Both Emirates and Etihad offer some of the most highly regarded and reviewed first class experiences out there. I’ve had the privilege of flying these a few times and wanted to write up a comparison between the two. In this article, I’ll focus the comparison on the first class experience in the A380 for Etihad vs Emirates.
Table of Contents
The first factor that I want to compare is the booking process.
The Emirates A380 serves over 50 routes so as you can imagine, this opens up many booking options. Meanwhile, the Etihad Apartment is found only on the A380 and Etihad only flies it on a handful of routes. So when it comes to finding a route that fits your itinerary, Emirates is going to be much easier.
I’ve always booked my first class flights with Emirates and Etihad very far out in advance and never really had a major issue with availability. If I had to guess though I would say that the Emirates availability is probably going to be better on any given day, though this is highly dependent on route selection.
Booking with points
Both programs have quite a few different ways to book them.
You can transfer points to Emirates from different programs like Chase, which is one of the best ways to use Chase points to fly first class.
When booking Emirates, you can also use several different partners
A lot of the partners will force you to pay some pretty substantial fees/taxes but you can avoid those sometimes. For example, you can use Alaska Airlines to book Emirates and avoid fees. Or you can choose to fly on a specific route that has minimal fees such as flying from Hong Kong.
- To find out more about the different ways to book Emirates first-class click here.
Fees flying Etihad can be very manageable. I have always chosen to use American Airlines miles to book my flights on Etihad and the fees have always been pretty minimal. American Airlines miles are also extremely easy to get with the different credit cards out there so I think that earning enough AA miles to book a first class flight on Etihad is pretty easy.
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Both of these airlines offer chauffeur service for first-class passengers. If you book your ticket with a partner you will likely lose the ability to take advantage of chauffeur service. We’ve experienced chauffeur service with both of the airlines and both airlines have had punctuality issues which was a bit surprising. So I’m just going to leave this one has a tie for now.
Emirates has the more extravagant first class lounge located in Dubai, which is basically its own terminal. (The fact that the airline is based in Dubai also might be a factor in your consideration alone since there is just so much more to do in Dubai.)
But the Etihad lounge in Abu Dhabi is pretty solid, too. It has undergone some cuts over the past couple of years by losing out on its barber shop and also getting a downgrade in the dining department. But it’s still a pretty cool lounge with interesting features like a cigar and whiskey room and a small gym.
I’ve only experienced the Emirates lounge in Milan Italy so I don’t want to for sure say which hub lounge is better than the other but based on what I have heard and reviewed I think that I would give the nod to Emirates.
Both first class cabins are located at the front of the A380 upper deck.
The cabin on the Etihad A380 is much more intimate and appealing than the Emirates cabin. There are nine different suites plus the Residence. But with the single aisle layout, the cabin just feels more private and less crowded. It’s also just a beautifully designed cabin that has a certain mystique to it.
Meanwhile on the Emirates First class cabin, there are 14 suites. These are arranged in a two aisle 1-2-1 configuration and so the entire cabin just feels a lot more cramped. The walls to the suites are also much lower which initially looks a lot less private.
However, once you are inside, the suites still do feel very private since they are slightly offset to each other.
Overall, I prefer the Etihad cabin due to the layout and fewer number of suites.
The first class suite
When it comes to the actual suites, think that the Etihad A380 experience is superior because the suites are larger and just more elegantly designed. If you have never flown on a first class suite like the Apartment before you will be blown away by all of the space that you have.
It also has some other interesting features like a vanity mirror, separate pullout bed, mini-bar, and TV that swivels. It’s just a very impressive design. I once went from flying this suite to flying on Southwest and it was just brutal.
I also like that you can have the partial double bed experience whenever you lower the partition. It’s not quite the full double bed like Singapore suites allows you to have but it’s still a great way to share the experience with a partner and afford you more room to get comfortable.
Lowering the partition also opens up the space dramatically and creates a much more open feel in the suite. It really does blow away the Emirates A380 suite.
The enclosed suites on Emirates feel a tad bit claustrophobic. There is not any room outside of your seat other than a bit of storage space for pillows or luggage. The good news is you can lower your partition and spend time with your partner if you’d like.
The Emirates suites are also tricked out with a little mini-bar, mini-vanity mirror, lamp, automatic doors, etc. but there’s also a lot of bling and it feels more “Pimp My Ride-ish,” which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I do like that they have air vents so that you can easily control the temperature inside your suite. That is a feature overlooked in many suites, but it can make the world of a difference when you’re trying to get to sleep comfortably.
Overall, the better suite has to be Etihad since it’s just on another level.
The first class seat
The seat on Etihad has limited comfort for a lot of people. It doesn’t recline all the way and if you want to get in the lie flat position you will have to get up out of your seat and make the bed. That’s an issue for some people and that’s why the seat is not necessarily ideal for everybody. But if you just want to kick back and relax your feet it’s not a bad option.
The layout of the seat also allows you to dine with a partner if you would like. That is significant because otherwise you are not really able to communicate with a partner if you’re flying with them since the suites are so private.
While the suite on Emirates might be a little bit more confining, the seat is actually very comfortable and for those people who like to recline immediately into a lie flat position the seat is probably better for them. Personally, I preferred the Emirates seat because I could relax into a perfectly reclined position while watching movies.
As for the actual sleep experience, I found them to be pretty equal. While I loved all of the additional space that the Apartment has to offer I gave the slight edge to Emirates because I could control the temperature and truly get comfortable.
Etihad just released their new Acqua di Parma amenity kit so I have not had the opportunity to try it out. But I do know that the Emirates first class amenity kit is very high quality and comes stocked with Bvlgari products. These products included lotion, lip balm, cologne, after shave, and also came with tissues, shaving products, and body spray.
In addition to the amenity kit, I must say that I did prefer the Emirates pajamas to those offered by Etihad.
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Dining and Drinks
The dining experience on Etihad has been pretty hit or miss for me. I know, I know, Etihad hires onboard chefs recruited from Michelin-starred restaurants and they can help you create your own custom dishes, but I have to say I’ve still been pretty underwhelmed in the past.
I really enjoyed the dining on my first Apartment experience but on my second time it was not as great (my best Etihad meal was on their other first class product). They also did not offer caviar on my previous Apartment flights; however, I believe that they do offer that now?
Another area where they lack is that they do not offer the same type of premium alcohol you can get on other airlines, such as Emirates.
Something that’s really cool about Emirates bar is they serve Hennessy Paradis (in first class). You may not realize it but this bottle costs $800 and Emirates has brought in in a more premium version of this which runs for close to $3,000. They also serve Dom Perignon (year varies).
I do think it is a little difficult to compare the dining experience when you only have a few personal data points but based on my limited personal experience I enjoyed Emirates dining more all thing considered.
Etihad has a bar area that is more of a lounge known as “The Lobby.” It is a cool little area to relax in and perhaps even get some work done or even have a little meeting. But the area is rather small and limited and is not a real bar area. It seems more fit for maybe enjoying a glass of wine or even some tea or something.
The bar on the Emirates A380 on the other hand is one of the best in the business. It’s a large and open area that attracts a lot of passengers and creates a nice scene for socializing. There are different places to relax and sit and they also have a flight attendant at the bar usually at all times serving up drinks and snacks. The energy definitely feels more upbeat there.
There also is a separate first class bar at the front of the cabin where you can find some of the premium drinks. This isn’t necessarily an area for socializing but you can go there to grab a few drinks/snacks. I think it’s really cool to be able to serve yourself up some premium drinks at your own leisure without having to hassle with the crowd.
So if I had to choose one bar experience over the other, the Emirates bar experience definitely would win by quite a large margin.
- By the way, if you want to see all of the different bar experiences compared among the different airlines you can click here to read more about those.
The shower experience is pretty solid on Etihad but it also is pretty basic. The shower experience on Emirates first class on the other hand is definitely an upgrade. For one the lavatory is just much larger and they have two showers operating meaning that it is much easier for you to schedule your shower.
The lavatories with the showers are set up likes spas and are very relaxing rooms with artwork on the walls and they have special attendants working the showers ensuring that you have everything you need. It’s a very over-the-top experience.
The shower also felt a little bit more spacious and there is a removable shower head and also a bench inside. And once you finish the shower experience, the first class bar is transformed into a spa relaxation area.
So overall I definitely would give the nod to Emirates on the shower experience.
Overall, I think I preferred the ease of the booking process (earning miles and avoiding fees) with Etihad and also like their hard product a lot more. The suites feel more elegant and are definitely more spacious and impressive. However, pretty much all other aspects of the first class experience are better on Emirates in my opinion (though in some cases not by much).
But in the end you can’t really go wrong with either of these and I would encourage everybody to try them both out since they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.