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Until mid-March, American Airlines had a generous frequent flier redemption permitting travel between London and Abu Dhabi onboard Etihad Airways’ glamorous two-story A380 in the First Apartment. For 40,000 miles one way, travelers were treated to roundtrip airport chauffer transfers from their home, office or hotel; decadent food and spa presentations in the lounges; and an amazing inflight experience.
American’s updated chart still permits this extravagant redemption, but at a higher cost. Currently, Etihad flies its A380 to only three destinations from Abu Dhabi: Heathrow Airport in London (now 62,500 miles one way), John F. Kennedy International Airport in NYC (now 115,000 miles one way) and Sydney Airport (now 100,000 miles one way). Of course, you can pay a fortune in cash to travel in Etihad’s version of first class, but why do that when American Airlines AAdvantage travel awards miles are burning a hole in your pocket?
When my BMW transfer vehicle arrived to the airport, a bellman ushered my bags through the masses straight to the front of the queue. As is common at Heathrow, security agents were not overly friendly (and in some cases, downright rude), but I was not looking for courtesy — only speed. With less than two hours to departure, I was eager to be busy enjoying food and wine in the lounge.
At the lounge, my experience started with a rather tepid 15-minute back-and-shoulder massage, one of many free spa treatments. Plenty of gourmet food was to come onboard the A380 airplane, but I still sauntered to the dining room to order a bite to eat and some Taittinger champagne to wash it all down.
During boarding, separate jet bridges took passengers directly to the upper deck, where attentive flight attendants were waiting to usher me to my seat. Soon, the chef appeared with an extensive menu and a gift bag that included pajamas and slippers. The amenity kit had already been unbundled and stocked into the vanity area. Within minutes, I was sipping more champagne and munching on mixed nuts and Arabic dates while ogling my seat.
In the First Apartment, there are nine apartments as well as a Residence, which comes with a private butler and can retail for around $40,000 roundtrip on this particular flight. Meanwhile, an apartment would cost around $10,000 roundtrip.
Inside an apartment, a long bench faces the passenger seat and can be transformed into a bed with duvet and pillow upon request. Large flat-screen televisions face the seats, which are staggered in a pattern of forward- and backward-facing options. Venetian blinds open and close at the touch of a button, and a tail camera provides a full view of the aircraft’s ground movement on the personal monitors.
My six-and-a-half-hour flight departed at 8:45 p.m., which gave me hardly enough time to eat, sleep, watch a movie and shower, but somehow I made it happen.
After takeoff, I could have sipped a nonalcoholic drink from the in-seat minibar, but decided to wait for my Arabic mezze spread and an in-flight wine tasting of numerous bottles (a suggestion from the onboard chef). Between each course, hot towels, an amuse bouche and a palate cleanser filled any pause. The barrage of food was presented like in any Michelin-starred restaurant. Each time the chef would deliver a course, he would wait at the door and ask if “he may enter.” While a bit superfluous, the service sure does make you feel like royalty — and no doubt, some passengers actually are royalty.
My lamb biryani was exceptional and came with recommendations from the chef. He offered to personalize it with side dishes that I found appealing. About to burst, I still made room for a fruit-and-cheese plate before settling into bed for a very short slumber. While I was in the restroom, the flight attendant prepared my bed with a large pillow and duvet.
I slept surprisingly well, which was made easier thanks to thick curtains blocking out galley noise or chatter (one of the biggest irritants to resting in-flight).
When I woke up, the shower was set up with Temple Spa toiletries and thick towels. Being just over 6 feet tall, I found it hard to move around in the cramped bathroom (let alone undress without hitting the walls). The shower operates on a timer since each passenger is allotted five minutes of hot water. The hot water stream can be turned on and off to extend the time spent washing one’s hair. When I emerged, I felt refreshed and returned to my apartment to find the bedding removed and the table set for breakfast.
We landed on time, and I went to the arrivals lounge for a complimentary shave and cup of coffee.
The flight may be out of reach for those without an oil refinery or corporate credit card, but for the rest of us, redeeming American or Etihad frequent flier miles makes it attainable. If you have an American Express card with Membership Rewards points, you can transfer those to Etihad, too.
There are lots of great first-class products above the clouds, but Etihad’s is truly one to experience.