Etihad, short for Etihad Airways, is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates. Etihad is known for its business and first class offerings, and this airline along with Emirates and Qatar Airways collectively form the “Big 3” Gulf carriers. Together, the Big 3 Gulf carriers have revolutionized air travel and redefined what it means to experience luxury in the sky.
Also, Etihad offers a unique nonstop route network to get to some exotic, far-flung destinations. In many cases, you can get to your destination from the U.S. with a simple 1-stop flight. In my case, I was able to fly nonstop from the U.A.E. to the Maldives on Etihad business class.
The Maldives is also one of the countries you can visit that are open to U.S. tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic since it’s a place where the majority of time is spent outdoors and socially distant from others.
As you’re probably aware, the Maldives is one of the best vacation spots for couples using points, due to the high costs to get there! Specifically, this flight was on Etihad’s 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, which offers its premier business class: the Business Studio.
Etihad (EY) 278
Abu Dhabi (AUH) – Malé, Maldives (MLE)
Thursday, Dec 19
Depart: 8:50 a.m.
Arrive: 2:00 p.m.
Duration: 4 hr 10 min
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 8D and 8G (non-honeymoon seats)
Miles Used: 30,000 American AAdvantage miles per person
Taxes & Fees Paid: $33.13 per person
Typical Retail Cost: $2,100 per person
Typical Economy Cost: ~$740-~$1,400 per person
Booking Etihad Business Class
This entire trip was part of a greater itinerary to visit Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the Maldives. After a relaxing tour of the United Arab Emirates, we were headed to the Maldives for a 5-night stay at the Conrad Maldives, one of the best points hotels you can book using points.
From Abu Dhabi, which is a 1 hour drive from Dubai, we booked this business class ticket to the Maldives.
Did you know that flying from the U.S. to the Middle East in first class is one of the best post-pandemic first class flight deals you can book? Round-trip first class tickets can be had for as little as 190,000 points, saving you over $30,000 on each ticket!
I redeemed 30,000 American AAdvantage miles plus $33.13 in taxes and fees per person for this flight in business class, which resulted in amazing value for tickets that retail for $2,100-$3,000 per person. If you booked this using Amex Travel, you’d have to waste a whopping 136,300 – 196,078 points per person to book this flight!
These miles were therefore redeemed for 6.5 to 9.6 cents per mile, which is multiple times better than the average value of these miles.
Our flight was scheduled for an early morning departure at 8:50 a.m., so decided to get as much rest as possible before our departure flight.
If you’re interested in top-notch lounge experiences, check out our complete guides to the best airport lounges in the U.S., Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
We decided to skip visiting the Etihad Airways’ business class lounge. Instead, we headed straight to the gate after an uneventful check-in and security clearance process.
We were among the first passengers to board the aircraft, where we were greeted by friendly crew members. We were ushered to our seats.
Because of the last-minute nature of our flight booking, we weren’t able to snag honeymoon seats. Honeymoon seats are those that are situated directly next to each other. As you can see, 2 arm tables separate the seats — hence the non-honeymoon designation.
Do you own a business? Check out our guide on the best tips to fly first class using points from your business!
Each of the seats is 22 inches wide and 73 inches in seat pitch. Additionally, all of the business class seats are fully lie-flat, resulting in a comfortable surface you can sleep on. Each seat had a reading lamp, a side table, as well as storage space for miscellaneous articles.
The entire cabin was quiet and intimate — there were 7 rows of seats with 4 seats per row in a 1-2-1 configuration for a total of 28 seats in business class. Plus, each seat has direct-aisle access, so you don’t have to climb over anyone to leave your seat.
Beside each seat, there was a panel of seat controls to adjust the seat position as well as to turn the reading lights on and off.
There was a beautiful wooden tray table with muted gold tones that was cleaned perfectly for use.
The in-flight monitor is situated on the wall in front of you, and it offers great video quality.
There is also the console nearby for maximum convenience.
The ottoman, also known as the footwell, was unexpectedly spacious. The cubby ended up being deep and wide, so there was plenty of space to lay down comfortably. Additionally, there was a space underneath the footwell for shoe storage.
Overall, the seat was extremely comfortable, though lacking in privacy. If you’d like to learn about the most private seats out there, check out our top business class seats for social distancing! We’ve also got a guide of the top first class seats for social distancing — don’t miss that, either!
As alluded to above, these particular middle seats happen to be closer to the aisle. To avoid this, the recommendation is to reserve E and F seats and avoid D and G seats in the middle. Similarly, C and H seats are situated next to the aisle and have less privacy. To get around this, you can reserve A and K seats, which also have several windows and partitions for maximum privacy. Other than that, however, this was a comfortable cocoon to relax in luxury for the 4-hour journey to the Maldives.
This flight was a daytime flight clocking in just over 4 hours, so the amenities provided were not as plentiful as, say, a 16-hour flight, for instance. The first thing I noticed was a colorful pillow in Etihad’s color scheme.
It wasn’t very thick, but it was perfect for a daytime flight. However, I wouldn’t be comfortable with receiving this on an ultra-long flight.
After take-off, the cabin crew distributed blankets, which were also sufficient for a daytime flight.
Also, there were noise-cancellation headphones handed out. As you can see, the “plug” was a magnetic jack, which is unfortunately compatible with any personal headphones you might bring. In other words, their headphones were fine, but you would have no choice but to use these headphones because you can’t bring your own and use it with the in-flight monitor.
Although amenity kits were not distributed, there were plenty of amenities and toiletries from Acqua Di Parma, a luxury Italian fashion and lifestyle company.
Food and Beverage
The biggest highlight of this flight was undoubtedly the food and beverage offering.
As soon as we took off and the in-flight service began, I received a warm towel and I was offered a welcome drink choice of orange juice, water, or Champagne. I chose orange juice.
Shortly after, the in-flight menu was distributed.
First, I requested a cup of coffee, which came in a tray. Along with the coffee, there were also a couple of sugar cubes, a biscotti, and mixed nuts.
To start, I enjoyed the Arabic mezze. The variety and wonderful flavors brought out the Middle Eastern touches of Etihad. At the same time, there was a small bread basket to round off the starter.
After I savored the aromatics of the Arabic mezze, I found myself ordering the lamb quzi, which is a dish of slow-cooked lamb, roasted nuts, raisins, and beautifully fragrant rice. Plus, the lamb quzi came with a yogurt sauce. This was, hands down, one of the most flavorful and phenomenal dishes I’ve ever had the privilege of sampling in an airplane.
No wonder quzi is considered one of the national dishes of Iraq!
After I devoured the lamb quzi, I finished off the meal service with a passionfruit mousse, which was encased in a dark chocolate boat shell. The dessert, dressed with a passionfruit nectar, offered the perfect balance between sweetness from the fluffy mousse, sourness from the passionfruit syrup, and velvety richness from the dark chocolate.
Overall, the food and beverage far exceeded my expectations. Each of the dishes was wonderfully executed, but the absolute highlight was the lamb quzi, arguably the best in-flight dish I’ve ever had the honor of consuming. And it was all thanks to travel hacking!
Entertainment & Service
Etihad Airways uses E-Box as their primary entertainment system provider, which offers a generous selection of blockbuster movies, international titles, as well as classic TV favorites. This top-notch system has dozens of movies and TV shows overall, beating out all of its competitors except Emirates. It even offers live TV!
Additionally, you can purchase Etihad Wi-Fi onboard in business class. The Wi-Fi was priced as follows for this regional flight:
- Lite (50 MB): $5.95
- Flex (150 MB): $15.95
I found the Etihad cabin crew to be incredibly warm, friendly, and competent. They were quick to respond and offered to help us snap pictures despite a nearly full cabin.
My expectations for Etihad business class were exceeded on this flight. Although they don’t offer all the bells and whistles on a shorter-haul flight like this 4-hour journey, the service and the food, in particular, made the ride memorable.
The business class seat was generously sized, though those who are taller than 6′-1″ may have trouble laying down completely flat. This short-haul daytime flight didn’t need to have a fully lie-flat seat, but it’s nonetheless a consideration.
On this flight, you’ll have no problem relaxing with its diverse in-flight entertainment system, too. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of an amenity kit (primarily for souvenir purposes), but every other aspect of the flight was wonderful.
Etihad Airways offers steep competition to Emirates — the latter is based in Dubai while the former is based in Abu Dhabi, though both are in the U.A.E.
Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are within a 1-hour drive away from each other, but Emirates tends to offer better award flight availability for small families than Etihad, which is why Dubai is one of the best family-friendly vacations you can book using rewards from your business.
Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Etihad Airways business class again, thanks to this wonderful, luxurious, and fun experience.