Virgin Australia's partnership with Etihad Airways allows members of Velocity Frequent Flyer to trade their points for a sojourn in Etihad's Business Studio business class, or even a jaunt in the airline's award-winning First Class Apartments.
The bulk of Etihad's flights can be booked via the Virgin Australia website, while the VA call centre also stands ready to assist with your travel plans.
Whether you're just visiting Abu Dhabi or are continuing your trip onwards to Europe, Africa or across the Middle East, here's how you can fly high with your Virgin Australia Velocity points.
Etihad Airways reward flights: the basics
For starters, the Virgin Australia website allows you to search and book Etihad reward flights in both business class and economy, but not in first class or The Residence.
You can still use your Velocity points to fly in Etihad first class, but you'll need to call Virgin Australia on 13 18 75 to book as these options don't appear online.
Also, some available business class and economy rewards are withheld from the Virgin Australia website, including on all Etihad flights departing Hong Kong, so if you're having difficulty finding a seat it wouldn't hurt to call and check what's available.
The Residence – Etihad's better-than-first-class three room suite – can also be secured through Velocity's high-priced 'Any Seat, Any Airline' option over the phone, but not as a traditional and reasonably-priced frequent flyer reward as is possible for first class, business class and economy.
Searching for Etihad Airways reward flights
Fire up the Virgin Australia Velocity website, login to your account, click ‘search and book flights’ and then plug in your travel plans, ensuring the ‘Use Points + Pay’ option is ticked at the top:
We're searching for a flight from Sydney to London in business class, so the next page returns a list of possible options.
Note that only the left-most column displays the traditional – and most desirable – frequent flyer reward options, which is what we're seeking.
The centre and right-hand columns display 'any seat awards', which allow you to effectively convert points into cash and apply that towards a full-priced ticket, but which we'd avoid unless armed with a stockpile of points with no other ways of using them.
As this route usually clocks in at 125,000 Velocity points in business class, not 900,000+ as the first option would have you believe, continue scrolling until finding something more suitable.
Buried right at the bottom we locate a one-stop Sydney-Abu Dhabi-London journey in Etihad's Airbus A380 Business Studios for 125,000 Velocity points, plus a very reasonable payment of $84.77 on the side.
From that point it's as simple as clicking on the price above, entering the passenger and payment details and selecting whether to pay the dollar amount with money or to use a higher higher number of points (138,100) to cover the entire trip.
Searching for Etihad Airways first class rewards
For flights that can only be booked over the phone, such as tickets in Etihad first class, you have two options: the first is to simply call and hope that rewards are available when you need them, while the second involves using the Etihad website to find a flight and then calling Velocity to book.
For the latter, head to the Etihad Guest flight redemptions page – not the general Etihad homepage – and enter your search there. If you're prompted for an Etihad Guest username and password, just click 'Proceed without logging in':
In this case we're hunting a first class flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, which the 'GuestSeat' column on the next screen shows to be available on flight EY451 on the date we entered, but not on EY455 – the Airbus A380 service on the same day.
If all available 'GuestSeat' options show "Sold out" on the date you're searching, this means that Etihad's own frequent flyer members can't book a traditional flight reward on the date you've searched, and therefore nor can Virgin Australia Velocity members over the phone.
However, if there's an option in the GuestSeat column that matches your travel plans, jump on the phone and give Virgin Australia a call. If available, the number of points needed and taxes payable will be determined by Velocity, not from the figure shown above.
It's never a 'sure thing' that you'll be able to book a particular flight using Velocity points, even when GuestSeats appear on Etihad's website as above – but when they do appear, there's a good chance you'll be in luck.
Velocity frequent flyer bookings on Etihad
Should your journey be in Etihad business class or first class, the airline's complimentary chauffeur service is also extended to passengers who book using frequent flyer points, including from partner airlines such as Virgin Australia.
This can be arranged via Etihad's main website – just select 'Reserve chauffeur' on the right, enter your Etihad booking reference number and then your pick-up and drop-off locations.
Also take note that the number of Velocity points needed to book Etihad flights is changing on June 1 2016, after which you'll generally need more points per flight than you do today.
However, all bookings made until May 31 2016, including for travel from June and beyond, will continue to be charged at the current reward rates – so if you were planning an Etihad trip using your Velocity points in the next 12 months, now is the time to book.
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