Etihad business class upgrade guide

By Chris C., August 1 2016
Etihad business class upgrade guide

Don’t settle for economy on your next business trip or holiday – there are plenty of ways you can swap your cattle class ticket for a journey in Etihad business class.

Not only can you upgrade to business class by using your Etihad Guest frequent flyer points, you can also bid for a business class upgrade using real money or can purchase an upgrade over the phone or at the airport closer to departure.

But not all travellers are eligible for upgrades – choosing the least-expensive tickets can confine you to economy, as can booking your Etihad flight through a partner airline, such as Virgin Australia.

Here’s what you need to know, and what you can do to improve your upgrade chances.

Etihad business class upgrades: the basics

Upgrades on Etihad are all one-class, so while booking an economy ticket gives you a chance to fly business class, you won’t be able to upgrade all the way to first class.

Speaking of tickets, ‘Breaking Deal’ fares aren’t eligible for upgrades at all: so if that’s your plan, shell out for a slightly more expensive fare.

There’s also no guarantee that an upgrade will be available on your flight – either when using miles or when making a cash offer. Our advice is to always expect to fly in the seat you originally purchased, but to be pleasantly surprised if it can be replaced by a better one.

Upgrading to business class with Etihad Guest miles

The number of miles you’ll need for an upgrade varies from route to route, but is also influenced by the type of ticket you initially paid for.

Between Sydney and Abu Dhabi, guests travelling on ‘Economy Flex’ fares could upgrade to business for only 45,599 Etihad Guest miles, while those on mid-range ‘Economy’ fares would need a higher 68,399 miles.

Use your miles for an upgrade to Etihad's A380 or Boeing 787 Business Studios...
Use your miles for an upgrade to Etihad's A380 or Boeing 787 Business Studios...

Take the discounted ‘Economy Saver’ option and you’d need twice that of a Flex fare being 91,198 miles, and remember that the cheapest ‘Breaking Deals’ fares can’t be upgraded at all.

Fly from Sydney through to London via Abu Dhabi and you’re looking at 73,553 miles to upgrade from an ‘Economy Flex’ ticket, 103,342 miles from an ‘Economy’ fare and 143,612 miles from ‘Economy Saver’ across the entire journey.

Wherever you’re headed, upgrades can be requested through the Etihad Guest website from the moment your booking has been finalised, and if one is available on your flight, you can secure it straight away.

If no upgrades are available do keep checking back – and if all else fails and you arrive at the airport still seated in economy, ask the check-in agent if any “instant upgrades to business class” are available and can be purchased with miles on your flight.

This costs the same number of miles as to book online, but consider arriving early for your flight in case other travellers have the same goal.

Bidding for a business class upgrade

Don’t have enough (or any) miles for an upgrade but still want to fly at the pointy end? No problems – as with many airlines you may also be able to bid for a business class upgrade using real money.

You’re usually clear to bid if your flight is booked on a fare type other than a ‘Breaking Deal’ and where your reservation also has a 607 ‘ticket number’, which you’ll get by booking your flight directly through Etihad.

Booking your Etihad flights via another airline such as Virgin Australia makes you ineligible to bid – even if your flight number still begins with EY – because your ticket number won’t begin with 607.

That’s certainly a confusing policy, so Etihad provides a simple way for you to check your eligibility – just head to the Etihad website and key in your six-character booking reference and surname to make a bid or to hear the bad news.

Bids are usually accepted up until three days before your flight departs, with the result of your bid announced by email approximately 24 hours before departure. If successful, your credit card will be charged, and if not, your original booking remains intact.

Purchasing a business class upgrade

Travellers who miss the bidding window can also try their hand at purchasing an upgrade outright, either by asking for a ‘Push Upgrade’ over the phone within 48 hours of departure or an ‘Instant Airport Upgrade’ at check-in.

As with bidding and with miles, the amount of cash needed for these upgrades varies from flight to flight and may also differ between Push Upgrades and Instant Airport Upgrades – so if you call and the price is too high for your liking, ask again at the airport and you might be surprised.

There could be a Business Studio with your name on it: you just need to ask...
There could be a Business Studio with your name on it: you just need to ask...

Payment is accepted by credit card only over the phone and by cash and credit card at the airport, and if you’re successful you’ll enjoy perks such as a boosted baggage allowance and access to the airport lounge prior to your flight, where available.

Etihad business class upgrades: the fine print

Passengers who upgrade to business class with miles in advance of their flight are welcome to book the Etihad Chauffeur service at each end of their journey – if that’s you, don’t forget to book your transfers as soon as your upgrade goes through, but no later than 48 hours before wheels-up.

However, passengers who bid for an upgrade, purchase an upgrade with money or use miles to upgrade at the airport aren’t eligible for the chauffeur service and have to make their own way to and from the airport.

Also, if you’d purchased an extra legroom seat in economy but do get upgraded to business class, Etihad kindly refunds this cost so that you’re not out of pocket – and what’s more, upgrade using money and you’ll earn 10% more Etihad Guest miles than included with your original ticket.

That’s a generous policy to have: most other airlines won’t refund extra legroom payments from upgraded travellers and usually award the same number of miles on upgrades as per the original economy ticket.

Oh, and one more thing: if you book Virgin Australia’s Abu Dhabi flights as an Etihad codeshare with an EY flight number, you can also bid for an upgrade via the Etihad system, subject to the usual bidding rules.

AusBT reviews of Etihad business class:

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Feb 2016

Total posts 37

Just out of curiosity and see if others have been 'taken care of on EY flights'  as a VA platinum in Economy (like exit row seats, champagne etc). Or are they just treated as normal cattle?

04 May 2015

Total posts 268

Now that your Velocity status shows up on the Etihad boarding pass I find the treatment to be quite good as a Velocity Gold. Haven't had any inflight extras in economy (occasionally one of the crew will say hi though), but always easy to use the priority lanes and lounges (well, the ones you're allowed to visit), and of the six or so trips I've taken with Etihad over the last couple of years, two of those had free upgrades of some sort: one from economy to business and one from economy to first. No complaints here!

04 May 2015

Total posts 268

Sorry, that second upgrade should read from business to first (not from economy to first). Now that would be amazing!

30 Jun 2011

Total posts 49

Good treatment as WP when flying EY Y.  Provided with exit rows at checkin, asked and served meals in advance.  I'd say better than you'd expect on VA actually.  But same for NZ as well - seems the partners are making an effort while the primary just goes through the motions.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

11 Mar 2015

Total posts 193

Just flew this little number from Abu Dhabi to Zurich.Nealy new planes and the middle divider didn't even work,manually had to pull it up than got down at every bump-Leaving at 2 am in the morning there is no service just before landing -not that anyone would want to eat at such oddly hours plus the business lobby  is not the best by any means.Didn't mention there is one bus and they wait till all business and first passenger get on board so in this case the economy passenger got on the plane much earlier as it was parked outside.The Melbourne etihad lounge is the best feature of the whole thingReally classy did one in FRA a few years ago and this one is even better..No more NZ sort of domestic pub service.Seats and food beats emirates  for sure.Beware that if you buy "discounted" business class don't know why but you are not eligible for the limo service which is ridiculous since you still pay more than 6400 dollars for a ticket.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Etihad business class upgrade guide