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This week I got a tweet from TPG reader Mark asking about what he should do with miles earned on Emirates Airlines:
“@thepointsguy I have a trip on Emirates to Asia. What airline should I assign points to, as I doubt I will fly on Emirates again soon?”
Mark is headed to the Middle East on Emirates, and he wants to know which airline he should bank those miles to, since he won’t fly Emirates enough in the future to make them useful. Emirates Skywards is an okay frequent flyer program; they’ve got a bunch of partners despite not being in an alliance, but their fees can be really high, so if you don’t plan on flying Emirates flights, I recommend banking them to Alaska Airlines.
Alaska has an amazing frequent flyer program that’s often overlooked. They’re also not in an alliance, but they’ve got their own great set of transfer partners, including Cathay Pacific, Fiji, American, and Delta. Alaska also has very low surcharges; even if you were planning to fly Emirates in the future, it would be much cheaper to redeem Alaska Airlines miles for an Emirates flight than to redeem Emirates Skywards miles. You can use Alaska miles for one way travel, so you don’t need to bank a ton to get meaningful rewards, and you can always transfer in Starwood Preferred Guest points to top up your account.
Japan Airlines is also an Emirates partner. Their program is a bit funky, but once again you can transfer SPG points to top up, and you can redeem for Emirates flights much cheaper than you could using Emirates miles. You might also consider JetBlue, especially if you fly them regularly in the U.S. If you have a lot of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you could also consider banking to Korean Air and redeem for SkyTeam awards (since Korean is one of the 11 Ultimate Rewards transfer partners). Korean Air has a pretty good first class product, which could be useful depending where you’re headed.
Qantas and Virgin America are other options, but I wouldn’t recommend them.
To answer Mark’s question definitively, I would bank my Emirates miles to Alaska Airlines. If you have a particular interest in another of the programs I mentioned, go for it, but I don’ t think you can go wrong with Alaska.