(Photo credit: Etihad Airways)
This time around, I had to travel from Paris to Jakarta with both kids without my husband.
So I was even more determined to score some award flight seats in Business Class for that extra space and comfort.
Our best option to travel from Europe to Asia was to fly one of the Middle Eastern carriers – Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways or Emirates – which are all redeemable using American Airlines AAdvantage miles (One World Alliance).
Booking the Flights
Earlier this year, my husband and I each signed up for the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Card, that offered 50,000 AAdvantage miles at sign-up and double points rewards on all travel expenses. Again we use this card quite religiously just to accrue the points.
In addition to my husband’s frequent work travel with American Airlines on domestic routes, getting enough points to cover our family travel in business or first class was surprisingly very attainable.
American Airlines currently have the most competitive Award Flights redemption points for premium cabins, for example flying a one-way route from US to Asia in Cathay Pacific Business Class only requires 55,000 AAdvantage miles & 67,500 AAdvantage miles in First Class whereas if you are a Marco Polo member (Cathay Pacific frequent flyer program) with Asia Miles you will require 85,000 miles for Business class and 130,000 miles for First Class for the same flight.
This is a huge difference.However , AA had recently announced that they are devaluating AA miles effective 22 March 2016 – this means you will require more miles to redeem award flights – the miles increase varies from 15 to 30% depending on which route. Here’s the link to the new AA Award Chart.
Redeeming AAdvantage miles online via AA.com are only applicable for American Airlines & British Airways operated flights, for other airlines – bookings have to be made by calling the AAdvantage Customer Service.
Luckily there were 2 seats available from Charles de Gaulle Paris (CDG) to Soekarno-Hatta (CGK) Airport in Qatar Airways business class (with a stopover in Doha) and Etihad Airways business class (with a stopover in Abu Dhabi) for the date we wanted.
Each seat requires 50,000 AA miles and USD 106.50 in taxes & surcharges (such a great deal!). I quickly opted for Etihad Airways knowing that they have a flying nanny on board the aircraft for long haul flights.
This is like a dream for every traveling parent (until the reality hits you – more on this later).
You can actually search availability on award seats with Etihad through etihad.com, go to ‘Book Redemption Flights’, search the route you want and if you are redeeming non-Etihad miles (like I did) you will need to find availability under Etihad Guest Seat as Open Seat is only offered for Etihad Guest frequent flyer members.
I didn’t book through this website though because it would require me to redeem 141,268 miles for a one way seat (so no thank you…).
However, if Etihad’s website indicates availability then the AA Help Desk would most likely see the same vacancy.
Now the tricky part of traveling with a lap infant is that you will need to pay a full infant fare for that class – or another option is to redeem an extra seat for the baby/toddler – but then you will need to redeem another 50,000 miles – this is not always the best option because these miles can be equivalent to one seat in business class and can be worth up to $6,000.
I ended up paying a business class infant fare for my toddler at USD 470 (about 10% of an adult full fare in business class).
Still if you think about it, the TOTAL COST for us three flying in Business Class for the 20 hour journey was only $470 + ($106.50 x 2) = USD 683 (ALL IN!) vs USD 9800 if I had to pay the actual business class fares for all three of us.
If you are a frequent flyer member of one of the One World Alliance members you should check your respective airline on the conditions to redeem award flights on partner airlines.
The Day of the Trip
One of the perks of flying Etihad’s premium cabins is the complimentary Chaffeur Service that is offered to all Business and First Class passengers of all class fare types (including redemption award bookings).
Other airlines such as Virgin Atlantic or Emirates also offers Chaffeur service but restricted to first class passengers on a certain class fare (usually the most expensive fare).
So this was a big chunk of brownie point for Etihad. Chaffeur service can be reserved online through Manage My Booking on etihad.com.
One day prior to your departure, a local car service company will call you to confirm your pick-up address – I requested for a minivan because of our luggage size and we had a total of 3 passengers – they complied with no issue. Thanks Etihad!
Checking in at CDG Paris Airport was not exactly a breeze despite that there was no line at the First & Business Class counter.
We were served immediately, but the check-in counter had difficulties checking-in my toddler because his class fare was different to mine & my older son.
This was sorted after a good 20-minute wait – a good sign how this was considered a long wait is when both kids were starting to get cranky.
Security and immigration took less than 10 minutes – this is lightning speed considering that I had to do all the folding, lifting and holding our carry-ons + stroller all by myself.
The premium lounge entrance in CDG were hidden behind the high-end stores – American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Etihad each has a dedicated premium lounge and the entrance to each lounge is located side by side.
The nice lady at reception greeted us and quickly offered a traditional Arabic coffee – tried it and disliked it (Australian coffee is still on top of my list).
She offered to help with my carry-on luggage and showed me around the lounge even though there was no one else at the reception – I think she felt bad knowing I was the only adult in the group, because later I found out she is a new mother to a 5 month old baby – clearly she got my back.
We fell straight in love with this lounge after she showed us the Kids’ Area… finally there is an airline who understands.
I was the only passenger in the lounge who had kids – this area was all ours.
In the dining area, we ordered the steak dish for dinner and received an overcooked meat eventhough we asked for Medium – it was a bit of a torture cutting through the meat, but we were compensated by the delicious Matcha Mille Feuilles dessert.
There are also private shower rooms located in the restroom area and a baby changing table, there’s always staff standing by to help you with towels and clean up after every restroom use, so this was a nice touch.
After spending a good 1,5 hour in the lounge for dinner and letting the kids play in the family area, we were ready to board our 20-hour journey to Asia.
FYI, if you are traveling with a stroller and has a connecting flight in Abu Dhabi, the Etihad ground staff will check-in your stroller at your departure boarding gate and you won’t see it again until your final destination (at baggage claim), because Abu Dhabi International Airport provides complimentary strollers for passengers to use around the terminal.
(In my particular case, Etihad had forgotten about our stroller somewhere in Paris or Abu Dhabi because we didn’t see it at all at arrival in Jakarta – they eventually delivered it to our Jakarta address the day after our arrival).
Inside Etihad Airways Pearl Business Class – A340-500 and 777-300ER
Flight EY 38 Paris (CDG) – Abu Dhabi (AUH) on A340-500
A340 has 3 cabin of service: First, Business & Economy
I was secretly hoping to fly the new Etihad A380 but at the moment this aircraft only has services from London Heathrow, JFK New York and Sydney Kingsford Smith.
The Business Class on the new A380 is so sexy in comparison to the existing and most common Business Class cabin.
Etihad Business Class on the new A380 (above photo)
Etihad Pearl Business Class on A340 and 777-300 (above photo)
Our middle seats 5E & 5F from Paris to Abu Dhabi.
Individual Window & Aisle Seat 5A
Etihad Pearl Business Class has flat bed seats with 180 degree recline, seat width of 20″ (50.8cm) and pitch (bed length) of 73″ (186cm).
I had used the same trick as our previous British Airways flight, to book 2 middle seats and request for my older son to be moved to an available seat in the cabin so I get to have the extra space with my toddler on the double bed setting.
This worked again with no hassle (all flight attendants seemed to understand my needs) and my older son was moved to an aisle seat across from our cocoon at 5A.
The ‘Flying Nanny’ who was dressed in a different uniform came and introduced herself to us when we boarded the aircraft and said if we ever needed anything we can just ask her. To be honest, for the entire duration of the flight she was nowhere to be seen again.
However, I was grateful enough with the other cabin crew who did check on us and assisted with everything we needed throughout the entire flight. So if you have any future plans of flying Etihad and hoping your dream of having a nanny on board could come true… keep on dreaming.
Unfortunately because my hands were occupied almost the entire time with my toddler, I wasn’t able to take proper pictures of the cabin, but one unique feature of the seat that my older son pointed out was the massage function – my boy really knows me well.
The ALL-DAY menu that you can order anytime during the flight always comes in handy, I ordered a cheese platter, fruit platter and raspberry bread pudding – all of them were delish. It was hard to keep things in place with curious tiny hands always nosying around +)
Arabic Mazza Appetizer
The flight from Paris to Abu Dhabi was about 7 hours and both my sons managed to get a few hours of sleep, while this Mama only managed to get 30 mins of sleep.
Flight EY 472 Abu Dhabi (AUH) – Soekarno-Hatta Jakarta (CGK) on 777-300ER
The 777-300ER only has 2 cabin of service: Business & EconomyFlight time: 8 Hours
For the second leg of our trip from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta we couldn’t get the two middle seats because all these seats were occupied (funnily enough by two elderly men who are definitely not couples – so I wonder why they didn’t choose to sit on individual seats instead).
We ended up being assigned to seat 6C and 6D across from each other. Seat 5A was vacant and I later moved to this window seat to get some privacy.
Aisle Seat 6D (AUH to CGK)
View from Seat 5A (AUH to CGK)
The amenities bag from Luxe London were quite refreshing and colorful.
On both flights, the cabin crew were very helpful and attentive, one even offered if I wanted her to sit with my toddler for a while so I can get freshen up or do what I needed to do.
I would gladly say yes if my son was comfortable enough for me leave him for a few minutes – but it wasn’t my luck.
My older son on the other hand was well taken care of by the crew with his food & beverage needs throughout the flight (he eats a lot) that I didn’t have to check on him for too much – kudos to the crew!
Transit in Abu Dhabi
Transit time: 4.5 hours.
Home of Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi International Airport has 2 dedicated Etihad Premium Lounge, one is located in Terminal 1 where our flight from Paris arrived, and the other at Terminal 3 close to gate 35 which is the one we were sent to and close to the gate of our connecting flight to Jakarta.
Photos of Etihad Premium Lounge taken post-crowd
We arrived very early in the morning at the same time as numerous other Etihad flights, so the lounge was packed when we got in. Luckily this lounge was enormous that you could always find available sofas or tables in the dining area.
Full features of Etihad Premium Lounges can be found here.
The highlights of this lounge were:
- The Family Room (Kids play area with 2 to 3 nannies on duty – they can look after your kids if you decide to use the spa facilities in the lounge – if you have olders kids who are not so clingy, this could work oh so wonderfully)
- Six Senses Spa (book a complimentary 15-minute massage before boarding your flight)
- Style & Shave by Etihad (get a haircut, blow dry, shave or your nails done)
- The Buffet – it was like eating in an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in one of the 5-star hotels in Asia, a satisfying full-breakfast menu, no complaints here.
Verdict on Etihad
The chaffeur service, premium lounges and cabin crew were the highlights of flying Etihad Airways. The business cabin was great however when you’re traveling with a lap infant, seating on a single seat does feel a little tight because the partition between seats is quite bulky – so try to get the 2 middle E&F seats when selecting your seats.
I’d definitely fly Etihad again but would probably aim to fly the new A380 routes. Qatar Airways also offers a very competitive business class and a great alternative to fly between Europe and Asia through the Middle East.
At the moment you can redeem AAdvantage miles for any Etihad international routes on Pearl Business Class for 50,000 miles, Diamond First Class for 70,000 miles or The Apartment (A380) for 90,000 miles before their devaluation on 22 March 2016.
The (First Class) Apartment on Etihad A380
The highly anticipated Residence cabin on Etihad new A380 is currently not redeemable with points and priced at over USD 32,000 for a one way route from JFK-AUH, the Residence only has 1 cabin per aircraft. With that pricetag you will get a 3-room residence – your own living room, bedroom, shower and a personal butler! The airfare does include a ticket for a second person though – so practically it is priced at around USD 16,000 per person one way. I’d hate to be in this cabin by myself.The 3-Room Residence on Etihad A380