary, share some of the features of the Etihad First Class Apartment, and let you know how we booked this flight. Another goal of this blog is to share our adventures and I am looking forward to sharing a full trip report next year. Thank you again for reading and please subscribe to our new Facebook page and our mailing list to keep up to date on our adventures.
Below is our likely route for our honeymoon next year. So far we only have the first long haul leg on Singapore Airlines Suites and the return long haul leg in Etihad Airways First Class Apartments booked. Since my last post on our honeymoon covering the Singapore Suites our route has not changed. However, what has changed is the length of our honeymoon. Our honeymoon will now be three weeks long instead of two weeks and this equates to 17 nights on the ground and two days and one night in the air. We are currently planning to spend five nights in Singapore, five nights in Koh Samui (Thailand), five nights in Bangkok, and two nights in Abu Dhabi but we are also debating whether we need to add another stop to another location such as Changi Mai in Thailand and shorten the Bangkok stay.
Etihad Airways Experience
So I know what you are thinking what is the experience like flying in Etihad Airways First Class Apartments? Well I have included a few highlights below:
1. The Apartments feature a 6 foot ten inch bed. Some of which are interconnected and as Etihad Airways describes them as "perfect for when you’re travelling with a companion" and we will definitely put that to the test.
2. The Apartments features a separate chair and a 24 inch television allowing you to stay entertained throughout the flight.
3. My favorite feature is that it has an onboard shower! I imagine this is going to be a surreal experience showering in the air.
4. First Class Lounge in Abu Dhabi features a la carte restaurant dining, a fitness center, and a spa.
Booking Etihad First Class Apartments
Etihad Airways is based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and is considered one of the Middle East Three (ME3) airlines along with Emirates and Qatar. These airlines are major international players in particular when it comes to business and first class travel in part because of their favorable geography. Etihad Airways First Class Apartment is the airline's flagship first class product only available on its A380 (the world's largest commercial passenger aircraft). The Apartments are so luxurious that they were named by Skytrax as the best first class seat in the world in 2017. Etihad is not a part of any major alliance and the best way for US-based travelers to book award tickets on Etihad is through American Airlines AAdvantage because the airlines partners with Etihad. A flight between the United States and the Middle East costs 115,000 AAdvantage miles in First class.
Etihad Airways award tickets cannot be booked on AA.com. This is common for American Airlines. In fact, only seven of American Airlines 25 partners can be booked online. If you are only searching for award availability on AA.com you are missing out on a significant number of American Airlines partners. To search for Etihad award space you should go to the website of their frequent flyer program Etihad Guest and select book flights now. To book the Etihad First Class Apartments I went to the website and entered my departure point Abu Dhabi and my destination New York JFK. Then I selected First Class, two adults, and miles as my form of payment.
This brought me to a new screen where I was prompted to login into my Etihad Guest account but I selected "proceed without logging in". The new screen showed that two seats were available in Guest First on the flight from AUH to JFK (which means they are also available to book via Etihad's partner airlines). Etihad generally has little to no award availability when booking this route out of New York-JFK but typically releases two first class seats on the route when booking well in advance from Abu Dhabi to New York. This makes this route ideal for couples travelling together but difficult for larger groups of travelling companions. For groups larger than two I would recommend booking Etihad's business class or economy if you want to travel on this route. Also, Etihad has recently struggled financially, primarily due to bad investments in partner airlines, and in response reduced the number of daily flights from from JFK-AUH from two daily to one daily making this redemption more difficult but still possible with advanced planning
With the knowledge that our flight had two available award seats Christina and I called American Airlines AAdvantage Reservations. Compared to my last experience booking the Singapore Suites our experience booking the Etihad Apartments was a breeze. The most difficult part was getting past the computerized prompts which continually tried to direct us back to the website to book the ticket or get additional information, though Etihad Airways is not bookable online. Once we were able to get through the computerized system we gave the agent our flight information and she transferred us to the international desk. Once we reached the international desk we once again gave the agent our information and she quickly found the availability and booked us two first class tickets on the flight. I was surprised how easy it was to find this availability since other bloggers have reported that U.S. based American Airlines agents continue to have difficulty finding Etihad award space. Our reservation immediately showed up in our American Airlines accounts but actually ticketed about six hours later.
If there is SAAver availability American Airlines allows you to add on a free connection within the North America which we could have used to get back from JFK to DCA. However, there was absolutely no SAAver award space on American Airlines between JFK and DCA in either First Class or Economy despite looking nearly a year in advance. American recently has substantially tightened award availability on its own flights and often requires you to connect to redeem a domestic award. It ironic that the award availability has gotten so bad on American Airlines that it was easier finding an international first class ticket than a domestic First Class or Economy ticket. In fact for us to get back to DCA from JFK in business class using miles it would have cost 75,000 miles each, enough to get us back to Abu Dhabi in business class! This is for a flight that is 1 hour and 45 minutes and costs $174 in business and $84 in economy. Sometimes it is easier to just to buy the ticket.
ne piece of advice is to make sure to ask for the Etihad Airways record locator because American Airlines is unable to make seat selections on Etihad Airways flights. We asked for our Etihad record locator and called their customer service number to choose our seats. Once again we ran into a very confusing computerized system which kept trying to hang up on us. However, after selecting the number two for "existing reservations" we were able to reach a customer service agent. Similar to my Singapore Airlines booking experience the language barrier was challenging. When it comes to selecting seats couples will want to select seats 3A and 4A, 3K and 4K, or 1H and 2H since these seats are connected to one another and have a screen which can be lowered between two beds allowing couples to share beds in the sky! Seats 3A and 4A were already taken which was surprising since we booked so far in advance. However, seats 3K and 4K were available and we selected these seats in adjoining "Apartments".
This process was much more straightforward than booking the Singapore Suites. What I believe made the process much easier was that we booked through a US based airline and we are already American Airlines frequent flyers so American Airlines had all of our information on file. We are super excited about our trip and I imagine it will be a once in a lifetime experience!