Which first class is better? Etihad and Emirates first class comparison

Hi Frugalistas!

frugalfirstclasstravel Etihad First Class 1

Ready for take off!

Regular readers will know that I recently flew both Etihad Airways and Emirates first class on my trip to Europe.  Since  my return I’ve been asked a number of times which first class does it better.  So, who does it better, Emirates or Etihad?  Well, my answer is “it depends….” and here is why:

Where Emirates and Etihad First Class are Equal

Both airlines offer a very similar check in experience with dedicated check ins for premium cabin passengers.  In their home ports of Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively, both offer dedicated Immigration counters.  In other cities Fast Track cards see First Class passengers through those formalities in no time.

comfy chairs and space in the almost deserted Emirates first class lounge, travel, travel tips, travel planning

Emirates first class lounge Dubai

In the lounge it is also a line ball decision.  Dedicated First Class Lounges, with dining areas and full menus are on offer.  Comfy seating, free wifi and plenty of space are a given.  A sense of calm permeates both lounges.

In flight, both airlines offer private suites with wardrobes and storage space.  Putting your bag in the overhead locker is a thing of the past, with in-suite storage on both airlines.

Emirates First Class is better than Etihad for…….

Emirates definitely has it over Etihad on the bells and whistles of First Class.  Putting aside the shower on the A380 (because it is only available on the A380 and therefore is not a standard part of the service), vintage Dom Perignon champagne and a brilliant Bulgari amenities kit (including a perfume to die for) are unbeatable.  The minibar also ticks plenty of boxes.  Emirates clearly want you to take all the goodies are on offer – stylish hessian shopping bags sporting the Emirates logo are handed out, and before the basket of minibar goodies is taken away for landing, a flight attendant checks if there is anything I want to take with me.

Emirates first class suite minibar, travel, travel tips, travel planning

Emirates mini bar

Etihad Airways Diamond First Class is better than Emirates for…….

It’s in the lounge I notice a subtle, but definite difference.  In the Emirates spa, there are only four free treatments – and none of them are facials.  Teleport over to Abu Dhabi, and it’s all free in the Etihad lounge – with a choice of multiple facials!

I love the Etihad pyjamas.  The ladies’ ones are fitted, satin-bound and come with pretty bling crystals on the zipper at the neck.  The Emirates pyjamas, on the other hand, were so ugly and so ill-fitting I couldn’t be bothered taking them with me whether it was expected or not.  Hideous colours and no fit.  Truly awful.

Due to a night time flight, I didn’t have the opportunity to eat a lot on the Emirates flight.  What I ate was very good, and indeed an Australian marinated Persian fetta served as part of a cheese platter was truly sublime.  But where Etihad gets my vote is the on board chef.  Want something simple that’s not on the menu?  No problem.  Want a four course meal with matching wines?  You’ve got it.  Freshly cooked grilled chicken with a light salad – of course! I love the on board chef!

frugalfirstclasstravel Etihad first class 3

My delicious Etihad dinner with a fabulous French Bordeaux

I also prefer the comfort of the Etihad seat to the Emirates offering.  This is obviously a very personal choice, and you may feel differently.  Similarly, when stretched out into the fully flat bed, the Etihad bed got my vote.  The Emirates seat and bed were fine –  I was comfortable and slept well, but the Etihad seat is just better.  For me anyway.

I noticed a definite difference in service between the two airlines.  No one came around to make up my bed when I flew Emirates.  Bedding was already provided in the suite and I saw everyone make up their own on my flight.  This has never happened to me, ever, on Etihad and indeed, on my last Etihad flight the adjacent suite was made up for my bedroom as the flight was half empty.  I found this quite disappointing on Emirates.  Emirates service was very friendly, kind and professional, but was not necessarily personal.  I found everytime I asked for something, it was a different attendant who came.  All charming, just not personal.  On Etihad, one person serves you.

frugalfirstclasstravel Etihad First Class 2

Etihad First Class And so to bed……

Which first class is better?

Make no mistake, both Etihad and Emirates offer a very superior First Class product, with plenty of room, privacy, wonderful food and entertainment and lovely service.  There are differences in both offerings, and really, I think it depends on your own personal preference which one you would prefer.  For me, while I appreciate all the bells and whistles of the Emirates offering, I do think the Etihad service is more personal and the seat and bed are definitely more comfortable for me.  That (just) wins the day for me.  Having said that, Emirates is fabulous, and I genuinely look forward to travelling both airlines’ First Class again.



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16 Comments on “Which first class is better? Etihad and Emirates first class comparison”

  1. Pretraveller 27/01/2014 at 5:23 am #

    Jo, thanks for sharing your first class experiences on the two airlines. It sounds like it was tough to make a decision based on different aspects of their services!

  2. frugalfirstclasstravel 27/01/2014 at 7:18 am #

    Yes, Anne, I’ve been thinking about this post quite a bit. At then end of the day, for me, comfort and service beat Dom Perignon!

  3. karisabroad 27/01/2014 at 8:55 am #

    Oh my goodness, they both sound fabulous!!! I LOVE flying first class, even though it only happens to me through random upgrades. I’d love to try out these airlines and fly in luxury!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 27/01/2014 at 9:24 am #

      Hi Karisa, don’t worry, I only get to go first class by a bit of travel hacking and some random upgrades too. Unfortunately, neither of these airlines are really convenient for US travellers unless you are going to the Middle East, and they don’t have great loyalty program linkages for US travellers either. Having said that they really are brilliant, so if you get the chance, do it!

  4. Chris 27/01/2014 at 12:58 pm #

    I’ve flown both extensively and I think it really comes down to personal preference and also which things you value (Emirates definitely has better Inflight Entertainment for example, but if that’s not important to you it won’t matter). Generally I find Etihad to be a little more consistent service-wise. On Emirates, I have had some truly great flights and some others that were just so-so. On average, I would say Emirates service is a 7 out of 10 whereas on Etihad I find it to be more like a 9 out of 10.

    The Dubai first class lounge in the A concourse is surely one of the world’s very best – I prefer it to Etihad, although I have also dined at the chef’s table in the Abu Dhabi first class lounge and that’s incredible.

    Etihad has the awesome on-board chef which is real distinctive. If you do fly on the EK A380, that really kicks things up a couple of notches with the onboard lounge/bar and showers.

    By the way, Etihad does have a linkage to a major US mileage program with AAdvantage. Also, due to their extensive codesharing with American, you can effectively earn AA elite qualifying miles on several of their flights.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 28/01/2014 at 7:09 am #

      Thanks for sharing your perspective on this, and also correcting me on the reward program linkages in North America. I did fly Emirates on the A380 and the shower is definitely a bonus. I understand Etihad have A380s on order, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

  5. Russell 27/01/2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Hi there,
    I too have flown first on both airlines and would have to agree with your evaluation. Etihad just seemed that little bit more polished and service orientated.
    Also I enjoy following your blog and have picked up some good info and spots to visit.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 28/01/2014 at 7:13 am #

      Thanks so much for your loyalty and feedback, Russell. I love hearing from regular readers. I didn’t use the term “polished” in my piece, but I think thats the word.

  6. backpackerlee 29/01/2014 at 9:25 pm #

    What a comprehensive article. I have never flown first class with Etihad, but have done so twice with Emirates, both in their A380 (and also once with Qatar if that counts). I would dearly like to fly with EY in first one day.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 30/01/2014 at 6:31 am #

      Etihad definitely is different, and isn’t as “flashy”. I’ve been pleased to read others’ thoughts about the difference in service.

  7. The Guy 30/01/2014 at 12:16 am #

    I found it fascinating to read this. I’ve been fortunate enough to twice fly First Class with Emirates and loved the experience. I’ve never flown Etihad yet, in any class. It sounds like stiff competition.

    Great that you’ve been able to experience both. I wonder if your experience will influence your choice of carrier if flight times and costs were not an issue in the future?

  8. frugalfirstclasstravel 30/01/2014 at 6:34 am #

    Thanks Guy. If everything was equal, I’d be going Etihad. Dom Perignon is nice, but excellent service and a superior seat would win the day…..

  9. Christina 30/01/2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Fantastic, thanks for sharing! I’ve never had the international First Class experience so it is so amazing to read about your flights. 🙂 Goodie bags, vintage Dom Perignon and pajamas are so novel and exciting, I probably would be too giddy and not a very smooth First Class flier!

    I didn’t realize that the terminal lounges had spa treatments. How long was your lay-over and did have enough time to enjoy all that was offered?

  10. frugalfirstclasstravel 30/01/2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Thanks Christina, I’m glad you enjoy reading my airline reviews. I had a couple of hours layover in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so definitely had time for a treatment. Etihad spa is free but you can only book one treatment. Emirates has a list of free and paid treatments.

  11. June Barter 09/12/2014 at 4:53 pm #

    I flew Emirates first class from London to Cape Town via Dubai recently. The service was good, but impersonal. However on the ground it was appalling. Our flight was late and I was worried sick about my connection. On the ground, far from our arrival gate, employees shouted out destinations. No such thing as signs held high. Before all ongoing passengers assembled, ours led us to a bus, which took us half way across the airport to go through some sort of check in, then onto another interminable bus journey to another building. There we were abandoned, and ran through the building, searching to find our way. Apparently Dubai wants to become the largest airport in the world. They’d better find and train better staff before they do so, else the chaos will continue. It wasn’t much better when I returned, with airport staff continually giving me poor or incorrect direction. Am going to fly Etihad next time. Better price and hopefully better service.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 09/12/2014 at 7:18 pm #

      Goodness, what a tale! Abu Dhabi airport is much smaller than Dubai, so much easier to get around. I find the Etihad ground staff excellent in general, however, I did have one very bad experience at the Abu Dhabi transit desk. I would be interested in your views on Etihad

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