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Etihad Guest changes – tough expiry rules, 75% award cancellation fees, lounge restrictions

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Etihad Guest has announced an overhaul of the program as the airline continues on its post-pandemic rebuilding, including the move to the brand new terminal at Zayed International Airport.

The good news is that the cost of Economy flight redemptions will drop on the majority of routes. Some Business Class redemptions will also become cheaper (and some will go up) although flights from the UK won’t change.

There are some – frankly unique – pieces of bad news:

Etihad Guest changes
  • there is a very negative change to mileage expiry rules
  • you can no longer cancel redemption tickets for free, with a minimum penalty of 25% of your miles and a maximum of 75%
  • elite members will no longer get automatic lounge access, even if Platinum, but will need to select it as a ‘choice benefit’

You can read more about the changes on the Etihad website here. They come into effect from June, except for the fees on cancelling redemptions which are effective immediately for new bookings.

I don’t intend to spend too much time looking at these changes because, for the majority of our readers, this is not a core loyalty program.

This is what is changing with Etihad Guest:

A negative change to miles expiry

Etihad Guest miles expire unless there is some activity on your account every 18 months. Historically it hasn’t been difficult to create some ‘activity’. When I got a warning about my own miles expiring last year, I transferred a grand total of 2 points from my HSBC Premier credit card into 1 Etihad Guest mile. Job done for another 18 months.

This will no longer work.

You will now need a FLIGHT with Etihad or one of its partners every 18 months to keep your miles alive. This can either be a cash flight or a redemption booking. The Etihad website does NOT say that redemption bookings count but I have been verbally told this by the Etihad team.

This is a very negative move for anyone stockpiling Etihad Guest miles slowly. If you live outside the UAE, Etihad is fundamentally a long-haul only airline for you. It’s even more restricted than that – it’s a ‘long-haul only airline and only for travel to the Middle East, Asia and Australasia’.

Etihad Guest changes

Even relatively frequent long-haul leisure travellers could easily go 18 months without taking a trip eastwards. You can, admittedly, stop expiry by crediting a cash partner flight, with Air France or KLM being the obvious options for a UK resident.

This change is likely to lead to a lot of people with small balances, possibly including myself, cashing out with the prepaid Visa card route, especially as the rate is not bad.

(Miles expiry is suspended for Platinum and Diamond members of Etihad Guest but not for Silver and Gold members. This is also ‘off market’ as most schemes block expiry for all elite tiers.)

A negative change to award cancellation rules

Etihad Guest is changing its refund policy for reward tickets.

We are told that ‘the earlier you let us know, the more we can refund you. ’ This doesn’t sound good, since the amount I always expect to be refunded when cancelling an airline or hotel redemption is 100%.

This is what you will pay:

  • 75% penalty if you cancel within seven days of departure
  • 50% penalty if you cancel 8-21 days before departure
  • 25% penalty if you cancel 21+ days before departure

This is NOT good news. After all, a key benefit of redemptions is the flexibility they bring.

It’s worth noting that whilst other changes do not take effect until June, this one is effective immediately for new bookings.

A negative change to lounge access rules

Well, this will set the cat among the pigeons.

Lounge access is no longer an automatic benefit for Gold or Platinum members of Etihad Guest.

You will be able to take it as a ‘choice benefit’. It is not something that you receive regardless.

Etihad Guest changes

A new top tier – Diamond

The existing four elite tiers (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) will be joined by a new top tier, Diamond.

This is meant to be the equivalent to British Airways Gold Guest List and similar published (or occasionally unpublished) elite tiers. It will be awarded to Platinum members who have spent $150,000 with Etihad in a membership year.

A key benefit will be personalisation, with a ‘pick and mix’ list of benefits available – although the list is not yet available.

It is not stated if the $150,000 requirement includes taxes and charges or is purely on base fare.

‘Pick and Mix’ benefits coming to other tiers

Other elite members will also be able to choose personalised benefits from a selection. The snag is that some of these benefits are ones that you would have expected to receive by default.

Silver members will get a choice of two custom benefits, Gold members will get four and Platinum members will get five. 

These are annual benefits, except where marked.

As a Silver, for example, you can choose two benefits from:

  • access to the Etihad Business Class lounge in Zayed International Airport
  • complimentary seat selection  
  • additional 25% discount on baggage 
  • two carbon offset vouchers

Whilst at the top end, a Platinum member can choose five benefits from:

  • First Class lounge access for you and a plus one
  • one-piece complimentary baggage (20kg)
  • complimentary upgrades on eligible routes (twice) 
  • extra legroom seat free of charge, for you and three guests
  • complimentary change to an earlier flight on the same day
  • complimentary chauffeur service in UAE in Economy (twice)   
  • complimentary refund on your GuestSeat booking (twice) 
  • complimentary home check-in in the UAE (four)
  • six carbon offset vouchers 
Etihad Guest changes

Milestone benefits for Gold and Platinum members

Additional benefits will be added for elite members who, whilst not flying enough to reach the next tier, are well over the renewal threshold for their current tier.

Called ‘Beyond Benefits’, they will be available to Gold and Platinum members.

A Gold member can keep or gift one of the following at 75,000 tier miles:

  • two Business Class lounge passes 
  • Silver tier status 
  • 10,000 Etihad Guest bonus miles 

Status can no longer be earned by segments

Etihad Guest has, like British Airways, offered two routes to status. You can reach it by tier miles, or you can reach it by segments.

There will be no change to thresholds for earning status via tier miles.

The option of earning status via segments will be removed. This will only impact people doing a lot of regional flights around the Gulf.

There is a change to the way tier miles are awarded, which is now by zone rather than by your exact destination. I was told that this is beneficial to those who take shorter flights which should allow people to continue to (re)qualify who previously qualified only via segments flown.

Some reward redemptions will be reduced

Etihad is cutting the price of many redemptions, primarily in Economy. This is potentially a reflection of lower priced cash fares, making redemptions look less attractive when taxes and charges are added.

Etihad Guest changes

Economy flights will now start at 5,000 miles (was 7,500 miles) whilst Business Class flights will start at 15,000 miles (was 20,000 miles).

Economy return flights from the UK to Abu Dhabi will drop to 30,000 Etihad Guest miles return – it it typically c 37,000 miles + £307 at present.

There is no change to Business Class flights which remain at 140,000 miles + £684 return. Note that 140,000 miles is ‘saver’ pricing and these seats seem tricky to find at the moment.

Etihad will NOT be introducing any sort of guaranteed reward availability on its flights.

‘The Residence’ is now bookable as an Etihad Guest miles upgrade

Since the A380 fleet resumed flights to London and New York, ‘The Residence’ (the double bed mini-apartment at the front of the First Class cabin) has been available as a cash upgrade from First Class. The price is $2,500 if I remember rightly.

You will now be able to redeem Etihad Guest miles for ‘The Residence’ upgrade. It’s not clear if this will require a cash First Class ticket or if a redemption is acceptable.

Conclusion

I spoke to the Etihad Guest team about these changes earlier in the week. They see three key strands here:

  • simplification (by removing the ability to earn status via segments)
  • making reward pricing more attractive, especially in Economy
  • letting customers enjoy benefits which matter to them, via increased personalisation

These are all beneficial changes when you look at the program on a global basis.

Unfortunately, my eye was immediately taken with key downsides:

  • stiff penalties for cancelling redemption flights, of up to 75% of the miles used
  • a negative change to expiry rules which is especially tough on those who live outside the UAE
  • the removal of automatic lounge access for Gold and Platinum members, albeit you can select it as a ‘choice benefit’

These are some pretty aggressive changes, it has to be said. Anyone who thinks that British Airways Executive Club isn’t always as ‘member friendly’ as it could be should take note of what could happen.

You can read more about the changes, which kick in from June, on the Etihad website here.


How to earn Etihad Guest miles from UK credit cards

How to earn Etihad Guest miles from UK credit cards (April 2024)

Etihad Guest does not have a UK credit card.  However, you can earn Etihad Guest miles by converting Membership Rewards points earned from selected UK American Express cards.

Cards earning Membership Rewards points include:

Membership Rewards points convert at 1:1 into Etihad Guest miles which is an attractive rate.  The cards above all earn 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent on your card, which converts to 1 Etihad Guest mile. The Gold card earns double points (2 per £1) on all flights you charge to it.

Comments (71)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • gt94sss2 says:

    I recently joined Etihad Guest and wanted to create a household account.

    Even though the website mentions at https://www.etihadguest.com/en/my-account/family-miles-pooling.html I can’t see any way to do it.

    Anyone able to help?

    • John says:

      I did this earlier in the week (bad timing as usual I guess)!
      To do it, I emailed them (guest@etihadguest.com) stating I wanted to set up a family account, and provided my number as well as my spouse’s number. I had to clarify who would be the “head” of the household, and then they sent an email to the other member asking them to click a link to confirm. The next day, I got email confirmation it was complete. Probably took 3 days to do – each reply took another day.

  • Super Secret Stuff says:

    “Choice benefit”, the number 1 frequent flyer ick

  • Dominic says:

    Surprisingly, as a gold member, these changes seem OK to me (living in the UAE).

    Selection of 4 choice benefits covers all existing benefits I care about + the edition of 2x chauffeur transfers (not currently an option). Carbon offset vouchers as a choice benefit are a joke, though.

    The downside, of course, is that unlike for EY flights from the UK, direct flights anywhere from Abu Dhabi are a fortune on Etihad…

    • Dominic says:

      I should qualify; by ‘OK’, I mean ‘not catastrophic’.

      Having said that, it’s already tempting to switch program to something in an actual alliance – they ought to be careful to not make that decision easier.

      • Henry says:

        I feel the same that could have been worse (also gold member in UAE). Cancellation fee increase is most annoying thing but you can elect for one complementary cancellation a year as part of custom benefits which help. Also ability to change guestseat booking is still the same as the fee is only 100 AED.

        I think making lounge a choice benefit is fine as a lot of gold/plat members will be flying business all of the time so don’t need the additional lounge access through status – whereas I will choose it as fly mix of economy and business.

        • Dominic says:

          Yup – completely agree.

          Also the same with lounge access – that’ll be one of mine. It feels as though we get to retain all of our core benefits.

          The only slight concern is that they are calling this ‘indicative’ and that the actual list will be published in June..

          • Julia says:

            We use Etihad/Qatar to fly to/from Abu Dhabi to Doha to renew our UAE visitor’s visa. Given the UAE is going to bring in one visa for Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Muscat we planned to fly with Etihad to Bahrain or Kuwait for a quick turnaround. Now we will fly
            exclusively with Qatar on avios which we can earn everywhere..

  • EK_1A says:

    What a waste of an article! If you think transferring 2 points from Amex to extend your miles is loyalty, you should not be writing about loyalty

  • Scottpat78 says:

    I may be reading these changes wrong, but as a UK based Platinum member, who only ever flies on 2-3 annual (ultra) long haul corporate business class flights, this has a slight advantage for me?

    I tend to burn my miles on a Visa reward card when I have a fair amount stacked. The conversion rate isn’t that bad and I’m embedded into the Avios eco-system too much to want to redeem flights on most occasions.

    Having the choice benefits means that I may be able to take complimentary upgrades to first class as a choice, rather than using miles / cash – did I read that right? If so, this is an advantage for me.

  • redethernet1 says:

    how long does it take for amex points to transfer to etihad? real life example as the website says 5 working days (hopefully its faster)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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