We were scheduled to fly on Etihad first class departing from the Maldives to Abu Dhabi after an opulent getaway at the Conrad Maldives for a 5-night stay, winding down our month-long getaway.
The Maldives is one of the best places U.S. citizens can still visit using points during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also one of the best exotic vacation destinations you can travel to using points.
Etihad doesn’t offer a first class product on the 4-hour route between the Maldives and Abu Dhabi — however, I was able to book a couple of rare Etihad first class tickets using points.
And although Etihad First Class Apartments, which is the first class seat aboard the A380 behemoth, is more famous, these are only available on a handful of routes globally. If you happen to be weighing flying the Etihad First Class Apartments, you’ll be happy to find out that it’s one of the best first class seats for social distancing.
Although the flight itself was only 4 hours and on Etihad’s “regular first class”, the experience ended up being one of the most memorable flights I’ve ever flown on. Let’s dig into it!
Etihad (EY) 279
Malé, Maldives (MLE) – Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Tuesday, Dec 24
Depart: 8:30 p.m.
Arrive: 11:45 p.m.
Duration: 4 hr 15 min
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Suite: 1D and 1G
Miles Used: 40,000 American AAdvantage miles per person
Taxes & Fees Paid: $28.67 per person
Typical Retail Cost: $2,100 per person
Typical Economy Cost: ~$740-~$1,400 per person
Booking Etihad First Class
On the flight to the Maldives, we booked Etihad business class from Abu Dhabi. For the returning journey, we booked this Etihad first class flight. And all the differences between first class and business class were on full display on this flight!
Previously, however, we kicked off our vacation by flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo in Japan Airlines first class. We spent a couple of weeks in Japan exploring the rural countryside, and then we flew Emirates A380 first class from Osaka to Dubai, which was incredible.
We were incredibly fortunate to find availability in first class, considering Etihad doesn’t usually fly a 787-9 Dreamliner equipped with first class on this route. To be specific, this particular plane is ordinarily flown between Singapore (SIN) and Abu Dhabi (AUH), so I immediately jumped on the opportunity to sample Etihad first class.
We redeemed 40,000 American AAdvantage miles + ~$28.67 in taxes and fees per person for this ticket. And currently, there aren’t any first class tickets available on this route since this plane isn’t permanently on flights to the Maldives. But if you happen to find first class tickets, expect to pay a minimum of $3,200 one-way and upwards of $4,600 per person.
So, we were able to achieve a value of 8-11 cents per mile for this ticket. If we booked this using Amex Travel, we would’ve paid 210,000-300,000+ Amex points! So saving 80-90% of the points was a fantastic decision.
Considering how exceptionally rare it is to even find an Etihad plane with first class in the Maldives, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to savor Etihad first class as soon as I saw availability.
And we have absolutely no regrets about booking this ticket.
Since our flight was departing at night, we had planned to spend most of the day at the hotel.
Our hotel of choice this time around was Conrad Maldives. Although we haven’t stayed at the St. Regis Maldives, we have stayed in The St. Regis New York, where we snagged a $4,000 for free using points!
So, we requested late check-out at the Conrad Maldives, which they graciously accepted. We stayed at the hotel until approximately 3 or 4 p.m. The absolute serendipity of the Maldives makes this one of the best vacation spots for couples using points.
Since Conrad Maldives requires a separate seaplane flight to the main international airport and seaplanes do not fly at night, we couldn’t delay our departure any further.
After we arrived at the main international airport, we had a smooth and uneventful check-in. We cleared security and headed to the designated lounge for business and first class passengers called Leeli Lounge. This lounge is also available to Priority Pass members.
The lounge was nearly empty and we didn’t have a chance to snap any pictures before we were called to board the flight. Although it’s a far cry from the best airport lounges in the U.S., it’s much appreciated that there is a lounge.
I knew in advance that we were going to be the sole passengers in first class. To our surprise, we had the full attention of 2 flight attendants and 1 purser throughout this flight, which made it extra memorable.
We reserved seats 1D and 1G, which are the middle seats at the front of the plane.
Etihad first class is just one of the incredible first class unicorns we teach our students how to book in The Points University.
Each of our seats was 26 inches wide and 80 inches in seat pitch. Additionally, there were only 2 rows of seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Seats 1D, 1G, 2A, and 2K are forward-facing, while seats 1A, 1K, 2D, and 2G are rear-facing.
As soon as we settled down, we began exploring the seat. There was a minibar situated at the seat with a Coca-Cola, a Sprite, and 2 bottles of still Al Ain Water, which is one of the UAE’s leading bottled water brands.
We found the in-flight remote on the side of the seat.
Located next to the remote was a separate touchscreen console for seat controls.
Above the in-flight remote, there was a large seat lamp, as well as an individual air nozzle in the corner.
This was hugely important because you could regulate your seat airflow and temperature without relying on overhead air nozzles or the ambient cabin temperature.
There was a massive and heavy tray table that is quite difficult to release and store. Still, it’s one of the heftiest tray tables you’ll ever find, perhaps just behind Cathay Pacific’s first class tray table.
Each of these first class suites features sliding doors that enclose your space into a private enclave. Although the doors are not floor-to-ceiling, they’re high enough to provide tons of privacy.
There’s also a spacious ottoman located in front of the seat. This ottoman can be used as a leg rest, a bed, or even a seat for your companion to dine with you, hence the seatbelt.
As we mentioned above, half of the seats are forward-facing, while the other half are rear-facing. They are separated by color scheme. So the forward-facing first class seats are light brown, while the rear-facing first class seats are dark brown.
As we already mentioned, the entire cabin was occupied just by us — an amazing experience that set the tone for one of the most memorable flights of our lives.
Etihad offers the famous “First Class Apartments” product on their A380 aircraft — these are not the same. Nonetheless, the oversized leather armchair style first class suites are outrageously comfortable, abundantly quiet, and incredibly exclusive.
In Etihad first class, you will be showered with amenities and other goodies. After we were fully settled into our seats, our flight attendants handed us a set of first-class pajamas, which are exclusively from A Friend of Mine, a Dubai-based emerging fashion label. Plus, there was already a velvety blanket waiting at our seats.
Also, we were offered a set of plush slippers, also from A Friend of Mine. These slippers were incredibly comfortable and also aesthetically pleasing, thanks to the sleek black color and the diamond-stitched pattern.
Additionally, Etihad Airways is partnered with luxury Italian brand Acqua di Parma for its amenities. We were each given a hefty toiletry bag crafted from fine Italian leather.
Inside the amenity kit was a 40mL tube of Acqua di Parma Colonia body lotion and a 3mL tube of Colonia lip balm. Also, there was an individually wrapped dental kit from Colgate, an eye mask, and socks.
Moving onto the headphones, Etihad Airways offers Phitek noise-canceling headphones, which are identical to those offered in business class.
There weren’t many amenities in the lavatory, but the lavatory was spacious, impeccably clean, and aesthetically pleasing with yellow hues.
We were also offered a complimentary Wi-Fi pass, which was good for 90 MB of data.
Food and Beverage
As we reached our cruising altitude, the flight attendants distributed paper menus to each of us. There were 2 menus in total: 1 for beverage offerings and 1 for the food program.
In the à la carte menu, the following starters were available:
- Niçoise salad – Tuna, beans, tomato, potato, quail eggs
- Arabic mezze – A selection of hot and cold Arabic appetizers
- Asparagus soup – Crème fraîche
And for the main courses, you have the option of:
- Beef tenderloin – Potato gratin, green beans, herb jus
- Snapper fillet – Polenta, asparagus, lemon sauce
- Chicken biryani – Tender chicken cooked with basmati rice, spices
- Pumpkin ravioli – Pumpkin, sage butter sauce
To continue, you can request a cheese plate, which includes artisan crackers and fruit. For dessert, choose between:
- Ice cream – A selection of Häagen-Dazs® flavors
- Apple and raisin crumble – Cinnamin vanilla sauce
Lastly, there’s an all-day dining menu with 3 options:
- Steak sandwich – Onion compote, melted cheese, Dijon mayonnaise, lettuce
- Eggs Benedict – Poached eggs, smoked salmon, spinach, English muffin, Hollandaise
- Fresh fruit platter
This food menu was extraordinarily comprehensive for a 4-hour flight — you’d expect this for a flight that is twice the duration, but Etihad pulls out all the stops on this flight.
Etihad first class includes a separate drink menu.
The first page is dedicated to showcasing Etihad’s Champagne and white wine collection. For champagne, you can choose between:
- Charles Heidsieck 2006 Brut Millésimé – Retails for ~$60 per bottle
- Charles Heidsieck 2006 Rosé Millésimé – Retails for ~$80-$150 per bottle
And for white wine, you are offered:
- Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet 2014 Chardonnay – Retails for ~$120-$150 per bottle
- Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Les Caillottes 2018 Sauvignon Blanc – Retails for $20-$40 per bottle
- Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2015 – Retails for $20-$60 per bottle
- Enrico Serafino Gavi del Comune di Gavi 2016 – Retails for $20-$60 per bottle
The red wine selection was similarly diverse:
- Chateau Petit-Figeac, Saint-Emilion 2012 Bordeaux – Retails for ~$50-~$60
- Kalleske Greenock 2017 Shiraz – Retails for ~$40-~$50
- Wooing Tree, Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 – Retails for ~$40-~$50
- Clos de los Siete Red Blend 2015 – Retails for ~$20
There was also 1 dessert wine, 1 port wine, several cocktail options, as well as beer, spirits, and even mocktails!
The last page of the drink menu contained many non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks, juices, and coffee.
The food and beverage service began as soon as we stepped foot into the plane. We were graciously offered a tray with a hot towel, Arabic dates, and a welcome drink of our choice. While we’d usually enjoy a ceremonial Arabic coffee, this particular flight was late at night, so orange juice seemed like the best alternative.
As we reached cruising altitude, the cabin crew immediately began the culinary experience. First, I started with a generous pour of Charles Heidsieck 2006 Rosé Millésimé.
Then, I savored the asparagus soup, which was rich, creamy, and savory.
My companion had the Arabic mezze platter, which was wonderfully seasoned and fresh.
For the main course, I had the beef tenderloin, which was cooked to perfection.
My companion devoured the chicken biryani, which was full of spices, seasoning, and Arabic taste notes.
For dessert, I chose a fresh fruit platter, which contained watermelon, pineapple, papaya, and kiwi.
My companion chose the ice cream, and there were a total of 3 scoops: 2 chocolate and 1 vanilla. It was garnished with a duo of fresh mint leaves.
At the conclusion of the meal service, we received a warm towel with fancy border embroidering and a small box of turndown chocolates.
The food and beverage program hugely impressed me. On a flight of 4-hours, we enjoyed a multi-course, chef-grade meal that was cooked perfectly. And although we could’ve enjoyed additional à la carte items like the steak sandwich or eggs benedict, we were completely stuffed.
Entertainment & Service
Entertainment options were courtesy of E-BOX, which is Etihad Airways’ in-flight entertainment system.
E-BOX has dozens of movies and TV shows you can enjoy, and they’re one of the best in-flight entertainment options around. Perhaps Emirates with its Ice entertainment system edges out slightly, but it’s a close contest.
Emirates is Etihad’s primary airline competitor; however, Emirates is headquartered in Dubai, which happens to be the destination for one of the best vacations you can book for your family using your rewards from your business!
Since we had the whole cabin for ourselves, the classic opulence of Etihad Airways’ first class became even more resounding. There were more cabin crew members taking care of us than there were first class passengers!
Every one of our requests was immediately satisfied, and it was an absolute pleasure being in the company of such hospitality.
The cabin crew provided just the right balance of service and privacy — it’s obvious that these were seasoned crew members with deep experience in treating their customers right.
Well done, Etihad!
Bonus: Chauffeur Experience
This was perhaps the most unexpected bonus we received on our Etihad first class flight.
As we deplaned and were headed towards the indoor satellite terminal area, we were pointed to a couple of Mercedes-Benz luxury sedans. Slightly confused, we both complied with their request and found ourselves enjoying complimentary airport chauffeur service.
This chauffeur service actually took us from the plane directly to the immigration building, effectively cutting the transfer time into a fraction!
The craziest part? We had 1 separate Mercedes-Benz sedan for ourselves and a different Mercedes-Benz sedan for our luggage!
Etihad first class on this regional flight was highly impressive. It blew away all of my admittedly sky-high expectations for a first class flight from a renowned Gulf carrier.
During this flight, we experienced top-notch first class service in a completely empty first class cabin that we had all to ourselves.
To add to that, we were showered with tons of amenities including slippers, Acqua Di Parma amenities, a spacious and private first class suite, and even chauffeur service! We were then stuffed with fine-dining quality food and beverage service.
The craziest part of this experience was having a separate Mercedes-Benz sedan just for our luggage!
Etihad first class offers one of the most luxurious first class products in the world, and our experience on a straightforward, 4-hour regional first class flight aboard the 787-9 shows why. If you need some extra inspiration for first class travel, check out our best post-pandemic first class flight deals you can book using points, including Emirates first class!
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