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Flying on the Emirates A380 in first class is somewhat of the holy grail of award ticket redemptions. Emirates is known for over-the-top amenities and service and for many years their awards were hard to get – only partnering up with a handful of airlines since they aren’t in a global alliance. Within the past year, however, things have gotten much easier with their partnerships with Alaska Airlines and American Express. Read my earlier post today on how I leveraged my SPG points and purchased Alaska Airlines miles cheaply to book my dream Emirates First Class award.
For the final leg of my recent “Around the World” trip to the Maldives, India and Dubai, I traveled home in style in Emirates First Class on the A380 from Dubai to New York JFK. I realize this post is getting out of order, but a lot of readers have been writing in to ask about my review, so I wanted to get it up, and then I’ll backtrack to cover the rest of my experiences and hotels in the Maldives and India.
My End Goal: Emirates First Class
As I mentioned in an earlier post today, I actually got my Emirates award ticket through a mixture of purchasing Alaska Mileage Plan miles through the airline’s “Fly & Buy” feature as well as transferring in a few SPG points. I ended up with enough miles for a first class award aboard Emirates from Mumbai to JFK (90,000 per the chart below).
If I had bought the entire 90,000 miles I needed for a one-way first class award on Emirates from India to North America East, it would have cost me $1,838.25. For comparison’s sake, I priced out a one-way ticket from Mumbai to JFK one-way in first class on Emirates at the end of January and it would cost $4,196.
By spending $1,838 on miles, I saved myself nearly $2,358 in airfare in this example. Now that’s not a small amount of cash I spent, but compared to what this ticket would normally cost me, it was still a bargain, especially considering that the mileage requirement is the same whether you’re flying from North America to the Middle East or to India, so you are essentially getting two awards for the price of one if you build in a Dubai stopover, as I did.
To me, this only makes sense if you want to fly Emirates first or business class since you’re still paying a pretty penny for these miles and the high prices of first and business class fares might just justify the expense for you if you’re willing to spend a couple thousand dollars for a ticket in the $10,000 range.
Well, my plan went off without a hitch – I bought the miles, scored an award ticket (there were a ton of different options- I was shocked at how much Emirates availability there was about 1 month before departure) and prepared to spend 14 hours of bliss flying from Dubai to JFK in Emirates’ famous First Class Private Suite.
First, though I spent a day trekking around Dubai and seeing the sights since my flight out wasn’t until 2:25am. Even so, my friend and I got back to the airport around 11pm and headed to the First Class Lounge.
The lounge was pretty huge and had several separate areas including a Main Dining Area, a children’s play room, a wine cellar called Le Clos, an area of meeting rooms, a child care center, shoe shining, a smoking area and the Timeless Spa.
But despite that, I actually found it wasn’t that impressive. The food buffet was just meh, though you could order sit-down meal service, similar to the British Airways Concorde Lounge.
I ended up eating a few bites of sushi and that was it – I wanted to save room for on-board caviar after all!
About two hours before departure, I decided to take a quick shower and refresh – especially because we’d been running around out in the heat all day.
Finally, it was time to board, and I couldn’t wait to get aboard the A380 and find my seat. The first class lounge has its own boarding gates so you don’t have to mix with other passengers and jockey for a spot in the scrum that is airplane boarding. This makes boarding incredibly seamless:
The first class cabin aboard the Emirates A380 is at the front of the top deck with 14 seats configured in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, though slightly staggered, so you’re not looking directly into anyone else’s suite. For the DXB-JFK flight, I was seated in a K seat, which is along the left side of the plane and is super private.
These seats are actually semi-closed-off suites with a sliding door and a huge gray leather reclining chair that stretches out into a lie-flat bed with a length of 78 inches, pitch of 86 inches, and width of 23 inches. The only issue I had was that storage space was limited and I had to shift around my bags whenever moving the seat into the bed position, because it basically slices away all of your under seat legroom and there are no overhead bins! Still, it was a nice semi-private space, but the whole “suite” was much less spacious than I thought it would be.
Each seat is fitted with a personal TV featuring Audio Visual on Demand (AVOD) via Emirates’ ICE entertainment system. It has over 1,500 channels of TV, movies, games and music and is controlled by a seat-side tablet remote, which I thought was really cool, though it wasn’t actually very easy to operate and was a bit wonky.
There is a 110v AC power port and USB port in First Class, along with WiFi by OnAir (which did not work on my flight unfortunately). You can stay connected with satellite phones, email and SMS at the seat – or message other passengers elsewhere on the plane.
In front of the TV is a kind of table with a little reading lamp, a lighted vanity that contained the amenity kit products including Temple Spa face and body balm, aching feet balm, dry shower gel and scented soothing sniff boxes.
The table also contained a little drawer that held a stationery box with Emirates First Class letterhead, envelopes and a pen – you know, if you want to write your friends from the flight.
Along with the private set-up, the suite comes with a personal mini-bar (sans alcohol) that held various waters, juice and sodas including Perrier, Voss and Pepsi, and there was a little basket of snacks like chips and candy bars that you can graze on throughout the flight. The other nice little touch was an orchid in a little wall-mounted vase – it was just a hint of color, but it’s the small things that count!
Before I get to the flight experience, here’s a video I made of a tour throughout the entire aircraft – the A380 is like a flying village!
I am a big proponent of pre-departure drinks as I think it gives you that added touch of opulence in first class, so I was very pleased to have a glass (or two) of 2003 Dom Perignon before taking off.
Before the flight, the attendants handed out amenity kits with your usual toothbrush, paste, ear plugs, etc.
Before we took off, the cabin lights were dimmed and everything was quiet.
If you want to sleep – like I definitely did after a week of exploring India (including crashing a wedding in Goa)- the stewards make up your fully-flat bed and mattress for you when you are ready. But before that, I definitely wanted to have a little bite to eat to tide me over, so I started with the airline’s signature caviar course, which was delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to the Dom.
As with everything else, Emirates prides itself on its fine dining and the meal options are both varied and delicious. With appetizers including Iranian caviar, Arabic mezze and smoked tangerine chicken; main courses of smoked tangerine chicken, glazed duck breast, or aubergine (aka eggplant) lasagne; and desserts including banana pudding and chocolate cheesecake – you are definitely spoiled for choice.
However, after a week of heavy food and sociable dinners in India, I was happy to stick to the lighter choices so had a starter of fresh fruit, with some rolls.
I am sucker for a good cheese plate, and this did not disappoint. There was a wide range of international cheeses including Brie and Cheddar, along with olives, crackers and more wholewheat bread. All the meals are served on bone china tableware, on tray tables laid with fine linen, and come with a choice of cocktails, champagne, and vintage wines (except on flights to Saudi Arabia) or specialty tea.
The wine list was also pretty impressive – they had four whites alone including a white Bordeaux, a Sancerre and chardonnays from Australia and California. On the reds, there was a Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2000 Bordeaux along with a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Aninori Solaia Toscano and a Malbec-Cabernet blend from Mendoza.
Rather than having set meal times, the dine-on-demand meal service allows you to order from an a la carte menu any time you want. There is also a first class Social Area or onboard lounge, where you can enjoy cocktails and appetizers with fellow passengers – though in reality the business class passengers are welcome here too, so it’s not really a first class exclusive amenity.
Before too long, I was ready to fall asleep, so I asked the flight attendants to make up my bed.
And I fell asleep watching American Horror Story: Coven on my laptop.
Even though I was close to the bar area, the doors close tightly to shut out any noise or distractions.
Needless to say, my favorite part of the flight was being able to shower at 40,000 feet – twice, since my first shower right after takeoff was thwarted midway by some pretty decent turbulence! Luckily I was able to change and get back to my seat as soon as the captain made the announcement that everyone (including flight attendants) needed to return to their seats.
When I woke up about 8 hours later, I wanted to freshen up, so I asked about a shower. When flights are full, the flight attendants make a list of who wants showers and pre-assign times, but the plane wasn’t too busy, so I could just go when I wanted.
And here’s a more extensive tour of the blinged-out bathroom and all its amenities:
Feeling much better, I started to get hungry, so I started breakfast with some green tea and a bowl of muesli.
All in all, even after a 14-hour flight, I landed in New York feeling relaxed, well-rested and even clean, and would definitely recommend Emirates First Class to anyone. I can’t wait to fly them again!
Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities, as the A380 flies 20 different routes around the world, including Dubai to Los Angeles, New York, London and Sydney, and can you see the full schedule here. Of course, long-haul routes tickets will cost you well north of $10,000, but Emirates operates the aircraft on a few little-known short-haul routes in its network as well, such as Auckland-Sydney, costing around $2,000 return or Colombo, Sri Lanka to Male, Maldives for ~$500, and Bankgok-Hong Kong for about $700 each way.
Alaska Airlines has decently priced Emirates redemptions, as well as JAL – both of which are transfer partners of Starwood Preferred Guest. Korean Air is also a partner of Emirates and a 1:1 transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards, the points program of the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards, while Emirates itself is a new transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards.
For more information on Emirates, read my previous posts below: