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Emirates Skywards vs Etihad Guest

Let's see which carrier takes you farther, higher, and with a bigger smile on your face.

Etihad Guest

Earning miles

For the sake of comparison, we’ll choose Beirut as a destination again, but this time, let’s assume you’re flying out of Abu Dhabi, not Dubai.

According to the Etihad Guest call center, an economy flight to Beirut from Abu Dhabi will give an Etihad Guest member 2628 air miles, and the equivalent in tier miles. That’s 30 miles less than Skywards.

Silver and Gold members earn 25 percent and 50 percent more air miles respectively; but like Skywards, they earn the same tier miles as regular Etihad Guest members.

Air miles expire every three years, whereas tier miles expire every year.

Finally, like Skywards, there are credit cards out there that can get you Etihad air miles. Do your own research.

Score: 6

Flight rewards

Let’s look at that Beirut flight again: if you’re a basic Etihad guest member and you have 25,000 air miles, you can redeem your miles for a flight to Beirut. However, you’ll need to pay an additional AED785 in taxes.

AED785! Why?

The call center couldn’t explain why, but they did say that the amount can fluctuate.

Score: 2

Non flight rewards

Etihad has a long list of products that it delivers around the world. And unlike Emirates, shipping costs are included in the price, which is important.

Furthermore, products don’t have minimum air miles requirements.

Kipp lauds the program’s flexibility.

Score: 9

Status upgrade

Like Skywards, Etihad Guests need 25,000 tier miles or 20 segments to become silver members, and 50,000 tier miles or 40 segments to become gold members.

But here’s where the two programs differ: silver members need 20,000 tier miles or 15 segments to maintain their membership; and gold members need 40,000 miles or 30 segments to do the same. In short, Etihad silver and gold members need 20 percent less tier miles and segments to maintain their membership than their counterparts on Skywards.

Score: 10

Complementary seat upgrade

Regular Etihad Guests don’t get complementary upgrades, neither do silver members (unless the airport decides otherwise). As a silver member, however, you can pay for an instant upgrade while you’re on the flight, but it isn’t cheap.

Gold members can get upgraded, but it’s rare.

Score: 4

Final score: 31

Verdict: Etihad Guest wins, not because it’s perfect (those taxes really are ridiculously high), but because Skywards could use some work.

We forgot to mention something: Silver members on both airlines are allowed access to the business lounge. But note that the Skywards silver members need to brave the 30 minute walk from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 at Dubai International Airport.



  1. An Etihad Guest Member on July 30, 2009 5:38 am

    Well Done Etihad Guest. In my experience, it’s a clear winner – as proved by it’s showing in the Freddie Awards every year so far since it’s launch less than 3 years ago!

    Etihad Guest – we love you!

  2. Rick T on July 30, 2009 9:40 am

    What is the point in this article? The reason Etihad wins – it seems to me – is simply the 8 point spread you place on the Staus Upgrade catagory. Surely allowing people to retain their status for 2 years or more would be worth 10 out of 10, rather than a slight reduction in miles. Honestly, if you’re someone who flies 50,000 miles+ a year, you’re not going to struggle to get 40k the next.
    Cards on the table, I am an Emirates Gold Skywards Member and although I was initially upset at the change to the retention levels, looking at the benefits I receive, I’m more than happy. With regard to the “High Street” rewards, I would never bother as the key benefits for me are lounge access, miles upgrades and free upgrades.
    Imagine how nice it is to check in for a 16 hour flight from LA and be told you’re getting a lie flat bed and silver service.
    At the end of the day though, comparing the two isn’t really fair as I simply couldn’t be bothered with the extra effort of going to Abu Dhabi for each flight. When you place either of these reward schemes up agains British Airways and their One World Alliance Members, the choice becomes a very simple one!

  3. Arto on August 2, 2009 8:34 pm

    The fact that the lounge for Silver members in Skywards is in Terminal 1 is simply ridiculous.

    It is also quite disappointing the way they handle the complaints; they simply mean “this is done for you, be happy and grateful for it”….. I guess I should be happy and grateful to walk for 20 min. with my luggages, kids, etc. Read the official response I got, decide for yourself:

    “Thank you for your feedback regarding lounge access at Terminal 3.

    Shortly after the opening of the New Terminal 3 in Dubai, we became aware that the capacity in the lounges was not sufficient to ensure the comfort of our members. The Business Class Lounge in Terminal 1 was then opened to our Silver members, to offer the benefits and serenity of a Business Class Lounge without the inconvenience of overcrowding.

    We remain committed to the benefits offered to our Silver members. At Dubai Airport Terminal 3, a dedicated Silver check-in area, located in the economy check-in section, is available for your convenience. Around the world Silver members may check in at the Business Class counters, or at exclusively dedicated Silver and Gold check-in counters.

    Silver members also enjoy the 12kg additional baggage allowance, and the 25 percent Silver bonus miles, these additional miles allow the opportunity to redeem for free flights and upgrades at a much faster pace.

    We appreciate receiving your feedback and hope we have addressed your concerns satisfactorily.

    Yours sincerely,………”

  4. peter on August 21, 2009 6:33 pm

    with regard to status Status upgrade with emirates skywards is much easiyer than etihad well at first when sky wards started it was 50k for for new gold and retain 40k and silver 25k and 20k to retain
    as for emirates regardless on which fair u pay u get 100% mls which etihad does not 2 flight frm uk to akland in first class and i am gold how easy is that
    and with regards to Non flight rewards yes i agree with u they charge a lot but that is as VAT
    redeeming of mls i found it is easir on emirates then etihad but the was one of case
    but over all i think skwards is still the best here i think in days to come etihad will reviw the tier when they find out it was easy to get

  5. Frequent Flyer on November 14, 2009 11:38 am

    I have been using both earlines but for me it is obvious decision to go for Etihad. I have Citibank credit card and have been accumulating points and losing them with Skywards simply because whenever you try to use the business class you discover there is only peak economy ie you use and pay same number of miles for business but you get economy class (this is if you are lucky) and not forgetting that if you do not have the chance to use airmiles you lose them within one year.

    If you look at the high street redemption awards these should be called the high cost redemptions, there is no value for money and in many cases the prices are higher than market prices of those products. My feeling Skywards as is the case with emirates is just a successful marketing initiative with no real value added services.

  6. Ali Zaidi on December 12, 2009 7:12 am

    Emirates beats Etihad in all areas of service. I have traveled to Dubai, London and Pakistan from United States on Emirates multiple times as well as on other carriers. Emirates seems to care little more about their customers than Etihad.
    On my last trip to Lahore, I was dumbfounded by the fact that I dont have any reservation back to US. Upon providing all the docs, I was told its my fault because I did not re-confirm and guess what? Yeah- Etihad manager offered his help to get me on that plane by taking 40$ cash and refusing to provide a receipt. I will never never ever use Etihad.

    When I consulted their customer service desk in Abu Dhbai, they literally dont have any email address or complaint box to file a complaint. What a service! I found one email address on their web and still did not get a single response from Etihad for any of my emails what I sent about this incidient. Be careful if you are using Etihad while flying overseas.


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