Review: Etihad A380 Business Studio

Etihad’s A380 offers a fantastic Business Class experience to Europe and the Middle East.  

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Etihad Melbourne to Abu Dhabi

Summary

I’ve been fortunate enough to fly the A380 Business Class product with three airlines: Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Etihad. This review focuses on the Etihad experience, and I can say that having flown this service twice, it is my favourite Business Class product on the market. Whilst the other airlines are not far behind, I think Etihad’s combination of hard and soft product really hits the mark. In future reviews I’ll explain why I think Qantas and Singapore are not at the same level and this mostly just comes down to their seating products. Given that both Qantas and Singapore have confirmed they are revamping their A380 seating in the near future, this is a space to watch, and the lead could easily be taken back.

Lounge

EY461 departs from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi at 10:10 pm. I arrived on a delayed Virgin Australia flight and so only had 20 minutes to enjoy the new Etihad First and Business Class Lounge in Melbourne before being called to board.

The lounge is among the nicest Business Class lounges I’ve visited in Australia. There is a solid selection of hot food and drinks on offer, with the warm and welcoming Etihad staff. The tarmac views, and those of the Etihad A380 waiting diligently to be loaded with passengers, really help to create a memorable pre-journey experience. I really wished I could’ve spent more time here relaxing and will make sure my next visit is longer.

Boarding

Boarding an aircraft straight onto the upper deck never gets old. Some A380 carriers have installed their First Class cabins downstairs, however Etihad has devoted the entire upper deck to their premium cabins, starting with First Class at the front, followed by Business Class.

Seat

The Etihad Business Studio really is a wonderfully designed product. The cabin features soft and inviting mood lighting matched with equally pleasing fabric colours and patterns. It’s a much more refined elegance when compared to the harsh bling of Emirates, and I would probably go as far as saying it is the best designed Business Class cabin I’ve flown in.

All that style is not without substance, and the seat offers a very comfortable and customisable experience. I am not a fan of seats that fold forward to turn into a bed (Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand) as they generally don’t offer a very deep recline, which is my preferred seating position for watching movies and (eventually) dozing off.

Cabin Features

Toilets are well designed but are fairly small. Thankfully enough are installed to prevent queues.

A unique feature of Etihad’s A380 is The Lobby, a hybrid lounge and bar for passengers in First and Business Class. I didn’t actually try out The Lobby on this flight but it looks like an excellently designed space that I am keen to give it a test drive in future.

Dining

Shortly after arriving in my seat, I was offered a pre-depature beverage. I can’t remember the exact selection they had available, but I believe one was an exotic blend of juice, water and Champagne. I gladly accepted the Champagne.

Etihad’s ‘Dine on Demand’ service and its distinct lack of food trolleys really helps to create a personalised and enjoyable dining experience. Given it was an evening departure, I opted for a rather traditional three-course dinner, not haven’t eaten in the lounge. Meal orders were taken prior to departure which helped to speed things up in the air.

Service

Service throughout the flight was warm and professional. I wouldn’t say that Etihad’s service stood out as being better than its rivals, but I certainly couldn’t fault any of the interactions I had with staff and all requests were addressed.

As with most airlines, cabin crew service on different flights can vary wildly, and it would be great to see airlines evolve their recruiting, training and benefits program to ensure more consistent service is applied. I think an Uber-style rating system after each flight that is used to reward and motivate exceptional cabin crew could really transform the inflight experience.

Entertainment

The entertainment system itself on Etihad’s A380 is fantastic, and matches the quality of Singapore Airlines and Emirates, which all far exceed Qantas. Qantas has confirmed a mid-life upgrade of their A380s which will hopefully include similar entertainment systems to their new Boeing 787 product which looks great.

In terms of available content, I found enough content to keep me happy until I fell asleep. It was pretty cool being able to watch live TV such as sporting matches and news from the air. 

I think overall Emirates has a more extensive library but Qantas’ content selection probably appeals more to my tastes than all of the Middle Eastern carriers.

In addition, the A380s have paid Wi-Fi which I didn’t use on this particular flight but have before and found it working fairly well but somewhat slow with some drop outs.

Conclusion

As of June 2017, I think Etihad’s A380 offers the best Business Class for Australians travelling to Europe or the Middle East. Stay tuned for future reviews of Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates. 

Upgrade your Etihad flight with Velocity Points

A summary of upgrade options available to Velocity Frequent Flyers when travelling on partner airlines.

A compelling use of frequent flyer points in many programs is the ability to upgrade from one cabin class to the next on paid tickets. This is often appealing whilst travelling during peak times when outright award tickets are not available. It gives you the opportunity to fly regardless of whether there are vacant Business or First Class seats. Often it can be difficult to wait for award seats to be released when working with a fixed business or holiday schedule.

Virgin Australia and its partner Etihad Airways both offer flyers the ability to redeem points for award tickets. Etihad flights can be booked easily using Velocity Points by searching on the Virgin Australia website and selecting ‘Points + Pay’.

 Etihad's excellent Business Studio cabin on their A380 and 787 Etihad’s excellent Business Studio cabin on their A380 and 787

A question that often arises is how to upgrade Etihad flights with Velocity Frequent Flyer points. Unfortunately the answer to this is that it’s not possible. Both airlines offer the ability for travellers to upgrade using frequent flyer points but Etihad flights can only be upgraded with Etihad Guest Miles and Virgin Australia flights can only be upgraded with Velocity Points.

What other options are available?

Virgin Australia’s two major international partners are Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines. If you’re looking to buy tickets that you can upgrade with frequent flyer points, consider travelling with Singapore Airlines instead.

 Singapore Airlines Economy Flexi booking Singapore Airlines Economy Flexi booking

Singapore Airlines Flexi tickets can be upgraded using KrisFlyer miles, which can be converted from Velocity Frequent Flyer at a rate of 1.35:1.

Be careful to check what cabins are available on your aircraft as upgrades on Singapore Airlines are one cabin only, and so if Premium Economy is available then you can only upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy and not Business Class.

Velocity vs Etihad Guest for Australian travellers

If you’re travelling regularly on Virgin Australia and Etihad services, you may be wondering whether it is better to credit your flights to Velocity Frequent Flyer or Etihad Guest.

Introduction

If you’re travelling regularly on Virgin Australia and Etihad services, you may be wondering whether it is better to credit your flights to Velocity Frequent Flyer or Etihad Guest. Well, in this analysis we break down the key differences between the two programs looking at how to acquire status in each program, how to earn points/miles and a summary of any other benefits to consider when making a decision.

Achieving Gold status

As codeshare partners, flights taken with Virgin Australia and Etihad can earn status and points with either Velocity Frequent Flyer or Etihad Guest. The way in which status is achieved differs between each program. Status in Velocity Frequent Flyer is obtained by earning Status Credits. Status Credits are awarded based on the fare purchased and a distance category (there are 8 distance categories). Status in Etihad Guest is based on Tier Miles which is calculated as the actual number of miles flown, with bonuses applied for Business and First Class fares. This subtle difference actually makes a material difference to the amount of flying it takes to achieve status in each program.

Number of flights required to reach Velocity or Etihad Gold

Velocity Gold takes 500 Status Credits to initially qualify in a 12 month period and can be retained with only 400 Status Credits in subsequent years. Etihad Gold takes 50,000 Tier Miles to initially quality in a 12 month period and can be retained by earning 40,000 Tier Miles in subsequent years.

The following table lists the number of return flights from Brisbane to four sample destinations to reach Velocity or Etihad Gold, depending on which program you are crediting to. For example, it takes 50 discount return economy flights on Virgin Australia from Brisbane to Sydney to reach Velocity Gold, but, if crediting flights to Etihad Guest, it would take 54 discount return economy flights.

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Departing
Brisbane to
Return Economy
Flights for
Velocity Gold
Return Economy
Flights for
Etihad Gold
Return Business
Flights for
Velocity Gold
Return Business
Flights for
Etihad Gold
Sydney 50 53.8 6.3 35.8
Melbourne 25 28.6 4.2 19.1
Abu Dhabi 6.3 3.3 1.6 2.2
London 2.9 2.3 0.9 1.5

The table shows that for travellers predominately taking domestic Economy flights, Velocity Gold can be achieved with less flying than with Etihad Guest. The difference is even more pronounced for those travelling frequently in domestic Business Class, with 4 return Brisbane to Melbourne Business Class trips required to reach Velocity Gold compared with 19 of the same trips to reach Etihad Guest Gold. For those travelling in long haul Economy, it is actually easier to reach Etihad Guest Gold than with Velocity. For example, it would take over 6 return Economy flights from Brisbane to Abu Dhabi to reach Velocity Gold but the same flights credited to Etihad Guest would see Gold status in just over 3 return trips. In long haul Business Class, the numbers are similar but Velocity offers a quicker path to status with a single return Business Class flight from Brisbane to London giving Velocity Gold status.

If your primary goal is achieving status, it’s worth reviewing the routes you fly to determine which program would yield the highest status tier. For every category except long haul Economy, I would recommend Virgin Australia as the easiest program to reach Gold status with.

Earning points and miles

Velocity Points are the currency of Velocity Frequent Flyer. Velocity Points are awarded based on the fare paid (5 points per dollar) for domestic flights and on miles flown and fare type for international flights. Etihad Guest Miles are the currency of Etihad Guest. Etihad Guest Miles are awarded based on miles flown and fare type.

Domestic points earning examples

For Virgin Australia domestic flights, the difference between the points/miles earn rate for Velocity Frequent Flyer and Etihad Guest is fairly substantial due to the way Velocity awards points for domestic flights. With Velocity, points are awarded based on spend, and even when purchasing the cheapest fare available, this generally results in a much higher points yield. For Virgin Australia domestic discount Economy flights, Etihad Guest Miles are earned at a rate of 0.5 Etihad Guest Miles per mile flown.

The following table compares points earned under Velocity Frequent Flyer and Etihad Guest for three example domestic flights on Virgin Australia.

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Return
Brisbane to
Economy
Price
Economy
Velocity Points
Economy
Etihad Miles
Business
Price
Business
Velocity Points
Business
Etihad Miles
Sydney $198 990 465 $1458 7290 1395
Melbourne $298 1490 874 $1920 9600 2622
Perth $450 2250 2240 $3998 19990 22458

For domestic flights, Velocity is the clear winner in terms of points earn. Velocity earns more points for all examples with only Brisbane to Perth offering comparable earn rates. For short economy trips, you’ll generally see about double points earned on Velocity compared to Etihad. For short Business Class flights, the difference is very noticeable. A trip from Brisbane to Sydney up the front will yield 7,290 Velocity Points but only 1,395 Etihad Guest Miles.

For travellers who frequently fly domestically on short Virgin Australia flights, I would definitely recommend crediting these flights to Velocity Frequent Flyer for the maximum amount of points. For longer domestic Economy flights, the difference is less, especially if you’ve scored a cheap fight.

International points earning examples

The points earn rate for international flights with Virgin Australia and Etihad are nearly identical between Velocity Frequent Flyer and Etihad Guest, as demonstrated by the following earn table:

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Airline Fare Class Velocity Points Etihad Guest Miles
Virgin Economy Discount E, N, V, Q, T, U, S, M 50% 50%
Virgin Economy Elevate L 50% 100%
Virgin Economy Y, B, H, K 100% 100%
Virgin Premium Economy W, R, O 125% 125%
Virgin Business Discount D, I 200% 150%
Virgin Business J, C 200% 200%
Etihad Economy Breaking Deals E, T 25% 25%
Etihad Economy Saver V, U, G 50% 50%
Etihad Economy Value K, M, Q, L 75% 75%
Etihad Economy Freedom Y, B, H 100% 100%
Etihad Business Breaking Deals Z 115% 115%
Etihad Business Saver W 130% 130%
Etihad Business Freedom J, C, D 175% 175%
Etihad First Freedom F, A, R 250% 250%
Etihad The Residence P 400% 400%

The only differences between the points/miles earn rate for international flights are:

  • Virgin Australia Economy Elevate fares earn 50% points (50% = 0.5 points per mile) with Velocity Frequent Flyer compared to Etihad Guest’s 100%
  • Virgin Australia Discount Business fares earn 200% points with Velocity Frequent Flyer compared to Etihad Guest’s 150%

The following table shows three example return flights from Brisbane to demonstrate the points/miles earned by each program for international flights:

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Return
Brisbane to
Economy
Velocity Points
Economy
Etihad Miles
Business
Velocity Points
Business
Etihad Miles
Auckland 1,427 1,427 5,708 4,281
Abu Dhabi 3,743 3,743 29,944 22,458
London 5,447 5,447 43,580 32,685

The table is based on discount Economy and discount Business Class flights. The points and miles earned for all three Economy flights are the same between Velocity Frequent Flyer and Etihad Guest. For the Business Class fares, Velocity has a higher earn rate for discount Business Class fares of 200% compared to Etihad’s 150%, which is the reason for the difference.

For international Economy flyers, I would recommend either program for points earn. For those travelling on discounted Business Class fares, Velocity offers a better points earn rate than Etihad Guest.

Redeeming points and miles

Velocity Points can be redeemed for flights with Virgin Australia and Etihad based on the program’s redemption points tables. Etihad Guest Miles can  be redeemed for travel on Virgin Australia flights based on the program’s redemption table. Redeeming Etihad Guest Miles for Etihad flights is not based on a table and varies by route. A mileage calculator is available.

The following table shows three example redemptions:

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One way
Brisbane to
Economy
Velocity Points
Economy
Etihad Miles
Business
Velocity Points
Business
Etihad Miles
Sydney 7,800 6,900 15,500 13,800
Queenstown 17,800 10,900 35,500 21,800
London 75,000 82,114 139,000 162,534

Etihad offers better value for shorter Economy and Business Class redemptions, but Velocity wins on long haul Economy and Business Class. First Class with Etihad also takes less Velocity Points than Etihad Guest Miles.

Other benefits to consider

Aside from the rate at which status and points are earned in the two programs, there are a few other benefits to consider that may weigh in on the selection of a preferred program. This includes the option of using your points or miles to upgrade cabin class and airline priority benefits.

Upgrading with points

It is worth remembering that only Velocity Points can be used to upgrade Virgin Australia flights and only Etihad Guest Miles can be used to upgrade Etihad flights. Generally speaking, I find upgrades to offer fairly poor value. It usually requires purchasing a more expensive flexible economy ticket and most airlines won’t confirm upgrades until much closer to departure. For some people, especially those travelling for work, upgrades can make a lot of sense and this is important to remember when picking your preferred program.

Those travelling frequently to the United States, Fiji, New Zealand, Indonesia or other Virgin Australia destinations wishing to take advantage of upgrades would benefit from keeping a healthy balance of Velocity Points.

Likewise, those travelling frequently to Europe or other Etihad destinations wishing to upgrade their tickets will need a solid balance of Etihad Guest Miles.

Priority check-in

Priority check-in is a published benefit of Velocity Gold and Platinum members when travelling on Etihad flights however in the past when I’ve used this I haven’t seen any signs specifically mentioning Velocity and when I’ve inquired with the check-in staff they’ve said it’s only for Etihad Guest members, although they’ve been happy to serve me.

I’ve heard similar stories before in regards to lounge access. Generally airlines tend to treat their own frequent flyers better ahead of their partners. If benefits like priority checkin, seating and lounge access are important, you may have a better experience by aligning your loyalty program with the airline you travel with the most.

Having said this, I have had good status recognition inflight with Etihad staff when flying with my Velocity status and have never had any problems entering their lounges, including the Etihad First Class Lounge in Abu Dhabi.

Summary

Both Velocity Frequent Flyer and Etihad Guest are solid frequent flyer programs for Australian travellers to consider. Overall, both programs offer similar benefits that are valuable to frequent flyers.

Travellers who frequently travel domestically in Australia will likely get more value from Velocity Frequent Flyer than Etihad Guest with less flying required for Gold status and more points earned from flights.

Travellers who are frequently travelling long haul on Etihad’s network, with limited domestic travel, would probably benefit from crediting their travel to Etihad Guest. It takes less flying on long haul economy flights to reach Etihad Guest Gold and the miles can be used for flight upgrades.

Etihad Guest miles earning opportunities for Australians

There is a solid range of Etihad Guest partners from credit cards to accommodation providers who offer miles earning opportunities for Australian based customers.

With Etihad flying their flagship A380 and 787 aircraft to many Australian cities, Etihad Guest is a worthwhile program to consider for those frequently travelling internationally. Generally one of the downsides of focusing on overseas airline programs is the lack of local points/miles earning opportunities. Fortunately for Etihad Guest members, there is a solid range of partners from credit cards to accommodation providers who offer miles earning opportunities for Australian based customers.

Credit cards

  • American Express
  • Citibank

Retailers

  • flybuys

Hotels

  • AccorHotels
  • SPG
  • Hyatt
  • IHG
  • Marriott
  • Hilton
  • Radisson Blu
  • Shangri-La

Travel portals

  • Agoda
  • Kaligo
  • PointsHound
  • Rocketmiles

I have flown several times with Etihad and really enjoy their cabins and onboard service however I haven’t invested much time in Etihad Guest, instead preferring to credit my flights to Velocity Frequent Flyer. The downside to focusing on Velocity when flying with Etihad is that Velocity points cannot be used to upgrade from economy to business, or business to first. Generally I prefer to spend my points or miles on outright award redemptions, however for some flights, using points for upgrades can make good sense and offer good value.

Earn airline status without flying

Traditionally the only way to earn status with an airline has been through flying. However flybuys offers customers the opportunity to earn Velocity Status Credits and Etihad Tier Miles on their spend at Coles.

Virgin Australia

Your membership tier in the Velocity Frequent Flyer program is based on the number of Status Credits you earn in a 12 month period. Usually the only way to earn Status Credits is from actually flying on Virgin Australia or a codeshare partner.

Introduced last year at flybuys, for every $100 spent across Coles Supermarkets, Coles Online, Liquorland and First Choice Liquor each calendar month gets you 1 Status Credit. Each $100 may be spent across multiple transactions and total spend is calculated at the end of that month. Up to 10 Velocity Status Credits can be earned each month.

 Status Credits earned from Coles spend with flybuys
Status Credits earned from Coles spend with flybuys

Etihad

Membership tiers in Etihad Guest are determined based on a member’s accumulation of Tier Miles throughout the year. Tier Miles are predominately earned through flying with Etihad and its partners. Tier Miles cannot be redeemed for flights and are used purely to determine a member’s status level.

Members of flybuys can earn 1 Tier Mile per dollar spent at Coles Supermarkets, Coles Online, Coles Express, Liquorland or First Choice Liquor, up to 2500 Tier Miles per month.

 Tier Miles earned from shopping at Coles with flybuys
Tier Miles earned from shopping at Coles with flybuys

Given the fairly high limit of 2500 Tier Miles per month, it is technically possible to reach Etihad Guest Silver, and gain lounge access in Abu Dhabi when travelling with Etihad, through shopping alone. However I think for most people this will just serve as a top up for people who are already collecting status through flying with Etihad.

Summary

Traditionally there has been very few avenues for earning status without actually flying, so it’s interesting to see some alternative offers coming through. For me personally, I use flybuys to gain an extra 30-40 Velocity Status Credits per year through my normal shopping at Coles, which makes it slightly easier to retain Platinum/Gold each year.