How I Booked ~$8,300 Worth of First Class Flights in Etihad Apartments Using Marriott Points (With an Extra Business Class Flight From South Africa for Free!)

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Etihad’s First Class on the Airbus A380, the Apartments, is the golden trophy for many points and miles enthusiasts.  Etihad arguably offers the best First Class in the sky, with one of the largest seats (and a bed!), premium catering, and a shower at 42,000 feet!

There are a few ways to book Etihad First Class Apartments with miles and points earned from the best travel credit cards, but not all of them represent good value.  I’ll show you how I booked this flight by transferring Marriott / Starwood points.  And how I tacked on a Business Class leg to the award booking for essentially free!

It Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This!  Etihad’s First Class Apartments Are a Bucket-List Item for Many Miles and Points Enthusiasts!

Here’s how you can do the same thing!

Booking Etihad First Class With Miles and Points

I was traveling with G Adventures from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe down to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Because I was camping for nearly 2 weeks, I wanted to experience luxury on my way home.

Etihad’s First Class is trickier to book using miles and points than other airlines, but it’s still very achievable.  For example, you can redeem American Airlines miles, but you cannot route via Abu Dhabi from Africa, so that was out of the question.

I could have used Etihad miles, which you can earn by transferring from American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio, but the ticket would cost ~136,000 Etihad miles!

Etihad Charges ~136,000 Miles for the Route I Wanted

Another option was to use ANA miles, also an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner at a 1:1 ratio.  Unfortunately, ANA only allows round-trip bookings on partner airlines, and I only needed a one-way ticket.

But one of the best deals for flying on Etihad First Class is redeeming Asiana Airlines miles.  According to the Asiana Airlines partner award chart, a round-trip First Class ticket from Africa to North America is 160,000 miles.  Asiana allows one-way tickets for half the price, meaning a one-way First Class ticket costs just 80,000 Asiana miles!

Asiana Airlines Allows One-Way Tickets for Half the Price of a Round-Trip Ticket

I also noticed that it’s the same price if I started my trip in Abu Dhabi.  That is, a one-way First Class ticket from Abu Dhabi to New York City is 80,000 Asiana Airlines miles, but a one-way ticket from Johannesburg to New York City via Abu Dhabi is also 80,000 miles.  Effectively, you can get an 8-hour Business Class flight (there is no First Class from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi) for no additional miles compared to flying out of the Middle East directly.

I ended up booking 2 passengers for 160,000 Asiana Airlines miles in Business Class on Etihad from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi, and in the Apartments First Class from Abu Dhabi to New York City.  And because Asiana Airlines doesn’t add fuel surcharges on award tickets, I only paid ~$80 in taxes and fees per person!

Etihad First Class Review
A Selection of Snacks and a Beverage After Take-Off

If I paid for these flights, they would have cost me ~$4,169 each, or ~$8,338, which means I got a whopping ~5.2 cents per mile in value!

Earn Asiana Airlines Miles

It isn’t easy to earn Asiana Airlines miles directly, but you can convert Marriott / Starwood points to Asiana miles at a 3:1 ratio.

Plus, when you convert in increments of 60,000 Marriott points, you’ll earn a 15,000 Marriott point bonus (worth 5,000 Asiana miles).  So you would need to convert 195,000 Marriott points (transferring in increments of 60,000 points) to earn 80,000 Asiana Airlines miles to book Etihad First Class from Africa or the Middle East to the US.

You can earn Marriott / Starwood points directly from cards like the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card or Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.  Or if you need to top-off your account, transfer points to Marriott from cards like the Chase Ink Business Preferred, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Here’s our post on all the ways to earn Marriott points!

The problem with using Asiana Airlines miles is that transfers from Marriott / Starwood can take over a month!  While Asiana Airlines will hold award seats for a few days, they will not usually hold it for the time it takes to transfer.

Because it can take a whole month to transfer, you don’t need to research award seats before transferring, since what you find a month earlier will likely be different once you get the points.  Understand that this is a risk – you could transfer your points and then there aren’t award seats to book!  So I’d only recommend this if you’re flexible with your travel dates.

You can also directly earn Asiana Airlines miles with the Asiana Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card by Bank of America, which has a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus after meeting minimum spending requirements.

Booking With Asiana Club

To search for award seats, I used ExpertFlyer.  You can also use the Etihad Guest website.

When searching for award seats, it’s important that you search flight-by-flight.  In this case, I searched for award seats from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi, and separately from Abu Dhabi to New York City.  You won’t see all the award seats unless you search this way.

With Etihad, Business Class award seats are booking code “I”, and First Class is booking class “O”.  It’s harder to find award seats in First Class than Business Class, so I first tried to find a date with First Class, and then tried to match the connecting flight from Johannesburg in Business Class afterwards.

“O” Class Represents First Class, and “I” Class Is Business Class on Etihad

After finding award seats, I called Asiana Airlines at 800-227-4262 and explained I wanted to use my miles to book Etihad.  The agent knew exactly what she was doing, and after I gave her the flight information, I had a confirmed booking within 5 minutes.

Warning:   Asiana Airlines only lets you book award tickets for registered family members.  You need to complete a form with supporting documents (ex. marriage certificate) to prove family relationship.  If you can, it’s easiest to create separate accounts and book tickets individually than from one account.

Bottom Line

Etihad First Class is an amazing experience, and you can book it at a reasonable price using Asiana Airlines miles.  While it’s not easy to earn Asiana miles directly, they’re a Marriott / Starwood transfer partner!  Here’s our post with all the ways to earn Marriott points.

It’s far cheaper to book this way than by transferring flexible points to Etihad to book these flights directly.

Booking these flights cost just 80,000 Asiana Airlines miles per ticket and ~$80 in taxes and fees.  If I’d paid cash, each ticket would have cost nearly $4,200!

And because Asiana Airlines charges the same number of points to the US from the Middle East OR Africa, you can add a flight to Johannesburg in Business Class for no additional miles!

Have you booked Etihad First Class Apartments with miles and points?  Please share your experience in the comments!