Etihad First Class Review: A Flight Worth ~$9,500 for Just ~$20 Out-of-Pocket!

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Million Mile Secrets Review of Etihad First Class

  • Service:   A+ for attentive flight attendants
  • Food:   A- for special-ordered vegetarian meals and lounge food (but not quite as nice as I remember)
  • Amenities:   B+ for cutbacks to amenity kit and pajama quality
  • Seat:   A+ for comfortable, wide, lie-flat seats (I got lots of sleep!)
  • Check-In Experience:   B for confusing staff messaging and having to unpack my bag

I recently had the opportunity to fly to India in Etihad’s First Class cabin for only ~$20 in taxes & fees, thanks to American Airlines miles!  These flights would have cost nearly $9,500 had I paid cash!

I was impressed with the experience, from the seats to the service to the incredible premium lounges in Washington, DC, and Abu Dhabi.  I had just finished my retreat in Virginia and drove to Washington, DC, with a pit stop at Trader Joe’s to get stuff for my family!

But there were a few hiccups along the way, even as a First Class traveler!

Etihad First Class Review
Ready to Begin My Looooong Journey to India in Etihad First Class

Here’s my Etihad First Class review!

My Etihad First Class Review

To get to India, I had to break my trip into 2 segments.  First, I flew from Washington, DC, to Abu Dhabi.  Then from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai, India.

The plane from Washington, DC, to Abu Dhabi was a Boeing 787-9.  And I sat in seat 2A.

Etihad First Class Review
Etihad Operates Several Types of Aircraft on the Abu Dhabi to Mumbai Route

The plane from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai was an Airbus A330.  I actually preferred this to the Boeing 787 even though it’s an older plane!

1.   Ticket Booking Process and Options

I found seats using Etihad’s website, then called American Airlines to book.  The phone agent couldn’t find the seat I found on the Etihad website until ~1 month before I traveled.  This was a temporary error that’s now been fixed!

My First Class seat to India cost 115,000 American Airlines milesplus taxes & fees that came to ~$20.  That’s an incredible deal, because the cash price for these flights would have been ~$9,500!  I’ll share how to earn more American Airlines miles at the end! 🙂

2.   Airport Check-In Procedure

At Dulles airport in Washington, DC, I had a bit of a run-in with the ticketing agent while checking into the flight.  My bag weighed 33.5 kilograms.  The official policy is First and Business Class passengers get 2 bags that can weigh up to 32 kilograms each.

Etihad First Class Review
First Class Check-In at Dulles Airport … Soon to Be the Scene of Some Bag Re-Arranging 🙁

Because I wasn’t much over the limit, I didn’t think it would be an issue.  But at the check-in desk, the agent told me I couldn’t check my slightly overweight bag because of FAA regulations…which isn’t true.  At that point, I offered to pay an excess baggage fee for the extra 1.5 kilograms worth of luggage.  But the agent said there was nothing she could do for me.  And that Etihad refused to carry bags over 32 kilograms.

Etihad First Class Review
The Official Etihad Baggage Policy Allows for 32 Kilogram Bags for First and Business Class Travelers

I found this quite surprising, because most airlines will do lots of things for extra money!

The check-in agent was quite grumpy and scowled at me when I asked for a manager.  I wouldn’t have pressed if she had said it was an Etihad policy.  But I was confused when she said it was an FAA policy to not carry more than 32 kilograms.

The manager confirmed it was really an Etihad policy, NOT an FAA rule.  So then I unpacked 1.5 kilograms (~3 pounds) from my checked luggage and shifted the weight to my backpack.

Etihad First Class Review
My “Overpacked” Bag in Dulles Airport

Other than that hiccup, the rest of the check-in process was smooth.  I grabbed my boarding pass and headed to the Etihad lounge (more on that later!).  Security took no time through the TSA PreCheck line!

Etihad First Class Review
Etihad Is a TSA PreCheck Airline at Dulles, Which Saved Me Time at Security

And after landing in India, I had to face a long customs line.  Fortunately, there was a special line for First Class passengers!

Etihad First Class Review
There Was a Long Immigration Line in Mumbai Because Lots of Planes Landed at the Same Time!

3.   Seat Comfort Review & Service

For the Washington, DC, to Abu Dhabi leg of the trip, I was in First Class seat 2A.

Etihad First Class Review
Approaching Seat 2A From Washington, DC, to Abu Dhabi. The Door Slides Over to Completely Enclose the Seat

There was plenty of space to store my backpack.

Etihad First Class Review
I Was Able to Fit My Pack Under the Foot Rest

These seats are 26 inches wide and have a huge 80 inches of pitch to make way for the lay-flat bed configuration.  That’s plenty of legroom no matter how tall you are!

Etihad First Class Review
Goodnight Y’all! Here’s the Seat Folded Down Into a Flat Bed

And from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai, I had a First Class seat with a door on the A330 that was 20 inches wide with 73 inches of pitch.  So it was a little smaller, but still plenty of room for me!

Etihad First Class Review
My Seat to Mumbai Was a Little Smaller, but Certainly Big Enough!

I liked that the door gives you a lot of privacy for sleeping and working.

Etihad First Class Review
The Foot Rest and End of the Bed Connect When It Folds Into a Lay-Flat Seat

I loved the service once I got into the plane.  I found the flight attendants to be polite and eager to ensure I had a good experience on the flight.  Even if all I wanted to do was sleep!

4.   Food and Drinks

The Washington, DC, to Abu Dhabi part of the journey was an overnight flight.  So I spent most of the time sleeping.  I did order the Indian vegetarian special meal, though!

Etihad First Class Review
Zucchini Starter and Watermelon, Which Was an Unusual Combination

Etihad offers passengers a wide selection of teas from all over the world!

Etihad First Class Review
I Enjoyed Drinking Tea and Honey … a Few Times!

The vegetarian entree was a tasty lentil and bean dish.

Etihad First Class Review
Yum! My Vegetarian Entree of Lentils and Beans

And from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai, I was able to enjoy more of the service.

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

The menus included several pages of drink offerings.

Etihad First Class Review
Take Your Pick! Cocktails, Mocktails, and Plenty of Wine and Spirits for Every Taste

You can even order fancy coffee if you like.

Etihad First Class Review
Etihad Can Make You an Espresso, Latte, or Cappuccino If You Need a Caffeine Boost

The a la carte menu had various international dishes, including Middle Eastern and Indian specialties.

Etihad First Class Review
The Dinner Menu Included Vegetarian, Fish, and Meat Options

I had special ordered another vegetarian meal so didn’t order an entree off the menu.

Etihad First Class Review
Special Order Vegetarian Meal of Paneer, Rice, and Corn

You could round out the meal with a cheese plate and dessert.  And there were a couple of on-demand options if you felt like a snack later in the flight.

Etihad First Class Review
If Hunger Strikes, You Can Order a Snack When You Feel Like It

I can’t ignore my sweet tooth, so snuck in a little dessert!

Etihad First Class Review
A Nice End to a Meal … Rice Pudding and Mango Hit the Spot!

I was pretty tired, so didn’t pay too much attention to food.  But I loved that I could get different varieties of green tea and honey whenever I wanted!

5.   Amenities

The First Class cabins had both electric and USB outlets.  There was also in-flight entertainment.  But all I wanted to do was sleep!

There was also in-flight Wi-Fi available for purchase.  I didn’t buy it, but it’s good to know it’s there so you can stay connected if you need to!

Etihad First Class Review
The Cheapest Plan Starts at ~$5 for 30 Megabytes of Activity

If you need to get work done, you can pay more for additional data.

Etihad First Class Review
For ~$20, You Can Buy a Plan With 180 Megabytes of Data

I’d heard Etihad had started making some cutbacks in quality, and it was noticeable to me.  For example, the amenity kit wasn’t as nice as I expected and seemed cheaper than usual.

Etihad First Class Review
My Etihad First Class Amenity Kit Wasn’t Quite What I Expected

There were lots of little things inside, include aroma mist for the pillow, which I enjoyed!  But I gave the kit away, so don’t have more photos.

There were also pajamas, but again, of a lesser quality.

The Airport Lounges Were an Added Bonus!

When you fly in First or Business Class, you get free entrance to the Etihad lounges.  There, you can grab a full meal, drinks, and even a spa treatment before your flight!  I visited the lounges in Washington, DC, and Abu Dhabi.

Etihad First Class Review
Welcome to a Truly Exceptional Experience! Entrance to the Etihad Lounge in Washington, DC

This wasn’t the first time I’d visited the Etihad lounge at Dulles airport.  It’s just as I remember!

Etihad First Class Review
The Lounge Wasn’t Terribly Crowded so There Were Plenty of Seating Options

The lounge is on 2 levels.

Etihad First Class Review
Lots of Comfy Spots for Relaxing, Eating, or Socializing

A buffet of hot dishes included international entrees and condiments.

Etihad First Class Review
You Can Grab a Quick Hot Meal at the Buffet

If you’re in the mood for lighter fare, there’s a selection of fresh fruit, salads, cheese, and dips.

Etihad First Class Review
Some Folks Might Choose to Save Their Appetite for the Flight and Instead Have a Light Snack

The Etihad lounge in Abu Dhabi was also a lovely place to relax after a long flight from the US!

Etihad First Class Review
I Enjoyed the Break in My Journey at the Etihad Lounge in Abu Dhabi

There’s a First Class dining area where you can order full meals from a substantial menu.

Etihad First Class Review
I Enjoyed a Delicious Meal in the First Class Dining Area of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Lounge

Whether you’re starving or just in the mood for a light snack, there are all kinds of choices!

Etihad First Class Review
No Shortage of Choices on the First Class Dining Menu

I special ordered a vegetarian curry which wasn’t on the menu.  It was very elegantly presented.

Etihad First Class Review
Not a Menu Item, but Specially Ordered … and Look, More Tea! 🙂

This isn’t just a First Class lounge.  There’s a spa, too!

Etihad First Class Review
You Can Pamper Yourself With a Spa Treatment in the Lounge

I got a short back massage for ~15 minutes, for free.  

Etihad First Class Review
Time to Melt Away Some Stress!

I spent the rest of my time exploring the lounge.  It’s huge, with many different seating areas.

Etihad First Class Review
There Were Lots of Different Areas Where You Could Chill Out Until Your Next Flight

The expansive, fully-stocked bar was almost deserted.

Etihad First Class Review
It Looked Like You Could Order Just About Any Cocktail at the Bar

I appreciated that the lounge wasn’t crowded or over-run like other airport lounges.

Etihad First Class Review
You Don’t Have to Sit Shoulder-to-Shoulder Here!

I felt like I could make myself at home.  But before long, it was time for my next flight!

Etihad First Class Review
So Long, Etihad First Class Lounge! Until Next Time …

Having free First Class lounge access was a huge perk and made my layover in Abu Dhabi much more comfortable!

How You Can Fly Etihad First Class, Too!

Link:   Book American Airlines Award Flights Like a Pro

Link:   American Airlines Partner Award Chart

Using American Airlines miles, from the US to India or the Middle East, you’ll pay:

  • 40,000 American Airlines miles one-way in coach, plus taxes & fees
  • 70,000 American Airlines miles one-way in Business Class, plus taxes & fees
  • 115,000 American Airlines miles one-way in First Class, plus taxes & fees

It’s easy to earn American Airlines miles , because several different banks offer cards that earn American Airlines miles (or points you can transfer to American Airlines).

For example, you can earn American Airlines miles directly with these Citi cards:

  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard – 60,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account
  • Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard – 50,000 American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account
  • CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard – 70,000 American Airlines miles after spending $4,000 within the first 4 months of opening your account

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

You can also earn 50,000 American Airlines miles with the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red card after your first purchase and payment of annual fee within the first 90 days of account opening.  This offer ends on May 31, 2018.

And the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard offers 50,000 American Airlines miles after your first purchase and payment of annual fee within the first 90 days of account opening.  So it’s fairly easy to rack up enough miles to fly in Etihad, even in First Class!

Or consider the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest cards.  Because you can transfer Starwood points to American Airlines at a 1:1 ratio.  And you’ll earn 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer!

Bottom Line

In short, I liked my experience on Etihad.  But I noticed they reduced the quality of the food, amenity kit, and pajamas.

I also didn’t like the check-in treatment at the airport in Washington, DC.  But I loved being able to sleep in a comfortable lie-flat seat through most of the journey!

Using American Airlines miles on Etihad is certainly cheaper than redeeming American Airlines miles on British Airways to get to India, because you won’t pay huge fuel surcharges.  It’s a great use of American Airlines miles!

Have you booked Etihad First Class with American Airlines miles?  I’d love to hear your experience in the comments!

Million Mile Secrets features a team of points and miles experts who have traveled to over 80 countries and have used 60+ credit cards responsibly to accumulate loyalty points and travel the world on the cheap! The Million Mile Secrets team has been featured on The Points Guy, TIME, Yahoo Finance and many other leading points & miles media outlets.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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