Etihad Guest: Big changes to award pricing, cancellation fees, miles validity and more

Heads up: Etihad Guest has introduced hefty new award cancellation fees, with a stricter miles expiry policy and revised award pricing to come in June 2024.

Etihad Guest is a programme that flies under the radar for most people in Singapore, but which I’ve found to be useful- at least historically, when they had 20+ different award charts. Confusing as that was, there were some genuine sweet spots to be found amidst the mess. 

That all changed in March 2023, when Etihad Guest introduced two simplified (read: devalued) award charts: one for Etihad, and another for partners. This, coupled with a significant restriction on GuestSeat availability (Etihad’s version of Saver awards), removed much of the incentive to book awards through the programme.

We’ve just learned about some further changes that will come to Etihad Guest from June 2024, so if you’re still invested, listen up.

New award cancellation fee policy

Etihad Guest cancellation fees are going way up

Let’s first talk about the change that has come into effect without any notice.

Effective immediately, Etihad Guest has introduced a new cancellation policy for GuestSeat bookings. 

CancelPenalty
Within 24 hours of departure100%
Within 7 days of departure75%
Within 8-21 days of departure50%
More than 21 days to departure25%

At the very least, you’ll forfeit 25% of your miles if you cancel a GuestSeat booking. That increases the closer you get to departure, with a 50% penalty for cancellations within 21 days, 75% penalty for cancellations within a week, and a 100% penalty within 24 hours of departure.

In an era where airlines are offering passengers increased flexibility, Etihad Guest’s changes fly squarely in the opposite direction. While I’m all for a policy that discourages speculative bookings, losing 25-75% of your miles is way too punitive. There could be perfectly innocuous reasons for having to cancel an award ticket which don’t involve intentions to game the system. 

Award tickets issued by 21 February 2024 will continue to follow the previous cancellation policy, where cancelling an award ticket incurs a 10% miles penalty, and cancellations within 24 hours of departure attract a 100% penalty. 

Stricter miles expiry policy

From June, the only way to extend Etihad Guest miles is by taking a flight

Currently, Etihad Guest miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. Any kind of earning or burning activity, such as buying miles, transferring miles from credit card partners, or making an award redemption, would extend the entire balance by a further 18 months. 

From June 2024, Etihad Guest will introduce a new mileage expiration policy that’s a lot more restrictive. Miles will be valid for 18 months, but the validity can only be extended if you take a flight with Etihad or a partner airline. 

Etihad Guest has been all over the map when it comes to expiry policies; as recently as 2020, miles expired 24 months after accrual, regardless of account activity. In that sense, the current 18-month extendable-with-activity policy was a big improvement, but now they’re going in the opposite direction again by making things worse. 

It just seems like a very silly decision to me. Increased breakage will certainly benefit the bottom line in the short term, but in the long term it discourages members from participating in the programme. There’s much less incentive to interact with the Etihad Guest ecosystem if none of the things I do (short of a flight) help me extend the life of my miles. 

Revision to award prices

At least there’s some potential good news: Etihad Guest will be reducing the cost of Economy and Business Class award redemptions on “some popular routes”.

While the full award chart has not yet been published, Etihad says that GuestSeat redemption prices will be cut by “nearly 30%”, with Economy and Business Class GuestSeats starting from 5,000 and 15,000 miles respectively (versus 7,000 miles and 20,000 miles today).

✈️ Current Etihad GuestSeat award chart

A few examples were provided:

  • Abu Dhabi to London (Economy): Reduced from 32,000 miles to 30,000 miles
  • Abu Dhabi to Milan (Economy): Reduced from 27,000 miles to 25,000 miles
  • Abu Dhabi to Jeddah (Business): Reduced from 25,000 miles to 20,000 miles
  • Abu Dhabi to Istanbul (Economy): Reduced from 17,000 miles to 15,000 miles

I don’t see how any of these are 30% reductions, but then again, we don’t have the full chart yet. 

Etihad Guest members will also be able to upgrade to the A380 Residences using miles, though we have no details on that either (want to bet how much that will cost?).

A380 Residence with miles?

There’s no indication of how the partner award chart will change, if at all. 

✈️ Current Etihad Guest partner award chart

Revisions to elite benefits

From June 2024, Etihad Guest will eliminate tier segments, and use tier miles as the only metric for elite status qualification. 

Elite members will be able to choose Custom benefits, which are basically like milestone rewards.

Silver tier

Silver tier members who have earned 20,000 Tier miles (with a minimum of 10,000 Tier miles from flying) can choose two of the following Custom benefits:

  • Access to the Etihad Business Class lounge in the Zayed International Airport
  • Complimentary seat selection  
  • Additional 25% discount on baggage 
  • Two carbon offset vouchers 

Gold tier

Gold tier members who have earned 40,000 Tier miles (with a minimum of 20,000 Tier miles from flying) can choose four of the following Custom benefits:

  • Access to the Etihad Business Class lounge in the Zayed International Airport (+1 guest)
  • One-piece complimentary baggage
  • Two complimentary chauffeur services in UAE 
  • Complimentary chauffeur service in UAE on GuestSeats in Business or First Class 
  • One complimentary refund on your GuestSeat booking
  • Two complimentary Home Check-in in the UAE
  • Four carbon offset vouchers  

Platinum tier

Platinum tier members who have earned 100,000 Tier miles (with a minimum of 40,000 Tier miles from flying) can choose five of the following Custom benefits:

  • Access to the Etihad First Class lounge in the Zayed International Airport (+1 guest)
  • One-piece complimentary baggage
  • Two complimentary upgrades on eligible routes
  • Complimentary extra legroom seat, for you and three guests
  • Complimentary change to an earlier flight on the same day
  • Two complimentary chauffeur services in UAE in Economy   
  • Two complimentary refunds on your GuestSeat booking
  • Four complimentary Home Check-in in the UAE
  • Six carbon offset vouchers 

A new Etihad Guest Diamond elite tier will be introduced that requires a hefty US$150,000 spend per year to qualify for. The benefits of this tier are still not known. 

By the way, I think it’s hilarious how a complimentary refund on a GuestSeat booking and carbon offset vouchers count as a selectable perk!

How to cash out Etihad Guest miles

If these changes aren’t doing it for you, you might be interested to know that there’s a way to cash out your Etihad Guest miles like cash, wherever Visa is accepted. It’s called the Etihad Guest Rewards Card, and the value per mile is surprisingly not as bad as I feared (up to 0.9 cents per mile, which isn’t great, but not terrible either). 

Refer to the article below for more details. 

Etihad Guest Reward Card: A way to cash out your miles (literally)

Conclusion

Etihad Guest has made a major change to its award cancellation policy, with more changes to come to other aspects of its programme from June 2024.

On the plus side, some awards will become cheaper, and there will be the option to redeem miles for the famous A380 Residence. On the other hand, a 25-75% cancellation fee is just insane, and the stricter miles expiry policy does not bode well for marginal members.

What do you make of the Etihad Guest changes?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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