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Emirates Series: The Basics of Earning and Redeeming

by on October 30, 2013 · 9 comments

in Emirates, TPG Contributors

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With this morning’s news that Emirates has become the newest airline transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards – the points program of cards like the Premier Rewards Gold, Business Gold Rewards, Platinum and Business Platinum cards – I am launching an Emirates series on the site that will take readers through the ins and outs of the program including the basics of earning and redeeming miles, award chart sweet spots, elite status, partners and more, so if you’re wondering about whether to put your Amex points to use on this premier Middle East carrier, you’ll find all the information you’ll need to maximize the new partnership.

I'm looking forward to flying Emirates thanks to Amex points.

I’m looking forward to flying Emirates thanks to Amex points.

Today’s first post comes to us courtesy of TPG contributor Jason Steele, who takes a detailed look at how Emirates Skywards members can earn and redeem miles aboard the carrier.

Over the last 30 years, Emirates has gone from a small Middle Eastern carrier to a global juggernaut. Emirates now serves nine different North American destinations from its Dubai hub, with Boston scheduled to be its 10th next year.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the earning and redeeming points in the Emirates Skywards rewards program.

Earning miles on Emirates flights

Like some other foreign carriers, Emirates has a somewhat different take on earning miles than you will find on domestic airlines here in the United States. For example, when traveling on paid Emirates flights, miles are earned based on the zones transited, not the actual distance flown. Think of it like applying a traditional zone-based award redemption chart to mileage earning.

Emirates mileage earning is based on zones.

Emirates mileage earning is based on zones.

The problem is that Emirates publishes the cities in these zones here, but doesn’t list the mileage earned. You are supposed to use their mileage calculator to determine how many miles you would earn on a particular trip.

Different fares earn different mileage percentages.

Different fares earn different mileage percentages.

For example, you earn just 7,000 miles for an economy class saver fare for round trip travel to Dubai from cities in the North America West zone (DFW, IAH, LAX, SFO, and SEA), and 6,000 miles from North America East (BOS, JFK, EWR, IAD, YYZ). This represents a rough average of only half the number of miles traveled from these cities to Dubai. To earn the full 100% you’d need to buy a much more expensive Flex fare.

Emirates earning JFK DXB

Thankfully, there are some multipliers that can increase earnings. Unlike other carriers, there are simply two fare classes, Flex and Saver. More expensive Flex fares earn full miles (roughly equivalent to the miles flown), yet tend to cost 50-60% more for economy class seats. In many cases, business class seats cost the same in Saver and Flex classes.

In addition, business class seats earn a 75% bonus, and if you were to somehow pay for a first class seat, you would earn a 150% bonus, both of which count towards elite tiers – but in effect, the bonuses don’t work quite that way, as you can see from these sample itineraries in business and first from New York JFK to Dubai.

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 10.24.22 AMIn this case, a business class Saver ticket earns a 25% mileage bonus and a Flex fare earns a 75% bonus.

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 10.25.33 AMWhile this first class Saver fare earns a 100% bonus and the Flex fare earns a 150% bonus, so as with all earning in Skywards, it depends on your fare class, so double check your earning with the mileage calculator before purchasing.

Those in elite tiers also earn mileage bonuses on top of others, 25% for Silver, 50% for Gold, and 75% for Platinum. Both the fare class and the class of services bonuses also count as ‘tier miles’ towards elite status.

Finally, there is also the Miles Accelerator program that offers bonus miles on various flights, depending on class of service. For instance, 4,000 bonus miles are frequently offered each way for flights from JFK to Dubai in business class, and 6,000 additional bonus miles for flights in first class. Travelers who book their tickets online automatically receive these bonuses, while those who book through travel agents must log on to their account and “opt in”.  Availability of the Miles Accelerator program varies based on the route and date being flown, but when available, the amount of the mileage bonus tends to be constant. You can search for eligible routes and opt in at this web page.

Redeeming miles for Emirates flights

Apparently, Emirates can operate the world’s largest fleet of Airbus A380 super-jumbos, and win numerous awards for their in-flight service, but they can’t (or don’t want to) create award redemption charts for their Skywards frequent flier program.

So I took it upon myself to create one for them, based on the information returned from their mileage calculator tool. Below is the award chart for round trip Saver awards from North America on Emirates. Note that one-way awards are available for half price on Flex awards only.

Below is the award chart from round trip Saver awards from the North America East zone, (BOS, JFK, EWR, IAD, YYZ). One-way awards are only available on Flex redemptions (not the saver awards listed below).

Zone Name Econ. SaverAward – From North America East Bus. Saver Award – From North America East First SaverAward – From North America East

North America (West)

155,000 310,000 465,000

South America

115,000 230,000 345,000

Africa (South & West)

95,000 190,000 285,000

Europe (West)

45,000 90,000 135,000

Africa (North & East)

85,000 170,000 255,000

Europe (South)

85,000 170,000 255,000

Near East

80,000 160,000 240,000

Middle East

75,000 150,000 225,000

Dubai/UAE

72,500 145,000 217,500

Asian Sub Continent (North)

80,000 160,000 240,000

Asian Sub Continent (South)

85,000 170,000 255,000

Asian Sub Continent (East)

90,000 180,000 270,000

Far East

95,000 190,000 285,000

Japan

100,000 200,000 300,000

Australia (West)

115,000 230,000 345,000

Australia (East)

140,000 280,000 320,000

New Zealand

140,000 280,000 320,000

Below is the award chart from round trip Saver awards from the North America West zone, (DFW, IAH, LAX, SFO, and SEA). One-way awards are only available on Flex redemptions (not the saver awards listed below).

Zone Name Econ. SaverAward – From N. America West Bus. Saver Award – From N. America West First SaverAward – From N. America West

North America (East)

155,000 310,000 465,000

South America

125,000 250,000 375,000

Africa (South & West)

100,000 200,000 300,000

Europe (West)

95,000 190,000 285,000

Africa (North & East)

90,000 180,000 270,000

Europe (South)

90,000 180,000 270,000

Near East

85,000 170,000 255,000

Middle East

85,000 170,000 255,000

Dubai/UAE

82,500 165,000 247,000

Asian Sub Continent (North)

85,000 170,000 255,000

Asian Sub Continent (South)

90,000 180,000 270,000

Asian Sub Continent (East)

95,000 190,000 285,000

Far East

105,000 210,000 315,000

Japan

110,000 220,000 330,000

Australia (West)

120,000 240,000 360,000

Australia (East)

150,000 300,000 450,000

New Zealand

155,000 310,000 465,000

Clearly, business class awards require double the number of miles as economy, and first class requires triple. There is also a Flex Awards tier that costs even more miles, but has fewer capacity restrictions.

Restrictions

Saver awards are subject to a three-month maximum stay, and one stopover is permitted. Flex awards have a 12-month maximum stay and permit two stopovers. Open jaws are permitted within zones. Date changes are $25 for Saver awards and free for Flex awards. Booking a one-way award would appear to nullify the length of stay restrictions.

Earlier this year, Emirates began adding fuel surcharges to award flights with very little notice. These surcharges have been reported to be in line with those charged by partner, Qantas. Emirates customer service quoted me $317 for fuel surcharges alone on a one-way, economy class award from JFK to Dubai, and $645 for one-way flights in either business or first class.

 Upgrade awards

Beyond flight awards, Emirate offers upgrade awards to the next class of service, either economy to business, or business to first. Only a single class upgrade is available, unless it is on a flight operated without business class.

As expected, there is no award chart. To Dubai from their North America East zone, a round trip Saver upgrade award is 72,500 miles and a Flex upgrade award is 90,000 miles, with fewer capacity restrictions for Flex awards. From North America West to Dubai, the round trip upgrade costs 105,000 for Flex and 135,000 for Saver.

Considering that other airlines tend to charge 120,000 miles for a business class award from the United States to the Middle East, these prices are quite steep. Nevertheless, it could make sense to purchase a discounted coach seat from the North America East zone, and upgrade to business class for a mere 72,500 miles.

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 5.23.56 PM

Skysurfers program

Skysurfers is a version of the Skywards program for travelers age 2-16. Mileage is earned at the same rates as the standard Skywards program, and members are eligible for elite status. Miles can be redeemed in all the same ways as adults, but a parent or guardian’s signature is required. In contrast, other airlines allow me to redeem miles online for my children’s accounts, just by knowing their frequent flier number and password.

Despite this cumbersome process, children enjoy special membership cards and the ability to redeem miles for electronics, games, and fashion accessories, although adults seem to have the same options.

Emirates Business Rewards

In addition to its Skywards frequent flier program, Emirates offers a Business Rewards program for organizations enrolling up to 80 members. Organizations designate one or more administrators to plan and book travel, as well as redeem awards. Travelers earn one mile for each $1 (USD) spent on base airfare before taxes and surcharges.

Travelers must first enroll in the Skywards program and then link their frequent flier number to the Business Rewards program. Thankfully, employees continue to earn Skywards miles and Business Rewards miles for the same flight, although miles cannot be combined. Clearly, this is an innovative way to encourage travel managers to steer business to Emirates so that the organization can earn rewards along with travelers.

That wraps up part 1 of this six part series; An introduction to the earning and redeeming miles in the Emirates Skywards program. In future posts, I’ll explore elite status, award chart sweet spots, unique features, transfer partners, and partners, both for earning and redeeming.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Daniel Lally

    I have 30K Skyward miles from a trip last year but don’t plan on flying Emirates in the near future. Is there anything I can do with these miles? The chart above looks bleak.

  • nbailey

    you can always shop here: http://www.emirateshighstreet.com/

  • Nick

    Why the tremendous premium for traveling between the East and West Coasts of North America? I can only presume this is a round-the-world routing via Dubai?…

  • Jason Steele

    It is not RTW (more polar actually). The difference is somewhat minor when terminating in Dubai, but quite large when going to Europe via Dubai. I think the difference has to do with the competition between Europe and the US east coast, but it is hard to say.

  • Rob

    I’m flying from the Maldives from Male to Rome in March on Emirates and paid for business class one way. I used points to fly Round trip from Boston to Rome via Alitalia in business and Turkish Airlines via Star Alliance in business from Rome to Male. Any suggestions on the best way to upgrade to First Class. The flight from Abu Dhubi to Rome is aboard the A380 and we would love to experience this.

  • Skudu

    can any economy booking class be upgraded to business with miles? or should i book in special booking class to be eligible for an upgrade?

  • Steve

    I think the question is why does it cost 155,000 miles to fly from the east coast to the west coast of North America.

  • Tom

    Am I the only one that finds these mileage redemptions rather exorbitant? 190,000 points for a roundtrip business class ticket to go from East Coast US to Asia?

    Maybe I’m just being nostalgic but it was less than 2 years ago that you could fly roundtrip business class on Cathay Pacific NYC to Hong Kong for 100,000 BA points. That’s changed now to 140,000 with the Avios devaluation, but 195,000 points still just seems outrageous.

    If this trend continues it looks like it won’t be long before I find myself sitting in the back of the plane :( I can’t be the only one with this concern? There are only so many ways to top up your mileage bank.

    @ThePointsGuy, I would love to hear your take on this trend… I don’t want to sit in the back of the bus! With 10-across seating in 777s… I’d almost rather stay home!

  • Joe

    There is no Emirates domestic flight. You’d essentially go from SFO to DXB, then DXB to JFK making it two one way flights, hence the extra cost.

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