Change is in the air at Etihad Airways. The carrier is expanding the loyalty benefits that are offered to customers and activating a fee-based model at some of its lounges. The Etihad Guest Travel Rewards program will now permit members to spend and book their miles using hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms and rental cars around the world. This means that membership in the program just became a lot more valuable.

Etihad Airways is collaborating with a Canadian-based company called Points Travel to expand booking options for members of its popular loyalty program. Members will now have the ability to redeem miles when booking nearly any hotel or car rental they choose. Moreover, members can enjoy greater flexibility since they are permitted to redeem miles alone or use a combination of miles and cash when booking their reservations.

Etihad Airways isn't just changing the way members of its loyalty program can redeem miles. The airline is also shaking up the way it offers lounge experiences to travelers. A major change is being introduced at Etihad's popular Melbourne Airport lounge. Etihad Airways just dropped the price for walk-up access for lounge visitors. Members of the Etihad Guest program will now only pay AUD$75 per person for access, instead of AUD$99, when visiting the lounge without Business Class or First Class tickets. That price drops down to AUD$65 per passenger in the case of silver-grade membership. In addition, the lounge's VIP room will now go from being reserved strictly for elite flyers to being available for a fee of $40.

Pedro Pla is co-founder of GET.com. He has been around the globe several times and considers collecting air miles and points from credit cards to be a hobby, if not, an obsession. Email: p@get.com.