Why we love the Middle East Big 3

There are a lot of things I love about being in America.  Clipping coupons, free refills, credit card points and miles.  Notably removed from the list, however, is flying internationally on domestic airlines.  They pale in comparison to foreign carriers, and especially to the Big Three airlines from the Middle East:  Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar.

For months now, there has been a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle war going on between the big three Middle East airlines and the large airlines in the USA, Specifically Delta and American Airlines.  Delta even went so far as to dump their Dubai route and cite “subsidized capacity” even though there were only two flag carriers from the USA flying there, Delta and United.

It should be noted that American, United, and Delta have all received millions of dollars in subsidies of their own over the past many years, including fuel subsidies and bankruptcy protection assistance.  While all legal, so are the loans and other subsidies that the Middle East airlines receive.

From the Winglet, American and United claimed no tax bill in 2015, while American Airlines AMR corp reported their best quarter ever, including over $3 billion in revenue and over $1 billion in profit.  So, it would stand to reason that airlines such as American are using those profits to invest in amazing first and business class products for their planes, and an amazing ground service experience for all their passengers, right?


US based airlines can’t hold a candle to the foreign carriers with their onboard experience.  Even on our recent trip to Africa, one of the people we met in Zambia said “wow, you sure do go a long way to avoid flying on United or American, don’t you?”  Sad, but true.  Lets take a look at some examples.

First Class Products

Emirates first class experience.  Need we say more?  Dom champagne served on board.  Showers on the plane.  Caviar.  Chauffeur service to and from the airport.  Top notch food and wine. Spa services in the airport lounges.  All these are easy touches that don’t cost a lot of money.  And if you’re really trying to compete, they are crucial.

Dom Perignon Champagne

Dom Perignon Champagne

Emirates First Class Shower

Emirates First Class Shower

Emirates First Class Caviar

Emirates First Class Caviar

So, what’s Delta and American have to offer?

Old planes, uncomfortable seats, rude flight attendants, and a general attitude of “we’re only here because we have to be.”  On my last American Airlines flight, I asked about the wine and her response was “it’s the best that $6 can buy from Costco!”  Not exactly the stellar first class experience I’d expect.

Ground Experience

Did you know that airlines will come to your house or hotel, in a black car or a limo, and drop you off right at the special, dedicated first class check in building?  Emirates will.  So will Qatar.  Virgin Atlantic too!  Just take a look at the first class experience from Etihad:

Or how about this experience on their new planes?

Are you kidding me? This is only rolled out on a few of their planes, but this is amazing! Imagine getting your own apartment inside of an airplane.

Did you know that if you’re doing a stop over or transiting through Abu Dhabi in a first or business cabin and you have to stay overnight, Etihad will actually pay for you to get a luxury hotel room close to the airport and take care of your transport to and from?  Again, if you’re charging $6,000 for an airline ticket, these small costs, which could be negotiated down to a low level with local hotels, are paltry in comparison to the end user experience.

Here’s a Delta video about their new products, with over half of the video mentioning their new economy products with features like “dedicated overhead space!”  Wow.  That’s epic.

“Fly Your Way”… we now offer burnt coffee and free charging ports at seats!  And we don’t show you the first class seats because deep down, we’re embarrassed by them.

How to fly on them?

Just because you’re flying and earning miles on Delta, Alaska, United, or American, doesn’t mean that you actually have to fly on those companies’ airlines.  We earn on American and redeem on Qatar and Etihad.  We fly on Alaska and redeem on Emirates.  We fly on Delta and redeem on Air France, KLM, and Virgin.

For us, those are the truly best options for redeeming miles.  We just redeemed American Airlines miles to fly from London to Abu Dhabi and beyond in first class on Etihad for the same amount of miles that they would have charged you to fly to Cancun from Miami.  Now I have to ask, which do you think is the better value?

Would you prefer this or burnt drip filter coffee?

Would you prefer this or burnt drip filter coffee?

Etihad Breakfast place setting

Etihad Breakfast place setting

Etihad Champagne and Dates

Etihad Champagne and Dates

None of the US carriers have ordered any new A380 aircraft, and none of them have really placed any orders for new aircraft in any substantial numbers.  So what about refurbishing their old, aging aircraft?  Well, slowly but surely the airlines are rolling out new products, but generally speaking they are inferior from anything the Middle East carriers can offer.  And bottom line?  They don’t have to.

Airlines are reducing flights, loads are up, and profits are high.  Consumers as a general rule don’t know any better, so until they know what’s out there to experience, they won’t yearn for more.  I urge you to stretch your imagination and know that your miles can get you more, and you deserve a No Mas Coach first class experience!

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. We are willing to fly as much as 12 hours more to get to our destination on the gulf carriers. We fly AA domestically because we have no option, but internationally we redeem miles or purchase first/business on the Gulf 3. US carriers are missing out on a tremendous amount of revenue. Even if they just upgraded the wine on their flights and in their lounges from $6 to $50 it would go a long way to improving the experience they offer their most valuable customers.

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    • I couldn’t agree more. In just a few months we’re heading to an Asia trip, and we’re flying Etihad and Emirates (with AA to get us to London). Honestly, it’s one of the best uses of our miles and for us at least, the service has been unparalleled. Good luck getting the domestic carriers to make those changes however, because they don’t “have” to. Most Americans just don’t know the difference, and probably won’t.

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