Why airberlin status is, thanks to Etihad, arguably the most valuable in oneworld

It is now almost two years since Abu Dhabi airline Etihad launched ‘Etihad Airways Partners, a pseudo alliance aimed at bringing together some of the various national airlines in which Etihad had invested.

The strangest thing to have happened over the last two years is that …. almost nothing has happened.  I was expected some sort of merging of the various frequent flyer schemes, possibly even a common loyalty programme.

Over the last few years, Etihad has been making equity investments and providing cheap loans to several struggling airlines.  These include:

airberlin (49%)

Air Seychelles (40%)

Etihad Regional (33%)

Virgin Australia (soon to be 21%)

Alitalia (49%)

Air Serbia (49%)

Air Malta (49%, in progress)

Jet Airways (24%)

There was also an Aer Lingus stake before IAG acquired it.

The main development over the last two years is that Alitalia has joined Etihad Airways Partners.  This took it from serving 250 cities to over 400.

Virgin Australia remains outside the grouping despite Etihad having an equity stake. It is not clear what will happen with Air Malta.

Etihad Airways Partners

What is Etihad Airways Partners for?

Good question.  The original plan, according to the Etihad CEO, was to offer “a partner proposition for like-minded airlines which will result in synergies and efficiencies for participating airlines on the one side, and enhanced network choice, service and frequent flyer benefits for the consumer on the other.”  Which doesn’t mean much.

What we have seen is reciprocal earning and burning across airline partners.  Status benefits from one airline are, to a greater or lesser extent, recognised across all the others.  There has been no movement on standardised membership tiers with equivalent benefits.  To some extent, Etihad Airways Partners is operating in the same way as Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam.

This is the official wording on cross-airline benefits:

“Etihad Guest, topbonus [airberlin], MileMiglia [Alitalia] and JetPrivilege members, can earn and redeem miles on your loyalty programme while travelling with any of the partner airlines, including Etihad Airways, airberlin, Alitalia, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Etihad Regional, Jet Airways, and NIKI.

Gold and Platinum members will enjoy benefits such as priority check-in, priority boarding, lounge access and additional baggage allowance, regardless of the class of travel with any of the partner airlines.”

Er, isn’t airberlin already in an alliance?

Yes, oneworld, alongside British Airways.  Because Etihad Airways Partners is not, officially, an alliance, they believe that it does not matter.  The same goes for Alitalia which is a member of SkyTeam.

An airberlin frequent flyer card is attractive for this reason.  You would receive status benefits when flying all of the 19 oneworld member airlines but you would also benefit when flying with the Etihad Airways Partners airlines.

Flights on both oneworld and Etihad Airways Partners count towards airberlin status.  If you fly Etihad as well as British Airways / oneworld, it would make status easier to achieve.

There is still a lot to play for here.  Will oneworld put its foot down at some point and force airberlin to make a choice?  Will SkyTeam have similar concerns about Alitalia?  I expected to have some answers to these questions by now, almost two years in, but I’m still waiting.

You can find more details on Etihad Airways Partners here.

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  1. Alex W says:

    I have had the Alitalia Gold Card since about December (status match from BA) and only used it once. What a complete faff trying to get into the Sky Team lounge in LHR T4. Really put me off using it again.

    • guesswho2000 says:

      Same – I had AZ Gold all last year and only used it to get into the lounge at DPS – well that seemed to cause confusion, given I was crediting the flights to EY, but the deal eventually proceeded (though it was a boring lounge, I gave up and went to a bar in the end).

      • Alex W says:

        Yes I think the confusion came because mine was an Air France flight and I was trying to credit the miles to Delta. I have since given up on Delta and will switch to Virgin. Not sure if I can use a Delta codeshare, credit to Virgin, and still get lounge access with the Alitalia card…. probably not worth the hassle!

        • I can imagine the confusion! Have to add that I also used AZ Gold last Oct to get access to T4 Skyteam lounge with no problems (and a decent lounge it was too), though I was on a KLM flight (not codeshare) and also had AZ registered to the boarding pass.

  2. Etihad investing in frequent flyer schemes such as TopBonus and JetPrivilege is nothing more than a sham to get control and infuse cash into the airline when laws in individual countries prevent them from going beyond a certain percentage (49%?) figure. if you legally cannot buy more, no problem, buy out the frequent flyer program!

  3. ***Why airberlin status is – thanks to Etihad – arguably the most valuable in oneworld

  4. So if one has an Etihad Gold card is there any way to get staus match with AirBerlin and then get access to OneWorld benefits?

  5. idrive says:

    Does anyone know what the earning period is? Jan-Dec or 12 months from membership anniversary?

  6. Richmond says:

    I used Alitalia Status matched card to get access to Etihad lounges when flying Air Seychelles. Sounds complicated but it worked at CDG and SEZ :-) However CGD Etihad lounge is rather poor comparing to Cathay or American. Also got a lot of airmiles from Air Seychelles Y fare which I will try to utilise somewhere else.

  7. Etihad have a programme of work in place to integrate the Etihad Airways Partners scheme across the members. Watch this space.

  8. Peter Lippmann says:

    Airberlin 49 %. You are wrong.

  9. It’s all well and good being part of the Etihad Partner scheme but only when it works… Over Christmas, I had long arguments with Jet Airways staff before every domestic flight I took across India to convince them that my Alitalia gold card (thanks Rob for the tip-off re. the status match from BA…) gave me extra baggage allowance. Same process every time taking 30 minutes at checkin; having a screen shot and print-out from the Alitalia website to prove the alliance etc. So nice in theory, but impossible in practice when the partners don’t know about the partnership and forget Jet domestic lounge access…

    • Erico1875 says:

      The Jet Lounge at Goa airport is 8 seats at the back of what looks like a small 70s staff canteen.

  10. Chrismors says:

    Can I transfer my BA Avios to Air Berlin to use on Ethihad flights?

  11. They’re still working on the IT platform.

  12. Noggins says:

    I booked Etihad to Japan then joined Top Bonus. But when I went back to my Etihad booking I couldn’t see a way of entering my Top Bonus m/ship number for points credit purposes. Should I wait until check-in?

  13. And needless to say few of you will be able to contain your excitement at the (not particularly) imminent addition of Air Malta to Etihad Airways Partners.

  14. RIccati says:

    — Will oneworld put its foot down at some point and force airberlin to make a choice?

    They are not able to pass a bag from one airline to another (done by an automated sorting system), what can they do with individual airlines, especially aginst the owner of the large stake?

    Will SkyTeam have similar concerns about Alitalia?

    Alitalia being going from one insolvency to another, they can simply point out to that fact and will be allowed to do anything to stay afloat.

  15. If top bonus is so fantastic, how can one go about earning those points living in the UK (other than by flying)?

  16. Hi Raffles, thanks for highlighting the benefits of AirBerlin (used it myself with missus recently to access HND lounges and priority boarding while flying JAL domestic, redeemed using BA Avios.. after getting a status match to Gold last year from Star Alliance Gold :). However, to claim “arguably the most valuable in OneWorld” seems a bit of a stretch!

    For the typical UK-based HFP reader, I think the key question would be: does it make sense to credit all BA/OW flights to AirBerlin and forget BAEC altogether (which is what the blog heading would imply!). So how about a head-to-head comparison with BAEC for a future article? To claim AirBerlin is more valuable than BAEC, I’d like to see it beat BAEC not only on range of partners and status benefits, but also: 1) ease and rate of miles accrual, 2) cost (miles and YQ: ex-UK and ex-EU, long haul and short haul, Y/J/F) and accessibility of flight redemptions on OW partner airlines (e.g. all done online? or need phoning? are seats available in practice?), 3) ease of achieving and retaining status.

    I think we’d all find it really useful and to my knowledge no-one has done this comparison before on FT forums. Thanks for your consideration!

    • The answer, of course, is that there is no easy answer! In BA’s favour I would probably say:

      soft landing (can be very valuable if travel patterns are erratic)
      Gold Priority Rewards (ANY seat for double Avios)
      extra Avios seats for Golds in Economy

      But you may not value these. If you never fly any of the Etihad Group airlines, AB has no extra benefits – if you fly Alitalia once a month, you may value this as a way of consolidating miles.