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Emirates Series: Using Miles to Upgrade

by on November 1, 2013 · 4 comments

in Emirates, TPG Contributors

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In light of Emirates becoming the newest airline transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, TPG Contributor Jason Steele will be writing an Emirates series to help readers maximize their points on the airline. Yesterday he took a look at the Emirates Skywards frequent flyer program’s earning and redeeming rules, and today he discusses how to get an upgrade using Emirates miles.

Emirates is more generous than most airlines when it comes to upgrades using miles.

Emirates is more generous than most airlines when it comes to upgrades using miles.

In years past, using miles to upgrade a flight often made sense with most airlines. Back then, travelers could pay for a discounted coach seat, and then chip in a relatively small number of miles to receive a much more expensive business or first class seat while still earning miles from their journey. Ultimately, most airlines started requiring passengers to purchase much more expensive coach fares in ‘upgradeable’ fare classes, charging more miles for upgrades, and even adding significant cash co-pays of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Emirates luxurious First Class cabin is not out of reach thanks to SkyWards.

Emirates’ luxurious First Class cabin is not out of reach thanks to the structure of the Skywards program.

Thankfully, Emirates Skywards program still allows customers to upgrade using miles, even from their lowest Saver fares. While mileage upgrades on their Saver fares do cost more than upgrading more expensive Flex fares, doing so can still be an attractive option.

Here are some of the rules for mileage upgrades:

  • Upgrades using miles are only permitted on Emirates flights, not codeshare flights.
  • Travelers must have the miles in their account when they request an upgrade reward, so you can’t move miles from American Express Membership Rewards after the upgrade request has been granted.
  • Normally, you can only upgrade to a single class of service higher, such as economy to business or business to first class. If the flight has only two classes, economy and first, you can upgrade with double the mileage.
  • You have to request mileage upgrades at least six hours before departure, and travelers who make requests within 24 hours will not receive chauffeur-driven airport transfers or special meal requests.
  • Some countries levy additional taxes or charges when you travel in a higher class. You will be informed of any additional charges when upgrading your booking.
  • When using Skywards Miles to upgrade your booking online, all passengers in your itinerary will be upgraded for the flight(s) you have selected. To upgrade just select passengers, you must contact the airline’s customer service center.
  • Instant upgrade offers may be presented at check-in and Silver, Gold, and Platinum elites may even redeem miles for upgrades once on-board.
  • Those being upgraded with a lap child infant will need to pay an additional 10% miles required to receive the lap child upgrade award, which must be done together.
  • Upgrades, when available, can be made to a single leg or the entire journey.
  • Paper tickets are not eligible for Emirates Skywards upgrade rewards, only e-tickets.

According to experiences FlyerTalkers have shared on this thread, as well as a couple phone calls I made to Emirates reps, the airline does not charge additional fuel surcharges on upgrades, so you won’t get slapped with hundreds or thousands of dollars in carrier-imposed surcharges. However, the airline must collect government-imposed taxes and fees on awards – so for instance, if you’re flying in and out of London, you can expect to pay a higher luxury tax on a business or first class seat since the UK charges one, but flying out of places that don’t such as the US, you should not be paying extra to upgrade.

Plus, when you upgrade you get all the benefits of the class of travel to which you have upgraded including extra baggage allowance, lounge access and chauffeur-drive, where available (chauffeur-drive service should be requested at least 48 hours before flight departure). Just note that the fare conditions of your original ticket continue to apply at all times. For example, if there are any fees or charges applicable to your original ticket, these will continue to apply even after upgrading with Miles.

The value of upgrade awards over some sample routes:

JFK-Dubai

An Economy Saver ticket costs about $1,150.

JFK to Dubai on a Saver ticket.

JFK to Dubai on a Saver ticket.

An Economy Flex ticket costs about $1,990.

JFK to Dubai on a Flex ticket.

JFK to Dubai on a Flex ticket.

A Business ticket costs about $9,060.

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Economy to Business – Round trip (Average of sample prices in January and February 2014. Prices vary slightly based on dates traveled)

Fare Class Economy Class Ticket Business Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Saver

~$1,150

~$9,064

~$7,914

115,000

6.88

Flex

~$1,990

~$9,064

       ~$7,074

90,000

7.86

Business to First – Round Trip

Then if you somehow bought that $9,000 business class ticket and wanted to upgrade into first, here’s what a first class ticket would cost you.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 11.15.39 PM

Fare Class Business Class Ticket First Class Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Flex

~$9,064

$22,082

       ~$13,018

90,000

14.46

LAX-Dubai

Flying from LA to Dubai on an Economy Saver ticket would cost about $1,160.

LAX to Dubai on a Saver ticket.

LAX to Dubai on a Saver ticket.

And a Flex economy fare would be about $2,200.

LAX to Dubai on a Flex ticket.

LAX to Dubai on a Flex ticket.

While a Business class fare would be around $10,744.

LAX to Dubai on a Business Flex ticket.

LAX to Dubai on a Business Flex ticket.

Economy to Business – Round trip (Average of sample prices in January and February 2014. Prices vary slightly based on dates traveled)

Fare Class Economy Class Ticket Business Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Saver

~$1,150

$10,744

~$9,594

135,000

~7.11

Flex

$2,228

$10,744

$8,516

105,000

8.11

Business to First – Round Trip

Then if you were to purchase a First Class ticket on this route, it would cost about $26,300.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 11.19.07 PMNote: Flex and Saver fares show the same price on this one for some reason.

Fare Class Business Class Ticket First Class Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Flex

$10,744

$26,299

$15,555

105,000

14.8

Here are some other interesting routes on the airline where it might be worth using miles to upgrade.

Dubai-Maldives (MLE)

An Economy Saver ticket would cost 3,425 AED or $932.

Dubai to Maldives Saver Fare

Dubai to the Maldives on a Saver ticket.

An Economy Flex fare would cost 3,995 AED or $1,088.

Dubai to Maldives Flex Fare

Dubai to Maldives on a Flex ticket.

While a Business fare would cost 8,215 AED ($2,237).

Dubai to the Maldives on a Business Flex ticket.

Dubai to the Maldives on a Business Flex ticket.

Economy to Business – Round trip (Average of sample prices in January and February 2014. Prices vary slightly based on dates traveled)

Fare Class Economy Class Ticket Business Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Saver

$932

$2,237

$1,305

50,000

2.61

Flex

$1,088

$2,237

$1,149

40,000

2.87

Business to First – Round Trip

If you wanted to upgrade from Business to First class on this route, here’s how it would break down.

Fare Class Business Class Ticket First Class Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Flex

$2,237

$4,578

$2,341

40,000

5.85

Dubai-Mumbai

This is another popular route for travelers from the US looking to break up their travel to India with a stopover in Dubai.

An Economy Saver ticket would run you 1,525 AED ($340).

Dubai to Mumbai on a Saver ticket.

Dubai to Mumbai on a Saver ticket.

An Economy Flex ticket would run you 2,165 AED ($580).

Dubai to Mumbai on a Saver ticket.

Dubai to Mumbai on a Flex ticket.

While a Business Class ticket would cost 3,705 AED ($1,009).

Dubai to Mumbai on a Business Flex ticket.

Dubai to Mumbai on a Business Flex ticket.

Economy to Business – Round trip (Average of sample prices in January and February 2014. Prices vary slightly based on dates traveled)

Fare Class Economy Class Ticket Business Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Saver

~$340

$1,009

~$669

32,000

~2.1

Flex

~$580

$1,009

~$429

25,000

~1.7

Business to First – Roundtrip

Meanwhile, upgrading from Business to First class roundtrip would look like this.

Fare Class Business Class Ticket First Class Ticket Price difference Mileage Required Cents per mile
Flex

$1,009

$1,417

$408

25,000

1.6

 

Conclusions

Purchasing a Flex ticket instead of a Saver ticket on the JFK-DXB route costs about $800 more, but you will save 25,000 miles if you upgrade in both directions, plus you will earn an additional 6,000 Skywards miles which count towards tier status. This will be like purchasing miles at 2.58 cents each, not the best value, but something to consider.

Likewise, it will cost you about $1,100 more for a round-trip, economy Flex fare on the LAX-DXB route, but you will save 30,000 miles for the upgrade and earn 7,000 more tier qualifying miles. This works out to purchasing miles at a rate of 2.97 cents each.

Emirates is adding a new Platinum tier level.

Upgrades on long-haul flights give a better return.

Is that a good deal? If you value business class flights at retail price, then it is a fantastic deal as miles are worth about 6.2-6.5 cents each towards business class Saver awards, and 7-8 cents each towards upgrades. Nevertheless, unless you were going to be paying cash for business class tickets, you can’t truly use their sales price as a basis for valuing the use of your miles. Upgrades from business to first result in values of about 14 cents per mile, but again, that is based on the price of a paid first class ticket, which is in the $20,000-30,000 range!

On shorter flights between Dubai and Mumbai or the Maldives, upgrades with miles only return about 1-2 cents per mile in value, far less than their long haul flights.

No one wants to be stuck in coach on a 15-hour flight from LAX to Dubai, but when flying on a paid ticket, and mileage upgrades awards are available, they can be an excellent use of your Skywards miles.

For more information on flying with Emirates and their partnership with American Express, read previous posts here:

Emirates Series: The Basics Of Earning And Redeeming

Emirates Added As The Newest American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partner

Emirates And Virgin America Launch New Frequent Flyer Program

10 Airline Products I Can’t Wait To Fly

Emirates Announces New Boston Service And How To Use Miles To Fly Them

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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  • Larry D

    Great Post. Thanks for such an in-depth analysis and series on this program.

  • Bob

    I think it’s funny that normally there are a million comments castigating the writers for posts that do nothing more than hawk credit cards, but when there’s a genuinely interesting and useful post like this one, nobody says a word. So thanks for this article, and tell everyone else to shove it.

  • Rami

    is this a guaranteed upgrade prior to your departure? or is this more like by an economy class ticket and then 6 hours prior to departure if they have open room in their business class, emirates will allow you to upgrade with miles at that time?

  • Mike

    Sounds great. Just one minor detail. Do check when the next miles upgrade seat is available on the Emirates JFK-Dubai-JFK sectors – a confirmation in advance gets the chauffeur drive and peace of mind. A week later? A month later? Several months later? OK, so no seat availability! Great scheme! Great plan! No play! And BTW, when on board and the cabin is running light, the airline expects you to dash out full miles to move up – you missed the lounge and probably did not move until the time the seat belt sign had switched off. Pretty fair!

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