With Airberlin taking its last-ever flights this week, members of its Topbonus frequent flyer program have one final chance to spend their hard-earned miles before they’re wiped clean for good as part of the company’s insolvency proceedings.
The opportunity to book Airberlin flights using miles has come and gone, but Topbonus members can instead book flights with Airberlin partner Etihad Airways for one last hurrah, including from Australia to Europe and back, subject to a few strict rules.
First and foremost, Topbonus members need to act quickly: Etihad reward flights can only be booked using Topbonus miles until November 17 2017, for travel between now and March 20 2018, either as a one-way or return trip. Miss that deadline and your Topbonus miles will be forever lost.
Here’s where the rules get tough: reward bookings are only possible in economy class – so you can’t book Etihad business class or first class via Topbonus – and your journey must include either Switzerland or Germany at either end.
For example, you can book an Etihad Airways trip from Sydney to Frankfurt (via Abu Dhabi) using Topbonus miles – or from Frankfurt to Sydney, both of which include Germany – but you can’t fly from Sydney to London or elsewhere in Europe.
If you need to travel beyond Germany or Switzerland, the best strategy will be to fly from Australia to one of those countries first, before making your own onward travel arrangements to reach your final destination.
Under that scenario, you’d still be able to use your miles to get from Australia to Europe, and would only need to pay for a short flight or high-speed train ride within Europe to complete the journey (such as Frankfurt-London): costing you much less than a full Sydney-London flight.
How many Topbonus miles do I need to book an Etihad flight?
A one-way ticket from Australia to Germany or Switzerland will set you back 50,000 Topbonus miles plus around €273 (A$420) in taxes, fees and surcharges – so for a return trip, those figures double to 100,000 Topbonus miles with about $840 to pay on the side.
That’s not cheap, but is still less costly than a typical paid-for economy fare, and at least gets you something for your miles which would otherwise be assigned to the scrapheap.
Don’t have that many miles saved up? If your other travels will take you to Asia – including Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, among other cities – you could extend that trip to Germany or Switzerland for 35,000 miles each way plus around A$375 per flight.
Other options include Johannesburg to Germany/Switzerland for 30,000 miles plus about A$358, one-way, or flying Sri Lanka, India or Abu Dhabi to those same European countries for 25,000 miles plus A$302-358 in each direction.
With less than 25,000 miles in your account, your only other option is to trade 5,000 miles for a €10 car hire voucher with Sixt, or several vouchers if you have multiples of 5,000 miles available.
Strategies for using Topbonus miles on Etihad Airways flights to Europe
As with any other booking made using frequent flyer points, your ability to spend Topbonus miles on an Etihad flight is subject to availability – so if you’re having trouble locking something in, think broader to maximise your chances.
Let’s say you want to travel to Frankfurt, but the Etihad flight you want to book isn’t accepting points-based reservations. As Etihad also flies to Dusseldorf and Munich in Germany, and to Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, try booking to those destinations instead.
Similarly, Etihad flies to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth in Australia. Even if you live in one of those cities, you could try booking from a different city where frequent flyer reward tickets may be available – so if you can’t find any availability on Sydney-Frankfurt, try Melbourne-Frankfurt, or even Brisbane-Dusseldorf.
Again, that could mean making separate arrangements at the beginning or end of your trip, such as a flight from Sydney to Melbourne or from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt, but if it means being able to use your miles on a journey from one end of the globe to the other – before that option is gone forever – a one-hour flight here or there isn’t much to pay for in the scheme of things.
Just note that Etihad Airways will not provide airport lounge access to Airberlin Topbonus Silver, Gold or Platinum members travelling on these reward flights, so even though your shiny Airberlin card previously qualified you for this perk, that’s no longer the case.
Booking your Etihad Airways flights using Topbonus miles
As this is only a short-term option for Topbonus members, these reward bookings can only be made over the phone by calling Airberlin on +49 691 532 534 84, between 9am and 5pm Berlin local time (GMT +2), Monday to Friday.
For Australians, that means calling between 6pm and 2am Eastern Daylight Time (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Hobart); 5pm and 1am Eastern Standard Time (Brisbane); 5:30pm and 1:30am Central Daylight Time (Adelaide); and 3pm and 11pm Western Standard Time (Perth), Monday to Friday.
Being a German number, international call charges may apply, so check the inclusions on your plan or phone account before dialing.
If economy reward bookings are available on your chosen flights, miles will be deducted from your Topbonus account and payment will be collected for the taxes, fees and surcharges on top, for which you can use Visa, Mastercard or American Express (no Diners Club).
Just remember to make your bookings by November 17 at the very latest: after which, this lifeline will be gone.
Prior to Airberlin’s insolvency, its Topbonus frequent flyer program was particularly appealing to Australian travelers, as the airline was a partner of both Qantas and Virgin Australia, with a Topbonus Gold or Platinum card unlocking airport lounge access and more with not one, but both airlines.