Etihad Partner Awards Devaluation is a Big Loss. Here’s What We Know.
More than a rumor: Etihad partner awards devaluation is coming. It’s basically already here. Etihad has devalued its partner award redemption table in a big way. From what I know at this point, I only can confirm that it’s related to Royal Air Maroc redemptions. This may roll out to other partner award bookings, but I have not verified those, so it would be just speculation. This pertains to the Royal Air Maroc booking tables I covered previously as a great redemption to cross the Atlantic using Etihad points. Here’s what I know about the devaluation.
Etihad changing to ‘per leg’ pricing on Royal Air Maroc bookings
Etihad has always charged different points values in different ways for all of their partner bookings. For example, with Brussels Airlines, Virgin Australia & Alitalia, Etihad has a chart. You look at the chart for the points needed for each flight you want to take, then you add them up.
With other airlines, like GOL and Royal Air Maroc, it was a distance-based chart. Fly this far: this many points. Fly x distance: x points. Seems simple.
However, Etihad tells me they are changing the Royal Air Maroc flights to charge the same amount as present but needing that amount per leg. Essentially, they are doubling the amount of points needed for each booking, if you have a connecting flight. That’s a massive devaluation.
How I learned about the Etihad partner award devaluation
While looking for flights for an upcoming trip to the Middle East, I knew the date I needed to be back home but wasn’t exactly sure yet of the date I would start the trip. It would depend on other things, like flight availability, hotel availability, and days for events I want to check out during the trip. Since I knew I’d be using Etihad points for Royal Air Maroc flights, and since I had miles in my account already from a previous cancelation, I did some searching and called Etihad to book my Royal Air Maroc flights from Amman, Jordan to Casablanca, Morocco to São Paulo, Brazil. One-way flight with just a change of planes in Casablanca. By all purposes, this is a standard one-way booking. I called them on September 11.
When it came time to tell me the taxes & amount of points I needed, the agent quoted me 44,000 for economy or 88,000 for business class. This is double the amount of points I’ve paid previously on this booking. This is double the amount listed on the website. I immediately pointed that out to the agent. The agent informed me they’d received a new email with instructions on how to book partner awards, and it was “very confusing” he said. We waited while he read it again, I told him what the website said, and he booked me at the rates I’ve paid on my other bookings. I chalked it up to some growing pains in this new ‘confusing email’.
When I figured out the dates for my outbound flight to Beirut, Lebanon, I called back to book the flights. This was September 12, a day later. Again, the Etihad agent quoted me this new ‘double the amount’ price. Again, I told the agent that this isn’t what the website says. I pointed out that I’ve booked this before. While annoyed, I stayed calm. The agent didn’t. The agent was very confused about what a “one-way” ticket is and kept raising his voice while insisting that I was buying 2 tickets and needed to pay for 2 tickets. I told him I disagreed and hung up.
Etihad shows signs of implementing devaluation
I immediately reached out to Etihad on twitter and said I’d had a disagreement with the phone agent about points requirements. I gave them the flight information and a link & screen shot to the RAM booking information on Etihad’s website.
3 hours later, Etihad replied saying 44,000 for economy and 88,000 points for business. This was the new ‘double price’ I’d been hearing lately. I asked them to please confirm and to also explain how they came up with the number of points required. I pointed out that this information didn’t match my multiple previous bookings (and told them to check my history), and it didn’t match the website info.
The team have come back once again and advised that it would be 88,000 Miles. The team is looking at it as Sao Paulo to Casablanca (44000 miles) and Casablanca to Beirut (44000 miles) hence the 88000 miles.
At this point, I sent a long message to their Twitter team explaining what a one-way ticket is. I gave examples from their own schedules, my booking history with them, and some links to information. At the end of my message, I said that the website lists the price as 22k econ/44k biz for this one-way journey. My trip counts as a one-way journey.
Etihad says changes are coming ‘soon’
This continued across multiple agents and multiple days, until yesterday, September 17. After another explanation of what a “one-way journey” is, since they were still telling me about “2 flights”, I finally received this message:
I replied asking several things. When did this change start? Why is it not on the website? I also asked them to confirm that we’re talking about RAM and not some other airline. Etihad replied with the following:
From what I can see in the email correspondence on this case, Etihad Guest team have clarified that miles are calculated per segment, and GRU – CMN & CMN – BEY would be two segments. They added that the website will be updated to clarify this.
I pointed out that this is a big change. It doubles the number of points required for any bookings that have a connection. Double points is a big devaluation, so I still was holding out hope this could be a misunderstanding. I asked for confirmation about the effective date of the change and when the website will be updated. I want to see something in writing beyond someone telling things to the twitter team and them sending me a private message. I’m looking for something public, if there’s a change. The response was this:
I will refer back to the team to have the answers to that. Please bear with me while I hear back.
Etihad partner awards devaluation – what we know and don’t know
At this point, it comes down to “what we know” vs “what we don’t know”. Some things are speculation and still will show themselves in the coming days/weeks/months.
What we know
We know that Etihad is telling us this will change to ‘per leg’ booking. Etihad is telling us that the amount of points is doubling for itineraries with a connection. Could there be a change in the points rates when they move to ‘per leg’ pricing on RAM flights? Possibly, but that’s not the price they’re quoting me, so I expect to see a pure switch from current numbers on one-way to current numbers applying per flight. We also know that Etihad says they’re going to update the website.
Also, I have a pretty good idea of when this changed. I made a booking at the ‘old rate’ without any issues on August 25. It was smooth sailing. It had the pricing I still see on the website and wrote about previously. September 11, I started experiencing issues. This is the same date that an agent mentioned a “recent” confusing email about how to book partner awards. My best guess is that this email came out in the first week of September 2019.
What we don’t know
There are a lot of things we don’t know. We don’t know why this changed. Also, we don’t know the exact date of the email. We don’t know if some agents remain uninformed and might book at the old rates. However, I have low hopes for that. We also don’t know when this promised website update is coming, other than “soon”.
Seeking data points for Etihad partner awards devaluation
I’ve already spoken to 2 people who’ve recently run into problems with this booking scenario. Have you tried making a recent booking with Etihad for flights on Royal Air Maroc? What was the experience? How many points did you pay? I’d love to know more and get a broader picture of what’s going on.
Final thoughts on Etihad devaluation for Royal Air Maroc
If this is true (and all signs indicate it is), the best deal for crossing the Atlantic has just died. 44k points for a business class flight over the Atlantic to Morocco isn’t terrible. However, adding another 44k to continue on to Europe or other parts of Africa is a terrible price. I wouldn’t pay 88k points to fly one-way to Paris in business class.
Royal Air Maroc recently announced they will fly to PEK airport in Beijing, starting in January 2020. Flying direct from Casablanca to Beijing is 15 hours and will be RAM’s longest flight in their service. Are they trying to avoid a ‘mega sweet spot’ where we could fly from the east coast of the US or from Brazil all the way to Beijing for 44k in business class? Did they read my article? Until we get something official on the reason for the change or updated website terms, we don’t know. However, we do know this deal is dying. Actually, let’s just call it dead.
UPDATE September 19
Today, Etihad added new language to their site. They didn’t change anything other than adding this last line to the Royal Air Maroc terms section.
To be honest, it would be difficult to write those terms in a worse way. They’re cumbersome and confusing. If this is what’s in that “confusing new email”, no wonder agents are confused. I’m confused. I see more than 1 way to understand this last line, and the crazy part is that it’s in there next to other terms that seem to say something different. There are still agents supposedly using the old pricing, and people are trying HUCA (Hang Up, Call Again) to get that rare agent. If you try it, let me know how it goes. However, the point is that this looks pretty official now. Goodbye 44k business class sweet spot.