How to fly to the Middle East in Business Class for 75,000 Avios and £49 tax

Since the Avios devaluation last year, flights from the UK to the Middle East have cost 120,000 Avios in Business Class on either Qatar Airways or British Airways.

You can reduce this to 100,000 Avios if you fly off-peak but, as I wrote the other day, off-peak dates will be impossible to get during school holidays from 2017.  You will also be paying around £500 per person in tax from the UK.

There are two ways of reducing this to 75,000 Avios points and as little as £49 tax.

Option 1:  airberlin

If you are heading to the United States or the Middle East, airberlin is an excellent option.  You will minimise your taxes and, in some cases, the Avios spent.

Since airberlin joined the oneworld airline alliance in March 2012, it has opened up a new range of long-haul routes from Europe that can be booked with Avios.  Along with Aer Lingus and Iberia, they offer you the chance to redeem your Avios for long haul flights whilst paying far lower taxes than usual.

airberlin is an odd airline. It markets itself like a low-cost carrier, but is generally well regarded for its seating and service. It serves a number of long-haul routes, whilst easyJet and Ryanair are 100% short-haul. It also has a fully-flat business class product, unlike most low-cost long-haul airlines.  Aer Lingus is probably the nearest comparison.

airberlin abu dhabi

airberlin is still a work in progress. It has lost money for a number of years and has seen frequent changes of management. The good news is that the airline is keeping faith with its long-haul routes.

Etihad, the national airline of Abu Dhabi, is a 29% shareholder in the airline. It bought topbonus, airberlin’s frequent flyer scheme, from the airline (see this post) and it is now part of the Etihad Airways Partners pseudo-alliance, as well as oneworld.

airberlin has a lot of routes to the Americas – you can find out more about those in this Avios Redemption University article.  Here I want to focus on their Middle East routes.  You have four options:

Abu Dhabi from Berlin – 75,000 Avios + £52 return (long-haul plane with flat beds)

Abu Dhabi from Dusseldorf – 120,000 Avios + £53 return (long-haul plane with flat beds)

Abu Dhabi from Stuttgart – 75,000 Avios + £52 return (short-haul A320 plane, ending in May)

Abu Dhabi from Vienna – 75,000 Avios + £49 return (short-haul A320 plane, under the NIKI brand)

Berlin and Dusseldorf include the Etihad chauffeur service to and from Abu Dhabi airport.

The reason that these routes are so cheap, apart from Dusseldorf, is that they are under 3,000 miles.  This pushes them into the cheaper Avios pricing band.  Dusseldorf to Abu Dhabi is, unfortunately, just over 3,000 miles.  An Avios redemption on this route is poorer value at 120,000 Avios return in Business and 40,000 return in Economy.

The best option is Abu Dhabi to Berlin if you can find availability.  airberlin generally only open up two business class seats per flight so this is not suitable for families unless you pay for a 3rd or 4th seat.  There are two flights a day from Berlin but they leave 10 hours apart so splitting the group is not really an option.

Abu Dhabi is a short drive to Dubai (under an hour) and the transfer would be free in Business Class via Etihad’s chauffeur fleet.  You would also be collected in Dubai and driven back to Abu Dhabi for your return flight.

If you are considering NIKI, bear in mind that you don’t get a fully flat seat from Vienna as it is a short-haul A320 aircraft.  You get the US-style short-haul business class seat:

Niki business class seat

It doesn’t look uncomfortable but, if you are going to go to the trouble of changing planes to get to the Middle East, I don’t know why you would choose this over the airberlin flat bed seat below which I reviewed here:

airberlin business class

Option 2:  Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways also benefits from the fact that flights from most of Germany are under 3,000 miles and so fall into the cheaper Avios pricing band.

The upside of using Qatar Airways is that they tend to open four business class seats per flight which makes it a better option for families.  You may also get to fly the latest aircraft depending on where you depart.

The downside is higher taxes and the fact that Doha has less to offer than Abu Dhabi or Dubai for a holiday.  Connecting from Doha to Abu Dhabi or Dubai requires a short flight which would mean taking three flights to reach your destination – a little excessive I think.

Out of Germany you have the following options:

Doha from Berlin – 75,000 Avios + £270 return, Airbus A330

Doha from Frankfurt – 75,000 Avios + £286 return, Airbus A350 or Boeing 787

Doha from Munich – 75,000 Avios + £275 return, Airbus A350 or Boeing 787

Of course, there are many cities outside Germany which are also served by Qatar Airways and which are under 3,000 miles to Doha.  All of these would be just 75,000 Avios in Business Class.  I used German examples here to provide a contrast to airberlin.

The ‘sweet spot’ of the Middle East routes, however, is the airberlin Berlin to Abu Dhabi service:

you get a flat bed

you get the free chauffeur service

you save between 25,000 and 45,000 Avios compared to starting in the UK

you save £450 in taxes

you land in Abu Dhabi which is more convenient for most people than Doha

and, for anyone who does not live near Heathrow, a plane change in Berlin is no more trouble than a plane change in London – and most regional airports have flights to Berlin

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

Heads up - excellent UK Qatar business class sale launched (Perth £1425, Dubai £880)
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  1. Rob, Stuttgart- Abu Dhabi is ending from the end of May. Might be worth a note in the article.

  2. Concerto says:

    I would like to try NIKI, but wonder what the service is like. In Europe it’s just like airberlin, right, with basic catering offered and BOB on top if you want more?

  3. BrianDT says:

    Monarch maybe looking to aquire Air Berlin?

  4. Phillip says:

    There’s of course Zurich and Copenhagen to Doha on the 787.

    • Yes, plenty of options on Qatar. If Finnair restarted Dubai with an A350 that would be attractive as it is also under 3,000 miles.

  5. Are these return prices or one-way?

  6. O/T but on the subject of business class.

    I’m looking to fly to BKK over Christmas and visit a few SE Asia cities. Ideally I’m waiting for a Qatar sale, as it was amazing last time.
    However I’ve found OSL – BKK on Finnair A350 for £1170.. Which is practically a sale price!
    Should I wait it out for Qatar or would they just black out the dates over Christmas anyway?

    P.s why is it cheaper to fly Finnair as a connection then it is straight from Helsinki?? Do they have UK style APD?

    • Genghis says:

      Simple economics I think. E.g. flying HEL-BKK direct, if live in Finland people would pay for the convenience to fly direct. But if flying OSL-BKK via HEL, for those living in Norway, AY are competing with other airlines.

    • If the dates work and you’re happy with the price then book it, to be honest.

    • Qatar are doing a sale right now and you can get Edinburgh to BKK for about 1150 GBP return. Dubai is 880.

  7. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    I’d definitely recommend TXL-AUH on AB. Great timing for a night flight, perfectly comfortable seat, surprisingly good catering, transfers at both ends. Ground experience at TXL isn’t spectacular (they use an Air France outstation – not worth arriving early for but I’ve had worse), but Berlin is a great city to spend an afternoon in.

    If you’re the sort of person who misses their partner a bit when travelling together in first, then the love seats on AB are great!

    • Me too,

      We did the TXL-AUH daytime flight on Saturday and agree that the in flight service was outstanding, it made me wonder if this route is getting preferential treatment from AB due to the etihad connection as other AB flights (DUS-CUN and MIA-TXL) we have made were good but not to this standard.

      Typing this at the Hilton Grand Abu Dhabi lounge waiting for the chauffeur to pick us up for our AUH-SYD first apartment flight. BIG smiley face and grin!!

  8. Jeremy I says:

    Hello all. Completely OT but getting desperate here – we’re in San Francisco in June on last year’s ‘Viking’ business class deal. Unable to find any hotels for anything resembling decent value and the Airbnb stuff in our price range all look very miserable. Missed the 20k Holiday Inn deal Rob posted about a while ago, so wondering whether anyone has any good value San Fran hotel tips? Any hotel points ‘sweet spots’? Currently looking at upwards of £200 a night which is very depressing.

    On a separate note, thanks to Raffles for everything – just back from my one-in-a-lifetime trip in Lufthansa First – don’t underestimate United miles!!!


    • what dates?

      • Jeremy I says:

        Thanks everyone for your responses ,if a little depressing . Our dates are 4 to 8 June .

    • Not much help other than consolation, but I had a similar experience when planning a trip earlier this year – shocking hotel prices in July (it’s the tech sector driving it), £200 is pretty good, the best I could find was ca. $400 per night, which is not palatable!

      We ended up scrapping the San Francisco trip (we’ll be based with a friend in LA for two weeks) and travelling elsewhere in California instead, over to Palm Springs and up to Santa Barbara/wine country. You can fly from SFO to Palm Springs direct on Alaska, which you may be able to use Avios for if availability is there, and car hire is cheap in California opening up various other options.

    • If you have enough IHG points, the Mark Hopkins is definitely worth the points cost – one of the few Intercontinentals about which I can say that!

    • San Francisco is always expensive – even when we went back in 1993 it was way more than LA & Vegas. Last year we did another California road trip and had 4 nights in San Francisco then 4 in Vegas – 4 expensive nights and 4 cheap nights to even out the overall cost!

    • I am staying in San Francisco in August. Prices are expensive. Stated there two years ago. Staying in intercontinental Howard st.. All booked on points. Rooms showing $800 a night now. Booked last November. A long shot but could be worth applying for a Hilton Visa card and spending £750 on it to get the free weekend night. Don’t know how many there are of you but a weekend covers Friday through Sunday. Cheaper hotels nearer the airport.

  9. gnarlyoldgoatdude says:

    I know that we are all striving to turn left on boarding, but Etihad economy passengers can use the Etihad “Luxury Coach” free of charge to get from Abu Dhabi to Dubai.
    I don’t know if this is also an option for Air Berlin flights?

    • It’s ok, they drive on the right (and most coaches have door on the right anyway): so everyone gets to turn left at the top of the steps.

    • T&Cs say Air Berlin economy flights are eligible.

  10. Hi Raffles

    Apologises for the novice questions! I collect British Airways avios points and reading your article I am interested in the Berlin to Abu Dhabi, however, a little bit confused on how to actually redeem it? All my avios are current in my BA executive accounts?

    Thanks for the help


  11. How do you go about booking the Etihad chauffeur service?

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      Call the number on the airberlin website. It’s a German number but the agents speak excellent English.

  12. Great Article Raffles – thanks!

    Have been fishing about for somewhere to get rid of those Avios, and a big fan of Air Berlin.

    Did you get chance to try the Etihad Arrivals lounge at AUH whilst waiting for the chauffeur? It’s a nice touch :-)

    Cheers as always for your hard work and wonderful news, always a big help!

  13. OFF TOPIC ,

    I have amex plat card , Its says about Delta sky club lounge access but i wanted to know for this do you have to be flying delta airlines as im looking to use it in there lounge in San Diego ,Priority pass dont have a lounge at this airport

  14. Haven’t you missed the avios and cash cost of the relocating flights ?

    It’ll be 15.5K (off-peak) or 18K (peak) avios plus £50 for a biz return LHR to TXL/DUS. So that headline 75K avios cost is actually 90-93K, but still saving a lot of cash.

    However will air berlin look after you if your BA flight is late, given they are separate bookings.

    • No, because if you fly from the reigons you will be doing it for cash on Jet2, easyJet etc. Even Londoners who are north, south or east would probably find it easier to do that than use BA at Heathrow. £100 max on top.

  15. I just got the amex plat card and was referred by a friend , so I should be receiving 35,000 points if i reach the spend limit , but in my account is showing as 30,000 is this normal for it show this way for now ? My friend received there bonus of 18,000 points already

    any info greatly appreciated

  16. Anybody tempted to think of Qatar as a holiday destination: please do yourself a favour and think again.

    It’s probably second in the list of worst possible holiday destinations (after North Korea).

    Not even worth a stopover day if you are using Doha as a hub to somewhere better.

    • It’s perfectly fine for 48 hours if you pick the right hotel by a beach. These fares are unlikely to allow stopovers anyway based on precedent.

      • Using Doha typically means you’re on your way to somewhere in SE Asia/ Australasia – that end destination will be far better & you’ll look back thinking you wish you’d had 2 nights more in the good place and 2 nights fewer in Doha.