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Nearly all of the cards in Air Berlin’s hand had been played as the airline prepared to cease operations later this month, but in a surprise move last week, Etihad stepped in to give new life to the flagging carrier’s loyalty program.
Through November 17, Etihad is offering members of Air Berlin’s loyalty program, Topbonus, the ability to redeem frequent flyer miles on Etihad through a special booking window. Air Berlin will stop flying before Oct. 28, so Etihad’s extension gives Topbonus members several more weeks to plan free flights.
Etihad and Air Berlin also set up a special hotline and landing page for Topbonus members to make the bookings, as many of Air Berlin’s operations will fold in the coming weeks.
Traditionally, members of Topbonus have been able to redeem Air Berlin miles on any of its Oneworld partners including American, British Airways and Qantas, as well as other carriers with special deals with the airline. Etihad, which has owned 49 percent of the carrier, also had a deal with Air Berlin that allowed frequent flyers to earn and spend miles on both airlines.
As Air Berlin and Topbonus wind down, the gesture from Etihad is welcome relief for many passengers still struggling with the carrier’s demise. In August, Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy after Etihad pulled extended funding. Since then, portions of the company have been calving off of the operation like melting icebergs. Lufthansa and EasyJet soon will absorb parts of the carrier, while Air Berlin’s lenders are taking dramatic moves to reclaim assets. Late last week Isavia, the operator of Iceland’s Keflavik airport, impounded a plane, citing outstanding debts.
Etihad’s move may not be purely altruistic. In the last week, several airlines, such as British Airways and Iberia, have offered status matches to Topbonus frequent flyers, effectively promising to match elite status if customers shift some of their business to the new carrier. With its gesture, Etihad is taking another approach to woo lucrative frequent flyers.
Despite the mixed intentions, members of Topbonus should still be pleased they have an extended outlet for their soon-to-be useless mileage accounts. Etihad’s offer expires Nov. 17.
— Grant Martin
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