Business class is a great way to fly, but why not upgrade yourself to the opulence of first class on your next flight with Etihad Airways?
It won’t necessarily cost you a fortune, either – upgrades are possible using Etihad Guest frequent flyer miles (points), while you can also bid for a first class upgrade using actual money or could buy a confirmed upgrade before you fly.
However, upgrades to first class are only offered to passengers who are already booked in business class, and even then, only from certain fare types: so if you’re stuck down the back in economy, aim for a business class upgrade instead.
Here’s what you need to know to snag a coveted first class upgrade with Etihad.
Etihad Airways first class upgrades: the basics
As we hinted, upgrades on Etihad are all one-class – you can’t upgrade from economy to first class or from economy to business class and then again from business class to first class.
You also can’t upgrade from any ‘Breaking Deal’ business class fares (sold under the Z fare letter, for our savvier readers), or on tickets which were already booked using frequent flyer points.
It’s also never guaranteed that first class upgrades will be available on your chosen flight – so book and pay for business class with the intention of sitting there, but be delighted if you wind up in first class instead.
Should your upgrade be successful, however, you’ll receive all of the usual first class service inclusions on that particular flight including pre-flight access to the separate Etihad first class lounge in Abu Dhabi (if departing from there), plus a higher baggage allowance among other perks.
Upgrading to first class using Etihad Guest miles
The number of miles needed to upgrade with Etihad varies from route to route, with the airline precisely measuring each flight’s distance in actual miles and adjusting the frequent flyer mileage levels accordingly.
For example, upgrading to first class between Sydney and Abu Dhabi commands a precise 68,399 Etihad Guest miles, while from Brisbane it’s a similar 68,216 miles and from Melbourne a lower 66,020 miles.
Upgrade all the way from Sydney to London via Abu Dhabi and you’d be hit for 103,342 miles, or upgrade only the Abu Dhabi-London leg for a much lower 34,943 miles.
The latter is a great option for people with fewer miles in their account: you can still fly from Australia to the UAE on those overnight flights in the comfort of business class before flying onwards in first class on the daytime flight where you’ll be awake enough to truly enjoy the experience.
Whatever your plans, upgrades can be requested via the Etihad Guest website as soon as you’ve booked and locked in and confirmed if there’s an upgrade available on your flight.
Otherwise, keep checking back, and if you’ve still not been upgraded by the time you check-in, ask the airport staff if an “instant upgrade to first class using miles” can be secured.
This costs the exact same number of miles as upgrading before departure day, but consider arriving at the airport earlier rather than later – otherwise somebody else might beat you to it!
Bidding for a first class upgrade using real money
If you don’t have many (or any) Etihad Guest miles, another great way to slip into first class is through the ‘Etihad Select Upgrade’ system. This allows you to bid for your upgrade using money rather than miles/points.
Again, this doesn’t work on those lowest-cost ‘Breaking Deal’ business class fares or on tickets booked using frequent flyer points, and you’ll also need to make sure your flight was reserved under a 607 ‘ticket number’.
That’s industry speak for the first three digits of the long number shown on your booking confirmation – not the six character booking reference or your flight number, but the ‘ticket number’.
In short, if you make a booking directly with Etihad (such as online or via the call centre), you’ll get a 607 ticket number, but if you book your flight via a partner airline such as Virgin Australia (even on the EY flight number rather than as a VA codeshare), your ticket number won’t start with 607.
That’s one heck of a confusing policy, so Etihad has created an online tool where you enter your usual six-character booking reference and your surname to see whether you’re eligible:
If you get the green light, this is also where you can place your bid within a defined minimum and maximum range that varies from journey to journey.
Bids are accepted up until three days before each flight and you’ll hear the good news (or learn that you were unsuccessful) roughly 24 hours before departure.
Should your bid be accepted your credit card will be charged with your bid amount, and if not, you’ll pay nothing extra and will remain in business class.
As a bonus exclusive for Etihad Guest members, travellers who successfully secure an Etihad Select Upgrade will earn 10% more miles on the upgraded flight than they would have when sitting in business class – although tier miles are still accrued at the business class rates.
Purchasing a first class upgrade outright
Bidding for a first class upgrade will likely deliver the best value, but if you miss the bidding window you can still call Etihad and ask for a ‘Push Upgrade’ within 48 hours of your flight, or an ‘Instant Airport Upgrade’ at check-in.
The cost of these upgrades again varies from flight to flight and may also differ between Push Upgrades and Instant Airport Upgrades – so if you dial up and aren’t satisfied with the upgrade price, try asking again at the airport to see if that cost has dropped.
You’ll need a credit card to make payments over the phone (Etihad accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club and other international cards), while upgrades at the airport can be paid for by cash as well as credit card.
Not every first class flight is created equal
Etihad offers three distinctly different first class options on flights to Australia which vary by aircraft type, but note that first class isn’t available on Etihad flights to and from Perth.
Book a flight from Sydney or Melbourne on the Airbus A380 and you’ll enjoy the airline’s flagship first class apartments, offering a bed and reclining chair, closing doors and adjoining, connected apartments for couples:
There’s an on-board shower suite too, where you can freshen up before the busy day ahead:
AusBT review: Etihad Airbus A380 first class 'shower suite'
Brisbane instead sees Etihad’s also-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners with a more ‘traditional’ first class suite, but you can still close the doors for privacy and can host a business meeting or shared dinner in your suite when it's not in bed mode, thanks to an ottoman-turned-companion-seat.
AusBT review: Etihad Boeing 787 first class suite, Abu Dhabi-Brisbane
Etihad also flies its older Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on the daytime departures from Sydney and Melbourne, on which you’ll again find private suites and an inflight chef to cater to your culinary preferences:
AusBT review: Etihad Boeing 777 first class, Sydney-Abu Dhabi
The number of miles needed for your upgraded flight isn't impacted by aircraft type, so you'll fork out the same number of miles to fly in the Boeing 777's older first class suites as the A380's newer first class apartments, so keep that in mind when planning your flights.
As for upgrades from first class to ‘The Residence’, Etihad’s private three-room suite aboard the A380s complete with your own Savoy-trained butler? That’s only possible if you’re willing to pay the full Residence fare: normally $87,000 return from Australia to London.
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