I previously discussed the specifics about how to book an award ticket for Etihad’s First Apartments. I wish the hardest part of the process was earning the 100,000 American Airlines miles, but the hardest part of the process was actually finding open availability on Etihad’s web site to book the flight.
It took me about a week of checking the web site daily, but availability between Abu Dhabi to Sydney opened and I booked it as soon as I saw it. The benefit of award tickets is that changes to the ticket are relatively easy. Some airlines will let you make changes for free and others will charge a small fee, but in either case its typically pretty easy.
In general, if you plan to book an award ticket on a first class international flight, you have to be somewhat flexible with your dates and you should book the first class tickets first since they are the hardest to find. Business class tickets tend to have much more open availability and are easier to find.
Etihad Airways – First Apartments
Operated by: Etihad Airways
Abu Dhabi, UAE to Sydney, Australia
Departure: 9:59 pm
Arrival: 5:49 pm (next day)
Duration: 13 hours 50 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Cash Cost: $5,879.54
How I paid: 100,000 American Airlines miles and $43.70 in taxes
A first class international flight with Etihad is not cheap. If I would have paid cash, a round trip flight would have cost nearly $12,000. However, for a $12,000 ticket, you are treated like royalty for the duration of your trip.
In addition, to the First Apartments, Etihad provides a chauffeur service. The service provides you with a chauffeur both to the airport and after you land. First class customers also receive expedited check-in at the airport as well as access to lounges exclusively for first class customers. I separately highlighted my time in the Etihad First Class Lounge & Spa (I’ve previously discussed the Etihad Arrivals Lounge).
I arrived at Abu Dhabi airport from the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi via Etihad’s Chauffer Service for business class and first class customers. First Class check-in at the Abu Dhabi airport was pretty impressive. There is a separate entrance for first class with a dedicated customer service counter completely separate from economy and business class in a different airport wing.
The customer service representatives at Etihad really went out of their way to help me. In planning the trip, I made a slight mistake and assumed that I didn’t need any type of visa when traveling to Sydney. Australia requires an Electronic Travel Authority authorization, which is electronically linked to your passport, to enter the country.
When the Etihad agent realized I didn’t have the authorization, they spent 20 minutes making calls to get the approval added to my passport. When they were finally able to complete it, they told me I was lucky the flight was 14 hours long, because the approval takes at least a day to process.
Walking onto an Etihad First Apartments flight is a little bit like turning into a celebrity or royalty for a day. You board the plane in a separate entrance on the second level of the plane. The flight attendants / butlers greet you with an almost unnatural amount of enthusiasm (which did not come across as phony or forced) and they personally escort you to your private quarters on the plane.
The First Apartments are so large that only two can fit side by side in a row (for comparison, the Etihad business class flight I recently flew on had 4 business class seats in a row with space for two aisles). The entire first class section included just 10 seats. The first 9 seats were First Apartment seats and the 10th seat was a Residence seat. The Residence seat was not occupied (the Residence includes the First Apartment space plus a separate bedroom and bathroom and costs between $20,000 to $30,000), but the other 9 First Apartment seats were all occupied.
Inside the First Apartment is a long cushioned couch that faces a large business class style reclining and cushioned seat. Next to the reclining chair is a large wall that houses additional storage in the bottom and a vanity mirror on top. Across from the main reclining chair is a TV with a wide range of movies and television shows available on demand. After eating, drinking, and watching as much TV as you can handle, the large couch can be converted into a full sized bed.
In case you need to get up and stretch your legs in between all the eating, drinking, and sleeping, there is a separate lounge area available for the first class passengers. The lounge is located on the upper deck of the A380 in between the first class and business class seating.
The area is designed to look like a fancy hotel bar. There is a circular seating area with a large TV and separate bar / grill. A full dining menu is available from the lounge throughout the flight duration. The lounge seats up to six people and includes seat belts and separate power sources.
The Etihad flight was also the first time I’ve been on a flight which included a shower (Emirates first class also has a shower, but I’ve not yet been on one of their flights). I was planning to try out the shower, but I ended up falling asleep for far longer than I thought. By the time I woke up, the flight was beginning its landing descent. While I was awake, I don’t remember seeing anyone else use the shower.
I did ask the flight attendants abut the shower and they told me it gets used often. The shower itself is in a separate corner of the bathroom in the first class section. The shower stall was spotless. Flight attendants clean it immediately after someone uses it. If I hadn’t fallen asleep as long as I did, I wouldn’t have had any hesitation about using it.
First class flights include a full menu prepared by internationally trained chefs. The dinner menu includes a seven-course tasting menu with amuse bouche.
Some of the notable choices on the menu included:
- Smoked Salmon (Compressed melon, fennel, lemon oil)
- Gulf Mezze (a selection of Middle Eastern hot and cold appetizers)
- Spinach and Green Lentil Soup (Crispy Arabic bread)
- Green Pea and Mint Soup (Ricotta ravioli, crème fraiche)
- Lamb Loin (Puy lentils, leek, cherry tomatoes)
- Chicken Breast (Zucchini, fava bean, lemon risotto)
- Authentic Gulf Chicken Biryani (Tender chicken cooked with spices and basmati rice)
- Sea Bass (Purple potato, asparagus, carrot)
- Beetroot and Goats’ Cheese Puff Pastry (Spiced fig chutney, sweet pepper)
- Textures (camel milk, ganache, mousse, ice cream)
- Raspberry Pudding (white chocolate ice cream, raspberry sauce)
- Cheese Selection (two ripe cheeses, artisan crackers, fruit, paste)
- A selection of ice cream
Lounge & Grill Menu
Available throughout the flight in the lounge.
- Sea Bass
- Lamb Loin
- Chicken Breast
- Potato Gratin
- Pommes Pont Neuf
- Chef’s Seasonal Vegetables
- Filet of Beef
- Potato chips
- Freshly Baked Cookies
Strip Steak Special (on board special that wasn’t on the menu)
Bollinger LA Grande Annee, France, Champagne.
Kim Crawford, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand.
I didn’t like the Gulf Mezze. The Mezze was prepared well, I just didn’t like the flavor. The steak was delicious and was of restaurant quality. The desert was very good but it was a little bit on the small side. I’m not a big champagne drinker, but I’m not going to pass up champagne that costs $100 a bottle.
– From the start of your trip to when you leave the plane, Etihad has created a truly unique experience.
– Food and service were phenomenal.
– Very easy to sleep on seats that convert into a fully flat bed with blanket and additional pillow provided to each seat.
– You had to leave the flight after it landed.
– Etihad flights are limited from within the US so you may have to go out of your way in order to book a flight with them.
– You will have a hard time handling international economy flights after a flight like this.
Etihad’s First Apartments are only available on a small number of routes flown by Etihad’s Airbus A380 aircraft. Finding open award space on those routes can be a challenge. But if you’re already planning to fly on one of those routes and have the available miles, you should go out of your way to book a seat in the First Apartments, at least one time. It’s really an unbelievable experience.
I’ve flown on other international first class flights including Singapore Airline’s Suites Class. However, Etihad’s First Apartments were a step ahead of Singapore’s really top notch Suites class product. Without question, Etihad has the best first class product available today.