Modo Travels to the UAE: The Beginnings of a Great Partnership with Etihad Airways

Modo is partnering with Etihad Airways to transform Etihad Guest Miles into a currency for seamless and easy payments. The partnership kicked off with a team of Modonauts traveling to Abu Dhabi to begin solutioning with Etihad. Sam Brown, our Creative Director, shared his thoughts on the journey to the UAE.  

By Sam Brown, Creative Director at Modo

Our trip to Abu Dhabi started, quite literally, with a bang. Etihad Airways invited us to pitch how Modo’s technology could expand their Etihad Guest loyalty program as part of the FinTech Abu Dhabi Innovation Challenge. They had scheduled it for the morning of July 5 GST, which translated to late-night on The Fourth of July for us Modonauts. So after the barbecues and fireworks, we settled into desks for a live demonstration. We came prepared with mock-ups and detailed technical diagrams of how Modo’s payments interoperability platform worked. They were intrigued and two weeks later we were in Abu Dhabi at the Etihad headquarters.

I’d been to the UAE a couple of times before as a tourist so I had some idea of what to expect, but this trip was different because it was in the middle of July. It wasn’t the hottest time of year, but it’s still the time of year that those who have the option of being somewhere else will be somewhere else. Being Texan, I’m okay with heat, but I don’t usually wear a suit when it’s 105+ F degrees (40+ C).

Other than the heat, it’s very easy to acclimate to the city of Abu Dhabi. It has all the elements and luxuries typical of most cosmopolitan cities: a large English-speaking population, fancy malls filled with all the big western brands, towering skyscrapers, a strong mix of old and new. But unlike most cosmopolitan cities, it is a “new” cosmopolitan city. If you look out, you see the cranes and skeletons of dozens of buildings that will be added to the skyline within a few years. As a city, Abu Dhabi is being built post modern technology and transportation, and with vast amounts of undeveloped land, so the infrastructure is more modern than older cities. If you hadn’t seen it since 2000, you wouldn’t recognize it now – as some of the locals told us. If you don’t see it again until 2040, you probably won’t recognize it.

Abu Dhabi was designed to be an enticing place in which to do business. If you are a weary international business traveler who wants all the comforts of home with minimal exposure to the desert heat, you can easily get that. That is not how you describe Modonauts, though. We not only love to explore new avenues of payments innovation, but we also love to explore new countries and cultures where we are bringing that innovation!

Working with Etihad was an adventure in and of itself. We got to the meeting space at their headquarters to find the walls decorated in large sheets of paper covered with multi-colored ideation post-its that envisioned the  customer journey and solution architecture. Different team members joined the discussions throughout the day, and real progress was being made. After meeting with the Etihad team, we could tell they were ready to get a unique loyalty redemption solution together. They understood the importance of delivering to the market and testing their offering quickly. We always appreciate the focus on innovation from our clients.

We spent the next few days brainstorming with the Etihad team about their vision for the Etihad Guest Miles program and how Modo could help making all of their payments dreams come true. Our team back home in the State was riveted by the daily update calls from the onsite team in Abu Dhabi. The Modonauts were ready to get to work.

Sam Brown (right) made a couple new friends in the Abu Dhabi desert.

Although Etihad kept us pretty busy working through solutions that would help them create a more versatile loyalty program we still managed to find time to be tourists. Our biggest jaunt was the Desert Safari. This 6 hour excursion took us over an hour outside the city to where the pavement ends and the dunes begin. Lindy, our CMO, was the most eager to go and document the trip. The first part included something called “dune thrashing”, which involves taking a 4×4 over dunes at unsafe velocities. It made the roller-coasters from back home seem like kiddie coasters as we slipped sideways down the endless supply of steep dunes. Despite what felt like violations of several of Newton’s laws, the driver never rolled our vehicle and the roll bars that criss-crossed the interior of our SUV never had to do their job. But it was one wild ride! The driver quickly gained our trust and we were able to enjoy the experience, confident that we could remain upright despite our inner ears telling us otherwise. Some of the passengers in our caravan didn’t fare so well and could be seen doubled over once we stopped for pictures. Props for being adventurous anyway, guys! Other highlights included camel rides, more thrashing on ATVs, Arab style barbecue, and some entertainment that included belly dancing and a guy that literally spun around for something like ten minutes.

The Modo team visited The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (photo by Lindy Nelson).


Our last day, we took an early trip to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque aka Grand Mosque. We saw many examples of architectural elegance in Abu Dhabi, but the Grand Mosque takes the cake. I’ve been to the Taj Mahal a few times and it is a wonder of precision and elegance, especially for a 400 year old structure. The Grand Mosque is a modern day Taj Mahal – completed just over two decades ago – with modern construction techniques, so it takes materials and precision to new heights. It’s what you get when you are able to get gems, metals, stones, and artisans from all over the world.

The appreciation for elegance in Abu Dhabi is everywhere. Etihad, being one of the highest rated international airlines in the world, is a prime example. Perhaps that’s why they chose Modo to be part of the Abu Dhabi FinTech Innovation Challenge. Our API easily and elegantly connects different payments platforms, bringing seamless interoperability where none existed. We are excited to be helping Etihad to set a new standard in customer service for airline loyalty programs.

Let’s go show them how loyalty is done!


Modo and Etihad will be demonstrating their solution on September 17th at the FinTech Abu Dhabi Summit. 


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