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:
Air Seychelles (40%)
Etihad Regional (33%)
Virgin Australia (soon to be 21%)
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.
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.