In the airline world, nothing is certain until it is filed and done. Recently, we’ve heard some interesting news coming out of Abu Dhabi as Etihad is looking to cut ties with American Airlines in favor of United Airlines. Here’s why this could make sense for Etihad.
Etihad and American Airlines
Etihad and American Airlines partnered up some time ago, but the harmony has been far less than blissful.
As part of American Airlines’ push towards curbing the growth of the big 3 Middle Eastern carriers, they terminated codeshare agreements with Etihad and Qatar. As of now, Etihad is a great airline for AAdvantage redemptions.
American Airlines is Etihad’s largest partner in the United States. However, Etihad has terminated their fights to Miami, Dallas, and have reduced frequencies to New York-JFK. All three are major American Airlines hubs, yet Etihad couldn’t make the partnership with American Airlines work.
Etihad’s Current Service to the United States
This is the current route map for Etihad’s flights to the United States:
Etihad currently flies to New York-JFK, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, and Los Angeles International. In comparison to Qatar and Emirates, this is a sparse network for U.S. connections.
United Airlines and Etihad Airways
However, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, and Los Angeles are hubs for United Airlines. In addition, Etihad previously operated flights to San Francisco and Houston and a switch from JFK to Newark-Liberty (or an additional frequency) wouldn’t be terribly difficult.
While United has been a part of the campaign against the ME-3 carriers, they have most certainly not been as active as American or Delta.
Etihad and Star Alliance
Etihad has had some interesting experiences with Star Alliance. They’ve flirted with joining Star Alliance for some time and this would be an excellent step forward for them.
United Airlines is a major player in the American market and has a significant influence within the Star Alliance network. Etihad could benefit from their partnership with one of the most efficient airlines in the United States. In addition, United is a bit unique in their new quest for premium passengers, releasing a cookbook, and improved regional jets that could make for a great addition to Etihad’s network. As such, Etihad could be well on its way to joining Star Alliance.
Etihad also has other Star Alliance partners in Lufthansa and their associated carriers, Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, and Turkish among other airlines. As Etihad expands their codeshares to include another Star Alliance carrier, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them join Star Alliance.
While Star Alliance could live without Etihad, the addition of Etihad to their route network would be a welcome addition for many frequent fliers for mileage redemptions.
On the other hand, Etihad has been trying hard to cut costs and turn their ship around. Alliances are expensive. Already, we have seen some airlines consider dropping an alliance relationship simply due to the costs. They could, however, become a Star Alliance Connecting Partner.
Overall, this news would be welcome for MileagePlus members, but not so much for any AAdvantage members. Already, American has lost partners in Airberlin (although they recently failed), Jet Airways, Gulf Air, El Al, WestJet, with even reduced cooperation with Alaska Airlines.
American Airlines really needs to reconsider their partnership strategy. They’re losing ground as competitors United and Delta pick up partners. Delta now has Jet Airways and WestJet and if United picks up Etihad, that would be another major blow. Whatever the strategy is for management at American Airlines, they need to seriously rethink how to make their AAdvantage program useful.
Sometimes rumors can fizzle out, like Lufthansa’s A380 order, while others do materialize. This one could be credible since it would continue to the trends we’ve seen with Etihad and American Airlines. If you have a stash of AAdvantage miles you’d be looking to redeem on Etihad, look for some Etihad availability and use them sooner rather than later. Although, if you’re looking for other airlines, Fiji Airways is another great airline to redeem AAdvantage miles for in addition to transatlantic partner Iberia.
For now, we can only wait and see. Unless American Airlines picks up any worthwhile partners, this would just be another negative aspect to their less than advantageous AAdvantage program.
Do you have AAdvantage miles you’ll use for Etihad? What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments below!