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Emirates Series: Comparing Transfer Partners

by on November 21, 2013 · 2 comments

in Emirates, TPG Contributors

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After last week’s announcement of Emirates as the newest American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner and the current Amex 25% transfer bonus until November 21, as part of our Emirates Series, TPG contributor Jason Steele discusses Emirates Skywards’ transfer partners and compares the options. Other posts in the series include: The Basics of Earning and Redeeming, Using Miles To Upgrade, Award Chart Sweet Spots, Elite Status, Partner Earning and Redemptions, and Good News: Amex Points Transfer to Emirates Instantly.

With the recent announcement that Emirates Skywards is now a transfer partner for the American Express Membership Rewards program, travelers now have several different ways to redeem their points for free travel on Emirates. Let’s take a look at the Membership Rewards option, and how it compares to the pre-existing  opportunity to transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points to Emirates Skywards. Then we’ll see which point transfer options are the best.

Emirates is not part of the major airline alliances but has plenty of transfer partners.

Emirates is not part of the major airline alliances but has plenty of transfer partners.

Transferring Points from American Express Membership Rewards

Advantages:

  • Instant transfers. As TPG confirmed, transfers of points from Membership Rewards to the Skywards program happen instantly. That means that travelers can confirm award availability and execute the transfer instantly in order to book an award.
  • Bonus mile offers. The American Express Membership Rewards program is available on several different business and personal credit and charge cards, some of which feature generous spending bonuses. For example, the Premier Rewards Gold card features 3X points for flights booked with airlines, 2X points at U.S. gas stations, 2X points at U.S. supermarkets. And the Business Gold Rewards card offers 3X points for flights booked with airlines, 2X points on U.S. purchases for advertising in select media, shipping, and at gas station and purchases made directly from select U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing providers.
  • Potential transfer bonuses. The Membership Rewards program is beloved for its frequent points transfer bonuses including the 25% transfer bonus to Emirates now through November 21, 2013 (this Thursday). These are limited time offers and there is no guarantee that transfers the Emirates Skywards program will ever feature a bonus again, but it seems probable.
  • Unlimited point transfers. Card members can transfer an unlimited number of points from Membership Rewards to Skywards, in 1,000-point increments.

Drawbacks:

  • Current transfer bonus was only 2 weeks. Then the rate of transfer reverts to the usual 1:1.
  • No transfers to other people’s accounts. Transfers must be between Membership Rewards and Skywards accounts in the same name.

Transferring points from the Starwood Preferred Guest

Advantages

  • Transfer bonuses. When your transfer 20,000 Starpoints to miles, you get a 5,000 point bonus. Every time.
  • Transfer points to family members. Starwood points can be transferred to family members living at the same address.
  • No minimum transfers for Platinum members. Even if you are short just one mile, and you are a SPG Platinum member, you can transfer your point to a mile in the Skywards program or any other of the program’s airline partners.

Drawbacks

  • Transfer delays. The Starwood site warns “that airline transfer awards to Emirates Skywards may require up to 10-14 business days handling and processing time. There are reports online that this transfer usually takes less than a week, but any delay risks the possibility that a needed award seat will no longer be available once the transaction has been concluded. For more information, see this post on Starwood Airline Transfer Times.
  • Daily transfer limits. Starwood Preferred Guests can only transfer up to 79,999 of their Starpoints per transaction, per program within a 24-hour period. This means that it could take days to transfer the hundreds of thousands of points necessary for multiple tickets in premium classes. During this time, the award availability might disappear.
  • Minimum transfer amounts for Gold and Preferred members. SPG Gold members must transfer at least 1,500 miles, while Preferred members (those with no status) must transfer a minimum of 2,500.

Other routes from flexible point systems to Emirates award flights

Here are the other airline partners of each program whose miles or points you can use to fly Emirates. At the end, find a comprehensive table with the amount of points/miles you’d need in each as well as estimated fuel surcharges and taxes.

From Membership Rewards:

Virgin America. Emirates recently announced a partnership with Virgin America, which is a Membership Reward transfer partner. Virgin offers one-way awards, but not access to first class awards on Emirates. Another downside are the huge fuel surcharges imposed.

From Starwood Preferred Guest

Alaska Mileage Plan: Mileage Plan miles can be redeemed for Emirates flights, with no added fuel surcharges at this time. One way awards are also available, and their award chart is typically the same or better than Emirates. Therefore, this might be a more attractive option for most Starwood point transfers. The biggest downside is that awards must originate or terminate in North America.

Japan Airlines (JAL): Japan airlines charges for awards based on its distance chart. JFK to Dubai is within the 12,000 – 14,000 mile range while LA to Dubai round trip is within the 14,001 -20,000 mile range. These are roundtrip awards only, but taxes and fees are no more than $77.60.

Korean Skypass: Korean is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner if you have the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus, but it is not a very attractive route towards Emirates awards. Prices are high, up to 210,000 miles for First Class awards. In addition, Korean imposes unspecified fuel surcharges, and does not offer one way awards. Finally, their award booking process is very restrictive and difficult. Awards can only be issued to family members of the account holder, and requests must be faxed to their office.

Note: JetBlue is a transfer partner of Emirates Skywards. You can earn points in either program when you fly either airline, but you cannot redeem JetBlue’s True Blue points for Emirates flights at this time.

Ultimate Rewards

The only transfer partner from Ultimate Rewards points that will allow you to fly Emirates is Korean. As I mentioned above, it is not the most attractive option, but it can make sense for those who only have large quantities of Ultimate Rewards points.

Roundtrip award chart for flights on Emirates using partner’s miles.

Program

From

To

Class

Miles

Fuel Surcharge

One-Way?

Skywards

LAX

DXB

Economy

82,500

$642

Yes

Skywards

LAX

DXB

Business

165,000

$1,316

Yes

Skywards

LAX

DXB

First

247,000

$1,316

Yes

Skywards

JFK

DXB

Economy

72,500

$634

Yes

Skywards

JFK

DXB

Business

145,000

$1,290

Yes

Skywards

JFK

DXB

First

217,500

$1,290

Yes

Virgin America

LAX

DXB

Economy

50,000

$720

No

Virgin America

LAX

DXB

Business

100,000

$1,420

No

Virgin America

JFK

DXB

Economy

45,000

$720

No

Virgin America

JFK

DXB

Business

95,000

$1,420

No

Alaska

N. America

India/Mid-East

Economy

85,000

Just Taxes

Yes

Alaska

N. America

India/Mid-East

Business

145,000

Just Taxes

Yes

Japan

JFK

DXB

Economy

55,000

Just Taxes

No

Japan

JFK

DXB

Business

85,000

Just Taxes

No

Japan

JFK

DXB

First

135,000

Just Taxes

No

Japan

LAX

DXB

Economy

60,000

Just Taxes

No

Japan

LAX

DXB

Business

100,000

Just Taxes

No

Japan

LAX

DXB

First

155,000

Just Taxes

No

Korean

N. America

DXB

Economy

70,000

Yes

No

Korean

N. America

DXB

Business

140,000

Yes

No

Korean

N. America

DXB

First

210,000

Yes

No

The best deals here seem to be Alaska and JAL thanks to both their mileage levels and the lack of fuel surcharges, but that means transferring an awful lot of Starwood Preferred Guest points which you might put to better use on hotel redemptions. Still, depending on the miles you have and the transferable points you tend to accrue, there are plenty of options here and ways to use your miles to fly Emirates.

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  • Andrew

    How much is first using alaska airlines?

  • Raghu

    Hi TPG
    Truly enjoy the amazing education you do for folks like me. Question , How do I search for emirates First class award availability to redeem using JAL i.e mileage bank
    Thanks
    Raghu

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