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After last week’s announcement of Emirates as the newest American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, as well as a 25% transfer bonus through November 21, I asked TPG contributor Jason Steele to create a series on the airline’s Skywards program, and this is the latest one, on elite status. Other posts in the series include: The Basics of Earning and Redeeming, Using Miles To Upgrade, Award Chart Sweet Spots and Good News: Amex Points Transfer to Emirates Instantly.
For those who frequently purchase revenue tickets to/from Dubai or on Emirates’ other routes, earning status in the Skywards program is a great way to enjoy a plethora of perks. There are four published membership tiers to this program, Blue, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Due to the nature of the long-haul flights that Emirates tends to operate, earning elite status might only require a handful of trips between North America and the Middle East, Asia, or Africa, so it could be closer than you think.
Earning elite status
Travelers achieve these levels of status by earning Tier miles, which are the base miles awarded before any multipliers for fare, status, or mileage accelerators have been added, although Emirates does award more tier miles depending on the class of service purchased.
For example, flying New York JFK to Dubai would earn you the following amount of Tier miles on the following fares:
Economy Saver: 6,000 Tier miles
Economy Flex: 12,000 Tier miles
Business Saver: 15,000 Tier miles
Business Flex: 21,000 Tier miles
First Saver: 24,000 Tier miles
First Flex: 30,000 Tier miles
So in general, a Business class Saver ticket will earn you 250% more Tier miles than an Economy Saver, and a First class Saver ticket will earn you 4X the Tier miles. You can find out how much you’ll earn based on the route and fare with the airline’s Mileage Calculator.
Achieving and Maintaining Elite Status
Rather than working on a calendar year system, like most airlines, the Skywards program allows customers to earn tier status based on a rolling 13 month window. Status is re-assessed once each month based on travel in the previous 13 months. Status can increase based on travel in the last 13 months, but travelers retain the highest status received until two months after their tier review date, which is 12 months after one qualifies, at the end of the month.
For example, if a traveler has completed the requirement for Gold status on July 8th of 2013, they will have to re-qualify by July 31st of 2014. But even if he or she fails to do so, Gold status is retained through the end of September 2014.
Status Levels and Benefits
Blue: Emirates is kind enough to award Blue status to anyone who signs up for an account. Nevertheless, travelers with Blue status are afforded some benefits such as the ability to nominate a personal travel coordinator, and waitlist priority over those who haven’t bothered to create an account.
Silver: 25,000 Tier miles or 25 qualifying flights over a rolling 13-month period are required to attain Silver Membership Tier. Benefits over Blue status include a 25% mileage bonus offered on revenue flights, priority service at check-in and boarding, extra checked baggage allowance, and lounge access in Dubai.
Gold: Earning Gold status requires 50,000 Tier miles or 50 qualifying flights over a rolling 13-month time period. Benefits beyond Silver include a 50% mileage bonus on flights, guaranteed seats on full flights, lounge access throughout the Emirates network for travelers and guests, as well as priority baggage delivery.
Platinum: 150,000 Tier miles are required to attain Platinum status, and there is no way to qualify based on flight segments alone. Benefits beyond Gold status include a 75% bonus on mileage earned, last seat availability for Flex award tickets and the ability to nominate a partner for complimentary Gold status.
By Invitation Only: There is an unpublished fifth tier that is offered to those who spend heavily on Emirates tickets. Only a few dozen flyers are rumored to hold this status, and very little is known about it.
Details about Elite Benefits
Pre-assigned seats: All members can receive a pre-assigned seating option when purchasing a ticket at least 48 hours in advance.
Lounge access: Platinum, Gold and Silver members receive lounge access regardless of which cabin they are traveling in, although Silver members only receive access to the Emirates Business Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport. Elite members traveling on codeshare flights (purchased from Emirates but operated by another carrier) do not receive this lounge benefit outside of Dubai, except those traveling on Qantas flights.
E-Gate service in Dubai: This allows UAE residents to enter the country through an expedited immigrations line with a special card, roughly the equivalent of the US Global Entry program.
Baggage allowance: Additional checked baggage at no fee is a benefit offered to Platinum, Gold and Silver members traveling on Emirates flights only. Platinum members receive an additional 20kgs (~44 lbs.); Gold Members receive an additional 16 kgs (~35 lbs.), and Silver members receive an additional 12 kgs.(~26 lbs.) over the standard baggage allowance shown on the ticket.
But before Americans earn status and decide to use this allowance, note that additional baggage allowances do not apply to any ticket to or from North America or South America. In these cases, travelers are limited to two free pieces of luggage; up to 23kgs (~50 lbs.) for economy and up to 32 kgs. (~70 lbs.) for business and first class, regardless of elite status.
Upgrades: As with most international flights, Emirates does not offer complimentary upgrades to elites as a published benefit. All customers can upgrade tickets using mileage awards after purchasing a ticket, or at check-in, when available. Only the Silver, Gold, and Platinum members may use miles to upgrade once on-board.
‘Last Seat’ Skywards Flex reward tickets: This benefit enables Platinum members to book an economy or business Skywards Flex award on any Emirates flight, so long as there are seats still available for sale. Unfortunately, the Flex awards cost considerably more mileage than the Saver awards. For example, a round trip, business class Flex award from JFK to Dubai is 200,000 miles, while the Saver award is only 145,000 miles.
Guaranteed seating on full flights: Gold and Platinum members who purchase a Skywards Flex Fare commercial ticket, in any class, with no minimum/maximum stay restrictions are guaranteed an economy class seat on any alternate flight, even if no tickets are available in any other class for the flight. Platinum members have the option of purchasing guaranteed seat in business class. Travelers must already be ticketed and the change must be made at least 48 hours before the flight.
Opening Doors: Skywards Gold and Platinum members receive access to additional promotions and VIP service such as complimentary upgrades at five-star hotels, luxury spa treatments, and discounts on fine dining and more. Unless you’re already Gold or Platinum and logged into your account, you can’t see the current list of available benefits.
An interesting program overall, Skywards elite status has a few unique elements like the rolling qualification period, last-seat availability, higher baggage allowances and more, so if Emirates is one of your main carriers, it’s worth looking into to see whether you can benefit by concentrating more of your earning on the airline.