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Etihad offers Indians inflight showers on 3½-hour gulf jaunt

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Etihad Airways PJSC is marketing its Residence suites on the A380 servicing India at a fraction of the price to the UK, as it seeks to lure travelers into the industry's most luxurious cabins on 3 1/2 hour flights from the Persian Gulf.

[NEW DELHI] Etihad Airways PJSC is marketing its Residence suites on the A380 servicing India at a fraction of the price to the UK, as it seeks to lure travellers into the industry's most luxurious cabins on 3½ hour flights from the Persian Gulf.

The Airbus A380 berths, with a lie-flat bed, living area with 32-inch television, en suite shower and private butler, will sell for US$1,300 per trip when Etihad introduces the jets on its Abu Dhabi-Mumbai route on May 1. The same cabin costs US$20,000 for a one-way, eight-hour flight from the Gulf to London.

Etihad is betting that a taste of cut-price luxury will appeal both to the Mumbai elite and the ranks of business travelers with interests in the Gulf, as well as wealthier members of the Indian expatriate community there. The Residence deal is still far from a bargain fare, with Bahrain-based Gulf Air offering the cheapest ticket at 11,762 rupees, or US$179, according to Makemytrip.com.

"We offer a choice of four travel cabins catering to different requirements," Etihad said in an e-mail. "This is one of our important selling points for India. If you don't offer choice, consumers will look elsewhere."

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The pricing strategy for the Residence should help Etihad fill the two cabins on each A380 in a market that ranks as the world's cheapest for airfares, with passengers paying about US$10.36 per 100 kilometers, compared with US$138.90 in Finland, the most expensive, according to a study by GoEuro.com.

The cost of flights to the Gulf may come down further after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked airlines for price reductions in September following complaints from Indian nationals there about "exorbitant" fares when traveling home during holiday periods.

Like Gulf rival Qatar Airways, Etihad, led by Australian chief executive officer James Hogan, has ordered the A380 in relatively small numbers and made the double-decker the spearhead of a bid to attract top-paying clients.

In the addition to the Residence suites, each of its superjumbos has nine seats in first class, 70 in business class and 415 in coach.

Vistara, the local unit of Singapore Airlines Ltd, has struggled to fill even two-thirds of premium seats in Indian where more than 750 million people live on less than US$2 a day. Tickets on Etihad's Mumbai-Abu Dhabi route will also be advertised under the code of Jet Airways India Ltd, in which it has a 24 per cent stake, in a move that may aid sales.

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