How to hack the tangled web of Etihad's frequent flyer partners

By John Walton, November 28 2011
How to hack the tangled web of Etihad's frequent flyer partners

Want to earn miles from American Airlines flights that you can spend on Virgin Australia tickets? Or pick up points from Malaysia Airlines flights for free flights on either airline?

Middle East airline Etihad has been busy forging reciprocal frequent flyer links with American Airlines and Malaysia Airlines recently, providing business travellers and frequent flyers with new options for their mileage earning strategies.

Australian Business Traveller has scoped out exactly how the tangled web of relationships between Etihad, MAS, American, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand (plus other airlines) works -- because in certain business travel situations it's a remarkably useful option for maximising your points.

We've narrowed the web down to seven airlines (Air New Zealand, American, Delta, Etihad, Qantas, Malaysia and Virgin Australia) and shown where you can -- or will be able to -- accrue miles.


The asterisks show where things may soon be changing: Malaysia Airlines, currently a Virgin Australia partner, is being sponsored into the oneworld airline alliance by Virgin's bitter rival Qantas.

Malaysia Airlines is likely to enter into a frequent flyer arrangement with Qantas before it joins oneworld -- at which point it will have American Airlines (and the rest of oneworld) as a partner.

There's been no word yet about whether Malaysia Airlines and Virgin Australia will continue to be a partner. Ditto for MAS' existing relationship with Delta and potential future relationship with American.

Conventional wisdom says the existing partnerships will be broken up -- otherwise we'd see Qantas and Virgin as partners of the same airline -- but stranger things have happened.

Malaysia Airlines was keen to impress upon Australian Business Traveller that it doesn't see itself as exclusive with Qantas. "Oneworld does not impose restrictions on its members on alliances and joint ventures with any airlines" an MAS spokeswoman told us.

"Malaysia Airlines will still look at signing JV [joint ventures] and alliances, whether the airline is under oneworld or Star Alliance or SkyTeam alliance, that benefit passengers and that brings in foreign travellers into Malaysia."

Then again, a sign in the breakup direction is that MAS' Enrich program page still lists "Virgin Blue" as a partner, months after the Virgin Australia name came into force. Has that relationship lost its lustre? Watch this space and tread carefully.

So what are the possible nifty point hacks?

Having this many airlines involved opens up great strategies for canny point earning and burning. Here are five of our favourites.

1. You could zip around the USA on American Airlines, collect points via Etihad Guest, and spend them on trans-Tasman flights with Air New Zealand, neatly circumventing the oneworld/Star Alliance relationships.

2. Jet with Virgin Australia across the Tasman, accrue points on Malaysia Airlines' Enrich program, wait until MAS joins up with Qantas, and redeem for Qantas' A380 first class. (The risk you run here is being stuck with Enrich points in the event that the MAS-Qantas marriage isn't consummated.)

3. You might also fly Qantas, accrue on American Airlines' AAdvantage program, and redeem for Etihad's flights between Australia and Abu Dhabi or on to Europe and the Middle East.

4. Flying Delta across the Pacific is another option, picking up Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer points (which are a much better deal than Delta's SkyMiles, known as "SkyPesos" by frequent flyer wags for their poor redemption value) and spending them on Air New Zealand flights around Aotearoa.

5. Air New Zealand allows two frequent flyer numbers per reservation, one for travel and one for status. So you could burn Etihad Guest points for Air NZ flights, but still get the premium extra-legroom seats on those flights you're entitled to if you have a Gold or Platinum Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer account by calling up Air NZ and asking them to add your Velocity number in.

But think again if you were wondering whether you could accrue Etihad Guest points on Qantas flights with American's AA codeshare flight numbers, though. Etihad only allows earning on AA metal (which is aviation-speak for planes owned by AA and its subsidiaries, not its airline partners like Qantas or British Airways).

What's the most unusual earning-and-burning combo you can come up with? Share your ideas in the comment section below or join the conversation on Twitter: we're @AusBT. 

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Nov 2011

Total posts 244

You can actually redeem Velocity Points on Malaysia Airlines.

Reason I joined Velocity in the first place years ago as I do make frequent trips via Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur. It will be sad to see them leave the Velocity Frequent Flyer program. Velocity was the only frequent flyer back then where the points/miles to do not expire if there is at least one transaction in a 36 month period whereas all airlines back then did not have such a program that appeals to non frequent flyers.

One suggestion I made to Virgin Australia to pitch in possibility to switch to another Virgin group's frequent flyer and transfer all their status and miles should a member re-locate to another country like UK (Flying Club) or US (Elevate).

So far, Velocity is tailored to Australian and New Zealand flyers, Elevate to US only but Flying Club is an open membership to everyone.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 667

Oh, that's weird -- I figured it was earn-only since you can't book flights to Malaysia from Australia on that dropdown menu. It's possible to get flights from Malaysia, though. I'll edit the article -- thanks for the pickup!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Nov 2011

Total posts 244

Virgin Australia just announced upgrade of their system to Sabre technology which I believe caters for frequent flyer miles postings to codeshare carriers and possibly interline agreement airlines. Still unclear on that and stepping away from their Navitaire booking system.

As you mentioned, I believe there is a defect on the redemption system for Syd - Kul. It works for Kul - Syd but not the other way.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 667

Yes indeed, we reported that when it was announced -- things like GDS systems are firmly in the "things most travellers don't care about, but just care about the results" category.

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